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What makes a person instantly unattractive?

I asked this question on a Facebook page for secular women over 60 years of age:

“What makes a person instantly unattractive?”

I was intrigued by the breadth of answers, but not surprised at those at the top of the list. Within two days I received more than 150 answers. There were trends – answers could be grouped together in 12 different characteristics, so I compiled what I had and ordered them according to the number of answers that were received for each characteristic. Why undertake such a study? I did it for a couple of reasons:

  • A desire to share Christ – In this data, I was hearing from mainly non-Christians. So what types of behavior might make us immediately repugnant to them? Let’s take a look at ourselves and determine whether we are acting in loving ways in order to share Christ.
  • A desire for friendship – Many people are lonely, and some have difficulty building friendships. While it isn’t always our fault, it might be helpful to compare these unattractive traits and prayerfully analyze whether we might find room in ourselves for improvement.

Being attractive

Proverbs 16:21 says: “The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” Here is a clue towards being a witness for our Lord. And Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Being unattractive

Let’s take a look at the top twelve characteristics that make a person instantly unattractive, in the order of the number of votes received:

  1. Bad attitude
  2. Potty mouth/cursing
  3. Smoking
  4. Body odor/poor hygiene/dirty or unkempt clothes
  5. Bad breath
  6. Arrogant/entitled/rude
  7. Lying
  8. Boasting/bragging
  9. Complaining/ungrateful spirit
  10. Being unkind
  11. Bad manners
  12. Being bossy/loud/yelling

To be honest, years ago it never occurred to me that people might dislike my loudness and yelling, or what I eventually discerned to be my bossiness.

These are the top twelve characteristics that may make us instantly unattractive to other people. Where might we improve? Is it possible that some of these characteristics are making us less lovely to be around? Do we come across in any of these ways to our neighbors, coworkers, fellow church members, or prospective friends? How is your attitude when life isn’t going as you would prefer?

Working on it

Think about 1 Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

This description of real love is a tall order, but it is not beyond what we can learn through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Without love, we are a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal; we are nothing. This chapter goes on to get rid of nearly half the list immediately: arrogance (6), boasting (8), unkindness (10), and being bossy (12).

It pretty well covers bad attitudes (1), lying (7), and complaining (9) as well. Manners (11) are just a culturally agreed upon way to show respect and love for one another. For example, no one wants to watch someone’s food roll around inside his mouth, or be commanded without a please and thank-you.

In regards to potty mouth/cursing (2) and hygiene (4), we could say that these come under the law of kindness as well. If we put others first instead of ourselves, we will consider the language that we use, and not make others uncomfortable. We will “do unto others as we would have them do unto us” by not causing others to have to put up with a stench in our presence. A smoker can at least be courteous around those who are sensitive to the odor of tobacco (3). And we can make the effort to clean our teeth and mouths as well as possible (5) to consider the sensitivities of others.


None of us enjoy being around people who exhibit unattractive characteristics. Now that we know what many other people find obnoxious, we can all take a look at ourselves to see how we can become lovelier.


