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How to live your best life: knowing, and participating in, the greatest (true) story

I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.
― G.K. Chesterton


There’s a phrase in popular culture – “I’m living my best life.” It captures the human desire to experience a fulfilling life. Advertising companies, film industry executives, recording artists, and popular culture teach us that the best life is one with white teeth, exciting vacations, the newest car, and living a life true to oneself. They are pitching a vision and story of how the best life can be obtained and are inviting us – enticing us – to run after the storylines they present.

But there is a remarkable verse in the Bible -- one that speaks about “living our best life.”  It is a countercultural verse that offers a doorway into understanding how to truly flourish.

John 10:10 tells us that Jesus Christ came “that we may have life and have it to the full.” Life to the full – our best life – we are told, is found in Jesus Christ. The “best life” that Jesus promises is a reality for followers of Jesus Christ through the eternal life He promises, and we can begin to experience it already in this life too.

How can we begin to live, already now, “the “life to the full” that Jesus promises? When we know, and step into, the only real and true story – the glorious story that fits with reality – that God Himself is writing. When we say that we want to “live our best life” we are saying that we want our lives to be a beautiful story filled with adventure, love, purpose, meaning, connection, and joy. What God tells us in John 10:10 is that the only story that will fulfill all those longings is our participation in the story He is writing.

What is the story that God is writing? It can be divided into four broad “chapters,” with each chapter providing insights vital to the well-lived, flourishing life. The four broad chapters are:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Redemption
  4. Restoration

The following will explore each of these chapters, and their implications for the flourishing life.

1. Creation

Last summer I caught a beautiful cutthroat trout while flyfishing. Knowing others would never believe I caught such a large fish without photographic proof (I’m known to be slightly enthusiastic about things), I spent a few moments taking pictures of the fish. When I put it back in the water to release it, it floated upside down and drifted deep into a large pool of water. I felt a tinge of sorrow that the fish was seemingly dying, and I felt more than a tinge of dread that I would have to wade armpit deep into the cold water to try retrieve and revive it. Thankfully, the fish spared me the frigid inconvenience when it caught a second wind, and with a flash of its tail, was gone. Fish thrive in water, but they die quickly when they are out of their element. This is similar for human beings. We only thrive when we live according to how we have been designed.

Thankfully, God’s opening creation “chapter” answers many of the biggest questions of life, such as: Who are we? Why are we here? And for what purposes have we been designed? It is in understanding the God-given answers to these foundational questions that we flourish.

The Bible teaches us that living in certain ways leads to death and living in other ways leads to life. As we read in Jeremiah, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (2:13). Elsewhere we read: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 16:25). Some paths to the “best life” are empty vessels, but others are fountains of living waters. The path to life involves, in part, living according to our design.

So what are we told in the creation story about our identity, design, and purpose?

We are told that we are created in God’s image with dignity and worth, and we are designed to walk with God, to pursue holiness, and to seek His honor and glory above all. We are created male and female and to live within these identities as they have been assigned to us individually by God. We are created to live in community and to seek the welfare of others. We are designed to form and fill the earth and to continue the creative work of the Ultimate Creator.

The creation “chapter” tells us that God created the world beautiful and good, and He created you and me in His image and with a glorious purpose.  We thrive when we live according to God’s design for us and pursue the truth, beauty, and goodness found in Him.

2. Fall

The next chapter, on Man’s fall into sin, also answers some of the big questions of life. It explains why the world is not as it could be, or should be, and where the solutions to this reality are found. Unless your head is buried in the sand it is hard to miss the brokenness of this world. As Malcolm Muggeridge once noted, the depravity of man is the most empirically verifiable reality (and ironically, also one of the most intellectually resisted facts). And this brokenness is found both within and outside of us.

To consider the extent of the brokenness within, reflect on how hard it is to forgive. God tells us that He forgives us so completely that He “removes our sins as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) and yet how often do we not hold tightly to grudges.

As for the brokenness outside of us, consider that historians generally agree that there has not been a single year in human history that did not contain war (which they describe as a conflict causing more than a thousand deaths). Not one solitary year in the thousands of years of human existence has been filled with universal peace. How can a person flourish when there is so much misery in the world? Simply put, the beauty of the gospel story is that it helps us understand the brokenness and put it into the context of a larger story.

The Fall “chapter” gives us context because it rightly describes the problem so that we can apply the right solution. In my work as a psychologist, I have routinely observed the need to explore, in detail, the nature of the problems and issues people present to me because it is only when the precise nature of the problem is understood that an effective remedy can be applied. And this is true of any work. My son is a commercial refrigeration mechanic and the favorite aspect of the job for him is problem-solving customers’ issues – fully exploring why their refrigeration equipment is not functioning properly so that he can ensure that the solution he applies will, in fact, address the heart of the issue. In a similar way, to have the best chance of flourishing, you must understand the nature of the problems you face in your life (in your relationships, workplace, church, or family, etc.) so that you can gain proper perspective and apply appropriate solutions.

The Fall chapter illustrates how sin has destroyed the shalom that God provided in the creation chapter. Sin in our hearts, and in the hearts of others, does not surprise us (and when it is a surprise it often produces traumatic effects) but it directs us to the only comfort and solution as found in Jesus Christ.

We need to humble ourselves before God (and others) and seek the solutions to our brokenness (and to the brokenness around us) in Him and in His revealed Word. Only God can redeem our suffering and pain. At the same time, we can live in the hope that the brokenness in and around us is not the enduring reality of the world, and neither is the resulting pain. Goodness, beauty, and truth are the ultimate reality.

3. Redemption

Recently, I was talking with another psychologist about the topic of flourishing, and he said something striking to me – “flourishing is knowing that you are always okay.” I’ve thought a lot about his comment since then and even though I do not know whether he is a practicing Christian or not, there is a great deal of truth in this statement. There is an unshakeable peace in your soul when you know that, despite your feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, uncertainty, sin, and suffering you are ultimately always okay. Without such bedrock assurance human beings are prone to anxiety, depression, and insecurity. But the redemption chapter tells us that, in Jesus Christ, you are always okay, and you are always, completely, loved.

Research in psychology has demonstrated that children can only thrive when they have a secure base of attachment (called attachment theory). If children feel safe and loved, they present as calm and curious and willing to take risks and explore the world around them. But if children feel unsafe and unloved, they present as anxious, hostile, and withdrawn. Human beings need a secure attachment to flourish. The redemption “chapter” describes the rock, the foundation, the refuge, the secure attachment of our lives. In Christ we are completely safe and deeply loved. In Stumbling Towards Eternity, Josh White writes,

“My Christian life did not begin to open up until I truly believed in the depth of my being that on my worst day, Jesus is crazy about me. It’s not just Jesus but the triune God who loves and who is love.”

Or as Tim Keller wrote in The Meaning of Marriage:

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

As Os Guinness has rightly noted, “the ultimate reality behind the universe is love” – a God that loves so deeply that He died for your sins, dear reader, and mine. When we let that reality sink deep into our hearts and minds, peace and joy enter our souls. And peace and joy are foundational to flourishing.

The redemption “chapter” tells us that in Jesus Christ, we are deeply loved – and nothing can separate us from that love – “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Romans 8:38-39). Flourishing comes from embracing this reality, loving others as we have been loved, and living a life of thankfulness and gratitude – two practices secular psychologists have overwhelmingly demonstrated to correlate with the flourishing life.

4. Restoration

Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, and eminent psychologist, once famously wrote that “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how.'” But an even bigger truth is that those who know the end of the story can bear with any what. My wife is a big reader. But she has a reading habit that I have never understood. She reads the final pages of a book before she begins reading the first pages. She likes to know how things work out in the end before she immerses herself in the drama of the story. There is great comfort in knowing the end of a story during the ups and downs of the narrative.

The same is infinitely truer of our own life stories. Not long ago, several people were killed in a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee by a deranged shooter. One of the children was the daughter of a local pastor, Chad Scruggs. Just weeks before his daughter was murdered, he preached a sermon on John 11, and he focussed on the assurance found in that passage that “the middle of a hard story looks different when you know how the story ends.” That perspective must have provided him with incredible comfort in the wake of the personal tragedy he experienced. That is the beauty of the gospel. Despite what we may suffer in our lives because of the brokenness both within us, and outside of us, we know how the story ends and we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). By God’s grace, we already know the end of the story that God is writing – God is “working to make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

The title of Daniel Nayeri’s beautiful (and funny) book, Everything Sad is Untrue, could be an alternative title to the restoration “chapter” as it conveys the power of Revelation 21:5 in supplying hope, courage, joy, and peace to our lives – even amid the most difficult circumstances. In his book, Daniel tells an account of his families’ experience of persecution in Iran, and the hardships they faced, due to his mother’s conversion to Christianity. Daniel marvels at the strength his mother displayed despite the hardships she faced, and he writes,

“I don’t know how my mom was so unstoppable despite all that stuff happening. I dunno. Maybe it's anticipation. Hope. The anticipation that the God who listens in love will one day speak justice. The hope that some final fantasy will come to pass that will make everything sad untrue. Unpainful. That across rivers of sewage and blood will be a field of yellow flowers blooming. You can get lost there and still be unafraid. No one will chase you off of it. It's yours. A father who loves you planted it for you. A mother who loves you watered it. And maybe there are other people there, but they are all kind. Or better than that, they are right with each other. They treat each other right. If you have that, maybe you keep moving forward.”

Knowing that “everything sad will one day be untrue,” that across the “rivers of sewage and blood will be a field of yellow flowers blooming,” that one day all injustices will be made right, every disability will evaporate, every hurt will be removed, and every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4), provides a hope that will not fail.

Without hope, people perish. The psychologist referenced earlier, Victor Frankl, observed that this was the case in the horror of the death camps of WWII as well. Those without hope died much sooner than those with hope.

God did not leave us without the kind of hope that sustains and strengthens even in the darkest circumstances. God assures us that:

“those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Is. 40:31)

As J.C. Ryle has said about hope, “I am more convinced as I grow older, that to keep our eyes fixed on the second coming of Christ is the secret of Christian peace.” The flourishing life is internalizing, amid the hurts and pain we experience in this life, what we are promised in 1 Cor. 2:9: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” – “a field of yellow flowers blooming.”

God is making all things new and He will restore the shalom of paradise. Even more, He invites us to participate in His beautiful work of restoration by being reconcilers and by being agents of His justice, mercy, love, truth, and goodness in all the roles and circumstances in which He places us. In Chuck Colson’s eloquent words,

“In every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world or participating with God in transforming the world to reflect his righteousness.” (How Now Shall We Live?)

Participating in God’s work brings life to the world around you, but is also brings life to your own heart, soul, and mind.

Some final words

To summarize, I want to share one last important thought about finding the flourishing life in Jesus Christ.

I recently listened to a woman, Gianna Jessen, who survived an abortion attempt in 1977 tell her story. She described how doctors used a saline solution to try to end her mother’s pregnancy – and her life. She endured this saline “bath” for 18 hours in the womb. But miraculously, she survived. However, because of the method of abortion used, she was born with cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen. She made the point that often children with disabilities or deformities are aborted due to the justification that they will not have a high quality of life (or any form of the “best life”). But then she also said something that served to fundamentally enrich my understanding of the flourishing life. She said (a rough paraphrase of her words):

“Do you know what it is like to live with cerebral palsy every day and struggle with every movement? It means that you must depend upon God at every moment. And do you know what it means when you must depend upon God at every moment and for every movement? It means that you become a friend of God. And do you know what it means when you are a friend of God? It means that you have the highest quality of life.”

God, in His grace, has invited us to be a part of the greatest story ever told. Knowledge of, and participation in this Great Story of truth, goodness, and beauty, is the “fountain of living water” and the “life to the full.” Accept no substitutes. Instead, know this story deeply. Let it permeate your heart and mind and participate in it with all your being. Even amid brokenness, you will be able to say that you are “living your best life.”

Dr. Mark W. Slomp holds a senior leadership role in a Canadian post-secondary university. He is a Registered Psychologist and is also the founder of XP Counselling, Speaking & Writing focused on the promotion of the flourishing life, and ambassadorship, in Jesus Christ. He can be reached at [email protected] for inquiries about speaking, counselling (career and personal), and writing.


