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Amazing stories from times past

The Good Hanoverian (Luke 10:29-37)

There is a remarkable anecdote about George III of England, that king with whom most people are acquainted through the 1994 movie The Madness of King George. There was more to George, however, than the declining mental health from which he suffered during his later years. George, who lived from 1739-1820 (ruling Britain from 1760-1820), was a man of principle. He tried to apply Biblical precepts to his daily life, a life of family and politics. Deeply convinced of divine providence, he mentioned it in his letters to family and politicians. He was devoted to his wife, Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Strelitz, whom he saw for the first time on their wedding day. God blessed them. By all accounts they had a sturdy marriage and were given fifteen children, thirteen of whom reached adulthood. On to the anecdote… The second greatest commandment King George III enjoyed hunting and was out one day with a party of several men stalking some deer in the Forest of Windsor. Led by dogs, they were in hot pursuit of a stag when they were forced to halt by the edge of the river Thames. The stag managed to cross. The river, however, was exceptionally deep at that particular spot and the hounds could not follow. So the hunting party trotted along the edge of the streaming water looking for a location shallow enough for all to be able to safely reach the other side. The ground was rocky; the grass high; and the many thickets quickly separated the riders from one another. The king's horse was weary. George knew it and he resolved to stop and give the beast a rest. Consequently he parted ways with the hunters and moved onto a clearing where some oaks stood. Fatigued himself, he enjoyed the wind swaying the branches of the trees and the singing of the birds. Suddenly, shaken out of his reveries, he sat bolt upright for he fancied he heard someone weeping nearby. Spurring his horse on towards the sound, he became increasingly away that it was a cry of distress. The closer he came, the more he could make out the words. "Oh, my mother! My poor, dear mother!!" It was quiet for a moment and then again a repetition. "May God have pity on my dear mother!" The king rode on, intensely intrigued and moved by the words. He reached a small glade with a sizable plot of grass. On that grass and under an oak stood a crude, makeshift bed covered with a small amount of straw. Over this pallet hung a bit of tent material. A slip of a girl knelt in close proximity to the bed. Dark-haired, tears running down her cheeks, she was the picture of desolation. Some packs, as well as a basket or two, lay nearby. George spoke. He was a father as well as a king, and not unmoved by such a scene. It pained him to see a child in such heartbreaking anxiety. "Why are you crying, little one?" he enquired. As she looked up at him, startled at his sudden appearance, he went on in a compassionate tone. "And what is it you are praying for?" The little girl, about eight years of age, rose and pointed to a still figure stretched out on the pallet. She answered, sobbing as she spoke. "Oh, sir, my mother is dying." George dismounted, tethered his horse to one of the low-lying branches of the oak and walked towards the child. She took him to the little mound of straw upon which her mother was laying. As he came closer, he could see that the prostrate figure was a gypsy woman. He also perceived that she was indeed close to death. The woman turned her eyes towards him but did not speak. It seem that her power of speech ebbed away and that the Grim Reaper was patiently waiting for her breath to stop as well. The child had begun to weep once more and left George's side to once more kneel down by the woman. She began to wipe her mother's face with her hands, hands wet with tears. "What is your name, child? Are there others here who are your family? How long has your mother been ill?" Before the child had a chance to answer any of these questions, another girl, one bearing much resemblance to the child, emerged from the trees. This girl was a few years older and as she became aware of George's presence, curtsied and also knelt down by the dying woman. Kissing her, she began to weep as well. "Dear children," George said, "do not cry. What can be done for you? Indeed, how can I help you?" "Oh, sir," replied the older girl, "early this morning I ran all the way to Windsor and looked about the streets trying to find a minister. I did find one and then another, but neither would come back with me to pray with my mother." The woman, the dying mother, could understand every word her daughter spoke. It could be seen in her eyes. These were fixed upon her child and they changed from sadness to fear. It was plain to George that this was so. The children were kneeling on the left side of their mother. George picked up one of the packs laying on the grass, carried it over to the woman's right side and sat down on it. He then took her right hand and spoke softly. "I am a minister," he whispered, "and God has sent me here to help you." The woman's eyes turned away from her girls towards him. There was a question in her eyes. George went on to speak of the fall of humankind into sin, afterwards voicing the need for a Savior. And then he gladly told her of the Redeemer Who had been born, Jesus Christ. The woman's eyes never left his face. They became, as George spoke, more animated and then, peaceful. Then they left his face and focused beyond the king. And then suddenly, she smiled. Because her expression had become so happy and peaceful, a few moments passed before George and the children realized that she had died.

