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Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Why read biographies?

More importantly, why stop? Any Christian who reads the Bible has been already been reading biographies. Let’s start with Genesis, where we read about the call of Abraham and his response; the prodigal son Jacob and God’s pursuit of him into the land of Laban; or the exile of Joseph, his life as a rather successful stranger in a strange land, and his return to Canaan several hundred years after his death. The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and the prophets are filled with biographies of judges, kings, queens, governors, and prophets. The New Testament has biographies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and plenty of autobiography of His most famous follower, Paul, as well as history of the work of Peter and other apostles. Perhaps you are thinking that none of these count as biographies, since their purpose was not to recount the life of a famous person, but were instead intended to reveal God in his covenant love for the seed of the woman, and to show us our sin and the one Way to salvation. Fair enough – but that should be at least one of the purposes of all Christians’ biographies. Christ at work So, one benefit of biography is to show Christ at work defending, preserving, and increasing His people. The natural question at this point might be why we should read any biography beyond those God gives us in His word. The answer is that God didn’t stop saving people at the end of the Book of Revelation. We can gain great comfort by seeing just how active Christ is in his Kingly work after the close of the New Testament period. For example, what is often called the first autobiography is Augustine’s Confessions, written between 397 and 398 A.D., showing both how far he wandered from his Christian upbringing, and how the Lord brought him back. Augustine’s life is a great source of comfort for those who have family members straying from the faith, as his mother Monica prayed for his return for twenty years – and her prayers were answered. Many Christians’ biographies and memoirs have a similar purpose – to reveal just how God moved them toward their conversion. C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy shows the three main stages in his spiritual journey.  First, he was raised within a very nominal and cold “Christian” upbringing.  He went through a period when what he thought was his reason contradicted Christianity. Finally, by the grace and providence of God, he came to the realization that reason and faith both point to Christ as the Son of God. (A great follow up to Surprised by Joy, is Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, his updating of Pilgrim’s Progress – it shows the hero John, like Lewis, overcoming intellectual stumbling blocks on the road of faith.) A less famous and more recent conversion story is David Nasser Jumping through Fires: The Gripping Story of One Man's Escape from Revolution to Redemption. Nasser tells how in childhood the author’s family escaped the religious fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, how he at first therefore rejected all religion as dangerous and fanatical, and how Christian love showed him that the way of Christ is something different altogether. A similar type of journey out of the grip of Islam toward Christ is shown in Mosab Hassan Yousef’s Son of Hamas, about the son of a major Palestinian leader. Yousef goes from seeking to kill his Israeli enemies to seeking to love them. This revelation to the reader of a new purpose for his life brings up a second reason to read autobiographies – to learn from great examples of Christians being used by God for His purposes. Great examples Let’s go back to Augustine for a moment. Like Nehemiah’s Bible book, Augustine’s Confessions is directed first of all to God. Thus, beyond showing God at work, both of them also give us models for our prayer and praise in response to God’s work. Many Christian biographies show us that there are many ways beyond prayer and praise to respond to what God has done. Some more recent ones show us just how big God’s call is on our lives, how we can serve and represent Him in so many different places and stations in life. For example, we all sense that the army is a noble way to serve your country, but both movies and the day-to-day routine of army life may bring a sense of skepticism about the possibility of a Christian serving there. As an example, the movie Black Hawk Down captures the cost of the American military’s mission in Somalia in 1993, but the language in the movie certainly would not make it one worth recommending. (The cliché “swearing like a trooper” has some truth to it.) However, the story of Captain Jeff Struecker’s actions in that crisis in his memoir The Road to Unafraid tackles many of the same issues of fear, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice for teenage guys (and others) without the problem of inappropriate language. In his autobiography Struecker makes us aware that you can serve both God and country. Two books that can inspire teenage girls are Abby Sunderland’s Unsinkable and Bethany Hamilton’s Soul Surfer. Sunderland reveals how a teenage girl’s faith in God strengthens her as she seeks to circumnavigate the world – solo – by sailboat. (We’ll look at the wisdom of that quest later.) Hamilton reveals how a teenage girl copes with the loss of her arm due to a shark attack while surfing, and how she found God’s purpose in the aftermath of that terrifying event. What makes Soul Surfer particularly intriguing is that Hamilton is so normal: her story is broken up by lists of her favorite surf spots, favorite things about her home of Hawaii, and a history of surfing. Yet in the midst of all that typical teenage stuff is the awareness that God is helping others through her willingness to share her experiences. Sharing experiences Which brings us to a third reason for reading biographies. Someone once said that experience teaches us the stuff that we needed to know to avoid the problems that experience brings us. In other words, the school of hard knocks is a really strict school. Biographies can help us learn about the tough stuff without having to go through it ourselves. Remember Unsinkable? Some people have really questioned the wisdom of Abby’s parents in letting her sail around the world alone. Reading the book thoughtfully can bring us to some reflection on whether such a trip is too high a risk – whether it contradicts what the Catechism says about the command “not to recklessly endanger ourselves.” There are countless biographies about a period of history that we all hope will never return to endanger anyone – the Second World War. A quick list of such books from my school’s library would include Diet Eman’s Things We Couldn’t Say, Jan de Groot’s A Boy in War, Albert VanderMey’s When a Neighbor Came Calling, J. Overduin’s Faith and Victory in Dachau, Hermanus Knoop’s Victory in Dachau, and Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Why do we need to know about that time? First, we need to honor our grandparents, great-grandparents, and others who went through those years, with the strength that God gave them, in a way that honored Him and served their oppressed neighbors. Second, we need to understand the currents that led to the oppression of that time, to make us aware that it could happen again. Biographies can show us both the ideas that led to the devaluing of human life then, and the urgency of the struggle against those ideas now. A biography that shows us the path toward the Nazi rule of Germany, from the perspective of teens living there at that time, is Eleanor Ayer’s Parallel Journeys. Her book shows how a member of the Hitler Youth and a Jewish girl who survived the Holocaust eventually joined to show the horror of that time to audiences now. Hard experience shared can also show us that the danger is not over. David Gibbs was the attorney who fought to keep Terri Schiavo alive when her husband wanted to prevent her from receiving any treatment after a stroke. Gibbs’ book Fighting for Dear Life shows us just how far the promotion of euthanasia has gone. Another threat to human life that is still so often taken for granted is abortion. Abby Johnson’s Unplanned shows us her journey from being a director of the abortion provider Planned Parenthood to acting and praying against abortion. Conclusion One of the fruits of the Reformation was that Protestants stressed, as one writer put it, that God’s people should be a reading people. Reading biographies, in particular, can inspire thankfulness for Christ’s heavenly work on behalf of His people; give us courage to face difficult circumstances; and provide us with wisdom to know where to begin, by God’s grace, to change the world around us.