A biblical counselor’s advice for church leadership

In the article "Anxiety and the triumph of hope," we shared insights from three biblical counselors about anxiety. What follows is further insight from one of them, Heres Snijder, specifically directed to pastors, elders, and deacons. – MP What advice do you have for church leadership as they minister to those who struggle with anxiety? A posture of compassion: Church leaders are soul shepherds. For preachers, elders and deacons, a posture of compassion is essential because Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the exhausted and burdened crowds (Matthew 9:36). Anxiety is a heavy and exhausting burden for many. Paul instructed Galatian Christians to train themselves to carry their own burden of responsibility and to share each other’s burden too heavy to carry on their own. Anxiety calls for an understanding, compassionate, encouraging response to the sufferer, and for ongoing training in how to best handle anxiety provoking situations. A posture of patience and longsuffering: Frequently there are several unhelpful thinking styles that have developed over time, and these need to be exposed, identified, and replaced with healthy thinking skills and thought patterns. Paul identified the reality that the evil one wants to establish footholds and strongholds in our minds (Eph. 4:27, 2 Cor. 10:4). When anxiety has become a stronghold in the mind it takes concerted efforts to conquer it. A posture of prayer: Anxiety is one of the many “cries of the soul,” and it reveals our deepest questions about God. It is addressed in many psalms. The poets who wrote these knew about anxiety, personally, and up close. It is therefore indispensable for soul-shepherds to have an intimate knowledge of the content and anxious thoughts expressed in psalms like Psalm 22,  Ps. 23, Ps. 27, Ps. 30, Ps. 34, Pr. 46, Ps. 51, Ps. 61, Ps. 103, and Ps. 121. Training in emotional intelligence and relational wisdom: The attitude of “forget about your emotions” is unhelpful in the extreme. Empathy is an essential skill for pastors, elders and deacons. Encourage those who struggle to seek out counselors: Fortunately, many pastors and elders have this mindset. As one pastor shared with me: “We are always looking for good Christian counsellors as the need is great…but the counsellors are few and the wait times are long.” ...


Anxiety and the triumph of hope: 3 biblical counsellors explain anxiety

As God’s people wandered in the wilderness, they were sustained by bread from heaven – Manna. Not only was it nutritional, it also came with a best-before date (just one day!). God warned them not to bother saving more than they needed for the day. But some paid no attention and took matters into their own hands, saving extra. The next morning they found that their manna reeked and was filled with maggots. When I reached out to three biblical counselors for insight into anxiety, two of them referenced “the manna principle,” reminding me of the importance of relying on the LORD one day at a time. It wasn’t a principle I was aware of, but it also didn’t take long to see the connection. Our hope with this article, and this entire issue, is to help each other rely on the LORD’s daily care for us, resisting the temptation to take matters into our own hands. When we trust Him, we will experience His provision as well as peace. We can move into the future with the confidence of lasting hope. When we don’t, it won’t take long and our blessings will be spoiled by our worries and anxieties. We will begin by seeking insight from three counsellors from the Reformed community in Canada who have experience with providing counsel about anxiety. What follows is an edited account of their answers. **** We hear a lot about anxiety. How would you explain it to a broader church community, some of whom may not understand why it is getting so much attention? Heres Snijder, from BC’s Fraser Valley, has been teaching for 34 years in elementary and high schools in Alberta, Manitoba, and BC. He obtained his MA in Counselling in 2007 and is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. He counsels on work-related stress and burnout among professionals, parenting and family issues, alienation, isolation, bullying and rivalry, anxiety and depression, among other things. Heres Snijder: Anxiety is any degree of nervousness, worry, or concern that we all experience. There are innumerable reasons and causes for us to fret. Some of the most prevalent ones are fear of death and disease, fear of job loss, fear of self, fear of failure, the fear of not measuring up and not at all mattering, fear of the future, fear of loss (particularly loss of health), and fear of death. The common denominator that underpins these and other fears is the fear of man. Fear, anxiety, worry, disquiet: these are universal themes in the soul of man. Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt: Anxiety has both physical, cognitive, and spiritual aspects to it. Anxiety is physical in the sense that it is both felt physically (racing heart, sweaty palms, hot or tight chest, digestive issues, intrusive thoughts, etc.) and interacts on a physical level (ex. adrenal glands that produce and regulate cortisol and adrenaline and the emotional part of the brain; and the amygdala that controls and regulates emotional responses). On a cognitive level, anxiety interacts with our worldviews, past and current experiences, beliefs about God self and others, desires and fears, that help form our thought responses (for example: "I'm always a failure") and varying emotions that go with those thoughts (for example: "I'm a failure" often leads to the feelings of worthlessness). And on a spiritual level, God speaks into all of this and His Word can and ought to inform our reality. He has the answers and the certainties that anxiety is looking for. As a counselor I seek to address all three areas. Why is anxiety getting so much attention lately? HS: Anxiety is getting so much attention as a result of man’s preoccupation with himself. When there is no relationship with God who is Sovereign, All-Good, and our Provider, then man, by default must step up to the plate of providing for himself. The is both cause and effect of many anxieties. John Siebenga: The “pandemic” event drove home the insecurities of many people regarding sickness, health, the fragility of life. Why? So much depends upon the fact that society has written God out of their lives and taken it upon themselves to create order. We have once again eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and when God uses the “pandemic” to come knocking and asking, “where are you?”, we hide. We look to the government to give us security, but it is not found there. We look to “science” but “science” just lets us down. We look to the media and discover that they are in cahoots with the government and “science” so they cannot be trusted. So what do we do, without a higher being to turn to? We cringe in fear and anxiety. We hide our fears and anxieties in escape behind the bushes of delusion and lies. Maybe all this will just pass away. And if not then we will just act as if it did. We smile and say we are fine, just fine when someone asks. We discover that within ourselves there is no antidote to the angst we are feeling. We play our music louder, pour a double of scotch, and for fifteen minutes we feel better. But then it starts all over again. This calls for a return to a pre-enlightenment worldview. A worldview that saw all of creation founded in the Creator God, Who asks, “Where are you?” and then comforts His broken, created image bearers with the gospel. A gospel that lets our anxious hearts relax and allow Him to take care of this hurting world; that allows Him to address the anxieties of our heart, instead of government, science, or media. Is this an issue that deserves more attention in the Reformed community? Would you say that the experience in the church is any different than in the broader public? HS: I would not say that the experience of anxiety in the church is any different than outside of it. Not different, and no, not less frequent, nor less intense either. Individuals who are “churched” are not shielded in any special way against anxiety provoking or inducing situations, relationships or unhelpful/toxic thought patterns. Any human condition, occurrence, loss, or accident will lead us into the realm of anxiety. In the church, it means that the struggle to surrender control over the anxiety-inducing situation will have a different spiritual and relational outcome. Some respond to anxiety by habitually giving it to God. By surrendering their anxious thoughts (Ps. 139) they foster a peaceful mindset. Others turn away from God and let anger and bitterness sour the relationship with Him, with themselves, and their neighbors. I frequently experience both outcomes in my private counselling practice. Jesus was open and transparent to his audience that “in this world we will have many troubles.” His encouragement “…take heart – I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) is not heeded by all. Like the rich young ruler whose first love was material wealth, there are anxious Christians who do not surrender their anxieties. “I believe in God, but still I worry all the time… the two can’t go together, right?” There are many Christ followers who agonize about their salvation, and do not experience assurance whatsoever. They tremble anxiously before a sovereign God. The initiator of the Great Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, was overcome by tormenting anxieties. No indulgence or self-punishing act or six-hour long confessions could uproot his fear for an eternal future in hell. It resulted in full blown obsessive, compulsive, disordered behaviors. Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary with an MA in Counselling in 2014 and completed a year-long internship with the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation ( in 2015. She works as a contract counsellor (virtually) through Insight Biblical Counselling in Ontario and has her own practice in Southern Manitoba. RV: In some ways anxiety does look different in the church community versus the broader public due to the fact that many people feel that they ought not to be anxious so there is an added layer of guilt and angst added to the struggle. Have you seen any change in recent years when it comes to the prevalence of anxiety? If so, is it because we are just more aware of it now? HS: Yes. I have taught for 34 years at the elementary, high school and university levels. Eight years ago, I transitioned into the counseling field. Both fields show evidence that the anxious frame of mind is increasingly more prevalent. I think it is the spirit of the times: it is no exaggeration to say that there is an epidemic of anxiety. RV: There seems to be a combination of both awareness and a number of different factors, such as: There are changes in our food’s nutrition density and our struggles with a healthy diet (sugar anyone? Can’t go without your daily dose of caffeine?); Influx of technology and 24/7 news leading to ques- tions about where our responsibilities start and end; Breakdown of community and aspects of not “one- anothering” each other; We live in a society (either as a whole or in the church community) that does not easily accept weaknesses and human limitations; We live a comfortable and affluent lifestyle; Trauma; Our theology of suffering is not as robust as it could be; We live in a culture that encourages emotions to rule and dictate our thoughts and actions, instead of align- ing our beliefs, thoughts, and actions according to God’s will (we don’t feel “authentic” if we are not true to how we feel in the moment as an example); We struggle with our identity and we don’t understand our union with Christ as much as we could How does God go about relaxing our anxious hearts? JS: One thing that Christians have a hard time with, and maybe it is even a harder issue for Reformed Christians to grasp, is that God is the “overflowing fountain of all good.” We have fled from Him and hid in the Garden, but He still comes looking for us. Guido de Bres, in Belgic Confession Article 17, penned so eloquently and so beautifully how God “set out to seek man when he trembling fled from Him.” Anxiety at its worst is to be known by God with all the foibles and idiosyncrasies of our fallen humanity. That is man’s greatest fear. Like Rich Mullins sings in another place, “we are weak and not as strong as we think we are.” In our weakness, we can look to Him, but that means we have to admit that we just cannot do it on our own. We need to surrender. Surrender. Such a hard word to accept, embrace and see it as a sign of grace. My sister was wont to call this dethroning God and putting ourself back on the throne. She was right. But God’s rich salvation is all over the Word that God has given us, His love, His mercy, His grace for His people, all the way from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. So, with John on the isle of Patmos, we can fall down and worship the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. For too long, much of our preaching has centered on the wrath, justice and the formidable requirements that God requires of us. So often we hear that we are bad, bad, bad and then a quiet addendum at the end of the sermon that says that it is by grace we are saved and so be thankful. The joy of salvation ought to ring from the beginning of the service to the end, and allow God’s people to surrender into the Lord’s loving arms. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” is the same truth today as it was when Isaiah wrote these words so many thousands of years ago. How do we get that truth to dwell in our anxious hearts? Augustine said it so well in his Confessions: “the heart is restless until it rests in thee O Lord.” Sink back and relax in God’s arms – revel in the joyous dance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And even as inviting and tempting as that sounds, in our weak, feeble minds, we say, “It ain’t easy.” And you would be right. It is actually impossible, “unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” We need to look to Jesus who bore all our anxious thoughts in the Garden of Gethsemane and on to the Cross. Allow Him to strap you to His yoke because it is easy and His burden is light. Learn from Him, for He is gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. That is the promise of the gospel. And if God says so, it must be true. For a Christian, this does not alleviate anxiety; it gives us a place to turn in our anxious moments. If someone reading this is really struggling with anxiety, what hope do they have of overcoming it? John Siebenga, from northern BC, is a licensed Christian counsellor with a wide variety of life experiences. This includes working as a journeyman carpenter, a school teacher and principal, and serving with his wife in a Reformed church plant in Prince George. HS: Lots of hope! First off, anxiety is not a mental illness. In fact, when handled properly, anxiety can lead you towards a thriving and flourishing life. Anxiety does not have to be a pathological condition. Rather, it is like an emotion or a state of mind that signals that a proper response is required – comparable to the blinking light on a vehicle’s dashboard; “check tire pressure”. A proper response is exactly that: check the tire pressure: no need for an oil change just yet – and need to replace the whole engine! A certain level of anxiety is often necessary and beneficial. If I am faced with, say, having to cross a busy street, or present a speech to a large audience, or write an important exam, or arrange for a difficult conversation, then to not experience any anxiety would actually be more troublesome. On the other hand, if I have developed such a fear of anxiety that I cannot tolerate it, I may be led to believe that I cannot handle life without an external crutch, like a prescription drug. Even though leading pharmaceutical companies have a vested monetary interest in having me believe that, how about pressing the pause button here to look for some other responses first, prior to resorting to medication right away? RV: The Lord is near, that is your hope. Our anxieties and fears arouse the deep compassion of God for us. A child cries out for mom or dad when they are scared. When you go to a new situation or event, it's easier to do so with someone you know. There is good reason that following "do not fear," God says "I am with you." We need a person in our struggle with anxiety and fear, and God is the Person to do it with. Often, we look at the promises of God and we struggle to see how they map onto our life experiences. This is where lament comes in: "God, you say this, but do you see what is happening in my life?" The Psalms are beautiful places to land here, and in this way too we see God's provision for us by giving us words to come to Him. The Psalms so often wonderfully capture our inner struggles and anguish. I encourage my counselees to lament in the face of struggle, but also then to cling to God's character. Who is our God? For example, 2 Kings 6 is a passage I will use in counseling: God is Warrior, He has fiery chariots and angels fighting for us. "Wow. I know you feel alone, but God assures He is with us always." I also encourage counselees to "push into their fear." Fear and anxiety have a way of narrowing our worlds down because we don't want to do scary and hard things. When we push into our fears, we take God's hand and we "test and prove" that His promises, and who He is, are true. If we do not push outside of our comfort zone, we cannot experience God's grace and mercy for us in times of temptation and sorrow. I would say that overcoming anxiety ought not be a primary goal; use anxiety as an invitation or opportunity to draw nearer to God, that is the goal of life. Are there practical things that you have found to be helpful as well (relating to physical health, media usage, diet, etc.)? HS: Yes! Physical exercise: Adrenaline is the stimulating hormone: it plays an important role in your body's fight-or-flight response. Physical exercise is one very helpful way to restore the balance with a grounding or resting hormone, cortisol. Exercising outdoors offers additional benefits: no indoor air for a change, the changing scenery as you walk or jog… Media usage: No screen time for one to two hours prior to putting your head on the pillow. The mind needs time to prepare to enter into sleep. Good night’s sleep: Embrace the fact that sleep is a gift of God. Today’s society has devalued sleep to the level of an unwelcome interruption in the working routine. To receive sleep as a kind gift of God, what a difference it will make when we prepare the mind to receive it humbly and gratefully as such! (Ps. 127:2; Ps. 4:8). Cut sugar out of your diet Connect meaningfully, face to face, regularly with friends, family, neighbors. Play board games. Make music: Sing! Join a choir! RV: Breathing deeply (umbrella breathing, choir breathing, diaphragm breathing, box breathing) is helpful because when we are afraid or anxious, our breathing typically because more rapid and shallow. When we breathe deeply, we increase oxygen into our bloodstream, which helps our brain function optimally, and shallow breathing typically is a physiological response that will increase anxiety. Sleep is wonderful. However with anxiety sleep oftentimes is restless, broken, or simply impossible. Napping and resting physically are all helpful and listening to music to help with relaxation has been helpful for some of my counselees. I recommend soothing music like Scripture Lullabies or piano music with nature sounds. Another useful app that I found personally helpful was the Dwell App, which is a Scripture listening app that has different music to listen to while someone is reading Scripture out loud. Screen time is often a contributor to anxiety. We all struggle to one degree or another with FOMO (fear of missing out), and an insatiable attitude for "one more" when it comes to shorts on YouTube, Instagram, or SnapChat. This leads to low grade anxiety. Place extensive limits on social media and news outlets. In counseling I talk about the "manna principle" (shared by a professor at CCEF): God provided the Israelites with just enough manna for one day. They were not allowed to gather up or store extra manna for the next day (except the night before the Sabbath). In this way, God will give you just enough for what you need today. Where can you see God's provision for you today? Praying with another person through Scripture (see Donald Whitney's resource Praying Scripture") is immensely helpful to not feel alone and also to know that there are words we can pray when we are feeling wordless (1 Peter 5:7). I encourage mediation on Scripture. For example, "fear not little flock, I have been pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12) is a short phrase that we can sit and chew on for a while: "I am a sheep, God is my shepherd. I am little but God is big and powerful. God is pleased to give to me; He is generous! He is pleased to give me his kingdom. What does it mean to be part of his kingdom? If I am part of his kingdom, that means I am a royal child, a citizen, that gives me identity"...and so forth. What things should be avoided? RV: I speak to a help here: please do not assume that you understand what a person is going through even if you have struggled with anxiety. Ask good questions, seek to really know the peson, and point to Jesus. HS: A few things include: Exposure to “news” media: The incessant litany of catastrophe, discord, fights, protests, violence, and accidents – without a split-second opportunity to actually process these events – leads to a persistent state of mind of “overwhelm,” resulting in elevated levels of anxiety. Isolation Appreciate FOMO for what it is: Ask yourself: have I led myself into FOMO – a Fear Of Missing Out – and do I now need to know what is going on in the lives of all my FaceBook friends, etc.? As a result, have I developed a screen dependency in the process? As well: have you experienced the other side of the digital platform coin, JOMO? Have you ever participated in a fast from digital media, and discovered the Joy Of Missing Out (on unnecessary information, trivia, tales, gossip)? Is there anything else you want to share with our readers on this topic? HS: I believe that there is much to say in support of the notion that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Parents are more crucial in this regard that teachers, pastors, elders. When anxiety related interventions need to be initiated by teachers or church leaders, it is typically “too little, too late.” Generally, children must have two questions answered. The first one is: “Mom, dad – do you love me?” The answer, in a multitude of different ways must be a resounding “Yes, child! You are loved, you are unique, you have gifts, you are safe and you are valuable!” The second question is: ‘Can I get, and do, what I want?” And the answer has to be a transparent “NO! We love you, and because we do, we will train you to become an individual, a character with a sturdy spine and a soft heart, because – life is difficult, and you are not in the driver’s seat of your life, and contrary to today’s society’s insistent mantra, you are not the center of the universe, you will die one day, and your life is not just about you.” This sobering and limiting boundary-setting template, surprisingly, reduces a multitude of anxieties and number of questions that begin with “what if…?” RV: One topic that is under-conversed is the reality of post- partum anxiety some women can experience. Women have de- scribed feeling “crazy” and scared because of intrusive thoughts that involve thinking and even visualizing acts of harm towards themselves or their children. Women have been paralyzed by obsessively checking on their children while sleeping. Women have described a paralyzing fear of leaving the home after a child and being unable to sometimes get out of a vehicle if they have managed to drive somewhere. You’re not alone and you’re not crazy if you can resonate with the above examples. Postpartum anxiety (and depression!) is real. It involves hormones so it is a biological struggle that is interacting with heart desires, past experiences, and worldview. Both counseling, being monitored by a general practitioner, and visiting a naturopath doctor are all recommendations that are available and that I would recommend. Illustration by Stephanie Vanderpol. ...


