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News

Saturday Selections - March 28, 2020

John MacArthur on the coronavirus crisis (17 minutes) While the coronavirus quarantine led to the canceling of the Ligonier conference, it freed up some time for one of the featured speakers to address how Christians can respond to this crisis and use it as an opportunity to witness to how the Gospel is good news to us, as well as to any who respond to Christ in faith. Tips for talking to your kids about sex I once heard a pastor share what he called "The Law of First Explanations" – that one reason parents have to be the first to talk about sex with their kids (and be the first to talk with them about any other important topics) is because our kids will sift all subsequent information they get on that topic through the filter of the first explanation they get. Parents will often notice the impact of this law when they come in second (or third, or fourth...) because now, whatever we have to say, is going to be tested against the filter of "But my teacher said..." or "But my friends all think..." But it works in our favor too, when we act early. Or, as the article author puts it, "Better a year too early than five minutes too late.” In addition to the article above, a helpful book series – one you can read along with your daughter or son, with different books for different ages – is the "Learning about sex for the Christian family" series put about by Concordia Publishing House. Getting creative... When government restrictions made it impossible to gather inside our church buildings, one congregation came up with a creative way of still meeting together at their usual time. This past Sunday, the Christ Community Church in Blaine, WA met outside, singing and listening to the sermon from inside their cars, assembled in their parking lot. Teaching our kids how to manage their devices Tim Challies titled this article "When Parents Feel Like We Are Mostly Failing Most of the Time" because, when it comes to helping out kids figure out how to use their phones, tablets, and computers to best effect, we know we aren't doing it right. There's plenty of reasons for it, not the least of which is as trailblazers in this area (this is not something our parents could teach us how to teach our kids) we are bound to get it wrong. But that also means there is plenty of ways to improve. So, for the love of our kids, let's be the parents and take that leadership role. And Challies has some wonderful help to offer. How the coronavirus has revealed what's core to Roman Catholicism An Italian pastor explains how the Catholic Church's response to the coronavirus is revealing what's core (and consequently what's deficient) in their doctrine. In related news, the Pope has said that, due to the crisis, Catholics can confess their sins directly to God...at least until they can reach a priest once again. Choice42 with another tool for the pro-life toolbox (1 minute) There is a truth about the unborn that needs to be shared – that they are every bit as valuable as you and I because, just like you and I, they are made in the very Image of God (Gen 1:26-27, 9:6). And there are also lies that need to be knocked down – many, many lies. And as she shows here once again, Laura Klassen, and her crew down at Choice42, are among the very best at knocking down those lies.

Daily devotional

January 31 – Proverbs on the home

“The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just.”  Scripture reading: Proverbs 17:1-6 A home is not a house. A home is a place where a family lives. A Christian home is where a Christian family lives in unity, preparing for and doing the work of the Lord. In a Christian home there is peace even if there is not a lot of food. We know that “Better is a dry morsel with quietness than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1). A Christian home is a place where brothers and sisters help and protect each other. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). A Christian home is a place of safety. You don’t have to wonder if you are welcomed. What happens if there is no peace in the home? One wants to run away from it. Proverbs 21:9 says it is, “Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Yes, a house without peace (Peace only comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ) is a place of misery. Proverbs 15:25 warns, “The LORD will destroy the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Sin is a menace to any home. Proverbs 15:27 notes, “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.” What is the remedy for a corrupt house? Know God’s Word, believe in Jesus and hold on to Him for dear life. Suggestions for prayer Pray that God will preserve peace and unity in the home, unity based on Jesus and that you will not ignore the mutual duties in the home.

This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Mitchell Persaud is pastor of New Horizon URC in Scarborough, ON, a mission church under the oversight of Cornerstone URC in London, ON. He was born in Guyana, South America, into a Hindu home, baptized Roman Catholic, raised Pentecostal and then became Reformed.

Pro-life - Abortion

Does the birth control pill cause abortions?

