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Internet

Do we "like" sin?

Welcome to the Information Age. With apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we now have a window into the lives of our friends, family, acquaintances and even complete strangers. Business owners can now Google prospective employees, parents can check Instagram to vet new friends of their children, and a woman can search Facebook about a potential boyfriend. We can track down long lost friends from high school and keep in touch with family around the world. The benefits are evident in our churches too, in how we can share information about prayer requests, children’s illnesses, bus routes being late, weather conditions, and new study groups. Via these social media forums, users are connected together in an online virtual world where our interests and ideas can be shared at the speed of light to our online peers. We can share articles that we deem interesting or important, and we can take political stands on issues. With a click of the button, we can friend and follow almost anyone we want. We like or dislike our way through thousands of gigabytes of information, telling everyone our favorite TV shows, games, authors, preachers, speakers and much more. But how does our online presence reflect our allegiance? Do our likes match up with God’s own? Many brothers and sisters seem to disconnect the online version of themselves from the real (or maybe their social media presence is their true self?). Christians will watch horrific godless shows and discuss them and like them on Facebook. Some may share photos of themselves in provocative poses with minimal clothing, or share pictures of drunken partying. We’ll fight with others online, speaking wrathfully, and assume the worst of whomever we’re arguing with. Disputes with our consistory, or our spouse, will be aired publicly and captured for all eternity. We’ll speak derisively about our employers, or our minister, family members, or friends. Online Christians will use filthy language, or casually take God’s name in vain in ways that they would not in the offline world. The Bible calls this disconnect an unstable “double-mindedness” (James 1:8, 22-25) – we are trying to be two people, each serving a different master (Matthew 6:24). Not only are we responsible for how we present ourselves online, we’re responsible for what we like and follow. When we see pictures of brothers and sisters sinning and like them, when we click thumbs up to a godless show, or blasphemous musician do we understand what we are telling everyone? Though it may take little thought – just a quick click of the mouse and a friendly like or thumbs up – what we are saying is I agree, I like this, I love this, this is good. Though it seems harmless, this is encouragement. When I sin and someone says good job,they are enabling me. That is not love. That is sinful. It is wicked. We should not condone sin whether online or off. In fact, we should love one another enough to be willing to privately approach and hold our brothers and sisters accountable. Maybe we think this a task better suited to elders. But not all consistory members are on these online forums. They don’t always know what is happening on Facebook or Instagram. And it is not their job to follow every one of us everywhere we go. As brothers and sisters in the Lord, we need to hold each other accountable out of love for each other (Eccl. 4:9-12). And we need to do so out of love for our Lord – the world will get their ideas of Who He is based in large part on how we, his ambassadors, act. Finally, whether we sin in daily life or online, God sees. In a world of both hate and tolerance, filth and fanaticism, we need to be careful not only in how we behave online, but also in what we like, share and post and therefore condone, as well.

Media bias

Even a talking horse beats quiet convictions

I still remember the day I officially became an expert on everything. Many people go to school for years just to become an expert on one small particular thing so you might assume that becoming an expert on everything would be even harder and take longer. Actually it takes but one simple step: become a journalist. A journalist can be expected to write about as many as five separate subjects a day and to write about all of them knowledgeably. You might imagine that this incredible task requires the best and brightest that mankind has to offer. It may indeed but unfortunately the best and brightest are already tied up trying to extrapolate the existence of the sixth dimension based on the cube root of pi’s trillionth digit. So the task is left to whoever is silly enough to work for a starting wage of $15,000. They are the few and the desperate, yes, these are your dedicated daily information providers. As both a Christian and a newly anointed expert on everything I’m often asked: “Why is the news so biased against Christians?” The first time I was asked this question I immediately took steps to answer it as only a journalist could. Fred the hot-dog vendor was standing a scant three steps away so I pulled out my very professional looking tape recorder, held it up to Fred and then asked him the same question. Fred gave his usual thoughtful response while I got my usual chili dog and paid him $2.50 for both. I then returned to my still waiting inquisitor and repeated what Fred said with a quick “Sources say...” added in front of it. I found out rather quickly that while this technique never fails to impress when found on the printed page, it works less well in person. My inquisitor asked me the question again and, just to show she meant business, placed her clenched fists on either hip (her hips not mine), “Why is the press so biased against Christians?” Unable to avoid the question I bought her a coffee and we sat down to discuss it. She had her own theory about the press being left-wing, liberal, and full of atheists who lived just to take shots at Christians. She flipped through that day’s paper and pointed out a dozen stories that promoted gay-rights, euthanasia, or the latest evolutionary "discovery." She also mentioned that Christian and pro-family groups and politicians often complain their quotes are purposely taken out of context. While it’s obvious the press has an agenda, it’s been my experience that it is not as left-wing, liberal, atheistic as Christians believe. I explained to her that quite often the press’s agenda is far less nefarious, and can be summed up in two parts:

1) to sell as many papers as possible, and 2) to get home before lunch.

This startlingly un-ominous agenda didn’t seem to please my questioner. She clenched her teeth and leaned across the table grabbing my tie to pull me close. My clip-on made this last action less intimidating than it might otherwise have been but the overall effect still captivated my attention. “So why,” she whispered hoarsely, “is the news full of so many anti-Christian stories?” As her hot breath blew over me an alarming sense of deja vu overwhelmed me. This had all happened before! But try as I might, I just couldn’t think of when or where. Sure, an ordinary man might be able to remember the last time a women he was drinking coffee with suddenly reached over and ripped off his tie. As a journalist this has happened to me far too often (thus the clip-ons – both cheaper and safer) and after a while all the separate occurrences have blurred together. Then it hit me. The situation had been quite different but the question had been exactly the same. And I had been the one asking it. It was just a year before, and I had taken a run at political office. As a small party candidate I couldn't afford paid ads, and was desperate for any free publicity I could get. That's why, when the daily paper called I did my best to take full advantage of the opportunity. I talked to that reporter for almost an hour explaining both my party’s, and my personal stances. But the reporter ignored my explanations and kept asking personal questions. I told him I wasn't important. I told him people wouldn't be voting for me as a person, but instead, would be voting for me as the only candidate who stood up for the important issues. Over and over I downplayed my own importance and stressed the issues. After a long and impassioned conversation with the reporter, the following quote appeared in the paper the next day:

"There are 2,000 people who would vote for Mr. Ed as long as he was pro-life. I could be a talking horse and they would vote for me if I was pro-life." – Jon Dykstra