Does 1 Corinthians 6 mean Christians can never appeal to the courts?

When Charter rights appear to be violated, what can a Christian do? ***** Does being submissive to the ruling authorities mean that a Christian cannot seek their day in court? Would going toe-to-toe with the government in a court of law be a form of insubordination, or show a lack of respect and submission to the civil government? Or can Christians take the government to court? Does the Bible give us any guidance on this question? Some Canadian constitutional context Court action, in a constitutional democracy, is a legitimate form of government interaction. Within the modern constitutional state, there are three branches that hold each other in check: the legislature (makers of the law), the executive (those who carry out the law) and the judiciary (those who review the application of the law). This separation within the civil government is described in our constitution as “the separation of powers.” No one man is lawmaker, police officer, judge, jury, and executioner. We divide power, and for good reason: power tends to corrupt fallen man. All of the civil government in Canada is limited, by law, and is under the law, particularly under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Does the Charter govern you as a citizen? No, it doesn’t. It is the highest law in Canada, but it only limits the power of the civil government. So, judges, lawmakers, and police officers, together with the Charter, are a package deal, and together make up “the civil government.” The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was added to our constitution in 1982. It owes some – though not all – of its language to the Christian legacy of limited state power. (If you want to read more of the legacy, I shamelessly recommend chapters 2 and 4 of A Christian Citizenship Guide, 2nd Edition, which explains it in detail.) The preamble to the Charter states that: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the Supremacy of God and the Rule of Law.” This “Supremacy of God” clause is supposed to be a reminder to our lawmakers that they are under the ultimate Lawgiver. (Even if they don’t believe in God, they should at least be able to recognize that they aren’t God!) But note as well the reference in the Charter’s preamble to the rule of law. That echoes the Belgic Confession, article 36, which in turn echoes Deuteronomy 16 and 17 – we are to be governed not by the whims of kings and tyrants, or bureaucrats for that matter, but by laws and statutes. And everyone is under the law, including the king, the prime minister, the premier, the police, the bylaw officer, and any other government employee. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is, in some ways, a product of Christianity’s influence on law in the West. So, what are some things the Charter guarantees? In Canada, according to the Charter, everyone enjoys fundamental freedoms like freedom of religion, conscience, expression, and association, certain democratic rights and mobility rights, certain legal rights and more. These are not absolute rights; the civil government can restrict them in certain, limited circumstances. But, when the civil government imposes on Charter rights like freedom of peaceful assembly, the burden in law is on the civil government – not citizens – to demonstrate that the restrictions are justifiable in a free and democratic society. But what good does this do us in light of everything we know from Scripture about submission to the governing authorities? So what if we have legal rights – aren’t we called to just submit to the government? What does 1 Corinthians 6 teach? Our tendency as Christians is to be suspicious of using the judicial branch due to the misapplication of 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul seems to be telling Christians not to go to the secular courts. "If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court – and this in front of unbelievers!" However, this passage applies to two private individuals, particularly, two members of the church, and the passage urges settling the matter before going to an “ungodly court.” In the case we are considering here, the “ungodly court” and the other entity in the legal dispute are of the same nature – both government bodies. What we are doing is much more akin to Paul’s own appeal to Caesar in Acts 25 than to Paul’s urging to avoid court. Further, the 1 Corinthians 6 passage must be seen in the context of internal church strife: in the church the wisdom of fellow-members or church leaders should prevail over the need to go to court, assuming that these “wise men” dealing with the matter will deal with it in a just, calm, and wise manner. The brothers challenging each other on a judicial matter should be humble and spiritual enough to accept the wise counsel of fellow believers rather than sue each other. A court challenge of the government’s allegedly unjust actions or laws is not within the scope of what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 6. In Canada, then, a judge is allowed, or even duty bound, to curb the injustice of a higher civil power for the protection of the people under his oversight. In our current context, the Canadian civil government is split into three arms (the "separation of powers"), as explained earlier. Thus when a Christian challenges government action in court (or defends himself against government action in court) it should not be seen as a lawsuit in the sense that we hear about from time to time – a vengeful opportunity to get rich over against an equal opponent. Rather, we are simply approaching one of the three branches of the government and asking the magistrate to do its God-given duty to call the other branch to account, and to remind it of what exactly its obligations are under the Constitution and what its obligations are with regards to justice and righteousness. But what about Romans 13? But what about Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17? Don’t these passages demand submission to the governing authorities? Yes, the general rule of Scripture is that Christians are subject to the governing authorities. But in order to make a proper application of this rule, we have to understand how our civil authorities govern. How citizens interact with governing authorities looks different in a constitutional democracy (where the constitution is supreme even over judges and premiers) than in an ancient absolute monarchy. In a participatory democracy, it isn’t only the premier who gets to decide what the law requires. In fact, lawyers and judges, and police officers and citizens should all know what their rights and responsibilities are in law. We are all equally under law and ruled by law. This legal reality is a blessing of Christendom. The Magna Carta, which enshrined this concept over 800 years ago in English law, is rooted in Christian culture. Ambiguities, over-reach, constitutional violations, inequal application of the law, all of this needs to be winsomely exposed, and Christians ought not to shy away from this. It is good and right to point these injustices out. Furthermore, the judiciary is also part of the civil government. When a citizen appeals to a judge to clarify whether or not the actions of the government are constitutional (i.e. legal), then this shows respect for the government and her institutions and uses the law to our advantage. Paul – who wrote Romans 13 – does this multiple times, when he uses his Roman citizenship status to avoid being flogged (Acts 22:22-29), then again when he demands that the local magistrate personally escort him and Silas out of jail after their rights had been violated (Acts 16:37-40), and again when he appeals to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11).  Daniel’s example Consider also Daniel’s example. It’s a striking story: King Darius signs a law that says, for 30 days, if men are going to pray, they can only pray to Darius and no other. Daniel 6:10 says, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel acts immediately and decisively. And what is the charge against him? “Daniel pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed.” In other words, “Daniel is violating Romans 13, O king! He’s a lawless man, O king. Throw him to the lions!” But what is the first thing Daniel says to King Darius, after miraculously surviving a night with the lions? “O king, I have committed no crime against you” (Dan. 6:22). (If there were any lawyers in the room, they would have interjected, “Oh yes you did! You broke the clear meaning of the law. You prayed to your God, and your God is not the king, and the law says explicitly and clearly that you can’t do that, and we have witnesses and …!”) But Daniel says, rightly, that by disobeying this silly law, this law which does not align with God’s law, he commits no crime against the king. In other words, obeying the law of God, even if it clearly breaks the law of man, is no crime. More than that, when citizens obey the law of God, they will be no threat to a ruler, Christian or not. John Calvin on legal action In Calvin's Institutes, in the chapter on the Civil Government, Calvin outlines several factors in favor of pursuing litigation: He writes: “Judicial proceedings are lawful to him who makes right use of them; and the right use… is… without bitterness, urge what he can in his defence, but only with the desire of justly maintaining his right; and…demand what is just and good.” Later, in the same subsection, Calvin writes, “When we hear that the assistance of the magistrate is a sacred gift from God, we ought the more carefully to beware of polluting it by our fault.” This then, speaks of a specifically Christian approach to litigation: that we “feel as kindly towards opponent… as if the matter in dispute were amicably transacted and arranged.” Later, Calvin also rejects the idea that Paul absolutely or universally prohibits litigation in 1 Cor. 6; rather, an interpretation of that text is to apply to brothers inside the church. Even so, Calvin speaks very highly of the Christian duty, as private individuals, to respect the civil government. Nevertheless, he does discuss briefly the role of other parts of government, which is very applicable to the question of whether Christians in a constitutional democracy can also challenge government action or laws in court. He writes (quoting from a modern translation): “there may be magistrates appointed as protectors of the people in order to curb the excessive greed and licentiousness of kings… I would not forbid those who occupy such an office to oppose and withstand, as is their duty, the intemperance and cruelty of kings. Indeed, if they pretended not to see when kings lawlessly torment their wretched people, such pretence in my view should be condemned as perjury, since by it they wickedly betray the people’s liberty of which, as they ought to know, God has made them defenders.” Asserting legal rights is not (necessarily) insubordination Asserting Charter rights is not insubordination. As a Canadian citizen, you bear Charter freedoms. Making your case in court, as the law entitles you to do, is a lawful exercise of your office of citizenship. So there may be situations where both the civil government and the Christian citizen must justify their actions, the former in a courthouse and the latter before God. What should make Christians distinct from their neighbors is not whether we speak up about our freedoms but how. Our tone of respect, our posture of prayer, and our spirit of submission sets us apart. And not only our tone, but also our philosophy of freedom and submission will shape a distinctly Christian approach to speaking up. Will we advocate for outright defiance, or make our case calmly and reasonably, according to law? I reject the passivism of being totally and silently subservient to the State. This is not biblical (Ex. 1:15-21; Dan. 3:8-23; Dan. 6:5-10; Mark 12:15-17; John 19:11; Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:17-42; Acts 16:37; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). But I also reject the revolutionary spirit of obstinate civil disobedience. Three examples Let’s consider three examples. Pro-life billboards First, a couple years ago, one of the Ontario ARPA chapters raised a few thousand dollars to put an ad on London city buses that simply said “Canada has no abortion laws.” About a month or so into the contract, due to mild pushback, the city pulled the ads down, without explanation, without notice or opportunity to reply, and without compensating the local ARPA group for the remaining two months of the contract. We wrote to the city, explaining that what they had done was unconstitutional, and asked them to reinstate the ads. They refused. So, together with ARPA Oxford, we took legal action. And we won! It cost time and money, but the city apologized for what they had done and ran the ads again. A few years later, the City of Hamilton refused to run an ad from another local ARPA chapter, this one simply stating, “We stand for women’s rights. Hers, hers, and hers too” – with the final “her” referring to an ultrasound image of a baby. Again, we are taking the City of Hamilton to court, because their silencing of citizens’ participation in an ongoing political and moral debate is repugnant. Standing up for freedom through the courts shows respect for our laws, and for political or legal institutions. This is not about freedom of expression to say whatever we want to say, whenever and however we want to say it. It is the freedom to communicate a message that ought to be shared, without censorship. Dining but not the Lord’s Supper A second example: during the first summer of Covid, a Reformed church presented a re-opening safety plan to a government bureaucrat working within the local health authority. The document indicated that the church planned to recommence with the sacrament of holy supper. By this time restaurants were open again, and churches were gathering at 30% capacity. What was the reply of the local government employee? Without any sense of irony, he told the church that sacraments were “off the table.” Could the bureaucrat point to any law, order, or regulation that prohibited the sacrament? No. It was merely his opinion that allowing the church to celebrate the sacrament was too risky. That is unjust on its face, and a church would do well to challenge such a decision. A church that decided to celebrate communion anyway would not be the one acting illegally. The one acting illegally is that particular bureaucrat. When the truth is criminalized A final example: ARPA Canada has intervened in the Ontario Court of Appeal in a case involving a firebrand activist and self-described Christian named Bill Whatcott. He had distributed offensive literature during the Toronto Gay Pride Parade in June 2016, informing readers of the flyer that homosexual conduct is dangerous and that homosexual men must repent and turn to Jesus who will save them from their sins. For distributing these pamphlets, this activist was criminally charged two years later for willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group. After a trial, Whatcott was acquitted by the trial judge in December 2021. But the Crown prosecutor is appealing the acquittal to the Court of Appeal, arguing that asserting or implying that gay men can choose not to be gay (i.e., to not engage in gay male sex), or that their choice to be gay is destructive, is to “deny their human dignity and right to equality” and is “a powerful expression of hatred.” In other words, genuine calls to repentance and conversion toward LGBT Canadians is a crime. It is right for Whatcott to defend himself in court. It would be a disservice to all Christians (really, to all Canadians) if he merely bowed to the pressure of the prosecutor, pled guilty and served time. Conclusion Like Paul, Christians ought not to shy away from appealing to the courts of law for redress. It is good and right to contend with injustice. May God preserve the rule of law in Canada for the sake of the gospel witness of the church. André Schutten is ARPA Canada’s Director of Law and Public Policy and General Legal Counsel (