This was first published in the July/August 2012 issue.

Christian education

Church, Home, and School – A Two-Legged Stool?

A popular metaphor for education in the Reformed community is the image of a triangle, a tripod, or a three-legged stool. The legs of the stool are named church, home, and school. If one of them is missing, the entire chair comes crashing down. By keeping this model in mind, we can keep three key institutions functioning properly in the community. The tripod model of education has a long history in our Reformed circles. Its proponents have used it to defend a number of principles related to Reformed education. According to the model, the institution of the Christian school is a responsibility of all members of the church, and therefore should be financed by all. Also, the model assumes that children belong in the school rather than in the home. Families that homeschool their children are not only depriving them of the school’s influence, they are also not supporting their brothers and sisters by sharing the burden of operating the Christian school. The view of education as a three-legged stool has its strengths. Communal support of Reformed education is certainly a positive thing. Also, the model does a good job describing the influences on a child’s education – children are indeed influenced by church, home, and school. (I shall leave it to other writers to debate the impact of the world in this equation.) Tripod limitations However, in my view, the triangle or tripod model of education also has its limitations. If we attempt to use the model to describe the responsibilities of various parties in a child’s education, the model breaks down. It ascribes too much importance to one leg – the school. When schools give themselves too much importance, they can be seen as institutions that have a life of their own. Educational experts, called teachers, gather the children of the congregation together. They assume responsibility for the educational wellbeing of the children in their charge. Parental involvement in education is limited to providing physical nourishment, while the school provides mental nourishment. At best, spiritual nourishment is shared between home and school; at worst, the responsibility for spiritual wellbeing shifts more and more to the school. The school board provides financial resources and takes care of the school building without getting too involved in educational matters. Attempts to involve parents in educational decision-making are easily dismissed. After all, what do parents know about education, anyway? This picture of education is far from what Scripture teaches. The famous passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which has been used to open many school society meetings, is directed squarely at the parents: “Impress them on your children....” In Psalm 78, we again see the picture of fathers telling their children the great deeds of the Lord. While we find ample mention in Scripture of the role of the church and of the home, we do not find a mention of the institution of the school. Scripture teaches that education is a parental responsibility. And with responsibility, God also gives the means to fulfill that responsibility. In Hebrews 13:21, God promises to equip us with everything that we need to do his will, which certainly includes the education of our children. This means that every parent is, in some way, an educational expert. To be sure, not all parents are equipped to the same degree for specific educational tasks. Part of being responsible is to recognize one’s own weaknesses. Because of this, parents can, and often should, use schools to help in fulfilling their task. But this does not take away from the fact that the responsibility for this education lies at the feet of each parent, not at the feet of the school – and certainly not at the feet of government. Parents come first In view of this, perhaps a bipod model would be more appropriate. The school should not be viewed as a separate entity with its own responsibilities to the children of the congregation, but as an extension of the home. In one sense, we are all homeschoolers. However, the demands of education in modern society are beyond the capabilities, energy, or time of many (if not most) parents. As a result, we bond together as a group of like-minded parents and form a society. We build a building. We hire professional teachers and administrators. We pool our financial resources. We ask for assistance from other members of the congregation who do not have school-age children. We form a school, a Christian school. This view of schooling is in direct opposition to the secular view of schools, which sees schools as agents of socialization. In public schools, children are caught in the tension of the question – to whom do the children belong: the parents or the state? Our schools recognize the fact that the answer to this question is clear – the parents! For example, the parent handbook at William of Orange School states:

According to Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, parents have the task of raising their children in the fear of the Lord … The same values that are treasured by the parents need a resounding echo in ... class (From the Garden to the City, p 26 and 27).