Not quite what I was hoping for, it was by far the stupidest thing I had said. As a politician I was convinced the reporter had selected this worst possible quote because he didn’t like my Christian stances. As a trained journalist I knew better. The simple truth is, stupidity sells papers. Doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not, if you say something stupid the press will use it. We've seen politicians make headlines for misspelling a word, or forgetting how many states there are. I got my attention with a more original approach, referencing a talking horse. As one of my more compassionate friends told me later, “If stupidity sells papers, you doubled their circulation.” My recollection complete, I turned to my companion to see if this trip down memory lane had done anything to answer her question. She was staring intently at the place where my tie had been. “Stupidity?,” she asked, still staring, “Is that the whole answer?” It was not. I became a reporter to write about issues that aren't usually covered. I was determined to write about everything from AIDS to Zebras with a distinctly Christian perspective so I began the research for each new story with a few calls to pro-life, pro-family or Christian organizations and politicians. They were quite wary of the press, and as my coffee companion had already noted, they do seem to have reason to be. But they were so scared they refused to answer my questions. Of course they weren't quite as blunt as that. One place kept telling me the director was out and that she would phone me in an hour when she got in. I got the same message every hour as I regularly phoned back and finally had to give up as lunch approached. Another organization told me that only one person was allowed to speak to the press and he was away for three weeks. A few groups did get back to me, but anywhere from two days to several weeks too late. In contrast, I managed to talk to two AIDS activists in the space of a single hour. They were very cooperative and very outspoken. As an unbiased, objective and Christian reporter I absolutely refused to write all my stories with two AIDS activists as the only sources (they just didn’t add anything to my gambling story) so I sucked in my gut and decided to work after lunch. I spent my afternoons alone in the cavernous office tracking down Christians sources and experimenting with the room’s acoustics. But because I refused to go with just the most available sources, stories that should have taken half a day took more than a week. So why is the newspaper and nightly news full of anti-Christian stories? In part, because most reporters won’t take that week. If Christians want better press coverage they need to start working at it. They need to start appealing to the lazy and sensationalistic nature of the press. Our most basic beliefs are pretty radical nowadays so we already have sensationalism covered but we still need to work at appealing to the lazy nature of the press. That means, if they aren't calling us we better be calling them. This isn't as intimidating as it may sound; calling a reporter doesn't mean you personally have to give him a quote. As a "regular" person they may not even be interested in talking to you. Instead you can compile a list of Christian sources with impressive titles behind their names, people who have spent the time to become experts about one small particular thing. Admittedly, coming up with this list is no small task, what with fewer and fewer willing to speak up. But if you can come up with such a list, then when you hear or read about an issue that should have a Christian voice speaking out on it, you can phone up the reporter and give him the appropriate phone number. Reporters don't like sounding biased, so if you can give them a ready source from the other side of an issue they may well be happy to have it. And if you’re afraid you might say something stupid, trust in God and do your best. After my idiotic Mr. Ed comment I received calls from dozens of curious voters, and the reporter found the comment interesting enough to follow it with six column inches about my campaign positions (more coverage than he gave any other fringe party candidate). After the good that came of this escapade I pinned up a little sign in my room which read “GOD Can Overcome Even Your Stupidity.” It kept me humble, but more importantly, it freed me from worry. My coffee companion wanted to blame the media’s anti-Christian stance on some kind of hidden agenda. There is some truth to that, but that’s also taking the easy way out, shifting the blame to an available scapegoat. The news media may have more than its share of liberal, left-wing, atheists, but many aren’t so much anti-Christian as lazy, and sensationalistic. These reporters take the path of least resistance and talk to the people who want to talk to them, like gays, euthanasia advocates, and other radicals desperate for publicity. They won't stir up controversies unless there are groups and politicians willing to speak out and take the hard stands. And these reporters don't have the time or patience to talk to people who will, "get back to them." It’s not just the media’s fault; it’s ours too. The news is full of anti-Christian content because Christians are too often boring, timid, and reclusive. And that’s my expert opinion.

A version of this article first appeared in the magazine twenty years ago.

Satire

Ode to hurt...or why my tolerant nature can't stand your opinions

I’m hurting I am, and I want you to know, That the pain I am feeling, isn’t likely to go. I’m hurting I am, it’s your opinions you see, I just can’t accept them, I do not agree. D’you not pay attention, d’you not see the news? This post-modern world has no place for your views. They’re outdated, outmoded, outrageous no doubt, And lots, lots more words beginning with out. Reactionary, Dark Ages, Stone Age repression, And other assorted clichéd expressions. That’s what I think of your bigoted rants, Which contrast so starkly with my own tolerance. You’ve made me so angry, so hurt, even bitter, What can I do, but to go onto Twitter? Hashtag #BigotedIntolerantPhobe, Said something that hurt me, so I’m telling the globe. I’ll put it on Facebook, Instagram too, The world needs to know the pain caused by you. Pain that keeps giving and won’t find relief, For I simply can’t cope with a different belief. But being free-thinking, I’m perfectly fine, That others have thoughts that are different to mine. I must draw the line though, with views such as yours, Against which there really ought to be laws. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100 percent, Committed to free speech and the right to dissent. But it’s Twenty-Nineteen and I can’t understand, Why opinions like yours still haven’t been banned. The law ought to treat them as Hate Crimes, it should, Then you’d have to keep them all up in your head, yes you would. And not only Hate Crimes, but Hurt Speech I say, On account of them really upsetting my day. Enough is enough, I’m really perturbed, My tolerant nature has been greatly disturbed. From now on I beg, keep your views well hid. Did I tell you they hurt me? Yes you hurt me, you did.

Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

How to get our boys to read

In a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Thomas Spence argues that the way some “experts” were trying to encourage boys to read was all wrong. Their strategy involved pitching boys books like Goosebumps, Sir Fartsalot, Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Psycho. If we want boys to read, so this line of thinking goes, then let’s give them the potty humor they adore. That’ll make them readers, right? It might get some reading, but what it won’t do is give them any of the benefits that come from reading good books. Thomas Spence insists that instead of “meeting [boys] where they are at” we need to aim higher, and he quotes C.S. Lewis:

“The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

If we point our sons to what’s disgusting and encourage their interest, how can we expect them to learn and appreciate what is good? How can our boys become men if, instead of training them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), we reinforce their childishness? Instead of the gross, we need to fill our shelves with what’s great. We need to give our boys examples to aspire to, in books like Encyclopedia Brown, Saint George and the Dragon, The Green Ember, The Hobbit, Journey Through the Night, and Wambu: The Chieftain's Son. Of course, it’s one thing to stock our shelves, and another to get our boys to pull books off of them. How do we get them reading? Two tips: start early, and get rid of the distractions. Read to your son from the day he's born. Sure, a newborn won’t understand what’s being read, but he will love the time sitting on mom or dad’s lap. As he gets older, he’ll enjoy board books’ for their soft chewy corners and bright colors. Then simple stories can help him learn colors and numbers and all sorts of other words. A child who never remembers a time when he hasn’t been read to won’t have to be taught to appreciate stories – by the time he hits Grade One it’ll be in his DNA. But like any habit, this one can be broken. In his article Thomas Spence cites the findings of a Dr. Robert Weis, who linked video games in the home with lower academic performance. I’m sure a similar connection could be made between TV viewing and reading ability. The fact is, no matter how good the book, it can't compete with video games and TV shows for a boy’s attention – given a choice he’s going to watch a screen rather than read. If we want to raise readers then we need to limit their access to electronic media – we need to guard them against these distractions, indulging in them only in moderation. This is going to be tough. One of the reasons we parents like TV shows and video games is they can act as effective babysitters. A boy glued to the TV, or busy trying to make it to Level 3, isn’t going to be pulling his little sister’s hair. And if he’s busy then Mom’s probably got at least 20 minutes to hop into the shower, or get breakfast ready, or put away the laundry. A lot can get done when this babysitter is helping out. Now consider that not only does the TV have to be turned off, but mom or dad needs to read to the kidlets for 15, 20, 30 minutes a day, right from babyhood onward. For a busy set of parents this might seem like just another chore to add to all the others. But here’s a bit of encouragement: it isn’t going to be forever, and it does work. A child can read on their own at 6 or 7, and while it’s wonderful to keep reading with them after that, it’s not the same sort of necessity. At that point you can switch up from being the book reader to being the book supplier, pointing them to the very best ones (and I have suggestions on some really good ones here and here). Regular reading might mean you don’t have time to tidy the house, or your lawn isn’t mowed nearly as often as it should be. But are you going to look back and regret the length of your lawn? And will your son reap a real benefit from reading with you each day through Grade One and beyond? Reading daily, for just a half dozen years or so, and you’ll have helped him develop an appreciation of good books that can benefit your son for his lifetime.

Dating, Gender roles

Faint heart never won fair maiden

On dating, Ephesians 5, and being a man

A serious conversation requires serious chairs – the sort to sink down in and get properly settled. But for the setting to be ideal there also has to be a reason to get up and walk about for a bit, to allow time for serious thoughts to settle.

That’s why, when Tom phoned up George needing to talk about “girl problems,” they agreed to meet at the Corner Coffee House, with its large leather wingback chairs and coffee so good refills were a requirement.

*****

“We’ve had this conversation before you know.”

Tom’s coffee was gone and he was staring blankly into the bottom of his espresso cup. “What do you mean…when?”

“The last time you had girl problems. A couple of months back when you were trying to figure out if you wanted to ask Amy out. We were even sitting in the very same spots. You wanted to ask her out, but you were too scared. And now you’re scared again.”

“I wasn’t scared George. I was just…”

“You were just trying to figure out a way to ask her out without really asking her out. You even tried to get me to ask her to the hockey game the group was going to. And do you remember how I responded to that idea?”