Our Father knits us together in our mothers’ wombs in a very unique way that has never been duplicated in all of history. A new human being is created when the sperm fertilizes the egg and after this combination of the male’s and female’s separate chromosomes there are no major additions. The sperm and the egg cannot exist or develop on their own, but once joined this new human will simply require the right environment and the right nourishment to grow and continue to develop through varying degrees of dependency and independence onward through their lifespan. God has created and guides this wonderful process, and so another person is made in His image, for His purpose and to live to His pleasure and glory. What this article is not about When God puts this privilege in our lives we also must act responsibly with it. Many Christians have used the birth control pill with the intentions of planning their family under God’s guidance. Their intentions were and are to please God with their family and to live responsibly in His kingdom. There have been many controversies about many types of contraceptives and some have questioned the use of any contraceptives, wondering if they are being used in an improper attempt to “play God.” But that isn’t a topic that will be dealt with in the scope of this article. Instead, the birth control pill will be examined closely to determine whether or not there are any other reasons Christians should question this particular contraceptive's use in family planning. Abortifacient or contraceptive? It is now being suggested that the pill is an abortifacient and not a contraceptive. The difference is significant: abortifacients actually take the life of a preborn child at some stage between the instant of fertilization and birth, whereas contraceptives prevent the sperm from actually meeting the egg and fertilizing it. The birth control pill has changed over the years. Initially it was produced as a “progesterone-only pill” (POP). This was a high-level dose of progesterone which would alter the cervical mucus and also interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb. These are now widely known as abortifacient pills because they interfere with the implantation of any fertilized ovum and thus directly result in the termination of the life of that zygote stage human. They are now rarely used because of the dangerous side effects to women. They are in fact now marketed as the “morning-after pill” because this high dose of progesterone serves to prevent the newly formed human from receiving its vital nutritive connection from the mother through the endometrium (the tissue lining the uterus). Today the vast majority of birth control pills prescribed are the “combination oral contraceptives” (COP) which are a combination of progesterone and estrogen. Although these are safer for the women using them, they are less effective at preventing ovulation, and thus preventing fertilization, because they are a lower dose. Therefore COP’s work on three levels (as stated by the Physicians Desk Reference from the Food and Drug Administration): inhibiting ovulation (the primary mechanism) thickening the cervical mucus and thereby making it more difficult for the sperm to meet the egg thinning the endometrial lining so that the fertilized egg is less able or unable to implant in the womb. It is at this third level that the pill’s effect is abortifacient. But does this third level happen? This has been hotly debated by non-Christian and Christians in the medical world. Some say that because the chance for this last method to occur is so infinitesimally small it is not significant. Some have contended that if ovulation and then fertilization occurs in a person using the pill the subsequent hormone production in the mother’s body will rejuvenate the endometrium, thus allowing implantation and no unintended abortion will occur. They also have stated that there is not enough medical evidence to prove that the endometrium will actually be hostile to an implanting fertilized egg because there is a seven-day span between when conception occurs and implantation occurs, enough time for the endometrium to recover. They state that this is the reason some women have still been able to become pregnant while using the pill. It has been countered that there is no medical evidence available to suggest that the endometrium recovers. In fact, studies done on the use of the pill and breakthrough ovulation suggest the opposite, that the endometrium is still indeed thin and unable to support life. It is also noted that medical studies have clearly shown the endometrial lining is as little as 1.1 mm in thickness with women on the pill, whereas 5-13 mm thickness is necessary for sustaining a pregnancy. Normally it takes women a number of regular cycles while not taking the pill for the endometrial lining to restore to full thickness. Alternatives There have also been those who say that because the women using the pill are not intending to cause an abortion they cannot be held at fault. However Christian ethicists have suggested that intentions would indeed make this valid only if there were no other viable options for family planning (assuming also that family planning is in accord with God’s will). There are indeed other family planning options available for Christians who, knowing that the pill could be abortifacient, will not take it. There are natural family planning techniques available, such as the NaPro’ method and the Billings Ovulation Method. Studies have proven these to actually be more effective than the birth control pill at planning pregnancies, and also have been shown to improve the quality of the husband and wife relationship through qualitative studies. More research is needed on the abortifacient effects of the birth control pill because at this point one can not quantitatively argue that the birth control pill will cause “x” number of abortions. It is unlikely, however, that these studies will necessarily occur because the pharmaceutical companies would be unlikely to fund them. Also, they could quickly become unethical as would any study that involves the life of a child and involves trying to control and imitate the causes of death in the life of that child. Conclusion As always, prayerful consideration should be made in this matter. We cannot be ignorant of the facts surrounding the birth control pill and although many of us would rather not be faced with this we must as God’s children sanctify the life that he has given us and to all others around us. For more information and for the sources of this article please see the following sources: Randy Alcorn’s book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? which can be downloaded for free here Dr. Walter Larimore’s article The Growing Debate About the Abortifacient Effect of the Birth Control Pill and the Principle of the Double Effect The Canadian Physicians for Life ProLife Physicians’ A Declaration of Life