*****

When George's attendants came onto the scene a little later, they found George comforting the gypsy children as if they were his own children. He rose up as they rode into the glade, simultaneously pressing some gold coins into the hands of the orphans speaking as he did so. "You have my protection," he said. Remounting his horse, he addressed his attendants, even as he pointed to the children. "Who do you think is neighbor to these?"

*****

George's faith seemed to be part of a piety that permeated his being and his daily life. In his last years, physical as well as mental powers deserted him and he became blind. He died at Windsor Castle on January 29, 1820, after a reign of almost sixty years.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:29-37

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Hot Topics



Apologetics 101



statistics


In a Nutshell

Tidbits – March 2020

It’s so easy to get things wrong While doing evangelism, Christian apologist Ray Comfort will often ask his conversational partner a series of quick trick questions. The goal is to provoke a little humility by highlighting how easy it is to get things wrong. So take this quiz (or better, yet, give it to a friend...who can take a joke) and then look at the bottom of this page to see how well you really did. How many of the unclean animal did Moses take onto the Ark? What is the name of that raised print that deaf people use? Spell the word shop. What do you do when you come to a green light? It's noon. You look at the clock, and the big hand is on the three, and the little hand is on the five. What time is it? You are the driver of a train. There are 30 people on board. At the first stop, 10 people get off the train. At the next stop, 5 people get on the train. Here is the question: What is the name of the driver of the train? Spell the word silk. What do cows drink? And here’s one Comfort doesn’t use, but should: What mouse walks on two legs?   I don’t know. Mickey Mouse! What dog walks on two legs?   Goofy? Right! And what duck walks on two legs?   Donald Duck! All ducks walk on two legs! Troublemaking Bruce Jenner, who now goes by the name of Caitlyn, was an Olympic decathlete in the 1970s, and his personal best in the 400-meter is still better than any woman has ever run. If feelings can determine a person’s gender, then why doesn’t Caitlyn own the women’s 400-meter world record? Lies and statistics, and spanking... Every now and again the mainstream media will splash news of the very latest spanking study, which will report that spanking is "linked to aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem, and a host of other negative outcomes." That study will then be used as evidence that spanking needs to be banned. But if we look beyond the headline we'll find that whatever the latest study might be, it makes two fundamental errors. First, it will label as "spanking" anything physical that a parent did as a punishment for their child. That a child who is regularly beaten by his drunken father will have problems at school, is presented as evidence that a child who sometimes gets three smacks to his behind will also have trouble at school. Second, despite knowing that correlation does not imply causation, the press will report as if this is the exception to the rule, instead of looking for any sort of possible alternate explanation for the findings. What might an alternative explanation be? If I were a betting man I would put all my fortune down on this: were we to do a study of children who crayola the hallway wall, and then go outside to make mud pies so they can feed them to their napping, open-mouthed big sister, we would find that they are more likely than their peers to get spanked. In other words, it might well be that spankings don't lead to these "negative outcomes" but rather that a child's disposition to negative outcomes requires a parent to spank them more often. As any parent with two or more children can tell you, one of their kids will require more discipline than the others. And it isn't the especially good one. Get ready to be reviled "Pastors need to teach their people about how to handle with grace being looked down on more then ever before. I heard of John Stott reflecting that as a young man at Cambridge when people said ‘O he's a Christian,’ what they meant was that he was a goody-two-shoes. But now to be called a Christian means that you are viewed as a morally-deficient person, because you have not swallowed the gay agenda.” – Dr. John E Benton, Evangelicals Now, July 2012, on how the world will change as gay marriage becomes the norm. More troublemaking Our culture is insane, as is on clear display with what they think about sexual education. To put that insanity on better display here’s an idea from frequent RP contributor Rob Slane that lays out a couple of pointed questions a brave troublemaking Christian could ask university professors or sex-ed teachers. "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?'” Faint heart never won fair lady “Many a man has known a great woman, yet did not win her because, out of fear, he failed to pursue her.  Every man understands this, both the brave man who has risked it all (and won or lost) and the timid man who did not dare.  The battle to take the great action required at these ‘make it or break it’ moments is won or lost privately, deep in the heart.” – Patrick F. Fagan Answers for "It’s so easy to get things wrong" Moses didn't take any animals on the ark; Noah did. Deaf people don't need special raised print; Braille is for the blind. You certainly don't stop. We told you, it's noon. Remember, you are the driver of the train. While calves might drink milk, cows drink water. ...