Tom looked up from his empty cup: “You told me to be a man and ask her myself.”

“And?”

“And I did… it took me a few more days to work up to it, but I asked her out. And she said yes and it went great and we’ve been going out two months now. But three days ago we had a bit of an argument and since then Amy hasn’t called. She used to call me every day but now she isn’t calling at all.”

“Slow down for a second Tom. I told you to be a man and I told you to read Ephesians 5. Did you read it? I don’t think you did.”

“I’ve read it before – that’s where it tells women they have to be submissive to their husbands. But I don’t know what that has to do with me and Amy.”

George stood up and grabbed his coffee mug: “Tom, no offense, but you’re a goof – you read the part of the chapter that’s addressed to women. Here’s my Bible. I’m going to go grab another mocha and while I’m away how about you read the part of the chapter that’s addressed to us men, verses 25-32.”

*****

Two minutes later George returned with his mug full. “Okay, what did you find out Tom?”

“Basically those verses just tell a husband to love his wife.”

“Sure, but they also say more. Take another look at verse 22 and read it out loud to me.”

“It says, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’”

“That’s the key. Do you understand what this verse is saying? Men have to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Men are supposed to love sacrificially, to put the needs of their wives first, to protect them and guard them and sacrifice for them, just as Christ offered himself up for the church.”

“Okay… but what does this have to do with me and Amy?”

“Well, if a husband is supposed to love his wife sacrificially, when do you think he should start acting that out? Is this like sex – something you only do after marriage – or more like the kindness and care you try to show right from the first time you meet a girl?”

“You’re thinking it’s right from the start?”

“For sure. Do you know why guys are supposed to open doors for women and give up their bus seats? Is it because women can’t open doors, or are too weak to stand up on the bus? No. It’s all about practice – it’s about a guy learning to take up that protective role. Now consider this: a godly girl should be looking for a guy who’ll love her this sacrificial way, but how can she know if a guy is going to be like this if she doesn’t already see it happening when they’re dating? It can’t wait until they’re married! So when it comes to dating and who should make that first move, if someone has to sacrifice their pride, or at least risk it, doesn’t it make sense it should be the guy? Doesn’t it seem like it’s the guy’s job to stick his neck out?”

“But what if the guy sticks his neck out and the girl lops off his head?”

“Well, that would hurt. And hopefully a Christian woman is going to do what she can to let a guy down easy. But even if a guy gets his head handed to him every time he asks a girl out, he can at least take comfort in knowing he’s doing his part the right way. It is a sacrifice to open your heart up to someone and risk getting hurt. But God says guys are supposed to love sacrificially.”

Tom put the Bible down slowly, and reached over for his coffee cup. “That’s an interesting idea George, but I need a refill. Let me think about that for a second while I grab another coffee.”

*****

Tom returned with his coffee and a question: “You definitely have an interesting way of looking at Ephesians 5. But I’ve already asked Amy out, so what does this have to do with my situation now?”

“Well, you told me you’re back to wondering how Amy feels about you… and you’re scared to call her and hoping that maybe she’ll call you. But if you’re willing to love her with a sacrificial love, isn’t it clear what you should do?”

“You’re saying I should make the first move.”

“Right. Phone her up and let her know how you feel about her, that you want to see her some time very soon. This sacrificial love isn’t a one-shot thing. You’re going to have to stick your neck out again. And again and again.”

“And if she lops off my head…”

“Then you’ll still know you did things the right way, like a real man, acting just the way God wanted you to. Even if you feel foolish, you’ll know that’s not how God is thinking about you.”

Tom was once again staring into his empty cup. “That’s a comforting thought.”

“Isn’t it?”

“But it also seems like men have an almost impossible task – to imitate Christ’s love. Can we really manage that?”

“No, not perfectly. But we can try, and we can ask God for help. And then we can trust the outcome to Him. God gives us men a pretty weighty task in Ephesians 5, but it is wonderful knowing what He wants us to do. And right now I think He wants you to call Amy. What do you think?”

“Thanks George, I’m going to do that… right after I polish off one more espresso.”


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