Outward appearance over against the heart

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:19-20). When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30). ***** Over the centuries, there have been people who died selflessly for things they held dear – country, love, honor, faith – just to mention a few. Martyrs such as Polycarp, Latimer, and Stephen died for their faith. The American patriot Nathan Hale, who famously cried out prior to his death: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," died for his homeland. There is also another category of those who died, but by unintentionally putting their lives at risk for love of self, for vanity, and for pride. Good Queen Bess Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 to 1603, became ill with what was first assumed to be a fever. It was not. It was the dreaded smallpox. At the time of this fever, this young daughter of Henry VIII was twenty-nine years old and she had been queen for only four short years. Adored by the British public, she was known to have a good-natured smile and a trim figure. Seen wearing intricate lace collars beneath a smooth, ivory complexion, the youthful monarch considered her looks somewhat of a status symbol. Her fiery red hair was usually dotted with expensive jewels – the jewels representing her chastity. While in bed with the fever, it was feared in the court and in the country that she would die. At the onset of her illness, Elizabeth refused to believe that she had contracted the dreaded disease. A Dr. Burcott was asked to diagnose and when he came up with the word “smallpox,” the word “fool” escaped Elizabeth's lips. A repeat visit from the man, who was quite courageous in returning to her side a second time, having been called a fool the first time, again identified the illness with these words: “Tis the pox,” whereupon Elizabeth, it is said, moaned: “God's pestilence! Which is better? To have the pox in the hand or in the face or in the heart and kill the whole body?” No such angry words came from the lips of Mary Sidney, Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting and friend, a loyal girl who selflessly nursed her sovereign for hours throughout the illness. Mary had caught the disease from her mistress for whom she was caring and, as a result of her devotion, the girl became very disfigured. Mary Sidney's husband, Sir Henry Sidney, wrote of his wife: "When I went to Newhaven I lefte her a full faire Ladye, in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I retorned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her..." Mary, though scarred, through her sacrificial devotion, was beautiful in the eyes of God. When Elizabeth gazed into her looking-glass after recovering her health, she was devastated to notice that the pox had left some visible scar tissue on her face. Having been celebrated by the populace for her looks, so she thought – the elaborate gowns, her lace kerchiefs and her white skin – she now felt a certain degree of insecurity. Seeking to regain her physical loveliness in the eyes of the public, she hunted about for an answer. She began using Venetian ceruse. Venetian ceruse was a cosmetic used as a skin whitener and it was a lead-based cosmetic. Sometimes mixed with manure for traction or with vinegar to thin out the consistency, it was popular among the rich. Because its main ingredient was lead, however, it was a potential killer. Because of her vanity and insecurity, Elizabeth began covering her facial pockmarks with this heavy, white makeup. She did not know that symptoms of lead poisoning could include abdominal pain, aggressive behavior, constipation, sleep problems, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, loss of teeth, fatigue and high blood pressure. Some scholars believe that Elizabeth’s eventual death was due to blood poisoning from lead. Having access to the Bible, and having read it, the young queen should have known that security was to be sought in God, not in cosmetics. Although Elizabeth's sad lack of knowledge about the danger of Venetian ceruse is to be decried, it was a far worse matter that Elizabeth put her trust and confidence in her outward appearance. Rouged and poisoned There is another story. A century and a bit after Elizabeth I's reign of forty-five years, in 1733 to be exact, a young girl was born in Cambridgeshire, East England. The girl's name was Maria Gunning and she was the eldest child of six. Her father was from Castle Coote, County Roscommon in Ireland and her mother, Bridget Bourke, was the daughter of Theobald Bourke, 6th Viscount Mayo. The Gunnings were not wealthy. On the contrary, they lived in relative poverty on father Gunning's home of Castle Coote. Considering the fact that there were six children to support, mother Bridget decided to become enterprising. When her two oldest girls were barely teens, she decreed they should take up acting. Maria and Elizabeth were both extraordinarily pretty and acting, although not a respectable occupation, could open the doors to wealthy patronage. Actually, the word “pretty” for the two daughters was mild. They were very beautiful. So, shuttled off by their mother, they traveled down to Dublin and joined the theater. In Dublin, the sisters soon became well-known – well-known for their handsomeness. When they were but in their early teens, they were both present at a ball in Dublin Castle wearing gowns borrowed from their theater group. At this ball, Maria was introduced to the Earl of Harrington, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The man was so impressed with the shapely girl, that he granted mother Bridget a pension. With ready money in hand, Bridget immediately took her two daughters to England. Attending parties and dances in Maria's birthplace of Cambridgeshire, the sisters soon became acclaimed personages. Invited to attend the court of St. James, the official royal court of the king of England, they charmed him. Followed by celebrity-seeking crowds wherever they went, their popularity rose to the point where Maria was mobbed one night in Hyde Park. King George II, consequently, gave Maria a guard to protect her and, from then on, she walked in the park with two sergeants of the guard before her and twelve soldiers following her. The girls had achieved fame and notoriety. Within the small space of two years both girls were married – Elizabeth to a duke, and Maria to an earl, thus achieving the rank of Countess. Maria's earl, the 6th Earl of Coventry, took his bride to Paris for a honeymoon. Feeling pressured to preserve the beauty which she felt sure had brought her this far up the social ladder, Maria began using rouge. Rouge was the rage at the French court, and Madame Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV, had set a fashion of pale white skin with red rouged cheeks. The base ingredient of this makeup, as of Venetian ceruse, was lead. Although her husband did not approve of makeup, even wiping it off her face publicly with his handkerchief, Maria continued to apply thick layers onto her skin. But the end of the matter was this – at the tender age of 27, having borne four children, Maria was diagnosed with consumption. It is reported that she retreated to a darkened bedroom in the weeks prior to her death, refusing to receive any visitors. It is also said that her early death was a “death by vanity,” because lead poisoning from her excessive use of makeup probably contributed to her demise. Maria Gunning, or Countess Maria of Coventry, was the owner of a 7-foot mirror and countless jars of rouge. The mirror caused her mental anguish when she gazed into it prior to her death. The rouge caused her physical discomfort and, in the long run, death. Maria had not the spiritual comfort of being beautiful and secure in the eyes of God. She had existed a decade of being feted and admired by the world. But what is that, compared to an eternity?! Not limited to the past We can travel further down in history. In 1867, there was an advertisement placed in a local newspaper in Montreal. The ad praised Dr. Campbell's safe arsenic complexion wafers, as well as acclaiming Dr. Fould's medicated arsenic complexion soap. Both were touted to be wonderful for removing freckles, blackheads, pimples, vulgar redness, rough yellow or muddy skins and all other disfigurements whether on the face, neck, arms or body. The promotion went on to say that if you desired a transparent and clear complexion free from coarseness or blotches, these medications should be tried, by men as well as women, and could be mailed to your address or bought at your local pharmacist. We know, without a doubt, that taking arsenic is bad. Although arsenic destroys red blood cells, which does lead to pale, desired skin, it will eventually kill you. Today as well, harmful ingredients can hide in lipstick, mascara and rouge – ingredients which can wreak havoc with your body. It is a fact that the chemical lead can poison. It hides in many industrial sources, foods, and spices, as well as in everyday cosmetics. Lead, it is said, makes cosmetic colors pop and helps products resist moisture. Many countries have developed strict controls of lead in cosmetics. Sixty-five countries have even banned it outright. But it is still an ingredient among cosmetics in many low- and middle-income countries. There are other health matters which a Christian might keep in mind as he or she considers their appearance. For the woman, there is a shoe choice to be made every day. Granted, we are not all Imelda Marcos material (Imelda was the wife of the former Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and infamously owned 3,000 pairs of shoes), but we do choose our footwear each day. Some women choose very high heels. Wearing stiletto, or any kind of heels, can certainly cause unpleasant side effects – these side effects can include lower back pain, sore calf muscles, protruding veins and constricted blood vessels. All these side effects taken together can sooner or later result in an ugly deformity of the foot called “hammer toe.” Then there is the issue of tight clothing. Wearing close-fitting outfits, often chosen in a desire to be more attractive to the opposite sex, is not only morally unhealthy and not according to Scripture, but also physically unwise. Making a tight garment choice can lead to yeast infections, cause difficulty in breathing and bring on abdominal pain. Tight pants can cause tingling thigh syndrome and “low waist” tight jeans can cause digestive issues and will lead to back pain. It is judicious to wear apparel which keeps circulation flowing. Indeed, it is wise and pleasing in God's eyes to be modest and discreet in dress. Conclusion It is no sin for a woman to want to look pretty. It is no sin to dress attractively and it is no sin to rejoice in the body God has given you. But to depend on physical appearance, to seek security in outward looks, to rely on your exterior for your relationship with others or for your assurance and self-esteem, is not what the Bible teaches. Neither are we to judge others on their outward appearance, but rather we are to evaluate people on their confession of faith and on the fruits of the Spirit they display. We are to be merciful in judgment and we are always to remember that God, and God only, sees the heart. Being beautiful for God can actually cause pain. Living and humbling yourself before others, can cause hurt and hardship. So, indeed, our Lord and Savior found it to be. For it is said of Him in Isaiah 53 that: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Jesus did not eschew a marred countenance; He did not try to cover His wounds for the sake of resembling a more pleasing impression in the eyes of those beholding Him. In fact, His wounds are what make Him beautiful. We do well to remember throughout our earthly life that Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). Knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us beauty of countenance; knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us assurance in life; knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us a reason to live. Have a blessed 2024!...