A pastor on anxiety

Rev. Dirk Poppe is serving as the pastor of the Southern River Free Reformed Church, in Western Australia. Prior to this he served as pastor of churches in BC & Alberta. Dirk is married to Amanda, and the LORD has blessed them with six children. Shortly after I was married, my wife and I moved to Southern Alberta where we had the privilege of being shepherded by Rev. Poppe. His care for the hearts and well-being of the flock was very evident, and he was also one of the first to speak to me about the value of biblical counseling. Knowing the critical connection between spiritual health and anxiety, I wanted to go beyond professional counselors and also ask a pastor for insight into anxiety. Pastor Poppe was at the top of my list, and I’m grateful for his insights. What follow is an abridged edit of our interview. – MP Have you seen any changes when it comes to the prevalence of anxiety in the church community and how we are dealing with it? Probably the biggest change that has led to an increase in the incidence of anxiety among the youth in the past 25 years is the introduction of phones and social media. It seems that there are several dynamics here. Some children are bullied on line. Some children, especially girls, tend to compare themselves to others more which leads to certain insecurities and increased anxiety. But underneath of that I wonder if there is a more foundational issue. Some people who have spent time on the mission field have told me that the incidence of depression and anxiety is much lower on the mission field than in our culture. Some people in these cultures live much closer to family and friends and their lives are much more integrated together. I have to wonder that with our wealth and increasing adoption of technology we are more isolated from others now than before. While social media, email and other forms of electronic communication gives the semblance of relationship, it is a poor substitute from sitting around making memories with your friends or brothers and sisters in Christ. I also wonder if the algorithms in our social media lead us to a lot of distressing stories that lead to an increase in anxiety and depression. Have we changed in the way that we are dealing with it? Yes and no. As more of members and office bearers in our churches become aware of issues like trauma and its effects and various mental health issues, there is an increasing sensitivity to those who genuinely struggle with these matters. I am very thankful for that. I have witnessed numerous times where people in leadership positions have been able to provide good counsel in these situations. At the same time, I have also witnessed some who lack awareness about these issues take an approach that is quite damaging to those who struggle with anxiety. On the whole I think that I have seen more awareness and sensitivity to these issues now than earlier. At the same time, as our culture has moved away from the acknowledgement of God in the past years, this has undermined a recognition of sin. You will rarely read a newspaper that acknowledges that a person is evil or has committed sin. Instead, our culture has adopted a therapeutic mindset. And so the problem is often identified as the mental health issues the person is struggling with. This trend has also impacted our members. It seems that some of our members are quicker to seek counseling or medical help for depression and anxiety now than in the past. I wonder if that is always justified. Could it be for some of our people that in some situations the problem is sin and the solution is not medication, but repentance? What is the role of the church in response to those who struggle with anxiety? How does this intersect with professional help from counsellors? I think that the church can play a wonderful role to help some people who struggle with anxiety. One of the most healing things for someone who has experienced trauma, who has mental health issues or who is stressed out by life is to be surrounded by a community of people who love them. A counsellor can be enormously helpful as they take the time to assist a person to understand what is going on in their mind or to deal with past traumas or specific marriage problems. A doctor or psychiatrist can be very helpful in prescribing certain medications to get them through a tough time. But at the same time, in order to heal, it’s also very important for someone who is anxious to have some close friends and a community of people who love and support them. Those who heal from anxiety, distressing events and past traumas are often those who are surrounded by a number of people who love them deeply, care for them well and who offer them wise counsel. The Bible calls some forms of anxiety a sin that need to be repented of. I have heard it described as a mild form of atheism (not trusting God or going about things as if we are the one who has to figure it out on our own). How would you explain the difference between healthy care/concern, and the type of anxiety that Jesus warns us against? Good question. It’s beautiful to have a deep level of concern about those things that God has called us to care about. We can be deeply concerned about the future of our business, the wellbeing of our children or the direction of our church. And yet at times we can become anxious in our hearts about these things. One of the ways in which I have dealt with this over the years is to understand that I am responsible for my contribution to a situation, but I am not responsible for the outcomes. The times we get stressed out is when we put ourselves in the place of God and we try to determine outcomes. We are not God. We do not have the power to determine outcomes. The LORD does. So instead of becoming stressed when things don’t go the way that we think is best, it’s important to humble ourselves before the LORD, do what we can to help, and then in faith rely on Him to work things out. From a spiritual perspective, what would you say may be contributing to increased anxiety in the world and in the church? At core the single biggest factor that leads to increased anxiety is a rejection of God. The LORD is the source of life and love. Those who know God and who walk intimately with him learn what it looks like to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As we know God, we learn what justice and righteousness looks like. We learn to love others from the heart as we have been loved. We learn to treat others rightly as we have been treated by God. If we know of God’s faithfulness, then we learn to trust Him and to be faithful to our promises. As Christ lives in our hearts, the fruit of the Spirit is manifest within us. Our lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In 1 John 4:18 we are told, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” As we experience the love of God and live out of that love, we are set free from all fear and anxiety. Those who reject God do not have the Spirit. They don’t know of God’s love and grace, his kindness and help, his justice and righteousness. As they live in sin and get caught under the grip of sin, they come into profound distress which often leads to anxiety. In Romans 1:18-32 and 2 Timothy 2:1-5, Paul spells out the sin that comes into the lives of those people who reject God. It’s a brutal life that leads to much distress and anxiety. If we become apathetic and drift away from the LORD, it should be no surprise that we experience more deceit, slander, injustice, oppression, violence and evil. These things not only steal your joy. They also lead to much anxiety. So, I would say that one of the most important things is to know the LORD well, understand how rich you are in Christ and to walk closely with him. Are there any specific things that you would encourage God's children to do to help them and their children not be trapped in anxiety? Love each other deeply. If you love your husband or wife deeply, if your marriage is characterized by kindness, gentleness, compassion and honesty, that creates a context of peace, safety and stability for you and your family. If mom loves and nurtures the little ones, if dinnertime with your teenagers drags out because you are having a great time sharing and laughing together, then most of the time anxiety kind of fades into the background. If you open your heart and home to each other and have an abundance of love your brothers and sisters in the communion of the saints, then people thrive and anxiety disappears. The most important thing to grow in love and empathy is to know the LORD. It’s as you know how much God loves you and as you understand how rich you are in Christ, that you have a deep-down peace in your heart and anxiety melts away. Get out into creation and get to know your LORD as He has revealed himself in this world. Find the trails in your area and hike all of them. Go camping. Take along a canoe and spend some time on the water. Study some part of God’s creation and become an expert in it. There are few things more delightful and invigorating than regularly spending time in God’s beautiful creation and marveling at the glory and wisdom of the God who created it. Also, take steps to limit the influence of those things that tend to isolate you from others. Ask Christ to help you have self-control over your use of media and technology. Get everyone in the family to monitor their screen time and write it on a chart on the fridge. And then pray over it. I would encourage parents to limit the time they and their children spend on social media, watching TV or playing video games. These things often suck the life out of us and steal our joy. Find a sport you love. Take up running. Make it a habit to go for a walk with a friend. Make sure that you get a good night of rest. Ask Christ to help you use the time and the gifts that you have to help and bless others. God often rescues us from anxiety as we focus our attention on Christ and all he has done for us and then seek to live a life of gratitude and service before him. Illustration by Stephanie Vanderpol....