The idea that the school is an extension of the home has implications for our schools, a few of which I want to highlight here. 1. Parental involvement is a must First, it means that parental involvement is not only desired, it is a necessity! We cannot leave the education of our children to “the experts” behind their closed classroom doors. We need to be involved in making ourselves aware of what our children are learning, both by asking our children, but also in perhaps paying a visit to their classroom. Being involved also means giving input on what curricular direction the school must take, and helping to keep the school running smoothly by sharing our talents and time. This parental involvement also takes the form of volunteer work in the trenches – in the classrooms! A strong volunteer culture in a school is a huge blessing to the students. Teachers need to welcome and embrace such a culture. Not only can volunteers make their work easier and more effective, but they are living proof that the parents of the school take their roles seriously. In addition, volunteers have a positive effect on the students, as they see that their education is important enough for their parents to spend time at school. 2. Parent-teacher communication is a must Second, this view of the school highlights the importance of good communication between the school and the home. This communication needs to happen in both directions. Schools have an obligation to keep parents informed of what is happening in the classrooms and around the school. Parents also need to keep the communication channels open. They need to provide information about their children that will help the school make the best educational decisions for them. They need to be proactive in dealing with problems and challenges at school. They need to make their views on curricular direction known so that what is taught in the school can be a reflection of what is taught in the home. Parental schools ≠ parent-run schools However, this model does not imply that each parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the school. Our schools are parental schools, to be sure: but they are not parent-run schools. Instead, they are board-run schools. The difference is a fine one, but it means that parents delegate some of their authority to the board that they elect. As a board (not individual parents), they make decisions for the school that they believe are in the best interests of the community. Although we may not agree with every decision, there comes a time where we submit to the best judgment of our elected board. In addition, this model does not imply that homeschooling is necessarily better than community schools. Our schools allow us to pool our resources and our strengths. Especially at a high school level, few parents can match the breadth of knowledge or experience that is represented by a staff. Our schools provide opportunities for our students that they would not receive at home, such as instrumental music groups, sports teams, and volunteer opportunities. Our schools are a good way for parents to fulfill their responsibility to educate their children. A stool with two legs does not stand very easily. And it is true that if we stood on our own, as parents and church, all of our efforts would come crashing down in short order. But fortunately we do not stand on our own. It is the Lord who holds up our efforts to educate our children in his ways in an atmosphere in which they can be surrounded by his covenant people.

Kent Dykstra is principal at Credo Christian High School in Langley, BC. His article, originally titled "Church, Home, and School – A Three-Legged Stool?" first appeared in Clarion (Vol 59, No 21) and then in the January, 2014 issue of Reformed Perspective. It is reprinted here with permission. A Portuguese version is available here. 

Sexuality

Propaganda disguised as Sex Education

In 2009 Dr. Miriam Grossman (a medical doctor) released a book that explains the problems and agenda of the modern sex education movement: You're Teaching My Child What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Ed and How They Harm Your Child. Though it is an American book, it provides a lot of material that is helpful for people in other English-speaking countries. Grossman explains the underlying motivation behind many school sex education programs, and explains how this motivation leads to the deliberate distortion of sexuality information given to students. The organizations and their agenda First of all, it’s very important to know about the main organizations involved in promoting sex education. Many of us have heard of Planned Parenthood, the US’s biggest abortion provider. Another key organization is the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Both Planned Parenthood and SIECUS are motivated by anti-Christian ideals. Grossman writes,

These organizations are still animated by the philosophies of the infamous sexologist Alfred Kinsey – whose work has been debunked – the birth control and eugenics advocate Margaret Sanger, the feminist Gloria Steinem, and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. These twentieth-century crusaders were passionate about social change, not health. Their goal was cultural revolution, not the eradication of disease.

Because of the cultural aspirations motivating these organizations, the materials that are produced for sex education classes are not just about the nuts-and-bolts of human biology. They are deliberately designed to encourage behaviors that are condemned by traditional Western morality. As Grossman puts it,

Sex education is about as neutral as a catechism class. And like a catechism, the “information” and “guidance” offered is designed to inculcate particular beliefs in young people.

In short, “Sex education is not about health – it’s a social movement, a vehicle for changing the world.” [Editor's note: that is made even more apparent with SIECUS' recent rebrand – they now want to be known as "Sex Ed for Social Change."] Alfred Kinsey Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the infamous sexologist mentioned by Grossman, was a prominent American researcher of the 1940s and 1950s. He produced groundbreaking studies on the sexual behavior of men and women in the United States. These studies claimed to demonstrate that the vast majority of people engaged in some form of perverse sexuality, such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality and more. On the basis of his studies, and the supposed normalcy of these behaviors, massive cultural and legislative changes were undertaken in Western countries. These changes were justified by Kinsey’s science. But there was a big problem. Kinsey’s so-called “science” wasn’t science at all. His research was deliberately skewed to generate results that would justify his left-wing social beliefs. Kinsey wanted to overthrow traditional morality, so he conducted his “research” in such a fashion as to produce results he could use to undermine conventional views about sexuality. Kinsey’s fraud didn’t get properly exposed until the 1980s when Dr. Judith Reisman (currently at Liberty University School of Law) carefully scrutinized what Kinsey had done and published her results. Unfortunately, outside of conservative circles, Dr. Reisman’s research has not been widely disseminated. She deserves a Medal of Honor or something like it. Anyway, it’s important to realize, as Grossman points out, “In the upside down world of sex education, the ideology of Alfred Kinsey has been enshrined.” SIECUS The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) was founded in 1964 by Mary Calderone, who had been a director of Planned Parenthood. Grossman writes that the focus of Calderone’s

newly launched organization, which was, by the way, founded with seed money from Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame, was not to treat or prevent disease. Like Kinsey, she was crusading for social reform. Her book for parents reads like a primer for his views, and quite a few Kinsey disciples had eminent positions with SIECUS