Complaining: our national pastime

Long ago, people were taught not to complain. In addition, being selfless, giving, and kind was applauded as the way that a person should live. I’m not certain when the tide changed, but there is generally an attitude now of “me first” that is promoted, approved, and endorsed. And we Christians even fall prey to this worldly behavior at times. It is so prevalent that we don’t even recognize it for the sin it is. Just a half twist on the truth I remember noticing self-centeredness when it became popular to say, “‘Charity begins at home, so I need to give to myself first.” The original saying, “Charity begins at home,” meant that learning to love others and put others first is an action that needs to be learned within the family unit. Then I noticed that “Love your brother as you love yourself” (Matt. 22:39) started being used in a way that disregarded Ephesians 5:29 which tells us “…no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Instead, some people started saying, “See, before we can love anyone else we first have to learn to love ourselves right.” Add to this the magazines that encourage women in particular to look out for themselves first (and even the crazy commercials where family members shout, “Leggo my Eggo” as they grab each other’s breakfast treat) and we have a society that thinks this is the correct way to think. Root of complaining When we place ourselves first, this entitlement can have us thinking that nothing should ever go wrong in our lives. Appliances and cars shouldn’t break down, kids shouldn’t argue, milk shouldn’t be spilled, traffic should never be jammed, and other drivers should never drive “wrong.” Our health should always be perfect, and our boss should give us praise and a raise, and our family and friends should consistently lavish loving attention on us (unless, wait, maybe they are putting themselves first also! Hmmm). But here we are in the real world, where things don’t always go the ideal way that we would prefer. And so we hold a complaint-a-thon: “Let me tell you all the things that I didn’t like in my last few hours (or days, or weeks).” Then we launch into how everything stinks. Often our recounting causes us to monopolize the conversation, believing that it’s interesting to the hearers. Our hearers, often enough, are patiently waiting to give their own account of their sufferings until the entire circle of friends is comparing or one-upping levels of discomfort. It’s quite the popular thing to do. When we complain, we are talking only about our own reactions to the world around us. It’s self-focused and self-centered, and generally expresses a lack of gratitude to and trust in the Sovereign God who brought those circumstances to us. Don’t do it The crux of the matter is that God very clearly commands (not suggests!) us not to complain. The apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” The root cause of complaining is a lack of trust in God’s providential care for us. Complaining means that we, His sheep, are essentially saying, “Hey, Shepherd, I don’t like the trial that you sent to me today.” Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” We will not always understand why we face circumstances that we do not like. But when we pray about them, the Lord will assure us that He has everything under control – His path just looks different than ours did. What we think complaining does for us Dave Stuart Jr., in The Case Against Complaining, suggests that we complain because we think venting is therapeutic and will make us feel better. We might even think that it builds the “fellowship of the offended” because we are all in this together. We need to carefully consider what our deceitful hearts tell us to do, as it may not actually be helpful to us or to others who have to listen to us. There are better, more positive ways to build camaraderie, because “complaining wastes time and warps our heart, making us feel powerless.” Will Bowen has an excellent TED Talk entitled “A World Without Complaining.” In it, he states five reasons why people complain so much: To get attention: complaining seems to help them to feel connected to other people. It’s ego reinforcement. To remove responsibility: complaining may get them out of doing a task that they don’t want to do. To inspire envy (or brag): the purpose of their complaining is to impress other people with their superiority in how much more they have suffered.  To make themselves more powerful: they gain support by complaining to people with similar opinions. To excuse poor performance: people complain instead of taking blame for not completing an assigned task. “It’s not my fault, because someone else….” They complain to avoid accountability. Results of complaining Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining negatively affects your brain and your body! According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, Ph.D. and author of Emotional Intelligence: Complaining actually rewires your brain for negativity, or in other words, what you practice, you perfect: “When you repeat a behavior, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information… So your neurons grow closer together and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’ Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening.” Complaining becomes an entrenched habit! Complaining shrinks the hippocampus – the area of the brain critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Keep in mind that the hippocampus is one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s. Complaining causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which shifts you into fight-or-flight mode. It raises your blood pressure and blood sugar, impairing your immune system and making you more susceptible to depression, digestive problems, sleep issues, physical/mental exhaustion, and heart disease. None of this should be a surprise to Christians. Prov. 17:22 states, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” And what did Paul say are the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) If we go back a couple of verses in Galatians 5, we might place complaining under “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.” Perhaps our complaints might stem from enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, or divisions. The solution to complaining So how do we counter a complaining spirit, especially if that’s become our habit? Develop an attitude of gratitude. Ps. 106 says, “O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” The apostle Paul tells us in Phil. 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” You can add to this numerous other verses and Heidelberg Catechism sections as well! When is constructive complaining okay? Not all complaining is wrong, of course. How can we improve if we won’t acknowledge that something isn’t the way it should be, or could be? However, we should only engage in solution-oriented constructive complaining. And this should only be done when you truly have something to complain about. Constructive complaining also means raising the concern with the appropriate person and asking for help with finding a solution. For example, if your son keeps leaving his shoes in the middle of the foyer, what good does it do to complain about it to all your friends? Sit down and work out a solution with your son. Your bank made an error on your account? Go talk to your banker. Feeling achy and tired for the past two days? Talk to your doctor or take the steps you already know will help you (specific exercises, sleep, vitamins, etc.). When there is an offense between Christians, we are to take the complaint directly to the offender (as scary as that may seem – God can give you the courage!). We read in Matt. 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” If there is no resolution, then the complaint can be escalated to take another person or two – possibly an elder – with you to plead your case. Note that this does not include telling everyone else you know about the problem! Good complaints can begin with gratitude When you make an appropriate complaint, start it with something positive first. For instance, if your bank makes an error, say, “I have been happily banking here for 15 years, and wish to continue, but recently there was a problem.” To your son you might say, “Son, I really appreciate that you always hang up your coat and backpack on the hooks. But yesterday I nearly tripped over your shoes that were in the middle of the foyer.” Be specific. Don’t dredge up everything that has ever happened in your experience with a person. If an employee was rude to you, describe specifically what the employee did that was rude. End on a positive note, such as, “I’d like to work this out together.” Please note: if you complain to anyone else, you are likely aiming to get attention, remove responsibility, brag, gain power, or excuse your poor performance. Dealing with other people who complain Dr. Bradberry states: “Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy…You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves.” This is likely too rash of a solution, because we must spend time with our family, friends, and brothers and sisters in the Lord. But you can see how it’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining when others are doing it. Instead, be thoughtful and brave! Think about the direction that a conversation is going, and then redirect it to something more positive. Start talking about specifically how God has blessed you lately, or what you heard in the sermon that really helped you. Dr. Bradberry suggests that once you have worked on your own habit of complaining, you can help others to improve their negative focus. That seems more sensible advice, akin to taking the log out of your own eyes before trying to get the speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7:3-5). Then do for them as you would want done for you: listen for the need that is being expressed – perhaps the person complains because he feels unheard. Then don’t try to solve his problem. Instead, offer only a few words of sympathy and some encouragement. You might reframe the situation, share information that might be helpful, ask for solutions, or call it out as what it is: grumbling. Then redirect the conversation, talking about positive things. The apostle Paul tells us to: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:12-13). If someone has a legitimate complaint against us, we must apologize. If we have a complaint against them, we must be ready to forgive. If the complaint is mis-directed to us, we should encourage them to go to the appropriate party and solve the problem, not just gossip about it. Learn to shine If we justify complaining, instead of confessing it as sin, we will reach a point where it is our default setting. It will feel natural to do it. But we are not stuck! We have the Holy Spirit within us, whose power we can call upon when the temptation strikes us – daily – to complain. We can ask for forgiveness and start noticing our complaints or ask our family members to do so (light-heartedly, perhaps). We can ask our omnipotent Lord to help us to stop it so that we will be “the children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of a collection of 45 RP articles entitled: “Soup and Buns: Nourishment from God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles.” To purchase this book, contact her at [email protected]....