A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here. 

Humor, Theology

Humor and the life of faith

"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God"  – G. K. Chesterton

*****

Nothing is quite so ironic as to talk seriously about humor. Yet it would be perverse to treat the subject of Christian humor with irreverence or anything approaching vulgarity. And by Christian humor I do not mean those harmless puns and riddles that are often classified as Bible jokes. Who is the shortest person in the Bible? Who is the only person in the Bible who doesn’t have any parents?1 If Christian humor ended there, then we might feel slightly cheated. There must be more. And indeed, humor is more than an occasional joke; it is indicative of a broader attitude to life. We see this most clearly in the word “comedy.” In literature, the term means simply a story with a happy ending – it doesn’t even have to be funny. You might say that the story of salvation is a divine comedy, for it promises a life happily ever after. Of course, to unbelievers this faith in the afterlife is itself a joke. To some extent, then, the question is who will have the last laugh. So let’s take a closer look at this comedy of salvation. Does the biblical narrative include any humor, and what role should laughter play in our life of faith? Humor in the Bible When I was still growing up – a process that may not have ended – my father sometimes liked to refer to “humor in the Bible.” But looking back I had no recollection of what he actually meant by that. Was he referring to some of those funny names in the Bible, like the ones the prophets gave to their kids? Was he thinking of Joshua, the son of Nun? I wasn’t sure, and so I figured that writing this article would be like discovering a forgotten corner of my childhood. Childhood is, of course, an appropriate metaphor for thinking about humor. Those who have studied humor in the Bible suggest, for instance, that the sober attitude of grown-ups obscures the comic aspects of Christ’s rhetoric. Elton Trueblood, in The Humor of Christ, tells how his son burst out laughing at Bible reading over the idea that someone might be so concerned about seeing a speck in someone else’s eye that he failed to notice the beam in his own eye.2 The child has not yet become accustomed to all that is at first glance merely preposterous or grotesque. Trueblood – whose views we’ll focus on here – believes that Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, but also a Man of Joys. Jesus’s humor comes from the incongruity of his sayings (particularly in his many paradoxes) and from his sense of irony. Surely, says Trueblood, there is an aspect of comedy in the blind leading the blind, in the notion of “saving by losing,” in the thought that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, in giving Peter the nickname “Rocky.” It is frequently the contrast between the literal and the figurative moment that provides a space for laughter, or at least for a smile. When Christ asks “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” our trained inclination is to answer “No, because then no one can see the lamp.” A child might respond, “That would be funny, because then the bed might catch on fire.” The examples can be multiplied – at least according to Trueblood. They show Christ not merely as an ascetic and acerbic preacher – as we sometimes imagine John the Baptist – but as a man who drank wine in genial conviviality and spoke in surprising and shocking language. Whatever reservations we may have about this slightly irreverent view of the Savior, the resulting picture actually fits surprisingly well with the general Reformed worldview, which sees Christ as restoring and renewing life and culture. We all know of Luther’s hearty humor and his penchant for beer. What is humor? There are of course problems as well. If humor encompasses everything from outright jokes to fine shades of irony, then where do we draw the line? In addition, humor is fiendishly difficult to trace in written documents, for so much depends on tone and context. Take, for instance, Trueblood’s explanation of the following words of Jesus from Luke 12:58:

As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.