Hefner subsequently provided additional funding as well. That is to say, SIECUS received financial support from the sale of pornography. In short, much of the impetus for modern sex education in public schools is provided by organizations with a clear left-wing ideological agenda. Dr. Grossman’s experience For twelve years Grossman was a student counselor at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). She dealt with hundreds of students in their late teens and early twenties who had contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD). She found that they had received sex education at school, but had not been warned about the harmful consequences that were likely to result from sexual activity. Grossman is not opposed to sex education as such. She is opposed to ideologically-driven sex education that deliberately withholds information from students in order to advance a political and cultural agenda. Pheromones and oxytocin Grossman is particularly sympathetic towards the numerous young ladies she counseled who have been harmed by premarital sexual activity. Recent medical research has helped to establish that women are especially influenced by male pheromones (a pheromone is a chemical produced by one person that can be perceived by other people) and the hormone oxytocin. Male pheromones “have psychological effects on women, like increased attention and a feeling of well-being.” Oxytocin, known as “the cuddle hormone,” is released in women who have physical contact with a man. Among other things, oxytocin promotes social bonding, leading (potentially, at least) to a certain degree of attachment to the man. The gist of all this is that young women who engage in premarital sex are likely to develop emotional attachments to their partners that can potentially cause intense emotional pain. Grossman believes this information should be shared during sex education so that girls can be forewarned about the likely emotional stress they will face from sexual activity. At this point, however, “These biological truths are omitted by the sex-ed industry because they fly in the face of the ideology animating their very existence.” Another important scientific finding involves the development of the cervix. Before a girl turns twenty, a region of her cervix called the “transformation zone” has a covering of cells that is only one layer thick. As she ages, the covering becomes 30 to 40 cell layers thick. But until then, there is little protection from viruses or bacteria. In other words, teenage girls are especially vulnerable to STDs, much more so than boys. Grossman writes,

Based on this finding alone – something gynecologists and pediatricians have known for at least twenty years, girls should be advised to delay sexual behavior. Yes, delay sexual behavior.

Anal sex Another area where sex educators fail to properly inform children has to do with the dangers of anal sex. These educators seem to encourage students to engage in any form of sexual behavior they desire (as long as the partner is willing), and anal sex is considered to be one of the legitimate behaviors to explore. Grossman points out that there is an inevitable “ick factor” in any discussion of anal sex. Anal sex inevitably and unavoidably involves contact with feces. However, she quotes a prominent sex education website as claiming that “negative attitudes about anal sex” sometimes result from a “disgust about feces” but “more of it is often based in homophobia and heteronormativity.” In this view, since anal sex is a common behavior of homosexuals, people who think it is gross are likely to be homophobes. Since homosexuality is good, anal sex must be good too! From a Christian perspective, this is obviously complete rubbish. Because of the strong support for homosexuality among sex educators, there is unwillingness among them to tell the truth about anal sex. Grossman has no such reservations and points out that

“feces are filled with dangerous pathogens: salmonella, shigella, amoeba, hepatitis A, B, and C, giardia, campylobacter, and others. These organisms and others can be transmitted during anal sex or oral-anal contact.”

From a health perspective, anal sex is dangerous (not to mention gross and disgusting). Grossman makes an appropriate biological conclusion: “Unlike the vagina, nature put a tight sphincter at the entrance of the anus. It’s there for a reason: Keep out!” Sexually Transmitted Diseases Another aspect that is improperly taught has to do with STDs. Sex educators do discuss STDs and how to prevent them. The emphasis is on how to avoid STDs, and failing that, how to get treatment. But Grossman says sex education curriculum does not discuss the emotional consequences of getting an STD. Many people who contract an STD get very distressed as a result of their diagnosis. But this is of little concern in sex education. Grossman writes,

Educators often mention the hardships of living in a sexist and homophobic society, but rarely describe how devastating it is to discover blisters “down there,” to worry about cervical cancer, and to learn that these viruses might stick around – for a long, long time.

All STDs are completely avoidable. Anyone who delays sexual behavior and finds a mate who has also waited will be free from STDs as long as they are faithful to each other. In other words, obeying the Bible in this area of life results in the avoidance of all STDs. Grossman argues that all of the negative effects of STDs should be taught. But this is not the focus of the sex educators or their websites:

Instead of sounding an alarm about health risks – the association of oral sex with cancer of the tonsils, for example, or the epidemics of HPV and syphilis among gay men – kids get a hefty dose of leftist indoctrination and recruitment. On these websites, the enemy is not genital infections; it’s our oppressive, heterosexist society.

Conclusion The controversies over sex education in North America will continue. This is all part of the ongoing culture war. Dr. Miriam Grossman has done parents a huge favor by analyzing the materials produced by the sex education movement and comparing them with modern medical knowledge. From a modern medical perspective (i.e., a genuine scientific perspective), the best thing for people is to save themselves for marriage and then remain faithful to their spouse. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does, because that’s what the Bible teaches. The science clearly demonstrates that monogamous heterosexuality is the healthiest sexuality for human beings. But as Grossman notes, that’s “information our daughters and sons never hear, because it challenges the institutionalized ideology and – gasp – confirms traditional values and teachings.”