Behind the scenes: the editorial cast and crew of RP

When my class did job shadowing for a couple days, it wasn’t hard for me to answer what I’m interested in. If you were to stop by my house almost anytime, you’d find me in my room, behind my laptop, working on a story. Fiction writing enthralled me when I was just four years old, and I’ve been writing ever since. So who did I want to follow around for two days to experience what it’s like to work in their field? I quickly scribbled out writing/editing as the first thing on my paper. I got the opportunity to learn about writing and editing at the office of Mark Penninga, the executive director of RP and also my uncle. I showed up that first morning eager to see what he would be able to show and tell me about his work. Now if I’m not writing, I’m probably watching and analyzing films. I’ve seen over 45 hours of The Hobbit behind-the-scenes footage, which is why you won’t be surprised when I compare Reformed Perspective to the behind-the-scenes of a movie. So what really goes on behind the scenes at Reformed Perspective? Who are the editing cast and crew? During my job shadowing experience, I got to conduct some interviews and dig a little deeper into the answer to those questions. It all began in 1982 Jon Dykstra is the editor of RP. The organization was started in 1982 as a monthly magazine and relied on subscriptions to stay afloat, printing about 1,500 copies of each issue. Much has changed since then, but the mission remains the same: “to explore what God’s up to anywhere and everywhere,” explains Jon. While others have been part of the crew for a year or two, Jon joined in 1999, back when the magazine sometimes still received hand-written submissions. Both easy-going and spirited, he is one of only two full-time workers at the magazine. He started out as a part-time editor, but his passion for the project and increased workload led him to where he is today. While there’s lots of variety in his job, he mainly edits other people’s articles and often writes book reviews from his home office in Lynden, WA. For fifteen years he was the sole full-time magazine staff member (talk about tiring!) yet he enjoys his work, although maybe not the overflow of emails he deals with every day. “Words have such flavors,” he explains, “that when you’re writing someone and you’re not talking to them, there’s a lot of different ways they can misunderstand what you’re saying.” Words do have flavor. Jon is a big fan of wearing shirts with interesting pictures or phrases on them, such as a saying to defend the unborn, to get the conversation going. For over 23 years, he has been riding the RP roller-coaster of ups and downs, but the pressing need for articles written from a Reformed angle and the great opportunities with RP kept him motivated. Also, “It’s just fun … God is powerful, He’s gracious, and He’s just fun,” says Jon. His experience has led him to give this insightful advice for aspiring writers/editors: Appreciate getting beat up (find someone who is willing to critique you), be an observant listener, it’s about stealing (imitating) from the best, and finally, write, write, and write some more! Big changes; same mission Mark Penninga is the executive director of Reformed Perspective. He’s filled with dedication and passion for the mission of RP. He joined the organization when it was struggling financially, coming in with ideas on how to get the magazine back on its feet. Now, RP prints about 10,400 copies each issue and is available not only as a magazine, but as a website, podcasts, videos, and more. The concept of being online helps fulfill the idea of being a light to the world (Matt. 5:14). He has plenty of thoughtful advice for those who are into writing and editing, such as: Writing is a tool, meant to fill a need and to serve a bigger purpose. As Christians, that purpose should be an expression of love for our neighbor and for God; we have “a message of love … writing is a means to communicate that hope.” When motivated by a purpose, your writing will show more passion, conviction, and meaning. Don’t expect to get it right on the first try, rather, keep at it. “Try, try, and try again,” he says. Turn off your distractions and focus on writing. A phenomenal amount of work goes into writing articles for RP. Some of the articles are submitted by people like you and me, while most are written by the crew. Imagine sitting behind a desk for hours, researching by means of the Internet, books, and phone calls, to create an accurate article from, as you can probably guess, a Reformed perspective. As I am writing this, my uncle is sitting in the room next to me, typing away. He’s in his cozy office in Smithers, BC, sipping a warm cup of tea from a large “Reformed Perspective” mug. Gentle strains of music float through the air, a mix of worship songs and background piano. Every once in a while he takes a break to gaze out of the large window at the snow-dusted peaks of Hudson Bay Mountain, enjoying the afternoon sunlight streaming through the glass. It takes a team But Mark and Jon aren’t the only ones breaking a sweat for the company. Marty Van Driel balances his full-time job as the CEO for a trucking business in Bellingham, WA, with being the assistant editor for RP. According to Marty, “the greatest joy is when it’s done.” I think most writers can testify to that. Marty loves telling stories to his grandkids, and says he especially loves telling stories in a way that relates to how we can serve God as Reformed Christians. To ambitious writers like myself, Marty has two pieces of advice: Writers write. As he phrases it, don’t get “stuck in a brain fog.” Discipline is important. Set a goal to write every workday and then stick with that goal. His second piece of advice is this: Keep yourself grounded in God’s Word. There is nothing more important than the Bible and it’s crucial to keep this in mind. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3: 23-24). About a year ago, Jan Broersma from Langley, BC, joined the team at RP. Markings of red and blue cover her papers as she circles punctuation errors and notes details to doublecheck. She is the warm, friendly copy-editor for RP. Copy-editors focus on the technical, like tone, grammar, and factual correctness. Jan has always enjoyed writing, and decided to pursue a B.A. in English with some Creative Writing after high school, and then worked as a writer and editor before having a family. When her youngest child started Kindergarten, she had more time on her hands, spoke to Mark, and was able to get a job working part-time for RP. She loves the variety of the job. Here is her advice to aspiring writers/editors: explore professional writing programs at college if you can, and if writing is what you love to do and is a talent God has given you, then it’s worth pursuing. Trust God will guide you. Conclusion After a peek behind the scenes of Reformed Perspective, I’ve realized it has come a long way since it first started. The only way that is possible is through generous donations and a hard-working group of people. The editorial team alone is composed of four dedicated individuals each using their unique, God-given talents to praise His name. So open up that magazine on the coffee table and you can learn so much about God, His kingdom, and how we, as stewards, are to live. And… cut!...


Keeping Christ in Christmas: 12 ideas for honoring God in our Christmas festivities