Parenting, Politics

Exposing the poor research fueling the anti-spanking campaign

“Spanking is linked to aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem, and a whole host of other negative outcomes.” So declared a 2016 news article from Good Housekeeping, one of dozens of articles reporting on the latest overview of research on physical discipline. That 2016 overview not only condemned spanking, but went out of its way to make the case that its results also applied to the type of physical discipline that is both legal and commonly practiced. In other words, it argued that all forms of spanking are bad all the time.1 So where does such research leave all those who thought that physical discipline can be beneficial and appropriate when done in a controlled and loving way? The answer matters a lot, especially since the anti-spanking movement has received a lot of momentum in Canada. During the 2015 federal election, Canada’s Liberal party promised that, if elected, it would get rid of Section 43 of our Criminal Code – this is the section that allows parents to use appropriate physical discipline. Thankfully that did not follow through on that promise. But if that section is ever removed, the result will be that all parents who use physical discipline will be treated by the law as criminals and abusers. So it is important, then, that we take a closer look at the research. And when we do so, we’ll discover our confidence in the appropriateness and legality of physical discipline doesn’t need to be shaken. It is vital that we educate not only ourselves, but share this truth with our neighbors, and especially our legislators, before it’s too late. New spin – same flawed research The lead author of the 2016 study was Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, a University of Texas researcher who has dedicated much of her career to opposing physical discipline. Her overview was an updated version of a previous meta-analysis she did (a meta-analysis uses statistics to combine the results of many studies on the same topic, with the goal of getting more precise average results). The news stories explained that her overview was based on studies of over 150,000 children, spanning over 50 years, which sounds really impressive but really just amounts to running new statistical analyses on the same kind of research that several experts have been summarizing for the past decades. None of the other experts supported an absolute anti-spanking conclusion from their summaries of the same kind of research.2-7 One of the reasons why Dr. Gershoff and her research partner Dr. Andrew Gorgan-Kaylor (hereafter G&G) updated their meta-analysis was to address a concern expressed about her previous research, namely that it failed to distinguish appropriate physical discipline from types of physical aggression that the law already criminalizes as abuse. It lumped measured, calm spankings in with the beatings given by enraged, out-of-control parents. So how useful could these findings be when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of just the calm and collected spankings? The answer is, not very. Indeed, that is one of the arguments that ARPA Canada made in our policy report on corporal discipline that we sent to all MPs and Senators in 2014, and have defended on CBC radio and in the Vancouver Sun since. Those advocating that spanking be a criminal activity have never been able to respond to the contrary. We explained over and again that research that did take the time to isolate appropriate physical discipline did not find negative outcomes – in fact, physical discipline was shown to be as good as or better than all other forms of discipline. Three fallacies Another expert on the topic is Dr. Robert E. Larzelere, from Oklahoma State University (hereafter RL). He examined G&G’s latest overview and quickly found it to be wanting. RL pointed out that only four of the 75 studies in the meta analysis examined whether appropriate spanking does more harm than good when nonphysical methods were ineffective. Those four studies proved that spanking was better than two of the three alternatives investigated, and was equally as effective as the third alternative (forced isolation).8-11 So how then did G&G come to the conclusion that spanking was always bad? Her conclusion came from the other 71 studies and included three fallacies. RL exposed the following three fallacies:  Fallacy #1 – Correlation G&G’s conclusions rely entirely on the studies’ correlations – for example, children who were spanked more often tend to be more aggressive. But even a high school student understands that correlation does not prove causation. In fact, it could well be that aggressive children were spanked more often because they were aggressive. As RL points out, this type of research would even make radiation treatment look harmful since patients receiving radiation treatment have more cancer than those who don’t.12 Fallacy #2 – Extrapolation G&G conclude that spanking should simply not be done. It is a similar conclusion that the Truth and Reconciliation Report came to in 2015, in their effort to address the fallout from the now-infamous  Residential Schools. That report led to the Liberal government promising to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code. But do the studies actually bear this out? RL explains that only one of the studies in the entire meta-analysis compared a group that was never spanked to one that was, and that study actually proved that spanking had a beneficial effect.13 The authors wrongly extrapolated their conclusion based on the faulty correlational evidence. Even worse, two studies that did take the time to compare individuals who were never spanked with those who were, conveniently were left out of the meta-analysis.14,15 The fact that overly frequent spanking correlates with worse child outcomes does not necessarily mean that no spanking will lead to the best outcomes. It could instead mean that the best parents use spanking only when needed – but not more often than that. Fallacy # 3 – Lumping Although G&G went out of their way to emphasize that this study proves that spanking is bad even when done carefully and in keeping with the law, the reality is that only 4 of the 75 studies relied specifically on “hitting a child on their buttocks…using an open hand.” The truth has not changed, no matter how it is hidden or confused – the research that properly examines the effect of appropriate spanking shows it to be as good as, or