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Amazing stories from times past

On conmen and other masters of deceit

God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices (Eccl. 7:29)

There are vagabonds and there are villains; there are crooks and there are victims; and sin and temptation are present in the hearts of all. Listen to the story of a man who stood behind an old woman just ahead of him at the checkout counter at his local supermarket. The woman was crying. She was well-dressed, although a bit on the shabby side. He tried not to pay attention but could not help but notice that she was in distress. Eventually compassion overcame him and he spoke to her, tapping her on the shoulder: "What is the matter? Can I help you?" She turned to face him, looking surprised, tears visible on her wrinkled face. "Oh, I'm sorry to have disturbed you," her voice, soft and genteel, awoke more pity in his heart, "I've recently lost my son. He died last month." "Oh, I'm so sorry," the man murmured. "The truth is," the woman continued softly, "that he worked here." She stopped to blow her nose, and the man thought of his own mother. "He worked here," the shaking voice went on, "and I would see him every time I bought my groceries." "It must be quite painful for you," the man replied, overcome with sympathy. "The most difficult thing," the bereft woman added, "is remembering that he would always wave to me after my groceries were packed and when I reached the door with my cart he'd say, 'Bye, Mom. See you soon.'" She bent her head and two tears rolled down her cheeks before she looked up at him again. "I don't suppose," she said tremulously, "that you would say, 'Bye, Mom', and wave to me after my groceries are packed and I reach the door, just to help me this first time?" "Of course, I will," the man agreed instantly. The woman's turn at the checkout arrived. The bus-boy packed her things and wheeled her cart to the door. At the door she turned and looked the man in the eye. He waved to her with his right hand and called out loudly, "Bye Mom. See you soon." This single act made him feel good inside and a bit emotional. He began unpacking his own items, placing them on the counter, and thought about how he should call up his own mother that very evening to ask how she was doing. Lost in thought, he was startled when the checkout girl told him the bill was more than $300 dollars. "You must be wrong," he said, "I didn't buy that much." "Oh, but your mother did," she responded with a smile, and instantly he knew he'd been had. Yes, there are crooks and there are victims, and evil resides in the hearts of all of us. When we hear questions like, "How do you keep from getting parking tickets?" and laugh at the answer "By removing your wipers," that is because there is something within us which resonates with getting the better of someone. A master of deceit One of the most infamous masters of deceit and trickery was a man by the name of Victor Lustig. Born in 1890 in Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic, Victor was gifted with a brilliant mind. Part of an upper-middle class family, his father was the mayor of a small town, so small Viktor's future was, humanly speaking, rather secure. In school he studied languages, easily becoming fluent in Czech, German, English, French and Italian. Victor could have used these talents to become a wonderful teacher or diplomat. Instead, he opted for gambling, turning his abilities to billiards, poker and bridge. In his early twenties he went on pleasure cruises and cheated many gullible, wealthy people out of their money. However, when World War I put a stop to these cruises, he headed for the US. Giving himself the title of "Count," his devious mind conned many in the States out of huge sums of cash (including the gangster Al Capone). The story that really put the native born Czechoslovakian in the news occurred in 1925 when he was 35 years old. Lustig was in Paris at this time and he read in the newspaper that the Eiffel Tower was in great need of repair. The cost of fixing the monumental fixture seemed rather prohibitive. There was even a brief footnote in the article which mentioned that the French government was considering scrapping the tower as it might be cheaper for them to tear it down than to repair it. Upon finishing the article, Lustig's fertile and calculating mind literally saw huge sums of money floating by. His connections with other nefarious characters enabled him to acquire official French government letterhead giving himself the title of "Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Mail and Telegraphs." He typed up letters in which he said that he had the authority to sell the 7,000 ton steel structure to the highest bidder and sent this letter to five leading scrap metal dealers in the city. He instructed the recipients of the letter to keep the matter secret as the public would most likely be upset about the demolition of such a landmark. All five scrap metal dealers showed up and Lustig carefully picked the one most apt to be his patsy: a man by the name of Monsieur Poisson. Poisson gladly paid a handsome amount of money for the privilege of obtaining the contract, and upon receiving it Lustig quickly retreated to Austria. Hearing no news of the swindle, he concluded that Poisson had been too embarrassed to have told anyone. Boldly Lustig returned to Paris and tried to sell the Eiffel Tower a second time. This time, however, the police were made aware of the swindle. The conman barely eluded authorities and was forced to flee to America. Ten years later, in 1935, after having flooded the US with counterfeit bills, and having cheated many more people, the Secret Service finally caught up with Lustig. They reacted to an anonymous phone call made by his mistress who was jealous because Victor was cheating on her. He was arrested and sentenced to twenty years in Alcatraz. Although he initially escaped from jail, he was re-apprehended and spent the next twelve years behind bars. A set of tips, known as the "Ten Commandments for Conmen," are attributed to Lustig. They are:

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a conman his coups) 2. Never look bored 3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions; then agree with him 4. Let the other person reveal religious views; then have the same ones 5. Hint at sex talk, but don't follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest 6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown 7. Never pry into a person's personal circumstances (they'll tell you eventually); 8. Never boast - just let your importance be quietly obvious 9. Never be untidy 10. Never get drunk

There is accounting In 1947 Victor Lustig contracted pneumonia and died after a two-day illness. His last enemy, death, was not to be conned out of its prey. Having shunned God's commandments, and the One Who kept them perfectly, he had no place to hide. Although proficient in languages, he was forced to clap his hand over his mouth. Perhaps our lives do not compare with Viktor Lustig's life; perhaps our deeds shine when we hold them up next to his obvious deceitfulness; but we do well to remember that we ought to

...fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including a short story collection/devotional available at Joshua Press here. She has a new novel - historical fiction - coming out Spring 2017 called "Katharina, Katharina" (1497-1562) covering the childhood and youth of Katharina Schutz Zell, the wife of the earliest Strasbourg priest turned Reformer, Matthis Zell.

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Music, News

That morning I listened to Kanye West

I’ve never been a Kanye West fan. About a year ago, I was flipping through the radio channels while driving. I came across a station playing one of his songs. It was one of the most vile, misogynistic songs I’ve ever heard. As we were eating our dinner, I told our kids about what I’d heard earlier in the day. Knowing Kanye better than I did, they weren’t surprised. But they sure were surprised to hear their dad listening to Kanye West last Saturday morning. I was rather surprised too. His new album had just dropped and the title led me to listen. Jesus is King blew me off my feet. How could it happen that the same man responsible for that horrible song could produce an entire album in praise of the Saviour? Who is/was Kanye West? Kanye West is an American recording artist who’s mostly worked in the hip-hop/rap genre. He’s been hugely popular and is one of the most successful musicians of all time. Jesus is King is his ninth studio album. The previous eight each went platinum. Moreover, he’s been awarded 21 Grammy awards since the beginning of his recording career in 2003. As far as his personal life goes, West was raised middle-class by his mother, an English professor. He briefly attended university but decided to chase a music career instead. He was involved in several romantic relationships over the years. He married reality-TV star Kim Kardashian in 2014 and they have four children together. His first album College Dropout included the song “Jesus Walks.” This song already indicated some spiritual inclinations. The song speaks of spiritual struggles but also features the profanity found in so many of his songs. Over the years, he’s claimed to believe in God, and in 2014 he even claimed to be a Christian. However, in the meantime, he continued making music putting those claims in question. For example, his 2013 album Yeezus included a blasphemous song entitled “I Am a God.” In short, while there have been spiritual themes in some of his past work, much of what Kanye West has produced up till now has been profane, wicked, and even sacrilegious. He’s represented the dregs of what hip-hop has to offer. What happened? Early in 2019, West began a new musical endeavor known as Sunday Service. Every Sunday, he and a number of others would get together to perform gospel music. While it began as an event for family and friends, eventually it turned into something bigger and Sunday Service began touring around American cities. That was the first sign something seemed to be changing with West. Through the end of 2018, it was well-known that West was working on a new album entitled Yandhi. It wasn’t going to be a gospel album – in fact, it wasn’t going to have any notable spiritual emphasis. However, in August 2019, West’s wife Kim Kardashian announced that the direction of the new album had changed and it would now be entitled Jesus is King. Around the same time, West began attending Placerita Bible Church in Newhall, California. This church is a non-denominational congregation. Besides what it says about baptism and eschatology, their doctrinal statement is mostly sound. The pastor, Adam Tyson, is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, an institution founded by John MacArthur. Like MacArthur, Tyson’s doctrine of salvation is biblical/Calvinistic. According to Tyson (in an interview with Apologia Studios), West began attending the church and then asked to meet with him for instruction. West gave a sound Christian testimony and indicated a good understanding of the basics of salvation through the gospel. What he really wanted from Pastor Adam Tyson was instruction about how to begin living as a Christian. Tyson has been instrumental in guiding Kanye West’s spiritual journey. In the last while, Adam Tyson was invited to preach at several Sunday Service events. I watched a video of him preaching at a Sunday Service in Detroit. Using Isaiah 6:1-5 as his text, he gave a faithful and unambiguous presentation of the gospel to at least several hundred people. Kanye West provided a platform so the gospel could be preached. Tyson was also involved in the final production of the Jesus is King album. West told Tyson that he was finished with rap and hip-hop and didn’t want to do it anymore. But Tyson encouraged him to use his gifts in this genre to advance the cause of the gospel. Moreover, he helped him ensure the final product would be free of any serious theological errors. Jesus is King Having listened to the album a number of times now, let me make a few comments. Musically speaking, not everything here is going to be to everyone’s taste. In other words, there are hip-hop and rap elements. Yet it has a different feel to his previous work. I first listened to the album through Spotify, but since I don’t have the premium account, the stream would periodically circle back to his previous work. The difference was noticeable, not only in comparison with his previously foul lyrics, but also with the music. Even though I can’t put my finger on it, something has changed in the sound of the music. One of my Facebook friends noted she’s never listed to Kanye West and never will. I urged her to just listen to the first track on the album. “Every Hour” features lively African-American gospel choir singing – no hip-hop or rap at all. The last song of the album “Jesus is Lord” also breaks the stereotype. This short track features West singing of Christ’s Lordship accompanied by tuba, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, French horn, and euphonium. The lyrics are mostly sound. Check out these rhymes from “Closed on Sunday”:

When you got daughters, always keep em’ safe Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate … Raise our sons, train them in the faith Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake Follow Jesus, listen and obey No more livin’ for culture, we nobody’s slave

Stand up for my home Even if I take this walk alone I bow down to the King upon the throne My life is His, I’m no longer my own.

The last bit echoes the biblical teaching of Lord’s Day 1, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, there’s some immaturity and imprecision in various tracks. Assuming he’s become a Christian, he’s just a young Christian and so we can’t expect the accuracy or theological profundity of Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle. Moreover, while the album is mostly clean in terms of language, there is one use of the word “damn.” It occurs in “God is”:

I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup I know God is alive, yeah He has opened up my vision Giving me a revelation This ain't 'bout a damn religion Jesus brought a revolution

Could that be a legitimate use of the word? I’d like to be charitable. After all, there is religion that is damned – the religion of self-salvation and works righteousness. What shall we say about these things? For many people, their first inclination is to be skeptical. Me too. After all, how many “Christian” celebrities have we seen over the years? How many proved to be genuine followers of Christ for the long haul? The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) reminds us that there are those who hear the Word, show some promise, but are either seed sown on rocky soil or the seed choked by thorns. Kanye West anticipates this response on the album. In “Hands On” he predicts that many Christians aren’t going to believe he’s the real deal. Despite that, he asks listeners to pray for him. Even as we have might have concerns, that’s a request we can enthusiastically embrace. One of the big questions people are asking is: what happens to all the old music West produced? He was asked this directly in an interview with BigBoyTV. His reply was that no one goes to an Apple iStore to ask for an iPhone 4 – Apple doesn’t offer the inferior product. He says his old stuff is behind him and he won’t be performing it anymore. From now on he claims he’ll only be performing gospel music to the glory of God. True, for the moment, his old music is still available for sale -- though, to be fair, when it comes to music sales there are more players involved than just the artist. There are indeed still inconsistencies and troubling things about Kanye West. Just in the last month, he boasted in an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1 that he’s “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time.” While he’s attended Adam Tyson’s church in California, he lives in Wyoming and isn’t currently known to be a member of any church. He’s a public figure and, unlike many other fledgling disciples, his life is on display for everyone to dissect and analyze. There’s a lot of pressure on him and one can only hope that influences like Adam Tyson will prevail. Why should we care? Simply because God can do amazing things, even with the vulgar and profane. Let’s watch and see what happens. Whatever the case may be, we shouldn’t look up to Kanye West as a Christian leader – he’s untested. Finally, if nothing else comes from this, even if West proves to be a false disciple, at least the truth about Jesus Christ was broadcast by him and others for a time: Jesus is King! So, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. Kanye West picture is from Shutterstock.com.