There’s no more exciting time than Christmas. Reflecting on the birth of Christ, gifts, lights, decorations, music, special foods, and time spent with family and friends cause most Christians to anticipate some “good times ahead!” Ah, but since it is supposed to be exciting, and everyone is kindly wishing us a very merry time, we have to be careful to manage our expectations. All the anticipation can raise expectations to unreachable levels – we may begin to think that we have a “right” to a perfect Christmas. Then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment over the gift or invitation we didn’t receive, the people who didn’t come over, the lack of enthusiasm over gifts we presented, or the lack of cooperation with all the cooking and cleanup! Poor us! Instead, as God’s chosen ones, let’s take the time to meditate ahead of time on Colossians 3:12-17 and “get dressed” for the holiday season by putting on “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Let us bear with and forgive one another, and put on love which leads to harmony. Let us “let the peace of Christ dwell in us” as we celebrate Him! How? By immersing ourselves in God’s Word and singing Psalms and hymns, meditating on His great gifts to us. Resist the temptation to overdo it. Don’t exhaust yourself to the point of complaining. Let there be a balance so that you don’t end up tired, angry, resentful or poor. As you think about how you might spend the Christmas season honoring Jesus Christ whose birth and very life we are celebrating, consider including some of the following suggestions that I’ve gathered.  Suggestions Emphasize giving instead of receiving. As Acts 20:35 tells us, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Instead of asking “What do you want for Christmas?” ask “What are you going to give so and so?” Some activities are: Let young ones choose gifts for family members and teachers at the dollar store – even if some of their choices amuse you. Support a Christian ministry – let the kids earn money working at home or for others, and give it, so that they can feel the joy of donating as well. Collect food for the needy. Give of your time to help the sick or those who are overwhelmed with trials. Assist in a soup kitchen. Give a surprise gift of service to family members, neighbors, friends – and don’t forget your pastor and his family. Have a craft or baking day, perhaps with friends, and give some of the delicious results to others. Be honest about Santa. It’s wrong to lie to your children, especially about an ageless, supernaturally powerful, unbelievably generous, and generally invisible being, who “knows when you’ve been good or bad.” So let them know who is giving them the gifts. The kids will be thrilled that Mom, Dad, Oma, Opa and Aunt Susie showed their love by giving them something special. Consider opening gifts on a different day. That might be Sinterklaas (December 5), or Epiphany (January 6); this could help to keep Christmas Day as a time to worship and glorify our Lord. But note, if you do open gifts on Christmas Day, one thing you don’t want to do is to make the children sit through a devotional while in their little hearts they are eagerly staring at a pile of soon-to-be-unwrapped presents. There’s a time for everything, and it’s fine to let them cherish their anticipation and excitement rather than expecting them to obediently sit through a reading to which they are not even paying attention. Celebrate Advent. Advent means “coming” and begins a specified number of days before Christmas Eve to build anticipation for the actual Christmas day. If you buy an Advent calendar, avoid the distracting ones with candy or cutesy Santas/TV cartoon characters on them. Plan a devotional reading and song for each of the days. Teach your children how to use a Bible dictionary/handbook or the Logos online Bible aids to dig out facts for themselves to present to the whole family at the next dinnertime. Topics might include: Angels – Learn what the Bible says about angels. Some suggested verses are: Matt. 4:11, 24:31, 26:53; Luke 2:10-12, 22:43; 1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 1:9-11; 2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 7; Ps. 91:11-12. There are useful books on the subject that could also be your guide. Who was Augustus Caesar? – Was he related to Julius Caesar? Make a chart of the rulers from the New Testament era. What is a census and why did Augustus want to do one? Make a family tree together – your own “census.” Where is Bethlehem? – Study maps of Palestine in the time of Christ together, and compare the map to a current one. Bethlehem still exists! Use Google maps to look up the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem. If the weather is good, take a family hike and compare it to how far Joseph and Mary had to travel. Christmas carols – Learn the stories behind some of the carols and examine the words together to determine which are biblical and which are just sung for fun because they are a tradition (Little Drummer Boy, for instance – would a newborn want a kid to play a drum next to his little ears?). Learn some new-to-you Christmas carols – There are probably some in the Book of Praise or hymnbook that you do not know. Jesus as the “light of the world” (John 8:12) – If you’re putting up Christmas lights, then read/talk together about how Jesus is the light of the world. What does that mean? How can we be lights as well? Make a list of the names/titles of Jesus and talk about each one – Write down a dozen on good cardstock cards, put a number on the front of each, with the name inside and a verse to go with it. Talk about shepherds – What was it like to be a shepherd? Of all the people in the world, it was the shepherds who were told to go to Bethlehem and see the Christ child. Talk about how Jesus later said, “I am the good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep” and “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:11; 27-28). Have a treasure hunt looking for hidden treats and then talk about how Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes out searching for His sheep. 12 Days of Christmas – Historians disagree about whether this song was put together to aid children in remembering catechism or aspects of the Christian faith. However, there is enough basis that you can choose to look up the details online and view the song this way if you so desire. The Twelve Days of Christmas are supposed to start on Dec. 25 and end on the evening of Jan. 5th. It was traditionally celebrated that the Wise Men arrived with gifts on Jan. 6. What are frankincense and myrrh? – Research some ideas as to why these were given to Jesus along with gold. Christmas-related items – Include information that is interesting/possibly meaningful about items such as the possible Christian symbolism of the candy cane, the use of red and green (symbol of blood and everlasting life), and the circular Christmas wreath symbolizing the eternal nature of Christ and His endless love. Let each family member read a portion of the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. Take turns choosing carols or Psalms to sing. Host a party. Invite family members but also consider inviting single folks, neighbors, or small families who have no relatives nearby. While large gatherings can be fun, smaller ones lend themselves to better conversations; why not have 2 or 3 small gatherings instead? Go caroling at a hospital, assisted-living home, or to various shut-ins’ homes. Take a small gift of baking or fruit to give. Have the children prepare Christmas cards ahead of time to give out as well. Write a letter to a missionary family or two. Include encouraging scriptures, and let each member of the family tell a little about themselves, whether they write it, or dictate it. Collect yearly memories – Ask each person to write down something that they are thankful for, and something that they would like to see happen in the new year – collect these and pack them away with the Christmas decorations so you can read them when you get together next year. Watch a good Christian movie, such as War Room, Martin Luther, Woodlawn, Alleged, The Case for Christ, Beyond the Mask, Overcomer, Time Changer, Sabina, Courageous, The Song, I Can Only Imagine, and Calvinist and talk about it. Read and write some poems about the true Christmas story. Attend your church service, whether on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve.  Honoring Christ in every way It’s pretty common to see signs that say “Keep Christ in Christmas.” By analyzing what we have done before and carefully choosing what we will do this year, we can accomplish that goal. Sharon L. Bratcher has collected 45 of her RP articles into a book, which is available by contacting her at [email protected]....