A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 issue.

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Children’s picture books

20 read-aloud suggestions…

I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and now that they are older we're still reading, ending each day with a chapter or two of something. That means for years now I've also been on the hunt for that next great book to read, talking to others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are and what they might recommend. If you're looking for that next book too, or maybe the coronavirus quarantine has you thinking about reading to your kids for the first time, here are some favorites that our family and others have sure loved. Many of these can be checked out electronically from your local library. Otherwise, considering buy the e-book version of one of the chapter books – it's an investment that'll pay off in the hours you and your family can enjoy these stories together. While there are 20 recommendations below, some are of books series, so the total number of books recommended amounts to well over 100, and all of them fantastic! PICTURE BOOKS All of these have big bright pictures on every page, and the first three are rhymed, which makes it a lot easier for a beginning Dad to get off to a good reading-out-loud start; these will make you sound good! A camping spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen – it has 2 great sequels The Farm Team by Linda Bailey – about a hockey-playing barnyard Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel  – a favorite of millions for the last 40 years Charlie The Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond – while the 10 sequels can't quite match the enormous charm of this, the original, your kids will love them too Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes – Shirley Hughes has dozens of other wonderful read-aloud picture books The Little Ships by Louise Borden – this is a stirring WWII account suitable for the very young, about the bravery of ordinary folk James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with 8 sweet stories for animal-loving children Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog - 23 books in all. Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – an Abbot and Costello-like duo of Piggie and Elephant getting into all sorts of antics. 29 books, most of which require from the reader only the ability to do just two different voices BOOKS WITH PICTURES There are pictures in these selections, but not on every page. These are slightly longer, more involves stories which your children will not be able to read on their own until the later part of Grade 1, or the beginning of Grade 2, but they’ll love to hear them a lot earlier than that. Bruno the Bear by W.G. Van de Hulst – one in a series of 20+ classic books that are impossible to find except here Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – it’s worth getting the big collected treasury to read and reread again and again The Big Goose and the Little White Duck by Meindert DeJong – a gruff grandpa wants to eat the pet goose! Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling – the gorgeous Jerry Pinkney adaption is the very best Prince Martin Wins His Sword by Brandon Hale – epic story, in rhyme - this is just so fun to read out loud, and there are 3 sequels! CHAPTER BOOKS Once the kids are hitting kindergarten or Grade 1 mom and dad can read books they might read for themselves only in Grade 5 or 6, or even as adults. That can make reading aloud more fun for parents, as the stories will be of more interest to them now. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is not the easiest read aloud – the sentences can be quite choppy – but girls everywhere are big fans, and there are 8 sequels The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 11-book Christian fantasy series is that each title leads into the next; it’s one big story with no clear ending in any of the books. But we've read all 11 so far and are eagerly anticipating #12! The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh out loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up), with 4 main books, and then a book of short stories too. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – much more of a children’s tale than Lord of the Rings and shorter too (maybe also best for Grade 3 and up) The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - the author is Christian though that doesn't come up directly anywhere; it's just good silly fun Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson – a clearly Christian grandma talks with her granddaughter, telling stories about way back when she was a little girl. This wouldn't work for boys, but our girls absolutely love it (and there are 3 sequels every bit as good). Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer – Brouwer has collected true stories about the amazing feats different animals managed while working in the trenches of World War I, and then told them as if they all happened in just one Canadian army unit. This is probably my wife's favorite book on this list, and the girls sure liked it too. There were one or two instances where I had to skip a few descriptive words, just to tone down the tension a tad - war stories are not the usual fare for my girls – but with that slight adaptation, this made for great reading even for their 5-9-year-old age group.

Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com.


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What is “Sovereign Grace Singles”? An interview with founder Dean Scott