Sexuality

Why won’t safe-sex advocates advocate safe-sex?

A new strain of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) are proving to be resistant to treatment. Here is an extract from a BBC report:

"Doctors have expressed 'huge concern' that super-gonorrhea has spread widely across England and to gay men. Public Health England acknowledges measures to contain the outbreak have been of 'limited success' and an official said:

“The huge growth in sexually transmitted infections has come about as a result of promiscuous lifestyles. Previous advice has been about encouraging people to practice safe sex but I’m afraid this hasn’t worked in the past and it’s not working now. The only truly safe-sex approach that will stop the spread of STIs is rediscovering the idea of pre-marital chastity and a lifelong commitment to marriage.”

Okay, so the government health official didn’t really say that. You can relax again and take a deep breath, fully reassured that our culture hasn’t actually discovered a dose of sanity. That would be really disorientating, wouldn’t it? What the head of the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) unit at Public Health England, Dr. Gwenda Hughes, actually said, according to the real BBC report, is that we should be “encouraging people to practice safe-sex to minimize the risk of STIs.” Okay, so Dr. Hughes wants to minimize the risk of STIs. That’s good. We can probably all assent to that. But what’s the best way of actually minimizing the risk of STIs? According to Dr. Hughes, it is for people to “practice safe-sex”, by which she means that people should protect themselves when they go about their promiscuous lifestyles. But is this the safest way? If not, why didn’t she mention what that is? A CALL FOR TROUBLEMAKERS I imagine a teenager in a sex education lesson asking the following question: “Miss. Assuming I take precautions, would it would be safer for me to have 3 partners or 300?” No brainer of course, and even the most progressive of teachers would have to admit that 3 is “safer” than 300. Simple mathematical probabilities this one: the lower the number, the “safer the sex.” In which case a really mischievous teenager – a true rebel you might say – might ask the following question: “Miss, is it safer to only have 1 partner for life, or multiple? And if it’s 1 – which it is – and if this is a safe-sex lesson – which it is – why do you not advocate it?” But of course Miss can’t advocate it, even if Miss privately knows it to be true, for fear of something that apparently involves clocks and their being turned back. However, in reality Miss can breathe a sigh of relief; she is unlikely to have to undergo the embarrassing ordeal of being asked such hard questions since the number of truly rebellious teenagers prepared to challenge modern orthodoxy is not really very high. THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT Now I know the counter argument. It runs something like this: about 60 per cent of teenagers who pledge to remain celibate until they are married end up engaging in pre-marital sex and are one-third less likely to use contraceptives than their peers who have received sex education. Well that’s what Wikipedia says at any rate. So this proves that abstinence programs don’t work and therefore it is better to deal with the reality and try to prevent STIs through safe-sex education. If ever you heard a spurious argument, that was it. Of course abstinence programs don’t work. Why would they? We have created a culture where pre-marital sex and multiple partners is absolutely expected and teenagers that try to go against the grain are called weird/stupid/backward (amongst the politer names that is). They are up against a cultural juggernaut. If they fail, pointing to their failure as evidence that this approach is wrong is plain bad logic. Was the problem really that abstinence doesn’t work? Or was the real problem that our sex-obsessed culture makes pre-marital and extra-marital sex so utterly normal, that those who do try to be different come up against such enormous pressures and unpleasant taunts that only the most determined will stand? (I can’t recall hearing much about tackling Chasteophobic bullying recently, can you?) In other words, it’s no good arguing that abstinence programs don’t work in a culture that has been designed to make them fail. And telling children that they need to make sure they are wearing safety gear when the cultural juggernaut comes hurtling towards them is not really what you would call “a solution.” The problem is the cultural juggernaut itself, and the real issue is whether we want to continue thinking that pre-marital and extra-marital sex are the norms, or whether we are prepared to make a wholesale shift in the way we think about sex. The latter is of course the unthinkable concept, since it would apparently result in clocks going back. On the other hand, though the former approach won’t mess with the clocks, it will guarantee your culture a plethora of STIs. That’s the trade-off. Now make your choice. CONCLUSION Here’s the thing. Two cultures. One treats sex as entirely separated from procreation and marriage, and most people accept that view and live accordingly. The second links sex with marriage and procreation, and most people accept that view and live within its parameters. Question: Even if the first one has all sorts of “encouragements to safe-sex” going on, which one is more likely to have the most STI’s? Clocks notwithstanding, that’s not a hard question, is it?