Learning to be anxious for nothing

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 When does care and concern cross a line and become a problem? I found the answer to this question the hard way: a painful and confusing burnout about six years ago, followed by years of learning, counseling, and slow change. My journey isn’t over yet, but I now see how I could have prevented much pain if I had truly understood, and repented from, my misguided response to worries, fears, and anxieties prior to that burnout. Knowing just how prevalent anxiety has become, also among Christians, I’m sharing my story here with the hope that it will help others in their walk with the LORD. Worry, care, and concern In a two-part podcast on the topic, biblical counselor Dr. Greg Gifford explains that the Bible uses the same Greek word in three different ways to describe anxiety. One sort is warned against, but in the other two instances a form of anxiousness is encouraged. So, first, in Matthew 6, we read Jesus warning us: “…do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will anxious about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Then in 1 Corinthians 12:25, Paul explains that God composed the body with many different parts so that the members “may have the same care for one another.” The word he uses here for “care” is the same that is translated as “anxious” in Matthew 6 – in other words we are being encouraged to be “anxious for one another.” In Philippians 2:20, Paul uses this word again, but in another context. Writing from prison, Paul shares with the Philippians that he will be sending Timothy to check in on them “for I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” It is clear from this passage and more like it, that there can also be a godly form of concern for others. This makes sense to our everyday experience as we walk alongside our loved ones through health concerns and other trials. We see in these two passages that caring is important and concern can be appropriate. So, when does a line get crossed from the caring that is encouraged to the anxiety that should be avoided? Confused and humbled They didn’t teach me this line in school, and I was slow to learn it in the school of life. Shortly after I was married, my responsibilities increased quickly. In a span of ten or twelve years, I went from looking after myself to being responsible for a family of eight. And I went from being a student, to starting and overseeing an organization with about fifteen staff, spread across the country. My interest and care for political developments in Canada turned into a responsibility to provide faithful leadership to the largest Christian political advocacy organization in the country. At the same time, my wife and I took up a host of extra-curricular roles in our church, school, and community, from serving on boards to teaching catechism. And we were also trying to turn a wild piece of land and its dilapidated house into a good family home and investment opportunity. I did these things because I cared, and I had concerns. Each facet on its own was well worth caring for, or being concerned about. We held things together quite well until a family tragedy came unexpectedly. Amidst the grieving, my wife was expecting another child, and I had concerns about the delivery in light of how previous ones went. Through all of this, I felt great pressure to press on as a leader at work, in the home, and on various other files. But as hard as I tried, as the days ticked closer to the delivery day, God humbled me by shutting down my body. My muscles tightened up to the point where I had a hard time walking the 30 steps to my office. I was nauseous every day, my body twitched, my eyes hurt, my vision declined, my face and head became numb, it hurt to stand and it hurt to sit. I got to the point where I couldn’t face another day of work. If you asked me at that time if I felt anxious, I likely would have brushed it off. Anxiety wasn’t really relevant to me, or so I thought. I figured that I had some inconvenient health issues. When my doctor had tests done and told me that I needed to take a break from stress, I was confused. And when I asked for a break from work, my board and colleagues seemed no less confused. It was humbling to go from being the leader, always looking out for others, to not being able to report for duty. And it was also humbling to not really understand what was happening, and what it would take to get back to “normal.” Although I was back at work relatively soon and did my best to carry on with all my regular duties, it took me more than five years, and plenty of stumbles, to begin to understand the problem from a physical, emotional, and spiritual perspective. The change has also been slow and will likely be a life-long journey. I’m very grateful for a loving family who walked this journey with me, giving regular encouragement, and grateful as well for a good Christian counselor. Clearly a line had been crossed from godly caring and concern to something harmful. But I didn’t understand it. Wasn’t I supposed to care and be concerned? The cul-de-sac of ungodly anxiety On his “Transformed” podcast Dr. Gifford explains that Scripture makes it plain that it is possible to care and be concerned in an ungodly way. We do that when we aren’t truly entrusting our cares and concerns to the LORD, the only One who can truly do something about them. He goes further and explains: “this isn't a just a disorder. This isn't a physiological issue of my body. Anxiety is connected to my trust and faith in the Lord. And Jesus clearly identifies anxiety as being wrong and sinful.” Here Dr. Gifford is referencing Matthew 6 where Jesus urges His people “do not worry about your life.” He also references Philippians 4 where we are told to “be anxious for nothing.” I should note here that although Dr. Gifford calls this kind of anxiety sinful, other biblical counselors respectfully disagree. Edward T. Welch devotes an entire article to the topic, entitled, “Fear is not sin,” explaining from Scripture that anxiety, like grief, isn’t itself sinful. Although Jesus uses an imperative form in Matthew 6 – He tells us “do not be anxious” – it isn’t meant to be a command. We do the same thing when we tell a child “don’t be afraid,” which is meant as an encouragement, not an order. Welch believes Jesus is offering comfort, similar to when He says “do not weep.” So the fact that we struggle with anxiety itself isn’t a sin, according to Welch. Rather, what matters is what we do with it. Although Welch makes a valid point, which can be comforting to Christians who struggle with chronic anxiety, the added nuance of definitions doesn’t take away from Dr. Gifford’s important explanation of where I, and many others, go wrong with our anxiety. Gifford contrasts two kinds of roads: a cul-de-sac and a thoroughfare (a main road that passes on through a town or city). An ungodly anxiety is like a cul-de-sac where traffic stops and stays – all my cares and concerns terminate on me. “How am I going to fix this? What am I going to do about it? Okay, I need to save more. I need to work harder. I need to get up earlier. I need to sleep less. I can do this.” Those that struggle with anxiety often also struggle with the desire to be in control. That is true for me too. But how is this a faith issue? In answer, Dr. Gifford explains the difference between a formal confession and a functional confession. “Formally we would say, ‘I know God is in control.’ Formally, I know that prayer is important in Scripture. But functionally, I’m in control. When I'm trying to discern the difference between a concern and anxiety, I have to be able to evaluate are all of these cares and concerns terminating with me, and that's why I'm worried.” Not every type of anxiety is a faith issue or something to be repented of. God created us good, and that includes the functions of our bodies that make us aware of, and respond to, stress. There is a time for adrenaline to rule (like running away from a bear)! There are also physiological disorders that aren’t a result of choices being made. Anxiety can also result from experiencing trauma in the past. And there is a general brokenness in creation as a result of sin which makes it difficult for us humans to respond to challenges the way we want to (as Paul says in Romans 7 “for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”). So I’m not suggesting that all those who struggle with anxiety ought to repent and have a change of heart. However, I also believe that there are many more like me, who are guilty of trying to carry cares and concerns that God never intended us to carry. Thoroughfare to God Dr. Gifford contrasts this cul-de-sac of ungodly anxiety with a thoroughfare. Instead of our cares and concerns terminating with us in the cul-de-sac, we take them to the LORD and trust Him with them. This is exemplified in 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” If we compare our concerns and cares to a big stone that we are rolling, this passage calls us to roll that stone over to the LORD, realizing that we aren’t able to carry the weight ourselves. In contrast, He is the good, wise, and all-powerful God who can do this. So the line between care, concern, and ungodly anxiety isn’t actually about caring too much or being concerned too much. Rather it is the difference between trusting ourselves to deal with the weight, or bringing it straight to the LORD, who alone is able to carry it. It isn’t enough to confess this. It has to be done daily. If we aren’t quite convinced yet, take to heart these words from Dr. Gifford: “When you have cares and concerns you bring them to the Lord, ultimately. But when you have anxiety, you are the Lord ultimately. You functionally take his place and become God. You become the Sustainer and you become the one that is providentially working all things according to your end. And it is an overwhelming task. “No wonder why some of us are run through, because we are riddled with anxiety. That's what it's like when we try to do God's job. We try to be God and we can't, and we're overwhelmed. You can actually have panic attacks where it feels like you're suffocating, because of too much anxiety in your life. It feels like you're having a heart attack. What is that saying? It's even your own body saying that you can't be God. And it's not always an exciting way for your body to tell you that. You can't be God. If you've ever experienced severe anxiety, and you started to have chest pains, it's a reminder that you're finite, and God is infinite. You're small, and God is big.” I‘m thankful that God literally stopped me in my tracks, not allowing me to live the way I was any longer. The physical symptoms hurt, and that stage was humbling, but it was what I needed to prompt lasting change. Opposite and equally bad As with many challenges in life, it is easy to swing too far in opposite directions. In response to anxiety, Dr. Gifford identifies two