Dean Scott started Sovereign Grace Singles to help Reformed singles meet and mingle with other like-minded, and like-hearted, Christians. In the following interview we’ve asked him to give us some more details about his website, and what prompted him to create it. **** Reformed Perspective: In preparing for this interview I saw the comments of an Arminian professor who said your online Reformed dating site conflicted with Calvinism. He seemed to think that anyone who believes in God’s sovereignty over all things would just keep quiet and wait for God to drop a spouse in their lap. How would you respond? What is this professor missing? Dean Scott: I remember that same quote – it was from a Christianity Today article – and I when read it, well, I was embarrassed for the professor who made it. Doesn't he know Calvinists do evangelism? Why would we do that, if we held the “do nothing - God will do it all” caricature he presents of Calvinism? But we know God often uses us as the means by which He does his work here are on Earth. That’s why Paul asks, "And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). When it comes to spreading the gospel, God uses preachers – that is his means. And consider prayer - I like what Spurgeon said about prayer... "You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer, for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed, and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist." In other words, an Arminian in prayer is acting like a Calvinist – asking God to change people’s hearts. But here, too, God presents prayers as a means through which He works. This objection gets even sillier when you ask questions like: Does a Calvinist work? Why? Because work is the means God has given us to make money to pay life's expenses. Does a Calvinist shop at the grocery store or does he think food will simply arrive on his plate at dinnertime? Does he own an automobile? Why? Because it is the means to get him where he wishes to go. In that same way, Sovereign Grace Singles (SGS) is the means God can and has used for many couples to find their like-minded mates. RP: What’s the one-sentence answer to “What is Sovereign Grace Singles”? DS: SGS's focus is to bring together Reformed single Christian men and women who wish to meet other Reformed Christian singles for spiritually like-minded, loving relationships, walking together in mutual agreement, based on the words of Amos 3:3, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" This is the theme verse of SGS. RP: How did you first come up with the idea for SGS? DS: I had been single for many years and did not want to be. I wanted a mate who believed the same as I did...Reformed in faith and doctrine. But the Christian "dating" websites were a disappointment at best. Then in 2004, I was fishing with some members of a non-Christian flyfishing club I was part of. These were nice guys but the way they talked, what they talked about, the smoking, excessive drinking, and more, had me thinking, Wouldn’t this be even better if I could go flyfishing with other Reformed believers? What if I could go fishing with other brothers and sisters in Christ who could be struck by the incredible beauty of a brown trout and be filled with the same need to praise the God who made it? And that “spawned” (pardon the pun) the genesis of the SGS idea. How could I go find the fellowship that I was looking for?  The Internet!  That’s how I could find other Reformed singles! And when the thought hit, I asked myself, “Why not do it?” SGS was developed and launched in January of 2005. It was a website where Reformed singles could meet for fellowship, service, or perhaps even romance. The first wedding was less than a year later in December and the groom was a businessman who invited me to be their guest at the wedding in Germany! The bride was from India but living in south Florida and their story is amazing and heartwarming to read. I think they have four kids now! I also met my wife Karen in December of 2005. She was widowed with 4 fantastic adult kids who loved the Lord and she had an incredible extended family and church body. We were married in September of 2006. I have 5 grandkids with another on the way! Three of them are a result of the youngest son, Steven meeting his bride, Sarah on SGS as well! RP: What can someone joining SGS expect? What specifically do you offer? DS: On SGS, members can search for friends, activity partners, possible romantic interests and Events in which to participate. There’s was just an Event in Indiana in September promoted on SGS, via group email and Facebook. I've made some excellent friends and had some sweet fellowship at Reformed Conferences and Cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean which SGSers have attended. A group of guys and myself went to practice our Second Amendment skills at Frontsight for their 4-day defensive handgun course and had an excellent time! In addition to Events, and emailing other members within SGS, there is Chat and Forums. Members are encouraged to create their own Event locally and we'd be glad to promote it. If they know of Events in which SGSers might be interested, let us know and we can put it on SGS Calendar. RP: People online often seem ruder than they’d be in real life. And on a number of Reformed social forums geared to singles, there sometimes seem to be young men intent on impressing the ladies by showing off their theological chops. They start firestorms, attacking rather than discussing, and just generally bring heat but no light. I’d assume that has to happen sometimes on SGS too. What’s your approach to dealing with it? DS: I know exactly to what you are referring. The place that could occur is in SGS Forums, but I have not actually seen that. If it were to occur, I would want it to be observed and learned from...to be seen as a mean of getting to know someone. One of the negative things about "dating" is that it is usually two persons alone with little interaction with others, as compared with courtship where the couple is more involved with family, friends and peers. In that context you can learn a lot about a person in the way they interact with others, especially those who might think or act differently than themselves. Well, in Forums that interaction with others can also take place (even if to a lesser degree than in person) and whatever they reveal about themselves, for good or bad, is, frankly, helpful to everyone else there in the search for a "mate." That said, if rude behavior were observed I might contact them, especially if it were extreme. However, again, I have never observed that.  I think others involved in the conversation call each other to accountability. It is not Facebook – conversations are far more friendly here. RP: And what are the costs? DS: When someone goes to SGS they will be invited to create a Profile by answering questions about themselves such as age, location, Reformed denomination, hobbies, etc. The goal is to allow others to get to know them, learning about them by reading their “story.” There is a search feature to allow you to find others in your country, and that’s free to all regardless of subscription status but if you want to chat or email other members, then they have to sign up for a subscription. The cost of the subscription depends on the length: a month is $19.99, 3 months is $44.99, 6 months is $69.99 and a Year is $89.99. These subscriptions are far less expensive than other "dating" sites. To find out more, visit www.SovereignGraceSingles.com....

Dating

Online dating as seen from the other side

Editor's note: In "The pros and cons of online dating" Peter Riemersma shared how he met his wife via a Reformed singles site. In this post Robin shares her side of the story. ***** I was skeptical about the whole online dating thing…until I saw that the  Soverign Grace Singles website was a smaller, more close knit and “safer” community and would be good to try even to just make friends. Then, Peter from Canada (yikes - it seemed so far at the time) wrote me and I wondered what to do. So I prayed about it, and thought to myself (with nudges from the Holy Spirit I'm sure)...is anything impossible for God? Maybe He wants me to go through this type of courting, rather than the type I had always imagined. I always thought someone would just be “sent” to my local vicinity and we could spend time in groups together and get to know one another over a long period. The Lord had something quite different in store for me! Something about Peter was different. I wasn't afraid, though I was very cautious at first, and we just naturally corresponded even despite the distance. And we both enjoyed doing so. With the proper prayer and caution, I don't think distance should prevent a relationship. But it is very difficult, at the same time. Being apart between visits was hard, yet at the same time it forced us to really get to know one another through talking, and not just going to movies together and sitting there like zombies, or getting too physically involved (in fact Peter and I chose not to even kiss until our wedding day). We had to pray for one another remotely, and trust God to work out the immigration details as well. It was a lot to handle…but I wouldn't trade the whole experience, or having Peter as my husband now, for the world. I see how God led us through everything step by step. Step by step - I guess that's the key thing. Try not to feel rushed - and if a gentleman is rushing you slow down and see if he'll wait or cool it a bit. That's what I did with Peter for a time, too. We both knew it was right when we felt the same after this “test.”...