This article appeared in the September 2016 issue under the title "Miss? I have a question...." Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything. 


Most Recent



The Rest


Internet

Facebook…to God’s glory

Recently a colleague commented on the fear that some have about social media, and their resulting reluctance to open Facebook accounts. She said it reminded her of controversy that occurred in the mid 1970’s, when television first became common amongst our church families. I thought it an interesting point, and wanted to take a brief look at Facebook, in light of how our churches dealt with TV those decades ago. Where’s the discussion? Back then, church members debated the pros and cons of having a television. It was a hot issue. People were concerned that television viewing would pose a serious threat to the spiritual wellbeing of the congregation. Consistories even hesitated to nominate for office those brothers who had purchased a TV. Today, most families do have a TV or watch its programs via the Internet. We’ve come to understand the need for good stewardship – what matters is how we use the TV, not whether or not we have one. And in a similar way, we today realize that the world of social media is not inherently evil. And it is already as common as TV; an estimated 1.94 billion people used its services in March. Checking Facebook is just a part of our regular daily activities for many, it’s not a hot issue. An addiction But maybe it should be. Following the introduction of television, problems with TV addiction also soon appeared. Families discovered that it wasn’t easy to turn the TV off. Programs were smartly sequenced to keep the viewers tuned-in. And, church members also fell victim to too much TV viewing. Who knows how many church meetings were missed, and how much time was wasted, due to a TV addiction? Whilst seemingly less concerning than, for example, an addiction to drugs, the spiritual harm caused by a TV addiction is real and troublesome. “Facebook Addiction” is a new reality. A quick Google search of this topic will uncover a host of websites aimed at helping those who have been caught-up in the fury of Facebook. As blogger Michael Poh notes in a post titled, 7 Telltale Signs of Facebook Addiction: As you get used to communicating on Facebook via messaging, sharing photos and posts, commenting and “liking” others etc., it may come to a point when you get more comfortable socializing online than offline. You become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill your social needs and may start sacrificing the time spent on real-life meet-ups for coffee with your friends.” How ironic, that something which is intended to improve our social world, can actually lead to increased loneliness. The disconnect When television ownership became possible within our churches, initially it resulted in a sort of disconnect between the members. There were members who readily accepted and welcomed a television into their homes. But, there were also members who strongly opposed television ownership. This latter group often spoke about TV’s negative influence and their concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others. Some parents even prevented their children from visiting friends with homes that had a TV. There were two groups. It was a time of “disconnect” between the members of one church. Fast forward to today’s world of social media, and consider how Facebook has influenced our churches. Unlike the debates surrounding TV, little has been said about having a Facebook account. Rather, it seems like it is just assumed that an active church member should have an active Facebook account, if only to keep in touch with others. Nevertheless, what about the members who are reluctant to join Facebook? We know spending too many hours reading and posting messages can lead to problems, so we know Facebook is not for everyone. So what of invites that happen only via Facebook? Or events that are only advertised there? If some members don’t have an account, for whatever reason, won’t they feel left out, disadvantaged and disconnected? Although the disconnect caused by Facebook might seem trivial, whatever threatens to breakdown the communion of saints should not be ignored. Fellowship The point here isn’t to argue that Facebook – or TV – are inherently bad. Just consider, when TV first became available in our homes, it wasn’t uncommon for families or friends to get together and enjoy an evening of TV viewing. Whether it was an exciting sports event, a special documentary or perhaps an important news report, these were times of fellowship amongst church members. Although such evenings might be rare today, it shows that TV can be used to bring people together. So is the same possible with Facebook? And if so, what does Facebook fellowship look like? One member told me, “Each day, on Facebook, I look forward to Rev. V’s meditations!” Another member said, “It’s such a good way to share each other’s joys and sorrows.” It is a way to stay in contact when living far away from loved ones, or when shut in. As someone told me, “Without Facebook, I would probably be quite lonely.” Clearly, the enhancement of fellowship is also possible through Facebook. Of course, we realize that what is viewed and put on Facebook will be crucial, just as it with the kinds of TV programs watched. Angry Facebook messages and inappropriate TV programs will endanger true fellowship. Conclusion It’s interesting to note how both the TV and Facebook have impacted our churches. At times we struggle to adapt our lives to the changes that confront us. Making the right decision isn’t always simple or easy! Yet, the Lord guides us through His Word. Colossians 3:17 states, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re instructed to “hallow” the name of God. Therefore, we must not post anything on Facebook, nor allow our eyes to see TV programs, that will lead us away from God. Lord’s Day 47 concludes with these words: Grant us also that we may so direct our whole life – our thoughts, words and actions – that your name is not blasphemed because of us, but always honored and praised. As the communion of saints, we remain duty-bound to use the TV and Facebook (and other social media) for the benefit and wellbeing of the other members. Such a duty might cause us to join Facebook, or help us to be patience with others who are reluctant to enter into the world of social media. Ultimately, our discussions about social media (including Facebook) must serve to God’s glory! A version of this article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of Una Sancta and it is reprinted here with permission....