When it comes to evangelism, do we trust the Holy Spirit will show up?

This is an overview of a recent episode of Lucas Holtvlüwer and Tyler Vanderwoude’s Real Talk podcast. Real Talk is a bi-weekly podcast of Reformed Perspective featuring great conversations on everything from propaganda to pornography. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. And you really can, at ***** Lucas Holtvlüwer recently interviewed Dr. Eric Watkins to learn more about evangelism and church planting from one with a lot of experience and wisdom. Dr. Watkins is the pastor at the Harvest Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in San Marcos, California and is also the director of the Center of Missions and Evangelism at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Dr. Watkins wasn’t raised in the church. Growing up in North Carolina, he was a troubled youth, particularly after his father left his mom when Eric was just twelve years old. After college, Watkins was drifting around the country, following the band “The Grateful Dead,” when his sister lent him her Bible: “you’re going to be stuck for a few days on a bus, so take this…” Eric recalls that through His Word, “God confronted me by His spirit, and convicted me that I was a sinner… and that Jesus was the Savior and had done for me what I could not do myself… I got on the bus a long-haired stinking deadhead, and I got off the bus a week later, longer-haired and stinkier, but converted!” Dr. Watkins then began a long journey of learning more about the Lord, going to seminary, becoming Reformed, and teaching Bible classes at the same church where he now ministers in California. Becoming a pastor, Watkins helped plant a “daughter” OPC congregation in Orlando; seven years later he and his family moved to St. Augustine, Florida to start a “parachute church” – meaning that there was not yet an established core group, and one needed to “start from scratch.” By God’s grace, these two churches are still thriving today. Capital “E” Evangelism and lowercase “e” evangelism Watkins defines evangelism as: “bringing the truth claims of the Gospel to bear upon the hearts of those that are outside the kingdom… where the objective content of the Gospel is made clear and people are called to faith and repentance in Christ.” He further differentiates the general call of Christians to evangelize, from the specific calling by a church body for one to do the work of an (uppercase) Evangelist. “Like Paul says to Timothy, ‘Fulfill your ministry – do the work of an Evangelist,’ or when Paul says in Corinthians ‘Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’” In Watkins’ opinion, church planters in particular bear that warning to fulfill their duty to evangelize. “Among the list of gifts that Christ gives to His Church in Ephesians 4 there’s a role for the gifting of the Spirit in the area of evangelism for people that are called to do particularly evangelistic ministry, and they literally live and sleep with that ‘woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’ So that’s in a category of capital E Evangelism. “Lower case ‘e’ evangelism is what the whole Church does. So, like in Acts 8, when the church is scattered, it says not simply those who were ordained like the apostles but men and women who were dispersed went about proclaiming the Gospel. To me that’s lowercase ‘e’ evangelism…. Even lay people in the Church in some fashion or another are called to walk wisely before the watching world, and even to engage them at times and opportunities that God will provide with the claims of the Gospel…. “There’s something important to be recognized in ministering not simply the Gospel to people, but also ministering the Gospel through people, and to help our members understand that they too have a role to play in the great commission, and the promotion of the life and the work of the Church. It may not be street corner preaching, or handing out tracts… but it is befriending the people that we have the opportunity to get to know that are outside the Church, wherever we’re able to meet them.” Enough time for members old and new? Holtvlüwer asked Dr. Watkins if there can be tension in the church when there is so much focus on reaching those outside the body, since there are also many needs among the current members. Watkins agreed that this can be difficult, and he advised that there should be clarity on what is required of the pastor and elders, best captured in written descriptions of their roles. “For instance, it takes a certain number of hours a week to prepare a sermon; it takes a certain number of hours a week to visit the congregation, to do the bulletin, to meet with leaders, to disciple, and to do evangelism. So we have to decide what we think is important; we need to prioritize, and there needs to be not only transparency and accountability for the church planters, there also needs to be protectiveness for him and his family… It’s really important that you protect the time and space for the pastor to do evangelism… even after the church is up and running.” Watkins continued: “Visitation is very important in Reformed churches; I think regrettably evangelism isn’t, and we’ve created an unintentional… paradigm in which we have so busied our pastors that there’s no room for evangelism… There’s a lot of guilt on the shoulders of our pastors that that this work really is important, and should be done, but I’ve got a 60 plus hour work week, with two sermons, and a congregation, and Consistory and Council meetings.” Holtvlüwer suggested, “This might mean that you need to get a second pastor if your church is of a certain size.” Do we expect the Holy Spirit to show up? Talking about Reformed churches and evangelism, Watkins reminded listeners that John Calvin wrote his most famous books like The Institutes of the Christian Religion, as, “…discipleship tools for new converts to the Reformation, and as a pastor he modeled and did evangelism. He housed orphans in his home, and what we could call seminary students whom he trained and taught the work of the ministry including evangelism…. Calvin is nicknamed the Theologian of the Spirit, and if you read his writings as they relate to evangelism, he wholeheartedly believed in it…. “Our problem at times is that we have too small a view of the Holy Spirit… We don’t expect (Him) to show up much, and to do great things in and through our church. Do we really expect God to convert people through the preaching of His word? Do we expect God to convert people off the streets, out of depravity and drug abuse and all the different things that are out there, into the arms of the church? Do we expect to see baptisms not just of kids but adults in our church? I think our Trinitarian theology could be enhanced and brought into greater conformity with Calvin’s view… that invigorated his ministry.” Holtvlüwer wondered how or if Reformed churches had strayed from Calvin’s mission of being evangelistic in orientation. Watkins summarized that “Part of the Church’s temptation in history has always been to isolate itself from the world rather than to engage. And yet with the best of intentions: because we don’t want our covenant kids to get swallowed up by the world. So what do we do? build high walls around them and insulate them from the world. The other is to train and equip them to engage the world with the Gospel…. Do we simply teach kids to think about what’s wrong with the way the world thinks, or do we also teach them how to engage the world, not simply apologetically, but evangelistically.… Do we disciple with a view towards raising up people that will be able to contend for their faith in a 1 Peter 3 way or Colossians 4 way?” Watkins also identified the opportunity for the younger generation of Reformed Christians. “The world has come to the back door of the Church, and the front door, and is on either side of our house – it’s all around – the nations are all around us! What will we do with the… opportunities that God has placed before us in an increasingly diverse world. It’s an exciting time (for spreading the Gospel!)” Christian schools and our covenant youth Holtvlüwer mentioned that he is thankful for, and understanding of why our parents and grandparents spent so much energy and effort on establishing Christian schools, and that these institutions can still serve as a bulwark against the teachings of the world that are so prevalent all around us in social media and in the culture overall. But do we need to do more to prepare our kids to go out to the world with a strong apologetic viewpoint? Watkins expressed thankfulness for Christian schools (his own children attend a Christian school in Escondido): “I’m not trying to change that paradigm at all!” At the same time: “…social media has more access to our kids now than parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers combined… the amount of time that kids are spending online in different media platforms (is huge)…” What is the answer to all these potentially harmful influences? Watkins reminds listeners of the well-known Biblical verse, “‘Train up a child in the way that he should go!’ That is, not simply protect and shelter him from all the things you never want him to hear or learn about… Parents and pastors must be the teachers, not the world… There’s a challenge to not simply reach the lost, there’s a challenge to keep our kids! There are a lot of kids that are drifting away from the church, for different reasons… and while there’s no silver bullet… I do believe in discipleship…” Wakins continued: “An uncomfortable question we could ask would be, ‘Could a covenant kid graduate high school without ever seeing a parent or church leader share the Gospel with a non-Christian?’ …if the answer is yes, then think about what life looks like for them when they… go off somewhere else perhaps for college or a job. So we have to train our kids with not simply what’s wrong with the way the world thinks, but (train them) to engage the world evangelistically, in the hope that in doing so (we might) actually insulate our covenant kids the right way.” Watkins wanted to emphasize that he appreciates the Reformed faith, and in no way wants to tear down the institutions that Reformed Christians have built. “The Reformed faith is grand, as J. Gresham Machen said, and we have some of the most wonderful tools at our disposal… we do a great job in many ways raising our covenant kids. By God’s grace we have a wonderful doctrine of the Church, and what the world needs most… is for the church to be the church! To continue to be committed to the ordinary means of grace… to be committed to family worship, and at the same time… to use the tools for evangelism that are part of the Reformed faith.” In the last part of their conversation, Holtvlüwer and Watkins discussed mentorship as a way for mature Christian men and women to provide leadership and guidance to younger people, both those new to the faith and those who have grown up in the church. Watkins ended his contributions with a call for “young men to consider a pastoral call in the ministry. We need pastors, we need church planters!” The complete discussion between Holtvlüwer and Pastor Watkins can be found on all major podcast platforms – just search for “Real Talk Reformed Perspective,” episode 63. And you can watch it on YouTube below. ...


Too certain by half: standing firm doesn’t mean dismissing all debate

As a young man I spent years trying to decipher the stony response I got when people found out my church denomination. I finally discovered there was an impression circulating that painted us as Christians who are "too certain by half." Others could see shades of gray; we were said to see only in black and white. Some debated and dialogued; we were accused of making only pronouncements. I took some comfort in knowing these same accusations are thrown at other conservative churches too. The world doesn’t like that while they devolve into lawlessness, God's people will firmly oppose abortion, adultery, euthanasia, homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, and more. So the accusation wasn't entirely fair... but it wasn't baseless either. While Christians should speak out clearly on whatever issues God's Word speaks on clearly, we sometimes express certainty about issues that aren't so certain. When I growing up, biking or playing basketball on Sunday was a definitive no. The Christian schooling vs. homeschooling debate has sometimes been treated as if there was an 11th commandment that settled the matter. More recently, many were sure they knew how our churches should respond to government lockdowns and mandates, even as many other Christians sharply disagreed. The point here is not to dispute that the Bible gives direction on these issues – it does. But when we act as if an issue is clear-cut when the biblical position is only discernible after extended study, then we will be seen as unreasonable and even arrogant. Our attitude will ensure that people who might learn from us, won’t want to talk to us. It’s important, then, to remember that while the Bible addresses many issues, it does not speak directly to all issues. Different degrees of clarity In his book Reformed Journalism, Marvin Olasky provides a helpful analogy, comparing the Bible’s various degrees of direction to the six classes of whitewater rapids. Class One rapids can be navigated by anyone, while Class Six rapids are all but impossible. CLASS ONE: Specific biblical embrace or condemnation Examples of Class One issues are homosexuality and euthanasia. While these are hot topics in today's Church, the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality and murder are so clear that they can only be misconstrued by those trying to twist Scripture. To pretend that these issues are anything other than black and white issues is to act as if the Bible as a whole is either obscure or meaningless. CLASS TWO: Clear, though implicit, biblical position As Olasky notes, “even though there is no explicit command to place our children in Christian or home schools, the emphasis on providing a godly education under parental supervision is clear.” So while not explicit, there is a clear implicit biblical directive to follow – parents cannot hand off the responsibility for their children's education. CLASS THREE: Both sides quote Scripture, but careful study does allow biblical conclusions Some Christians, citing examples like the Good Samaritan, and quoting texts like “love your neighbor as yourself,” think that helping the poor means guaranteeing everyone a certain standard of living. But as Olasky notes, if in the Bible, “even widows are not automatically entitled to aid then broad entitlement programs are suspect…the poor should be given the opportunity to glean, but challenged to work.” With issues like these, looking deeper into Scripture allows us to find a more certain direction. CLASS FOUR: Biblical understanding backed by historical experience allow us to draw some conclusions Olasky gives as an example here the many large government initiatives. While a national daycare program, or socialized medicine, or public education may in many ways seem like wonderful ideas, we can look back through history and see what happens when governments exert more and more influence over daily life. There is no clear biblical directive for limited, smaller government, but Samuel’s warning in 1 Sam. 8 and Lord Acton’s historically verified adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” show us we should be suspicious of any government that seeks to constantly expand its sphere of influence. CLASS FIVE: A biblical sense of human nature provides minimal, but real direction Class Five issues don't have clear biblical or historical direction, but "a biblical sense of human nature" can help us here. So, for example, many parents are wondering what age their children should be given smartphones. There is no historical precedent and no particular verse we can look to for guidance. But knowing what we do about our sinful nature, we can understand that giving teens – just as they are going through puberty – a portal through which they can access unlimited sexual imagery (whether on purpose or by accident) could be a less than wise decision. But, knowing human nature as we do, we also understand that it would be best if they learned how to properly use this tool while still under our guidance; we shouldn't just ban them from ever having a smartphone for as long as they live under our roof. Even if we don't know exactly what to do, we have at least some guidance. CLASS SIX: These issues are navigable only by experts, who themselves might be overturned Some issues have no clear biblical position. These issues can range from the local (Should we install a stoplight or a traffic circle at this intersection?) to the national (Should we jail people for marijuana possession or fine them?) to the international (How should we deal with a nuclear North Korea?). Conclusion To be a true light to the world Christians must speak out clearly where God’s intent is clear. No matter how intimidating, no matter how unpopular it might be, in these circumstances we need to speak God's Word with power and conviction. Here we need to embrace all that's right and good in that "fundamentalist" caricature – we need to be immovable, be firm, be stubborn even. We must not compromise on God's Truth. However, where God's direction is less clear, or even unclear, we act arrogantly if we present our opinion as unquestionable. When God's direction is less than clear, we need to be ready to listen and to debate with those who think differently – particularly when we are talking with other Christians who are just as eager to think God's thoughts after Him. Only when we own up to the shakiness of our position, do we have the opportunity for "iron to sharpen iron" (Proverbs 27:17); only then can others help test and refine our thinking. Now, few of us enjoy the refining process – it can be uncomfortable to have our ideas tested. But it's for us that God gives this warning: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Prov. 12:1). In other words, if you are beyond correction – if you don't welcome it and don't want it – God says you are stupid. That doesn't make you unusual. But it does mean you need to repent. Is that a sour note to end on? Only if you don't like correction :)...