Dating

The pros and cons of online dating

I first wrote on online dating more than a dozen years ago, back when the Internet was still young, and people still called it the “information highway.” A lot has changed since then – Facebook groups, smartphones, and apps, have increased the number of online dating options. But it’s still strangers trying to get to know each other via long distance communication so a lot remains the same. When I started out, being rather new to computers, I had to be taught the basics of how to get online. Through this cyberspace navigating I came across various ads for "Christian" dating websites. I paid my fee and began to browse many profiles with a particular Christian service. Over time I discovered many familiar faces I knew from various locations. I also discovered some of the pros and cons of online dating. Watch out for weeds! Over time I soon noticed that many on this site who claimed to be Christian were not necessarily so, and that there was a real need to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). That might seem a given. After all, God says there are weeds mixed in with the wheat in the Church (Matt. 13:24-30). But it took me time to realize, and after I did, I had a lot of online correspondence with people on the site trying to warn them to be careful and not trust every site or person who claimed to be "Christian."  God can use the “friend-zone” During my first paid term on the site I met a dear sister in the Lord. After a while of encouraging one another by writing on the site we began encouraging one another with email exchanges using our personal email addresses (all the while still cautiously using our aliases, rather than giving our real names at this point). From that, more trust began and in time the next step was undertaken and we exchanged telephone numbers and snail mail addresses, and new correspondence again was initiated. Over time the limitations caused by our distance from one another became obvious and an in-person meet-and-greet was arranged. This was somewhat nerve-wracking – I certainly made a point of being on time for our "date”! We met, spent a few days together, and in parting ways both of us agreed to remain as friends. While our relationship didn’t go any further, our correspondence and encouragement continued until one day she informed me that the Lord had led her to a godly man she had begun to court. They soon got engaged too, and shortly after I opened my snail mail to find a wedding invitation. This was to be a Reformed wedding, as their relationship had become one built on the Reformed faith. They have built their marriage on this and the promises of God’s infallible word. This was the doing of the Lord and she credits me for being used by the Lord as to the one who introduced her to the riches of the Reformed faith. And how rich they are! A need for more than generic “Christian” At this same time the Lord had begun to stir an interest in someone I’d soon get to know. This brother in the Lord saw the need to create not only a truly Christian online singes website, but a specifically Reformed Christian online singes website. And it came to him as he was on a fishing trip! So in 2005, Dean Scott had SovereignGraceSingles.com (SGS) up and running. Once it was, many friends who had been on the previously mentioned "Christian" website were alerted about this new Reformed website – a site that would be specifically for us who were different in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ than those in mainline churches. I prayerfully decided to try it out. I’m very thankful for the sister in the Lord who led me, and many others, to it, as I soon realized this site was indeed legitimate. It was a great environment in which to meet godly sisters and brothers in the Lord.  Try and try again It was then that I met a sister on the site who, at one point, I thought was to be my life partner. But that’s not how things went. After this second “failed” online relationship, I began to get rather disillusioned with online dating. And in response to this disappointment I reminded myself, as I have various times through my life, “You will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." But I took this passage more seriously than perhaps I had ever done before in my life. Recalling someone’s wise advice, I considered how I was to surrender all of my desires to the Lord and delight in Him, “and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). I knew I needed to make the Lord’s priorities my own. Instead of impatience, I would be content, knowing He was in charge. So I went back to my computer, but with a very different mindset, and heart. In browsing the SGS website I noticed the profile of someone new. I did not know it then, but the Lord had also placed it on her heart to wait on the Lord and let “His will be done," as well as to give “cyberspace relationships” one more try. When I came across her profile I prayed once again "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" and I initiated contact with her. Not expecting anything from it, I once again was put to the test, and called upon to practice the gifts of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Two days later, upon revisiting SGS’s website, I noticed there was a message in my mailbox from her (we did not know one another other than our aliases). And we both, having sought God’s will, began encouraging one another. Our communication became more regular, and we began to focus on really getting to know one another exclusively. Praise God! Today as a married couple we are united as one in Christ. "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). Ask, ask, ask In addition to my gratitude to God, I will always be grateful to Dean Scott and for SGS, for how they helped bring my wife I together. But am I trying to say that you shouldn’t use any other "Christian" or singles websites? Not quite. But the problem that comes with these other sites is the constant temptation to compromise your faith – compromise your relationship with God – because most of the people you meet are not going to be a spiritual match with you. And God should never be second. So I’ve seen people become willing to compromise, and they have either left the Reformed faith, or been misled by not fully understanding their mate by not watching for red flags. So, the only way to use a secular, or generically Christian site, is if you are willing to ask tough questions right away, and ruthlessly weed out anyone who does not love the Lord as you do. Even on a Reformed site, you need to be cautious. Much grief can be avoided by observing potential life partners very carefully in their natural habitat and immediate surroundings in meet and greets. Also, never presume something – when in doubt, ask! You should also get to know his/her pastor, elders, or deacons. Ask them for a character reference or referral, and take time to get to know your suitors’ family, closest friends, and congregation. When appropriate ask about how they handle their finances. And most of all - ask yourself serious questions. If it is a long-distance relationship, ask, am I prepared for long intervals apart? Am I prepared to be faithful, both mentally and physically?  Conclusion So...are you considering looking for a mate online? If so, the very first thing to do is get your relationship with God right. Spend time praying and in His Word. Enjoy time with and serve your local Body of Christ. Do the work the Lord has given you for employment or vocation with all your heart. And pray. Wait on Him and ask for healthy relationships. One of them – whether online or not – may just turn out to be a lifelong love, blessed by God and truly joyful. A version of this article first appeared in Christian Renewal back in February of 2009. Peter's wife Robin shares her side of their story here....