better than, all other disciplinary tactics. RL expressed his regrets about the poor research exemplified in G&G’s overview, not just because it undermines appropriate physical discipline but also because it undermines efforts to discover other disciplinary tactics that may also be effective. Their reliance on correlational evidence is biased against every form of discipline, including time-outs, making the most effective disciplinary responses appear to be harmful. Does that mean that all discipline is harmful? The authors don’t go that far in this overview, but they have already claimed that “we don’t know anything that works” based on another study in which they investigated 10 other disciplinary methods using the same biased correlations.16 We all need to expose the dangerous research The sad reality is that truth and objectivity don’t matter much when a publication comes to the conclusion that others want to see to bolster their worldview or political objectives. The mainstream media loves to publish stories like these, and the fact that they come from peer-reviewed journals means they accept the conclusions as fact. To add to this, there are very, very few people who are willing to publicly defend something as politically incorrect as spanking. Who wants to be lumped in with child abusers? This risk of being misquoted is too great. I’m aware of only two or three people/organizations in this country that are willing to even touch this issue. The Overton Window concept explains that there is a range of ideas that the public will accept. That range shifts over time. An idea can move from something that is considered radical, to controversial, to acceptable, to popular, to public policy. Alternatively, it can go the other way too. Something like euthanasia was controversial five years ago but has quickly shifted to public policy today. Likewise, spanking can go from being lawful today to being criminalized ten years from now. If we believe parents are the appropriate authorities to determine which form of loving discipline is most appropriate for their children (so long as it is not abusive), it is crucial that we seize the opportunity to speak up in defense of Section 43 while it is still considered acceptable. Not only is the research on our side, the Supreme Court of Canada already examined this issue in 2004 and upheld Section 43. They went so far as to conclude that the decision not to criminalize such conduct is not grounded in devaluation of the child, but in a concern that to do so risks ruining lives and breaking up families — a burden that in large part would be borne by children and outweigh any benefit derived from applying the criminal process. Conclusion This is an example of an issue where education is vital – we need to educate our legislators about the facts of the matter before they step in line with a government bill that would criminalize spanking. Once a law is passed, most parents would understandably not want to risk having their children removed from their homes and will likely abandon physical discipline. If you want to uphold parental authority in child-rearing, please consider doing the following: Pray for courage, grace, and winsomeness; Read ARPA’s policy report on the matter at ARPACanada.ca (click on the publications menu) Email your MP to ask for a meeting to discuss this matter – follow up with a phone call if they don’t respond. Take a friend/family member along with you; Use the meeting to present them with the solid research and be sure to communicate your motivation so they don’t wrongly conclude we are seeking to hurt children in any way; Spread the word – share this article and encourage others to do the same. End Notes Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A. Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. 2016. Larzelere RE. A review of the outcomes of parental use of nonabusive or customary physical punishment. Pediatrics. 1996;98:824-828. Larzelere RE. Child outcomes of nonabusive and customary physical punishment by parents: An updated literature review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review.2000;3:199-221. Horn IB, Joseph JG, Cheng TL. Nonabusive physical punishment and child behavior among African-American children: A systematic review. Journal of the National Medical Association. Sep 2004;96(9):1162-1168. Larzelere RE, Kuhn BR. Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics: A meta-analysis. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. 2005;8:1-37. Paolucci EO, Violato C. A meta-analysis of the published research on the affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects of corporal punishment. Journal of Psychology. 2004;138:197-221. Ferguson CJ. Spanking, corporal punishment and negative long-term outcomes: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 2013;33:196-208. Roberts MW, Powers SW. Adjusting chair timeout enforcement procedures for oppositional children. Behavior Therapy. 1990;21:257-271. Bean AW, Roberts MW. The effect of time-out release contingencies on changes in child noncompliance. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 1981;9:95-105. Day DE, Roberts MW. An analysis of the physical punishment component of a parent training program. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 1983;11:141-152. Roberts MW. Enforcing chair timeouts with room timeouts. Behavior Modification. 1988;12:353-370. Larzelere RE, Baumrind D. Are spanking injunctions scientifically supported? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2010;73(2):57-88. Tennant FS, Jr., Detels R, Clark V. Some childhood antecedents of drug and alcohol abuse. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1975;102:377-385. Gunnoe ML. Associations between parenting style, physical discipline, and adjustment in adolescents' reports. Psychological Reports: Disability & Trauma. 2013;112(3):933-975. Ellison CG, Musick MA, Holden GW. Does conservative Protestantism moderate the association between corporal punishment and child outcomes? Journal of Marriage and Family. 2011;73(5):946-961. Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A, Lansford JE, et al. Parent discipline practices in an international sample: Associations with child behaviors and moderation by perceived normativeness. Child Development. 2010;81(2):487-502. A version of this article first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue under the title “New spin – same flawed research.” Mark Penninga is the Executive Director of ARPA Canada....