extremes. The first is to legitimize our anxiety, telling ourselves that our worries are valid because we really are the center of the universe, we really are God. “I have to do everything. If I don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for me. I have to grind in this season of life.” In response to this we can take to heart God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 4, where we are reminded that everything we have is a gift from the LORD. There is nothing we have that we didn’t receive. So none of us can say that it is really up to me. God is the one who is in charge, and He is the one who blesses. If we believe this, our actions need to prove that we trust Him to care and provide. The other extreme is to simply not care, or do what we can to numb the pain. When the pressure goes up, it is tempting to hide, escape, or distract ourselves. We do this with vacations, reading, TV, hobbies, shopping, playing video games, or maybe even substance abuse. Yet we know from Scripture that the Christian life isn’t about being care-free and happy. Being a faithful spouse, sibling, parent, colleague, boss, employee, elder, deacon, church member, and citizen will expose us to some troubling situations. We need to be present, to care, and to act. Going back to Dr. Gifford’s analogy of the cul-de-sac and thoroughfare, many of us would prefer to not even be next to a road at all. We would rather be living off-grid, in the peaceful countryside, looking after ourselves and a few others that we are comfortable with. Yet this ignores the great command to love our neighbor as ourself. So how do we care and be concerned without becoming a cul-de-sac? Some remedies for anxiety In the height of my burnout, the first help I received was very practical and simple. My doctor told me to take two Tylenol Arthritis pills every certain number of hours. Tylenol? It wasn’t what I expected. Yet it did wonders for relaxing my muscles. And some progress in the right direction was a huge encouragement. Our bodies are complex, and self-diagnosing through the internet will likely cause more anxiety than help. I recommend starting with a visit to a trustworthy doctor. The second stage of help came from a different kind of prescription – to the website. The wealth of information behind the paywall was incredibly helpful and also encouraging to me. I learned there that anxiety is something that is fully treatable. I also saw how the symptoms I had were all directly related to anxiety. This gave me hope that change was possible. But learning alone isn’t always enough to bring the change that is necessary. It was quite a long time later, after seeing recurrences of symptoms, that I knew I needed more help and signed up for counseling with a psychotherapist. It is hard to over-state the help that came from talking with someone who both understood anxiety and was willing to journey with me as I tried to overcome it. In the following years, I grew in understanding through more books and resources. But I also slowly started to see the spiritual roots to my struggles with anxiety. As long as I was going to be in this world, it was evident that I would have to deal with stress. Although I went to my LORD through this journey, I wasn’t experiencing the relief that Jesus says is possible when transferring my burdens to Him. Why? With time, I began to see that I was taking myself far too seriously, and not taking God seriously enough. Time and again I was living as a cul-de-sac instead of a thoroughfare. A four-step approach Now, over six years after being humbled by burnout, I can testify to the truth and importance of Dr. Gifford’s four-step remedy for anxiety. As helpful as medication, counseling, books, and breaks may be, I need to start with getting things right with God. 1. Repent The first step, says Dr. Gifford, is to repent. That sounds harsh, but over time I recognized the truth of this in my own situation (though as I mentioned earlier, there are some forms of anxiety that are not sin issues and that need a different response). “This is a sin issue, not an illness, not a disease, not a personal tendency that I have.” How often to do we hear this, even in the church? It wasn’t until quite recently in my journey that someone had the courage to gently rebuke me about how I was dealing with my cares and worries. “I don't repent of an illness. I don't repent of the flu. I repent of sins in my life and so should you” shares Dr. Gifford. Although this may sound harsh, it actually brings great hope and encouragement. There is a remedy to sin – Jesus Christ has made full atonement. “Step one is that I repent of anxiety, I go to the Lord and say something like, Lord, please forgive me for worrying when You are in complete control. Please forgive me for thinking that I can do Your job, and I can't, would You help me to exhibit greater trust in You?” 2. Remember the nature of God The next step, says Dr. Gifford, involves taking to heart the nature of God. In Matthew 6, Jesus doesn’t stop after telling us not to be anxious or worry. He tells us to look at the birds of the air. They don’t sow or reap or gather in barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. He also tells us to look at the lilies in the field, and how they grow. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” The point is that when we understand that God is all knowing and all powerful, our anxiety will slowly go away. “There's a sense in which I don't try to take control of something when I know someone more competent than myself is in control. I know that they got it. And I'm actually thankful they got it. I don't have to worry about it.” illustration by Stephanie Vanderpol Dr. Gifford drives the point home: “When you understand the character of God, it crushes your anxiety, it suffocates it in the sense that you say, well, I know God's good. And I know God's in control. And I know God knows. He's omniscient. Well, then why in the world would I ever try to step in and take His place?” 3. Take our cares to God Step three is to take our cares to God so that they don’t become anxieties. In 1 Peter 5, we are told to cast all our anxieties on Him, for He cares for us. The simple truth is that when we have anxiety, it is because we are trying to do the carrying ourselves. It stops with us – like the cul-de-sac. Taking our cares to God involves pinpointing what exactly we are anxious about. What is keeping us up at night? It will be different things for different people. Perhaps a loved one, or a biblical counselor, can help us put a finger on what it is. Then we can ask what it means to entrust this thing to the LORD, and what I need to hear from Him. “Entrust it to the LORD” is something we hear all the time, but what does it look like? I regularly prayed about the things I was anxious about. But simply telling God about it isn’t the same as entrusting our cares to Him. If I hire someone to look after my yard maintenance, I can tell them what I’m hoping they will do. But then I also need to get out of their way and let them do the job. If I fire up my lawn mower as soon as the grass looks like it needs a trim, I’m not entrusting the work to the person I hired. And if I look out the window and inspect the grass every day, I’m not benefiting a whole lot from hiring someone else to do the job. I need to give the care over completely, and stop wasting my time and energy on it. 4. Be faithful to our responsibilities The final step is to be faithful to our responsibilities. This involves articulating what exactly is our responsibility, and what is the LORD’s. For example, it is my responsibility to pay my mortgage payment. That means I should not spend money on a holiday if that results in not being able to make my mortgage payment. The issue for many of us is that we don’t acknowledge that there are many things we can’t control and aren’t responsible for. “I can't control the future of my health. I'm not that powerful. I can't control the spiritual walk of my children. I am not that powerful. I can't control the winds and the finances of my employer, I am not that powerful.” In contrast I can “be a good steward of my body to the best of my ability, I can be a positive spiritual influence in my children's lives. But I have to trust the Lord to be the one to do the work. I can be a hard worker at my job and attempt to be valuable to them, but I can't control if they want to keep me or want to jettison me.” Strength through weakness Taking these four steps to heart and changing our daily walk isn’t easy, but neither is it complicated. For many of us, we have developed bad habits for dealing with our cares and concerns, and this occurred over many years. Changing it won’t happen in an instant. But, unlike many things in life, moving away from anxiety is possible, in God’s strength and by His grace. I’ll take this a step further. Not only is it possible – in God’s strength – to leave the cul-de-sac of ungodly anxiety behind, it is also a responsibility that we can help each other with. And we aren’t going to make it any easier if we make anxiety our identity. Yes, some of us are more predisposed to worry, and yes it can definitely have consequences on our health. But if we take Jesus at His word, we will also acknowledge that there are some forms of anxiety that need to be repented of. This doesn’t mean that we should harshly rebuke someone struggling with ungodly anxiety. On the contrary, this calls for love and care. When God tells us over and over again to not worry, He does so as a loving father to a little child. Jesus knows what it is like to feel the weight of the world on His shoulders. He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, awaiting His death. But He also modeled faithfulness – taking his cares to His Father and walking the road that He was called to. My journey isn’t over. Every day I fall short, also when it comes to how I’m managing cares and concerns. From time to time, I still experience the physical symptoms that come from stress and anxiety. But instead of them causing me concern, I take them as a clear signal that I’m not managing things well. I’m straying and need to change course, entrusting things to the LORD and to others. Yes, it is humbling to admit that I’m weak and don’t have what it takes to solve most challenges in life, be it Covid policies, the spiritual walk of loved ones, or conflict. But it is also liberating. We have a Savior who has already made things right between us and God. The price has been paid. Our future is secure in His hands. Dear brother or sister, bring your anxieties to our LORD and experience His peace. Go deeper: Dr. Greg Gifford’s two-part series on anxiety is available at his podcast called “Transformed” but can also be heard on his website here: Below, Rich Mullins honestly and provocatively addresses the anxiety of our heart, pointing us to the only One who can truly still our worries. <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span>...