Making hospitality easier: how onion dip changed the world

Everyone has likely tasted onion dip and millions of homemakers have made it. The recipe is incredibly simple: mix dried onion soup mix with 2 cups of sour cream – voilà you are done! Place it in a bowl and surround it with chips, crackers, celery and carrot sticks, and any other veggies you think your guests will enjoy. Be suave and call it crudités! I still remember the first time I tasted it, at a Tupperware party in the early 80s (though it has been around since 1954!). I tentatively took a tiny beige blob and placed it on my plate. After tasting it with a ruffled potato chip, I eagerly returned for more. I was fascinated to observe a display about homemaking through the decades in a museum that showed a 1950s-type kitchen and mentioned onion dip (also known as French onion dip, and originally known as California dip, where an unknown homemaker first created it). Their interpretation was that this “California dip” totally changed hospitality throughout America and Canada. Previously, if one was going to entertain, a full dinner would be expected, perhaps with intricate hors d’oeuvres beforehand. Remember, you couldn’t run into Costco or Walmart’s frozen section and grab mini quiche or ready-to-cook breaded shrimp back then. After the recipe was printed in a newspaper, the Lipton Company got hold of it and began advertising it on the popular Arthur Godfrey Show on television. The California dip usage spread like wildfire and Lipton’s onion soup mix flew off the shelves. Pictures were shown of a host and hostess cheerfully serving chips and dip and veggies to their guests. This was so easy to prepare that people began inviting friends over more often, because the workload had lessened significantly. Not only did it become incredibly popular in the 50s, it has remained so ever since. Don’t let pride get in the way Onion dip probably didn’t “change the world” in a big way, but by providing an easier way to entertain, it did promote friendship and fellowship. It was a step in the right direction. How often have you heard someone say that they don’t have the time, energy, money, or nice enough house to provide hospitality to others? With an attitude that “We cannot do it unless we reach a certain level of perfection,” we actually may fall into pride and ignore God’s Word that calls us to care for one another. Rosaria Butterfield in her book The Gospel Comes With a House Key says: “God calls Christians to practice hospitality in order to build loving Christian communities, to build nightly table fellowship with fellow image bearers, to ease the pain of orphanhood, widowhood, and prison, to be qualified as elders in the church, and to be good and faithful stewards of what God has given to us in the person, work, example, obedience, and suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ…. God calls us to practice hospitality as a daily way of life, not as an occasional activity when time and finance allow…. God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps 68:6) and he intends to use your house as living proof.” If we only think about our own family and relatives and do not reach out to others, we miss the opportunity to build up one another in our churches. Instead, by inviting others to our imperfect home for some basic food and company, we make time to listen to one another. We learn that Joe just lost his job and we might have a connection that could help him. We find out that Sally is an expert seamstress, and maybe she can help us understand how to make the shirt we were confused about. We learn that Janet has a book group that meets monthly at her home and Jed can no longer cut his lawn because of his back trouble. Myrtle just found out she has cancer and she is frightened, and Darius is worried sick about his teenaged son. We pray together. We sing hymns or psalms together. We show love, and we rack our brains to think of what else we can do to help. We follow Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Or, alternatively, we say that we are tired or too poor, and we always stay home alone and watch television or plug ourselves into our phones or computers. Sports and movies and funny videos are way more interesting, and even easier than serving onion dip. Some people say that they need all day Sunday to spend time with their immediate family because they work and have other activities on the other six days. Consider the fact that showing hospitality is a family activity that your kids will learn from. And if you only use two to three hours, you will still have time left over to interact as family. The amount of hospitality shown will vary from family to family. But every adult should be exhibiting some, even if they just have a small apartment – they might invite two people over for coffee and discussion. It’s the time together that counts far more than the fare that is served or the furniture and house that it’s served in.  Simplify Fellowship doesn’t have to include a meal! Invite someone for chatting, singing, praying, and/or talking about what God taught you in the sermon, and serve nothing, or only coffee and store-bought cookies or coffee cake. There’s no need to one-up someone else. As mentioned, onion dip, chips, and veggies have been one way that people can easily show hospitality to others. You could meet in a park on a beautiful day, as well. Other easy ways might include: Serve hors d’oeuvres from the frozen section, heated in your oven for a short while. Have a meal of soup and buns, as has been the tradition for years. If you cannot manage homemade soup, canned soup as is or “doctored up” (such as adding leftover chicken and carbs to the basic soup) is fine. Homemade bread or biscuits are great, but store-bought Italian bread (available for a low cost at Walmart) can suffice as well. Pre-made frozen meatballs, heated with marinara or sweet and sour sauce are always good. Buy the sauce or make an easy one by mixing one jar of chili sauce (found in the same grocery aisle as the ketchup) and one jar of grape jam/jelly; heat, thicken if necessary, and pour over the meatballs. Cookies, cake, pudding, ice cream, or pie, whether homemade or store-bought are a good option. Fruit is a healthy choice. If you don’t have time to make a fruit salad, just serve sliced watermelon, bunches of grapes, orange slices, or strawberries. Make a practice of inviting people over regularly, perhaps once or twice a month to get started. Take an interest in them. And don’t just invite the same family and friends – work your way through your church directory and invite people that you barely know. The point is to get to know them better so you can build one another up in the Lord. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11...

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Reformed communities stepping up to provide “Safe Families”

It takes some courage to get into the public to show love for our neighbors, with a meal for an elderly person, taking part in a Life Chain, or helping at the local soup kitchen. Some may even take their children so they are exposed. But how would we feel about welcoming the public into our own homes to live with us temporarily? A different sort of fostering It was at a legal seminar in London, Ontario, about ten years ago, that I first heard of a movement called “safe families.” Jennifer Francis, a young woman at that seminar, was intent on launching the organization, modeled after Safe Families for Children in the USA. Not only has it taken off in Canada, members of the Reformed church community are helping it expand to new areas. Safe Families exists to keep children safe and families together. As they describe on their website, they “temporarily host children and provide a network of support to families in crisis while they get back on their feet.” What sets them apart is that they do this outside of the government system. Yet their effectiveness has made them a go-to place for child welfare agencies, who regularly refer families to them, encouraging these families to make use of their care so that they don’t get into a crisis mode where the government needs to intervene. “Instead of waiting for bad things to happen to children, we can step in to help,” they explain. “By design, child welfare systems are designed to react after something bad happens to a child. Such interventions can be necessary in cases of abuse and neglect, but we can help before bad things occur.” In the 20 years of their existence, the Safe Families movement has provided over 35,000 hostings, utilizing 25,000 volunteers and 4,500 churches, most of those in the US, UK, or Canada, with 93 percent of the children returning home. The concept immediately struck a chord in my heart, as it provides an opportunity for Christ’s church to open our arms to vulnerable families and children in a way that is both practical and simple. Having witnessed the enormous sacrifice, and occasional heartache, of families who served within the government system as foster families, this appeared to be an option that would be far more doable for ordinary families. God blessed that young woman’s vision and Safe Families was incorporated as a Canadian non-profit in 2012. Francis has since been faithfully leading the organization, first as the Executive Director, and now as the interim chair of the board. Safe Families started ministering to families in the Greater Toronto Area but has now spread to many cities across Canada. Reformed folk seizing the opportunity to serve When I was first introduced to the concept, I couldn’t help but consider the potential for the Reformed community in Canada to get on board, as we are blessed with so many solid families who would be able to provide temporary care to children in need, outside the foster system. Sure enough, quietly and humbly, some in the Reformed community have been getting involved with the new chapters that have been formed. Most recently, a chapter is being formed in BC’s Lower Mainland. I reached out to Jessica Wildeboer, who is chairing the steering committee to form this new chapter and is a member of the Langley Canadian Reformed Church. I asked her what sparked the idea of bringing a chapter to the Fraser Valley. She explained that she heard about the organization from her sister, who attended an information session in Edmonton, but she didn’t give it much thought until a friend sent her a link to the Real Talk podcast episode, where Lucas Holtvluwer and Tyler Vanderwoude sat down with Hildy Sloots from Safe Families last year. “I rarely listen to podcasts at all, but somehow (God's work) I found myself washing dishes while listening to it. I was hooked. I loved all that I heard” shared Wildeboer. And she didn’t stop there. “I knew this needed to happen here in the Lower Mainland. I sent an email to Safe Families and asked about a BC chapter. They replied saying that a Zoom meeting was coming up and I was welcome to join. This was in September. By November we had a steering committee established with nine Christians, from Vancouver to Chilliwack, and we started planning steps forward.” Different ways to help In February of this year, Jason Peters, the Western Canada Director of Safe Families, led three information sessions in the Fraser Valley. They were thrilled to have about 230 people come out, representing 25 different churches. Three members of the steering committee shared with the audiences why they believed Safe Families was needed and important. “As chair, I shared my own experience of seeing my church rally around my family in times of crisis” Wildeboer explained. RCMP officer Steve Vandelft, and social worker Kathleen Vanderveen, also shared how in their work experience they would often see families who needed extra support. Wildeboer explained that “We put out sign-up papers asking for people to express what areas they might be interested in helping with in the future. Different areas include being a resources friend (organize meals, pick up groceries, help with a reno), family friend (do some babysitting, offer encouragement), family coach (overseeing the volunteers surrounding the family in crisis), and host family (hosting children overnight in your home for short periods of time, sometimes weeks).” The response was incredible. “After the three info sessions, we had so many people check so many boxes with wanting to help, and we even had 18 families sign up wanting to become a host family! Amazing!” A Christian witness What also sets Safe Families apart is their faith-based approach, “motivated by the compassion and grace that they first received from Jesus Christ.” And the beautiful thing is that instead of this closing doors to working with the child welfare system, they form a bridge between families who are in need and the Christian community. “When a family in church is in crisis, meals are brought, babysitting is arranged, rides are organized, whatever is needed is provided,” shared Wildeboer. “But how do people without a church community survive when a crisis hits? Our churches seem rich with resources such as stable homes. How can we bless our community with our resources?” She also liked that the service is local and hands-on. “I think there is also something precious and vital about being more intentional within our own communities. I like my kids to help with babysitting. I like my kids to help with making a meal and dropping it off. I like my kids to write cards to neighbours and hand-deliver them. Sometimes we can be too busy in our own safe comfortable bubble with people we know, but we could improve with meeting new people and warmly welcoming all those we meet. It is good to get uncomfortable, that's what Jesus did.” To learn more about Safe Families and find the locations of their chapters, go to You can also listen to or watch the Real Talk interview below that first inspired Jessica Wildeboer (you can also find it at Pictured at the top: Six of the nine steering committee members, along with the Western Canada Director for Safe Families Jason Peters. Jessica Wildeboer is second from the left. ...


Red, White, and Blue? Are there greener pastures south of the border?