Trueblood is surely right that Jesus treats miscarriages of justice with a touch of sarcasm, but he pushes the argument too far when he tries to find the passage humorous: “What Christ seems to be advocating is a clever deal or a bribe. . . . Translated into our language, ‘It may prove to be cheaper to pay the officer than to pay the court, so why not try?’ . . . If this be humor, it is humor with an acid touch.”3 It seems more likely, though, that the adversary is not an officer of the law at all, but is rather a fellow citizen; what Jesus advocates is what we would call an “out of court settlement” – a common practice in ancient societies – and represents prudence, not humor. In the Old Testament There are two other sources of humor that require some attention. The first is, of course, the Old Testament. There are a number of places where God is said to laugh (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8; Prov. 1:26). This is the laughter of poetic justice: God laughs at the wicked. Surprisingly, the Psalms also suggest that the proper response to God’s laughing judgment should be joy: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:8-9; cf. Ps. 96). Judgment is no laughing matter, we instinctively feel. However, as the Philistines found out when they placed the ark of God in the temple of Dagon, God will have the last laugh: “When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 5:3). The man most famed for wisdom in the Old Testament also had a wry sense of humor, something that is often missed. Consider the following ironic passages from Ecclesiastes, that book that we take such pains to explain away:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2).

All things are wearisome more than one can say (1:8).

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (12:12).

Who writes a book to explain that everything is meaningless? The Teacher sounds tired before he even begins. In fact, in an amusing turn of phrase, he explains that he is too weary to explain weariness. Perhaps the appropriate response when faced with such irony is laughter. There is a bad sort of biblical humor But there is also a negative type of humor. There are hints of it in the nervous laughter of Sarah. This is the laughter of those who sit in the seat of scoffers. The man who suffered most from such mockery was Jesus. All those involved in crucifying him try to turn him into a joke. And the joke is always the same: how can a crucified man be king? The soldiers dress him up in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns before they torture him. Pilate practices his own version of the laughter of judgment by placing a placard above his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The joke then gets passed on to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who focus on the final paradox of Christ’s ministry: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’” (27:42). The laughter of the cross is the laughter of Sarah magnified; it is the laughter of skepticism, and it is at heart a nervous defense against the laughter of faith and judgment. As Paul realized, the Christian faith is foolishness to the world, because doubt manifests itself through mockery and laughter. Laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy – the two poles are actually not as far removed from each other as we sometimes think. Since laughter lives on the border with terror and tragedy, it is not surprising that we also find it at the cross. True joy What does this all mean for our life of faith? An elder of mine once pointed out that one of the great gifts of the Christian religion is the joy it provides. And this joy is not simply confined to a kind of internal spiritual peace, although it is that too. The writer G. K. Chesterton suggests that, compared to the Christian, the secular man is generally happier as he approaches earth, but sadder and sadder as he approaches the heavens.4 True – but the happiness of the Christian also extends downwards – to the earth renewed in Christ. There remains one obstacle, however. Franz Kafka once said – in a comment about Christianity – that “a forced gaiety is much sadder than an openly acknowledged sorrow."5 I think this is exactly the problem we face as Christians today. How can we demonstrate the happiness that comes with the good news in a spontaneous way? Laughter is something that you shouldn’t force. So, how can you purposefully live a life of laughter and joy? I think it has to start with something further down in your heart; it has to start with faith and hope. If you start here, then laughter will inevitably come bubbling up. And this is not a nervous laughter, like the laughter of Sarah or the mocking of scoffers – this is a wholesome and healthy laughter. This is the joy of Christ. Endnotes 1 In case you haven’t heard these groaners: Bildad the Shuhite (i.e. shoe-height) & Joshua, son of Nun (i.e. none). 2 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: HarperCollins, 1964). 3 Ibid., 66. 4 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in Basic Chesterton (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1984), 127. 5 Quoted by John F. Maguire, “Chesterton and Kafka,” The Chesterton Review 3.1 (1976-77): 161.

This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue. Conrad van Dyk is the author and narrator of the children's story podcast "Sophie and Sebastian."

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