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

13 quick thoughts on "Screen-Smart Parenting"

Parenting is _________.  You fill in the blank.  It is so many things.  It is an adventure with no shortage of ups and downs.  I am sure we have felt at times proud and accomplished and then just as quickly felt embarrassed and insecure. These beautiful children God has entrusted to our care lead lives that are also filled with adventure and with healthy doses of curiosity. Screen time: less is more This year, we have been reading Screen-Smart Parenting in our homes and coming together to discuss its content together as parents. Our children have access to so much now and the book is encouraging us all to be good gatekeepers so that our children do not develop unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil longs to exploit. The digital devises in our homes and that many of our children possess provide opportunities for growth, learning and connection. Here are some tips that the book gives for healthy homes and habits: 1. No TV in the bedroom. 2. No background TV in the home. 3. Turn off devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. 4. Teach your children to ask permission to use technology. Make technology a privilege, not a right. 5. Download/buy games and apps yourself, don't let children do so. 6. Oversee YouTube.  Tell your children to report any inappropriate games/sites/social networks to you. 7.Keep family computers/devices in as public a space as possible. 8. Don't permit technology use during meals. 9. Designate screen-free times for the entire family. Smartphones: you need complete access Our children need help with time management online and offline.  They need protected study and sleep time.  They need coaching on how to use good judgment online, with sticky and uncomfortable situations online.If your child has a smartphone: 10. Parents, you should know all their passwords. 11. Start with having all texts come to your devices. 12. Hold the phone when your child is sleeping (set up a nighttime charging station in a common room). 13. Encourage selfies in moderation. Most of all, our children need for us as their parents to be good digital role models for them.  Model that we can be engaged and present with our children without digital technology. We are now reading the last section of the book, Part 3.  In it, the author Dr. Jodi Gold walks readers through the development of a Family Digital Technology Agreement.  Each will look different but it will help shape the healthy practices you commit to as a family.  I am really looking forward to completing this for our own home! Technology: the Devil wants it for his ends Ultimately, we understand that this world is God's and He made it good.  We believe that there is not one square inch of God's world that doesn't have his mark and stamp as creator - and ultimate redeemer.  Satan is not a creator.  He is merely creative in how he has distorted and twisted what God has made.   Technology is a gift.  It is good - and we see and experience its benefits all around us.  But it is also something that needs boundaries and limits in order for us not to fall into traps of unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil has set up to exploit. This is good, hard work, parents.  But it is important.  And you are not alone! May God continue to give us courage and grace and wisdom as we raise up a generation of young people to know, love and serve Him.  To His glory!  Randy Moes is a high school principal at Calvin Christian School in South Holland, Illinois ...

Internet

Facebook censorship?