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” These words are engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, calling out to countless immigrants to America, who were longing for freedom from persecution, from poverty, from overcrowding, from a restricted way of life. These words, when written in 1883, were mostly aimed at citizens of the “Old World,” but lately more Canadians are hearing the call of “Lady Liberty,” and wondering if life would be better south of the 49th parallel. Are Americans really freer than Canadians? What would our lives be like if we moved to the USA? I would like to make clear that I’m not entirely unbiased. I’m proud of my Canadian heritage, and I love Canada, but my wife Faith and I moved from B.C. to the U.S.A. in 1996, first to Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, and later to Lynden, Washington, where we have lived since 2002. We love the U.S. but we also recognize that there are many things about moving that should be considered carefully before making a momentous decision that will have generational consequences. I hope that this article may give good food for thought to RP readers who are thinking about pulling up stakes, or who know others who are considering such a move. Freedom Both countries’ national anthems espouse freedom: America is “the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” while Canada is “The True North, strong and free.” As a test case, the COVID restrictions and lockdowns of 2020-2021 are a fascinating study in how much freedom was or wasn’t prized, with all the different policies that were implemented in the hopes of saving lives. In general, Canadian provinces locked down more tightly and for a longer time than most American states. Bryan Grim and his wife Leanne moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota this past summer from Surrey, B.C. with their seven children. Bryan recalled that in B.C. for long stretches, they were restricted in their movements within the province, forbidden to travel between arbitrarily designated zones. Travel restrictions were tough, but having “in-person” worship services forbidden was another matter entirely. For many months, most Canadian churches did not gather together for worship in their church buildings, but resorted to live streaming of a pastor preaching to a mostly empty church. As these restrictions stretched on, church members debated and argued over whether or not they should defy the shutdown orders, or reluctantly obey. Church councils across the country had to deal with division among office bearers and among the members, and in some cases these wounds are still healing. In the U.S., with fifty different governors, and fifty different legislatures, there were many different responses to COVID. Some more rural and conservative states (including Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Utah, and Wyoming) had very few state-wide restrictions, and no enforced “stay at home” orders. Other states like Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Texas opened up to regular commerce, worship services, and in-person education much more quickly than more left-leaning states like California, New York, and Washington. One common pattern in both countries is that most big cities were tougher on lockdowns: whether you lived in Los Angeles or Toronto, at times you would have felt very restricted. In more rural parts of both countries, there may have been more lenience by police forces and local governments. In my adopted home town of Lynden, the local police and the county sheriff’s department did not enforce any of the state governor’s directives restricting worship services, and local mayors and elected officials encouraged churches to use common sense in deciding whether or not, and how, to hold in-person worship services. Many of the “lesser magistrates” in different parts of the USA recognized the vital (literally, life-giving) importance of worship services to the lives of a free people, upholding the First Amendment of the Constitution that states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” RP readers may be aware of areas in Canada where overly burdensome regulations from provincial or national governments were not enforced by local governments, but it’s safe to say that these cases were few and far between. Canadians are by and large brought up to respect those in authority over us, and most Canadian Christians can quote from Romans 13 by heart: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…” Americans, of course, have the same Bible! But somehow, there is a spirit of independence among citizens of the U.S. that pushes back strongly against any authority that is deemed to have over-reached its powers as granted in national or state constitutions. Americans rebelled against what they judged to be the unlawful and unjust authority of King George III in 1776; many who were loyal to the British crown and did not believe rebellion was the proper path left the country and moved to Canada. Are Americans more free than Canadians?  That likely depends greatly on the state or province in which you hang your hat, and on the size of the city you have made your home. But the spirit of independence of citizens, and their desire to curtail government powers to those specifically granted by constitutions does seem to be more alive in most of the fifty states than in the provinces and territories. Drifting in the same direction? The Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees fundamental freedoms such as “freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, and freedom of expression.” Yet many Canadians are angry about the government’s power being directed against them when they exercise these freedoms, and call homosexuality a sin against God, or when they speak out against government policies they judge to be unjust. (Some truckers who spoke out against the COVID lockdowns found themselves frozen out of their bank accounts!) But how different are things in the U.S.? The recent mid-term elections in the U.S. were disappointing for many American Christians. If the exit polling is accurate, millions of voters were swayed by pro-abortion advocates to keep the Democrat party in control of the Senate. Conservatives had hoped that the leftward drift of the country would be rejected by its citizenry. Instead, the voters appeared to endorse the leadership of President Biden, who despite his Roman Catholic faith, has embraced abortion as a “reproductive right.” Self-identified independents who can sway election results for either side mostly voted for the Democratic candidates: in particular younger, female voters helped push results in favor of the more liberal of the country’s two major political parties. (The Republican party did gain control of the House of Representatives, but with a far slimmer margin than pollsters had predicted.) One election does not necessarily indicate a permanent shift, but Canadians who wish to escape liberal trends in government might pause to look carefully at directions in the United States. Church communities Nate and Victoria and their son Jaxon – show off some of their geographical connections, sitting in front of the US, Canadian, and Australia flags. A generation or two ago, many Reformed people would narrow down the locations that they’d be willing to move, to areas where they could find a church from within their own federation, or one that was already recognized as a “sister church.” There is definitely some safety and wisdom in this approach: if we move for greater economic opportunities, or political freedom, but compromise in our choice of which church to join, we may live to regret that decision. Nate and Victoria VanAndel recently moved to Maryville, Tennessee from Brantford, Ontario with their son Jaxon. The VanAndels were grateful for the ability to watch recorded worship services from churches they were considering; it helped them make their decision to join Sandy Springs Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) near Knoxville after also visiting some local congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). “Sundays include a pre-service Sunday school in the morning, a bi-monthly potluck lunch, and an evening service,” said Victoria. “We have found this church to be very inviting, and we felt at home here very quickly.” (The OPC is in a fraternal relationship with both the URC and CanRC federations; the PCA is recognized within NAPARC as a faithful church body.) Canadians who have been members of long-established Reformed churches back at home may be surprised by how small many of the conservative Presbyterian or Reformed churches are in the USA, particularly in areas where there has not been a large Dutch immigrant community. For example, the OPC has an average congregational size of 110 members. Smaller churches can have many benefits, with greater opportunity for strong relationships between members, and community involvement, but some of the resources of a larger church community may not be present. Christian schooling Bryan Grim found this to be the case in particular with regard to Christian education. Grim grew up in the Fraser Valley of B.C., and appreciates the schools founded by Canadian Reformed people in the 1950s, with many United Reformed members also joining these school societies in the last twenty years. Grim stated that the local Christian school society in Sioux Falls appears to have drifted from its Reformed roots, and not many members of his new home church, Christ Reformed URC, send their children there (although Bryan and Leanne’s children are attending). More parents have chosen to homeschool their students, rather than worry about what the young people are taught when away from the home. This appears to be a more common trend in long established American Christian school societies in Reformed communities, which after a period of years, drop their requirements that teachers and leaders adhere to the Reformed confessions and maintain membership in a faithful church body. How the parents and educators who worked so hard to establish these schools would lament these developments! How about our grandparents? Those in favor of moving out of Canada might point to their grandparents or great grandparents, many of whom moved away from the Netherlands without having issues of church membership or schooling finally settled. No doubt, many of the Dutch who left Holland had not thought through every detail of family and church life, but judged that greater opportunity in Canada, and further distance from European wars and struggles made the risk a responsible one. In the rear-view mirror, they may judge that they made the right decision, that they by and large were able to establish strong, faithful churches, schools, and communities, and leave behind a country that had much less opportunity for the average citizen. This did not come easily, however, and these older generations had difficult years and struggles along the way. The Lord blessed His people as they worked faithfully wherever He placed them. Affordability In the last thirty years, real estate prices in Canadian cities have increased by leaps and bounds. In southern Ontario, in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and in the larger prairie cities, young people may have a very hard time buying their own home. Research firm Oxford Economics recently reported that overall Canadian real estate prices rose 331% from 1990 through today. The report sounded an alarm that with rising interest rates, many Canadians would have difficulties making their mortgage payments. The study also reported that real estate had risen 289% during the same time period in the USA, which sounds like a similar rise in value, but as any realtor will say, all real estate is local, and the top three factors in a home’s value are “location, location, location!” Home prices in rural American states remain much more affordable for the average wage-earner. Bryan and Leanne Grim were able to buy a home on a four-acre property that would be far out of reach for the average buyer if that home were located in Surrey or Mississauga or Los Angeles. In addition, mortgage rates in the U.S. can be locked in for up to thirty years, giving cost certainty for buyers who can be confident that their payments will remain constant as long as they stay in the same home. With housing prices so high in the lower B.C. mainland, Bryan believed his children would likely have had to move away to become homeowners. By moving to Sioux Falls, he and Leanne  have a greater chance that as their children grow up and form their own households, these might be near Dad and Mom. So far, the Grims have found the cost of living in Sioux Falls to be significantly less than in B.C. with the exception of Christian schooling. Many Christian school societies in Canada charge at a discounted rate for large families, while these discounts might be smaller or non existent in the more typical American Christian school system. Federal tax rates are substantially lower in the U.S. than in Canada, and there are nine states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington) that have no state-level income tax at all. Michigan, with an abundance of Reformed churches, has the fourth lowest cost of living of the fifty states, and is among the most affordable for housing costs. Family and friends Adam, the oldest son of Bryan and Leanne Grim children, shown exercising his American "right to bear arms." Emigrants inevitably leave behind precious loved ones in their family circle – parents, siblings, cousins, extended church family, and friends. When four of Gary and Cindy Wieske’s six grown children began to move south, one by one, it made the decision to pursue a move themselves easier. Daughter Jodi was already settled in suburban Chicago with her husband. Son Caleb, an entrepreneur like his dad, had always wanted to move to the States, and eventually chose Tennessee as his destination, where he and his brother Dustin have started an outdoor living company, supplying patio furniture, barbecues, smokers, and similar products. As owners of Ontario Stone Supply in Dundas, Gary and Cindy Wieske were able to buy a similar company in Fort Myers, Florida, where they moved along with son Rodney and his family: Rodney is manager of the new location in Fort Myers, while son Luke and daughter Nadia are running the company back home in Ontario. Gary Wieske is thankful to be able to travel to see his kids and grandkids in Florida, Tennessee, Illinois and southern Ontario. In South Dakota, Bryan and Leanne Grim are also glad that Bryan’s sister and her family moved to the same neighborhood, giving all the children the benefit of having cousins and friends nearby. Most of those who move, however, will not have the benefit of frequent in-person contact with extended family and long-time friends. While staying connected through phone and internet is easier and more affordable now than it’s ever been, it isn’t the same as in-person visits or catching up over a cup of coffee. In particular, parents with young families may find it hard to be away from the network of babysitting grandparents, and friends ready to pitch in at a moment’s notice. Can you do it? There are a number of possible legal paths that Canadians can consider for a move to the U.S. Many American companies are looking for professionally qualified employees in diverse fields, and may be able to help with the immigration procedure. Investors’ visas are another common route: they do require a good amount of capital, a good business plan, and a lot of paperwork to qualify, but the route is a well-trodden one. It is possible to take care of the paperwork and filing to immigrate without a lawyer but it may be a much more frustrating and time-consuming endeavor.  Everyone I spoke to for this article mentioned the value of a good immigration attorney. “They give you the confidence that you can do it,” said Gary Wieske. “Although there is still a lot of planning, and a lot of paperwork and charts.” In general, immigration attorneys know their business and are able to find the most expeditious path to a visa, including advice on which visas can lead to eventual permanent residence status (also known as a “green card”). It may be wise to find a lawyer who you know has been able to help other Canadians make the move legally: in our Lynden community, we could readily recommend which lawyers have been excellent, and which may not have quite as sterling a reputation. Should you do it? When asked, “Why make the move?” Gary Wieske quoted his son Dustin: “For faith, for family, and for freedom: if that’s what we’re doing it for, then we’ll be blessed.” So far, Wieske has no regrets: his family appreciates living among so many more outspoken Christians than back home. He recalls the simple gesture of a waitress in a Tennessee restaurant who reminded Wieske’s grandkids to pray for their meal: “That’s something I’ve never seen in all my years in Ontario!” For Bryan Grim and his family, the move has so far been all very positive: he appreciates that South Dakotans value their freedom, and, in particular, their freedom of expression. Grim finds that folks in his relatively small town are tolerant of other viewpoints: “In South Dakota, you’re still allowed to have your own opinion.” While Victoria VanAndel misses family back in Ontario, she instantly felt at home in the south: “The first week here in Tennessee I remember saying to Nate that I had such nice people serve me at the grocery store, and wherever I had to run errands that day. After a week of this though it became clear that the people are just friendlier and happier here! We had neighbors welcome us with baskets of veggies, porch flowers and a kind word of ‘welcome to Tennessee, this here is God’s country!” Whether or not a move out of your community is right for you and your family is really a question that you can only answer yourself. As has been discussed, there are many factors to consider. God has called us to live faithfully before Him as prophets confessing His name, as priests presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to Him, and as kings fighting against sin and the devil, and we may and must do all these things wherever we find ourselves living on this earth. As we consider our roles as members of God’s Church, as parents, as children, as employees, and as citizens, let us use wisdom from God’s word, listen to good counsel from those we respect, and pray to the Lord for guidance in these decisions. Marty VanDriel is the Assistant Editor of Reformed Perspective....