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 (


Puppy love: in praise of pets

The inimitable Cody I was lucky enough to share my growing-up years with a big red chow chow. After deferring my request to get a dog for some time, my parents finally gave me the go-ahead when I was twelve; by this time I was old enough to take responsibility for a dog, and my paper-route and babysitting money would be enough to cover dog food and vet check-ups. My dad built a sturdy doghouse, we visited a shelter or two, I scoured the pet section of the classified ads, and eventually Cody joined our family. It had pretty much been love at first sight, and Cody was my faithful companion for the next thirteen years. He knew the sound of the school bus stopping a street away, and was always eagerly waiting for me when I got home. Our nightly walks were a calming and peaceful part of my day. Cody and I even won a pet/owner look-alike contest once (after an unfortunate hair experiment . . . the kit was supposed to turn my hair more blonde . . .) Cody’s been gone for many years now, but I’ve been thinking about him lately, and about the unique place that dogs and other pets can have in our lives. As humans, we’ve been created with a deep need for things like companionship, connection, and physical touch. And although pets can’t (and shouldn’t) replace human relationships, there’s something beautiful and simple about the love they give us: it’s unconditional and uncomplicated by the things that can add stress to human interactions. Dogs don’t judge or hold a grudge or carry anxiety-inducing expectations. I asked a few friends and family members about what their dogs meant to them, and quickly discovered that people love to talk about their furry companions, share photos and stories, and reminisce about past loved pets; “I could talk about our dogs all day!” commented one of my friends. And I loved hearing their stories. Cocoa Cocoa: a beautiful rescue One of my sisters-in-law, for example, told me about an abandoned dog named Cocoa that stole her heart. My sister-in-law spent some time living up north in Fort Smith, NWT; a lifelong dog lover, she regularly volunteered at the local dog shelter there. One evening she noticed a new arrival, a beautiful black mixed breed with brown markings, but was saddened to see the sign outside his pen: “Be careful, aggressive dog; don’t allow out with other dogs.” This angry, wary dog was slated to be euthanized the next time the vet came around, as he was too difficult for the volunteers to handle, and unlikely to find a new home. When she gently approached the dog, she found him scared and timid, but not vicious. Over time they formed a bond. The other volunteers noticed a change in Cocoa, and the plans to euthanize him were put on hold. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law’s rental didn’t allow pets, but she ended up moving just so she could adopt him. “He brought me companionship and friendship while living in such a remote Northern little town,” she remembers. “He brought me joy knowing he was happy and loved and able to live out the rest of his short life . . . knowing what being loved felt like.” It’s that combination of giving and receiving love that seems to be at the heart of the bond we have with our pets; they give us boundless affection, but they need us too. Both aspects are good for us. Luisa Luisa: takes good care of her owners One of my brothers says that having his dog Luisa (a rescue dog that he and his wife adopted a few years ago) is like living with a toddler in many ways: “Her needs come first.” He feels that dog ownership can lead to a certain sense of purpose and a more selfless attitude to life. When I see devoted dog owners trudging through the rain with their dogs, or going through the undignified process of cleaning up after them, I’m inclined to agree. Do our pet interactions cultivate character traits in us that, ultimately, help us in other relationships and areas of life? I would suspect so. Studies on the emotional, psychological, and even physical benefits of owning a dog or other pet have noted decreased stress and depression, and even lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health. A truly objective study is almost impossible to design – what is cause, and what is simply correlation? – but the immediate benefits of positive pet interactions have been more definitely demonstrated. Simply petting a dog can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and time spent with a loved pet raises levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone associated with bonding. And when stress goes down, other health markers tend to improve – with the reverse also true. Cypress and Winston Cypress: a gentle and calming companion Another sister-in-law initially had mixed feelings about bringing a dog into their home, after several years without one. Her teenage kids are growing up and building lives of their own, and she felt like they were past the little-kids-and-a-puppy-in-the-backyard stage of family life. But Cypress, a gentle “Goldendoodle,” has been a blessing to all of them. When her seventeen-year-old son has something on his mind, he’ll find Cypress for some “dog love,” and my sister-in-law says she can just see her son’s tension drain away. She says when she’s feeling stressed, Cypress will seek her out. Getting outside for regular walks with Cypress has also been beneficial. And coming home to a house that was getting to be a little too empty, but isn’t anymore, lifts her spirits. Others I’ve talked to agree that dogs seem to have a “sixth sense” about their owners’ moods, and are quick to comfort and give affection. My brother says that Luisa can seem to tell when he’s had a more difficult day at work; when he walks in the door, he gets an extra dose of exuberant affection. One of my friends, reflecting on her “Westie,” Winston, puts it this way: “He is completely devoted to me, always attuned to my mood. He celebrates with me when I laugh and comforts me when I’m sad.” Not surprisingly, the benefits of dogs or other pets is most noticeable among those who may be lonelier or struggling in some way. Pets provide companionship and that vital physical touch we all need; pets can also give a sense of purpose and structure, remind us that we’re needed, and take our minds off ourselves. A dog can be the catalyst that prompts a lonely senior to get up, get outside, and engage with life – all of which are good things that often lead to more good things. Pets in their place The affectionate and exuberant Winston Of course, pets replacing human relationships is problematic; the “pets instead of kids” phenomenon is disturbing, as is the astronomical amount of money that North Americans spend on their pets (Americans spend upwards of $100 billion every year). But in their place, pets are a unique blessing. God as our loving Father knows what we need, and delights in giving us the good gifts of His creation. And surely the human-pet bond is one of those gifts. As for me, I haven’t had a dog since Cody died. Family life is already busy and full. Do we really want to take on the time commitment and expense of a dog? Do I really want to vacuum that much? On the other hand, how can we argue with all those endorphins? For now, we’ve gotten some guppies, and our nine-year-old daughter is campaigning for gerbils. A slippery slope? Time will tell whether there will be any four-legged friends in our future . . . but either way, I’ll always be grateful that there was one inimitable chow chow in my past....


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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