In a post on November 9, 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg outlined how he was going to tackle the “fake news” occurring on his massive social media site. He stated: The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. So far so good. But he then went on to outline a 7-point plan that will rely on users, technical means, and third parties, to identify and flag fake news. Why could that be a problem? Because the third parties they intend to use – Snopes.com has been mentioned among others – have their own biases. As do all Facebook users; one person’s must trusted source can viewed by someone else as unreliable. So is Facebook going to censor posts based on the advice of biased sources? Let’s fast-forward to Dec. 27, 2016. Brendan Larsen of the GodOrAbsurdity.com website reported that he was now on his 4th Facebook page – the three previous edition having been shut down by Facebook for violating their Community Standards – and that he’d had a total of 35 posts banned by Facebook. According to Larsen: The original page had about 13,000 likes and was reaching millions of people until atheists got it shut down. I'm taking a new approach now where we avoid posting anything that might get us banned – it's just too difficult trying to rebuild followers from zero each time they shut us down. While some of Larsen’s posts were graphic – he showed the brutalized bodies of aborted children – Facebook says it removes “graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.” That was certainly not the case here. Facebook also says they will remove: …content that directly attacks people based on their: Race, Ethnicity, National origin, Religious affiliation, Sexual orientation, Sex, gender, or gender identity... This seems the most likely reason Larsen was banned (Facebook didn’t provide an explanation) since he has shared posts about Islamic terrorism – to link terrorism and Islam is, in some circles, automatically “hate speech.” This is the problem with biased users policing speech on Facebook – instead of censoring what’s fake, they may simply censor what they don’t like. On February 20, LifeSiteNews.com reported that Christian “vlogger” (video blogger) Elizabeth Johnston was having similar troubles for posting Biblical commentary on homosexuality. Johnston said: They are muzzling me and my biblical message while Mark Zuckerberg claims that FB is unbiased…. The post Facebook deleted included no name-calling, no threats, and no harassment. It was intellectual discussion and commentary on the Bible. This has a happier ending – on February 24, after LifeSiteNews.com brought publicity to her situation, Facebook apologized for this “error” and restored her post. What’s the takeaway? In asking Facebook to eliminate “fake news” we are also asking them to become the arbitrator of truth for their users. But do we really want them “policing” the news we read? God tells us that it is the presence of multiple counselors (Prov. 11:14) and access to the other side of the story (Prov. 18:17) that helps us find the truth. This is why Christians, overall, oppose censorship – we don’t want someone limiting who we can hear from. We shouldn’t trust Facebook or anyone with such enormous power. Of course there is a time and place for censorship, but it is a blunt tool, and should only be used for clear and pressing problems. So, for example, Facebook should ban posts that promote pornography and human trafficking – these are, on the one hand, enormous evils, and on the other, clear evils. To confront this sort of wickedness requires very little in the way of judgment or discernment on the part of Facebook – it would be hard for them to mess up here. But when it comes to “fake news” the problem simply isn’t big enough or clear enough to turn to censorship as the solution. Instead we should simply test what we read, and pass along only that which we know to be true. If in doubt, don’t pass it on – a simple but effective solution if ever there was one!...

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

Parenting the Internet Generation

Parenting has always been intimidating – it wasn't so long ago we were kids, and now we're raising them? – but one thing parents of the past could count on was that they knew more than their kids. For today's parents there is one very big part of life where that isn't true – when it comes to the Internet, and Apps, and smartphones, and social media, then even our youngest children can quickly outpace us. They can know how to use these tools better than we do, and yet they aren't mature enough to deal with all the dangers that also come with them. So what's a parent to do? Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we are, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen. So how can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Luke Gilkerson's Parenting the Internet Generation. It is not only fantastic, it's even free. Parenting is foundational 144 pages / 2016 What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us. The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly. Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits. One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame – the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways. •  Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do •  Failing to really listen to them as we correct them •  Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”) •  Showing little compassion •  Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive •  Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks •  Showing favoritism to other siblings It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits. See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes): Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there. I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids. But it’s just that understanding that’s key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on. So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear: Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance. Contents In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out: 1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9) Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples: "If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented? If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation? At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn? Each chapter also includes a link to a short (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over. These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker. Conclusion This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with. I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents. And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are. You can get a free pdf copy of Parenting the Internet Generation here...