Assorted

The "Force" behind bad statistics

Statistics don’t always mean what they seem to mean. For example, according to figures released by Statistics Canada some years back, there are 20,000 Jedi in Canada. In addition, there are 53,000 in New Zealand, 70,000 in Australia, and a startling 390,000 in the United Kingdom! If you’re not a fan of Star Wars, you might not have heard of the Jedi. In this series of science fiction films – eight so far – Jedi “knights” wield the good power of the “Force” to fight against those who would seek to destroy the universe and enslave it to evil. It’s a weird sort of Eastern mystical “Force” where both good and evil originate in the same source. By now you’ve probably spotted the problem with the Statistics Canada census. 20,000 Canadians claim to believe in a religion – “Jediism” – that exists only in movies. How can that make any sense? Earnest idiots If you’re Derek Evans, director of the United Church-affiliated Naramatha Centre in B.C., you see calling yourself a Jedi as “part of a journey…discovering the powers that rest within,” and how to use those powers to take care of the ones you love.1 Derek Evans is probably a bit too serious. Chris Brennan had a different take on the whole thing. As president of the Australian Star Wars Appreciation Society, he didn’t think the census details were quite accurate. He estimated that of the 70,000 Aussies who claimed to be Jedi, no more than 5,000 or so were “true hard-core people that would believe the Jedi religion carte blanche.”2 Chris Brennan didn’t quite get it either. Messing with the survey But for most of the thousands of "Jedis" there was a much simpler explanation – these people didn’t take the census seriously. Prior to the Canadian census, a Denis Dion posted a message on the Canadian Ski Patrol message board urging people to list their religion on the upcoming census as Jedi. He claimed that if 10,000 Canadians were to do this, then Jedi would become a “fully recognized and legal religion.” This message, circulated by Dion and others, obviously made the rounds, and 20,000 people joined in on the stunt. What was the motivation? If you can believe the folks at Wikipedia, somebody in New Zealand thought that asking someone’s religion was a nosy question that didn’t deserve an honest answer. As well, some people just don’t really have a religion that they believe in strongly so they don’t know what religion to check off on their census forms. Lightsaber sales still down So what’s the moral of the story? With more than 500,000 people worldwide claiming to be Jedi, what can we learn from this bizarre tale? Simply this: sometimes if a statistic seems unbelievable, it probably is. We need to be skeptical when we’re told the results of surveys. For a survey to be accurate, it needs to be taken seriously, and it needs to be something that people are willing to answer. When answering surveys, people don’t like to appear foolish so they may offer opinions even when they don't know anything about what's being asked. And they are often unwilling to give up personal information yet unwilling to say this. In four different countries people were either unwilling to tell the statistics offices their real religion because it was too personal, or just weren’t taking the question seriously. When we’re outnumbered, and surveys tell us that very few people believe a fetus is “human,” or that most people support euthanasia, we should take it with a grain of salt. Those who oppose abortion are unlikely to tell pollsters their true opinions because their answers are politically incorrect and seen as foolish, and those answering the surveys don’t want to seem foolish. They’re often unwilling to give an honest answer. So when you’re faced with impossible statistics, with insurmountable odds, maybe the best thing to do is to simply laugh. That's what the BBC did when it reported on the 390,000 Jedi supposedly living in the United Kingdom. You see, if there really are that many Jedi in the U.K. it’s only a matter of time until sales of lightsabers start to sky rocket3. And when we’re faced with impossible odds and improbable statistics, we can laugh boldly, because we have a power greater than statistics and far stronger than the Force to lend us aid. Endnotes 1 Globe and Mail, May 14, 2003 2 The New Zealand Herald “Jedi order lures 53,000 disciples” www.nzherald.co.nz, August 8, 2002 3 “Census returns of the Jedi,” 13 February 2003, news.bbc.co.uk...