Is it time to leave Canada?

I had to answer this question in front of a live, though physically distanced, audience in Toronto in the fall of 2021. The presentation occurred in the midst of numerous Covid restrictions and concerning developments in Canada’s Parliament and legislatures, including a proposal to criminalize “conversion therapy.” Since then, the hypothetical has become a reality for some Reformed families, who have decided to uproot and move to the USA, and Marty VanDriel is sharing some of their stories in this issue’s feature article. While talk is cheap, action often inspires others to action. Their decisions to leave is provoking many of us to search our hearts and make our own decision about whether to stay or think seriously about relocating. If I were to follow my heart or even my mind, it wouldn’t be too hard to convince me to move, especially if the new location comes with a warmer climate and a few palm trees thrown in. Yet I also know we are called not to follow simply our hearts, but God’s Word and law (Ps. 119) and to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). God’s Word makes it clear that whether we stay or leave, what should ultimately motivate us is the furtherance of His kingdom, not our own. Don’t look for Heaven on Earth C.S. Lewis once said that “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” So when our hearts long for a better place than Canada, that longing isn’t a bad thing. It only means we are pilgrims, looking for a country of our own (Heb. 11:14). We just shouldn’t be fooled by the hope that the USA, or any other region of this world, is going to satisfy that longing. The problem with going to a new location is that we take ourselves with us. And that is a problem because “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). A change of location doesn’t change our broken condition, as much as we may want it to. Although some places in this world may have more freedom than Canada, there isn’t a place on the planet that is free of the effects of the fall into sin. And even if one location is better than another, it might be just a matter of time before that changes, especially because it will attract people like ourselves, stained with sin even before we were born (Ps. 51). God wants the Earth filled and the Gospel spread This doesn’t mean that we have a divine mandate to stay put. On the contrary, God has given humanity two commissions or mandates, and both come with a calling to move. God’s first instruction to humanity was the cultural mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). As beautiful as Eden was, God didn’t want Adam and Eve’s children to stay there. They were instructed to inhabit the entire earth. When we fast-forward to Genesis 11, we read about people starting to move eastward and then settling down and deciding to build a city, “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). In response, God confused their language and “the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth” (11:8). He didn’t want them to get comfortable. At the end of Christ’s ministry, He gave us another commission – the Great Commission – which once again included a global focus, to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The apostles wasted little time and brought the Gospel throughout the known world. Centuries later, that Gospel reached our forefathers. Without people obeying that call to spread their wings, the Gospel wouldn’t have reached us. Reaching the world without leaving the country Canada has recently seen a massive influx of immigration and is set to welcome 500,000 more immigrants every year. That means we don’t need to move to a different continent to reach others. God is sending them to our own neighborhoods. And even though Canada has a Christian heritage, even most of the children growing up in this country don’t know the basics of the Gospel message. In northern BC, where my family currently lives, many communities still don’t have access to faithful Gospel preaching. When we think about where to settle down, we often look at where our relatives are, where job opportunities may be, and the cost of real estate. These things matter a great deal, as we have to first be responsible for our own families. But many of us are capable of relocating. In fact, technology has made it easer than ever to work and study in other places. Speaking from my own experience, our family has been able to stay very connected to the family members that we left a thousand kilometers away. So if Canadian Christians are able to move, instead of looking at other countries, why not consider Prince George, BC, Niverville, Manitoba, or Powassan, Ontario? These communities have small Reformed church plants that are eager for more members. It may not be as attractive to head to communities where the climate is colder, where there aren’t established Reformed schools, and there’s little or no family or friends. But that is how most Reformed communities in Canada started just 50-70 years ago. We already know the language and the culture, we have skills that we can utilize immediately and there are often jobs waiting. In other words, although it may not stir our hearts in the way that a full-time mission position overseas may, moving to these communities is practical and impactful for God’s kingdom. Seek the welfare of the country where we have been placed Whether we stay or go, it is helpful to keep in mind that throughout the ages, most of God’s people had little choice about where they would live. They had to work to survive and didn’t have the luxury of uprooting. That is true of many of us today too. Even if we wanted to move to a better country or a different community, it doesn’t mean that country would allow us to come or that a move would work for our spouse or children. When God’s people were forced to uproot in the Babylonian exile, God’s instruction to them through His prophet was to “build houses and settle down” and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile“ (Jer. 29:5,7). Regardless of where we settle, these are words we can still take to heart. God’s people are generally encouraged to “live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17). But, lest we conclude that God intends that we just accept our situation, only a verse later he tells slaves “Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (vs. 21). In other words, we should bloom as kingdom citizens where we are planted, but that doesn’t mean that we need to wilt if the conditions are poor and another good option is possible. Building off of this, if we are concerned by the direction of our land, we need to “be the change we want to see.” God has given us opportunities to shine our lights in this land and even to serve in institutions and offices of government, or to support those who are. Knowing solid Christians who have answered that call and been willing to serve as MPs, MPPs, town councilors, and leaders in business or other realms, I’m convinced that we can do a better job of encouraging and assisting them in these roles, rather than just criticizing them. It is incredibly difficult to serve as a Christian in a secular land. Let’s help each other rather than tear each other down, discouraging others from serving themselves. Exceptional circumstances may force a move The points above apply in times of widespread freedom and safety. But circumstances can change quickly. Jesus experienced this early in His life. His parents were warned to leave Israel when he was still a baby, seeking refuge from political persecution by relocating to Egypt (Matt. 2). When it was safe to move back, his parents were warned in a dream about going to Judea, so they settled instead in Nazareth, the community where Jesus was raised. And it isn’t just our safety that can change quickly. The same can apply to our spiritual health. We confess that the preaching of the Gospel is one of the two keys of the kingdom of heaven (Lord’s Day 31, Heidelberg Catechism). In other words, we need to be under the preaching. The last two years have made it clear that many of Canada’s leaders simply don’t care much if Christians can’t gather for worship. In my home province, we were told that gathering virtually is a sufficient long-term replacement, even though churches respectfully explained that God’s Word, not the government, should determine what is sufficient when it comes to worship. If it were up to many of our leaders, they would have no problem with shutting down churches for good. Thankfully, God has restrained wickedness and still allows the freedom to preach the Gospel. This is something to be grateful for and to use while we have it. Don’t be paralyzed There is a lot, then, to prayerfully consider. But we shouldn’t get caught up in analysis paralysis. If an opportunity arises where we can best further God’s kingdom and bless our families in a different country or community, and if people who know us well advise us to pursue it, we can embrace the move with enthusiasm, not held back by those who don’t agree or understand. God’s kingdom isn’t limited by earthly borders. In his superb book, aptly titled Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung advises: “we should stop looking for God to reveal the future to us and remove all risk from our lives. We should start looking to God – His character and His promises – and thereby have confidence to take risks for His name’s sake.” So whether in Canada or beyond, let’s be strong and courageous, taking risks for His kingdom, not our own. Mark Penninga is the Reformed Perspective’s Executive Director....

Assorted, Church history

Santa Claus at Nicea

As we continue to celebrate Advent, we need to deal with a competing story. But it would probably be more accurate to say that we have to deal with a godly story that has been encrusted with many layers of foolishness. But let us take away those layers, and ask – who was the original Santa Claus? St. Nicholas of Myra (a city in modern-day Turkey) was a fourth-century bishop. He was renowned for his kindliness to the needy and to children. He inherited a large fortune which he gave away, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and hostels for the mentally infirm. Legends spread concerning his generosity, which included him delivering gifts secretly by night. During his day, the famous Council of Nicea was held and, according to one legend, the orthodox Nicholas slapped Arius in the face for his blasphemy. Following the legend, Nicholas was then defrocked for this breach of decorum, but was later reinstated as the result of a vision. It should be obvious to us Protestants that some of the medieval follies concerning veneration of saints were already at work here. The man became a bishop, the bishop became a saint (in the medieval sense), and stories spread concerning his ability to continue on with his generosity, even though he had long been with the Lord. The stories all had many variations, but generosity was at the heart of all of them. These different European stories came to America from many directions, and they all went into our famous melting pot. The Scandinavians brought their conception of him as an elf. The Dutch brought their name for him (Sinterklaas). In 1808 Washington Irving wrote a story of him as a jolly Dutchman. In 1822, a poet named Moore gave us the Night before Christmas getting rid of Irving’s horses and wagon, and subbing in reindeer and sleigh. Then in 1863 the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast gave us the popular conception we see all around us today. The issue for us is not stockings by the chimney, or other harmless customs. But we must learn from this that if we do not tell our stories faithfully, they will gradually change over time until they become quite unrecognizable. With a story like this – one that has in the minds of many supplanted the story of the Christ child – we have to remember that St. Nicholas probably would have slugged somebody over it. Pastor Douglas Wilson’s “God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything” is a wonderfully curious book that not only explains how Santa once punched a guy in the face, but ”why nativity sets should have Herod’s soldiers.” If the yearly repetition has you less than enthused about Christmas time coming yet again, this book is for you, to help rekindle your understanding of, and enthusiasm for Advent and Christmas. This excerpt has been reprinted here with permission of the publisher Canon Press....


"Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus"

In 1897, The Sun newspaper was asked a doozy of a question. Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wanted to know: “is there a Santa Claus?” The little girl had first asked her papa and he, like a skilled matador, neatly sidestepped the question, telling her to write a letter to the editor. “If you see it in The Sun,” he told her, “it’s so.” You can imagine the tension that must have enveloped the newsroom when this letter arrived. On the one hand, the journalistic integrity of the paper was at stake; how could they do anything but tell the truth? And on the other... well, only a grinch would want to kill Santa Claus, so how could they possibly tell her the truth? Here, in part, is what editorialist Francis Pharcellus wrote: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.... Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Thanks to Pharcellus, Santa lived on for this little girl. At least for another year. Today it seems like we have the same two options facing us: to share the fun of Santa with our children, or to tell the truth about Him. We can either be liars or killjoys. Honest killjoys? The strength of the killjoy option is readily apparent. God loves truth, and hates lies. We teach our children to love truth and hate lies. So we as parents should be truthful and not tell lies. More worrisome is how similar the mythical Santa is to the real God. Both can’t be seen, both know when we’ve been bad or good, and both administer justice. So when we tell our kids that both are real, but later admit that, yes, that Santa guy actually isn’t, we’ve given our kids good reason to doubt what we’ve told them about God. That’s big. That’s huge! Fun So does that mean we have to give up on the fun of Santa? Nope. There is a third option that Francis Pharcellus knew nothing about. In our family photo album one of the pictures is of a kid, 5 or 6, who has just been given a Sesame Street Ernie puppet. In the photo we can see Ernie talking, and the expression on this boy’s face is of wide-eyed, mouth gaping, jumping up on his tiptoes, kind of joy – he could not be more excited! And yet, this is no dumb kid. He can surely tell that where Ernie’s legs should have been, there was his brother’s arm instead. And the voice he was hearing couldn’t have sounded much like Ernie’s. The boy knew this wasn’t really Ernie... but it sure was fun to pretend! The third option is telling our kids the truth, and then playing make-believe. Keeping the good If our kids know this Santa guy is just a story, then we can keep what’s good, and ditch whatever we don’t like. We can reimagine the story, skip the crass commercialization, and keep the generosity. We can pick the Saint over the Santa, and connect the Saint to his Savior. We can pick the 5th of December, or do our Dutch heritage proud and exchange gifts after Boxing Day when everything can be had for 50% off. Zwarte Piet can make an appearance, or not... but if he does show up, he’s going to be less scary, and a lot more fun because the kids will be in on the joke. We can put out the glass of milk, and make sure that whatever cookies we place on the plate are dad’s favorites. Children can still get their pictures taken with Santa, or skip it if the line is too long – no stress, no worries, because, hey, he’s just a guy playing dress-up after all. And if the line is too long, maybe dad will have to get out the ol’ beard and pillow for some photos at home. Because it sure is fun to pretend. Pretending is awesome. But lying to little Victoria? Ho, ho ho, well, that is sure to land you on Santa’s naughty list! This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue. The author is worried he might not need the pillow....

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