Children’s fiction



Clarence Bouwman



Apologetics 101



contentment


Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

7 quotes from "Learning Contentment"

2017 / 115 pages An in depth review is in the works, but in the meantime, here's a taste of Nancy Wilson's wonderful and, more to the point, challenging new book. ***** What is contentment? “Contentment is a deep satisfaction with the will of God.” On perfectionism “We sometimes flatter ourselves into think that it is a good character trait to be a ‘perfectionist.’ But this label brings much trouble and temptation with it. A so called perfectionist is never satisfied with his work (or anyone else’s work)…..As creatures we must learn to find our true satisfaction in our Creator God. Then we can be satisfied with out imperfect work. Then we can offer our imperfect work to Him and be thankful that He is satisfied with us in Christ. Then we can rest. Only God is perfect. When we think we can be perfect we are stumbling blindly.” We're allowed to be distressed “ struggled in the garden in Gethsemane. He was ‘sorrowful and deeply distressed’ (Mt. 26:37). From this we learn that sorrow and distress are not contradictory to contentment. Jesus wrestled in prayer and asked God if there was any other possible way. But He concluded His time in prayer with “Your will be done” (Mt. 26:42)…. If we want to find contentment, humility must be our frame of mind. If we want to be like Christ, we must take the form of a servant." This is the other side of “Train up a child…and he will not depart from it” “The more we hear ourselves grumble and complain the more we take it to our heart and believe our own words. This is where crotchety old women come from. When they were young, they were complaining about something, and now that they’re old, it has become a way of life.” Grab a hold of your thoughts “One of the central ways we can resist mental temptations, including the temptation to be discontent, is to pay attention to what we are thinking about….Setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:2) literally means picking your thoughts up and moving them elsewhere. How do you begin to do this? First you have to tune in. What are you listening to all day? What you listening to when you go to bed, when you rise up, when you hop into the shower, when you drive across town? You may be surprised to notice how much fault-finding, reviewing of hurts and wrongs, wishing for things you don’t have, dissatisfaction, and complaining are going on….If you want to change your thought patterns you must practice thinking about things that are 'praiseworthy' and root out the things that are not.” There is no neutrality “We are always either feeding discontent and starving contentment, or feeding contentment and starving discontent.” What kind of score are you keeping? "Contentment counts its blessings. Discontent counts its grievances. Contentment is cheerful. Discontent pouts. Contentment takes the hit. Discontent points the finger. Contentment is generous. Discontent won’t share.”...

Theology

Should a Christian ever be discontent?

She sat across from me, sipping coffee, her forehead wrinkled with unhappiness. She’d struggled for two years in a job that clearly made her miserable, and which everyone else thought she should quit. But she couldn’t quite agree, wondering if there was a reason God had blessed her with the position. “I’m trying so hard to be grateful,” she said. “I just want to be satisfied with what I have.” **** My friend’s words hit me right in my chest. I didn’t know what to say, because I’ve struggled with the exact same issues. When is it okay to give up on the path you’re currently traveling on? When is it okay to quit and change what you’re doing? We know God has a reason for everything He brings into our lives, so doesn’t it just make sense that we should figure out that reason – figure out how to glorify Him in this situation – before we think of moving on to something else? But like so many other situations in life, we often don’t understand the invisible plans of God, or know what His goal is for us in our current season of life. And so we can be left unsure if it is okay to move on to something else, or if God means for us to learn contentment where we are. Often, when we find ourselves feeling like I or my friend felt in that moment – recognizing the strain of dissatisfaction running through our lives – we respond with guilt. We might think this discontent points to a lack in our spiritual lives. But is discontent always wrong? Dissatisfaction certainly can be caused by a spiritual lack. We humans never are satisfied with what we have. We never have enough. If we had the power to change everything in our lives, we still would not feel fulfilled. But this does not mean we should never take our discontentment seriously. Discontent might be the motivation to change something in our lives that needs changing. The value of discontent When we look at other people’s lives, it’s easy to recognize what’s causing them unhappiness, and it’s easy to say they should change these things. In fact, we often wonder why they don’t. This person is still young, so why don’t they try a new career? Or this person has the freedom to move, so why don’t they try living in another city? But when it comes to ourselves, we see how hard it is to justify our choices to make changes. Is “unhappiness” really a good enough reason, when we know we’re called to be content? To get here we've struggled, we've prayed, we've relied on God to achieve things – and by the grace of God we have achieved them. We know, because our strength was so weak and we needed God's strength so much to get where we are today, that our current situation is straight from the hand of God. What we need to know is if we can be grateful for God’s gifts while still choosing for change. No wonder people hesitate to make a change! One way forward is to consider when feelings of discontent have value. This is not to say discontentment should be embraced, but that the feeling can point us to areas of our lives we do actually have power over. So let’s look at discontentment a bit more closely. We shouldn’t be content with just this world First, there are some obvious things God intends for us to be discontent about. We are not supposed to be content with the fallen state of the world. We are supposed to be content that all things are in the hands of God, but we are not supposed to look at injustice be pleased about it. Some of our dissatisfaction points us to the new creation we are looking forward to. When we recognize that we never feel fully fulfilled, we also recognize that we are waiting for eternal fulfillment. We live with “eternity in our hearts” – we have a vision of an ideal kingdom this world cannot live up to. This also means that life’s frustrations, dead ends, and futility were never meant to be part of God’s good creation. No wonder we react so strongly to them. And yet, while we understand this, we also understand God is still holding all the threads of our lives in His hands. We cling to His promise that in him everything that seems meaningless has meaning. We shouldn’t be satisfied burying our talent There’s another aspect of discontentment to consider. Contentment ought to be separated from passivity. A wrong emphasis on contentment can make us believe we’re not allowed to change anything in our lives. But contentment and passivity are not the same thing. Perhaps discontentment may be a challenge to us. We may hide behind “contentment” because we’re afraid to take the risk of change, because we might fail if we try something new. But our dissatisfaction could hint that we are not reaching for goals that we could try to reach. We are not risking the bumps and falls that might develop our skills. Discontentment might tell us we are meant to challenge ourselves. And if we are taking the easier path without really thinking it through, our emotions may be a sign something is wrong. We should consider whether we need to choose a more challenging goal. If we do not separate contentment and passivity, it can result in a fatalistic determinism. We might conclude that wherever we happen to be, that is where God placed us so it must be where He wants us to be, and therefore we should be content. But this cuts off the possibility that God also blesses us with opportunities. Determinism leads us to say—You’re still single? God must not want you to be married. You’re poor? God must not want you to be rich. Don’t try to achieve anything. Just wait peacefully. Don’t try to change. Everything you’re meant to have will just happen if it’s meant to be. But clearly this is an unbiblical message. Learning contentment from Paul Contentment is still a good thing, and it is a virtue to be pursued in our lives. After much struggle, I’ve realized that while there may be something behind the vague sense of discontent that so often crops up in our lives, and that these reasons can be addressed, contentment is still the goal, not discontent. How, then, should we pursue contentment while avoiding utter passivity? There are a few things to keep in mind. Content even as we strive First, contentment is about where you are in the present moment. It is not a denial of any change in the future. When Paul talks of being content in all circumstances, he was working towards a goal, and the circumstances occurred while he was attempting to achieve it. Having a goal does imply you expect to cause change in the future. So perhaps it is not the goal you’re supposed to avoid having, but the discontent over the difficulties that spring up on the way to the goal. It may in fact turn out to be that the goal is not one you’re meant to achieve, but contentment in all circumstances includes contentment during the deep disappointment that hits when you don’t achieve your goal. In other words – strive! Keep striving! But be ready to be content with what the Lord brings you. Content in suffering Another caveat is that contentment in Scripture, including the contentment passage in Philippians 4 (“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”), is mentioned in relation to suffering. It is an approach to situations that are not in Christians’ control. When life is hard, especially when life is hard as a result of being Christians, Christians are to be content. So the intent is not to say, “don’t change your life path,” but rather, “I know you’re suffering, and this is where you can find comfort.” These passages also emphasize that no circumstances of life ever prevent us from being saved by God – whether in chains or free, whether rich or poor – no one needs to be discontent because their circumstances prevent them from truly being Christians. If such circumstances did exist they would surely be reason for despair—but thanks be to God there are none! We can be content because our circumstances do not prevent our salvation. Content when we have choices and when we don’t We all suffer in some way, but in comparison to many Christians in the Bible we are faced with an endless array of choices – we can choose a career, we can choose a spouse, we can choose where we want to live, we can choose to travel, we can choose our level of education. It’s not a surprise the Bible doesn’t predict that we in the future would be faced with this array of choice, and advise us on how to wrap our minds around the dizzying display. And therefore it is not a surprise when we try to apply biblical principles to our choices instead of our sufferings, and end up at the conclusion that we should never desire anything, and never try to achieve anything. But rather than arriving at this conclusion and automatically accepting it, we should think about whether this is really correct. We are to be content in situations we can’t change, including those which are really, really hard. But our contentment in the present moment doesn’t prevent us moving from one choice to another in the future. Second, we often think contentment means being stationary unless we’re sure God means for us to move. But Paul did not always sit and wait until absolutely sure that God was sending him somewhere else. If he was called by the Spirit he followed, but he continued to work and preach in all places while waiting for the Spirit’s call. He often made plans to go to different places, or to start new missions. When the Spirit of God prevented him from preaching throughout Asia Minor, he continued trying in place after place until he reached the sea – only then did he realized he was being called to Macedonia. In other words, sometimes we are not sure what we should do, but we do not necessarily have to wait for a firm confirmation from God before every action. Content in the day-to-day faithfulness Lastly, we are often discontent with our lives not because of the goals but because of the mundane tasks and the drudgery. Our actions seem so little, and so dull. We cry, like me and my friend did when we were having coffee, “I just want to work in God’s kingdom!” But perhaps the cathedral builders did the same, as they painstakingly placed stone on stone for hundreds of years, unable to see the buildings we’d gasp at in wonder today. Perhaps our grandparents did the same as they struggled to get their children to listen to a Bible story, not knowing if the generations who’d follow would do the same. When we ask God to use our lives according to His plans, we sometimes suppress a fear that God doesn’t want us to go anywhere, or do anything. This is our fear when we walk into the office and face a mountain of paperwork that needs to be done but hardly seems worthwhile – am I really contributing to God’s kingdom, we wonder? But our God is not a God of waste. If we are to be ordinary, it will be worthwhile. Our call to contentment brings us to a new understanding, where ordinary labour is not undervalued. We are not pressured to all conform to the mould of world-changer. We can put our hand to the task in front of us without fear our efforts will be washed from the earth, because we know they’re seen by the eyes of God. Conclusion What, then, is contentment? First, it is a focus on the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the world. It shifts our focus from yearning for the things of this world, such as money, fame, or power. We can trust there are eternal things that we are building, and contentment means that we can rest. Second, it is not a struggle with God over what can’t change. While we are not called to passivity, in our lives we will sometimes be told “no.” This is where we are most often tempted to fight, not necessarily with our actions, but with a rebellious spirit that insists on despising the situation forced on us. Only by looking to God in His Word and in prayer will we find the strength to turn back to contentment again. When my friend and I left the cafe, our lives were still the same as when we had come in. Yet somehow Christian company and very good coffee gave us new capacity to rest in the goodness of God. Harma-Mae Smit blogs at  HarmaMaeSmit.com. ...


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