Assorted

Reformed Harmony: a new tool promotes friendship…and sometimes marriage

"We’ll love you until somebody else does.” This light-hearted, rather amusing slogan belongs to the Facebook phenomenon known as Reformed Harmony (hereafter RH). It is a group of Reformed Christian singles over the age of 18, including members in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, who have been introduced to one another through the technology of the Internet. It is considered by Facebook to be one of the most active sites that they have. It started as a joke 4 years ago with about 30 people, and currently brings together approximately 1,100 people from the USA, Canada, and around the world. FRIENDSHIPS, FELLOWSHIP, AND GLORIFYING GOD “RH exists,” as former member and Administrator (or Admin) Sarah Wolfe of Florida stated, “to provide friendship and fellowship to Reformed Christian singles over 18 and to glorify God.” Despite the name “Harmony,” which immediately evokes thoughts of the well-known dating website e-Harmony, Wolfe noted: The group is not a dating site. You are not there to “sell” yourself or impress anybody. You don’t just browse through available people - it’s about friendship and fellowship and supporting each other. She adds: “it’s wonderful and a blessing when two people meet on RH and get married, but it’s not by any means the only reason.” She knows of people whose deep friendships have led them to join a friend’s church or even move to another city to become roommates and build stronger godly relationships that encourage them to serve the Lord. Some find themselves in very small and isolated Reformed communities, leaving them floundering socially, even while surrounded by excellent preaching and a few families who love them. Even those who are surrounded by hundreds of other Reformed singles, sometimes find it difficult to actually connect on a deeper level. They feel too old to attend Youth Conferences and Bible Study weekends. So how can they meet like-minded Christian singles? Members of RH revel in the fact that they can find other Reformed Christian singles who are serious about their faith in Christ. Joe Tenney, of Virginia, was an Admin until he married in October 2018. He encountered singles who had bought into the devastating view that they really haven’t started their lives until they get married. He said: Our identity is not wrapped up in who we marry - it’s wrapped up in Christ, and we are all promised the wedding of Christ and the Church. In a lot of ways, RH is kind of a foolish thing, but sometimes God uses foolish things. RH accidentally hit a niche and became something that has filled a need: a safe, healthy community where people can work out their issues and hurts. No church started it; the Lord in His grace allowed this kind of ridiculous group to form that’s been used to help so many people. “Loneliness is one of the forefront struggles of single Christians in their 20s,” states Taylor DeSoto, of Phoenix, Arizona, one of the original brains and organizers of RH. And Tenney told of specific members who overcame depression and of some who returned to worshipping in church as a result of participating in RH. POSSIBLY FINDING YOUR BELOVED Some people do find their spouses through RH, as well as friendship. DeSoto states that, “While many RCS may put the thought aside verbally, the brutal reality is that getting married is definitely on their minds.” DeSoto adds: There’s just not the pool of Reformed Christians in local Reformed churches that maybe there used to be, so people end up marrying non-Reformed Christians and then having to teach them. Or arguing about the differences, one might add. DeSoto met his wife Laura, of Johnstown PA, through RH. They held “structured Skype dates” for three months, were engaged for three months, and then married. Both are in their mid-20s. The “structured” dates were partly the idea of Laura’s father, Rev. Bob McKelvey, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania. (Please see this list of 10 questions DeSoto suggested on RH that couples discuss when they are seriously considering one another.) Sarah Wolfe is another who was blessed to meet her spouse on RH. She joined this Facebook page fairly early in its 4-year history and became one of the Admins. She enjoyed building quality friendships for two years and then she hit it off with her husband David, of California, who actually met her online on his very first day on RH! The twain did meet. Both in their early 30s, their discussions grew from “Hi, welcome to RH” in April 2017 to deep chats about important subjects, to daily conversations, phone calls, and visits. They were engaged in November of 2017, married in January of 2018, and are now expecting their first child. RH statistics show that in the 4 years of its existence, thus far 85 couples have met through RH and married. The Wolfes count three couples in their own congregation. Some of the marriages have been within “local” distances, but many have crossed state and even international lines, with some people either moving to or from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, or Australia. Some couples are in their 40s or 50s, though the majority are younger. DeSoto says that most seem to prefer shorter engagement periods. He believes this works out well because the couple spends more time getting to know each other well on numerous topics and it’s more intentional than if they were local and just dating to a baseball game or dinner. HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN? So how did the group first get started? There’s a Facebook group online called Reformed Pub that was started in 2013. It’s described on its page as The place to be when you want to kick back, have a beer, and talk about the important things in life with like-minded brothers and sisters... but above all we want to see God glorified through Jesus’ name being lifted high. As of March 2019, it has nearly 21,000 members worldwide. In January 2015, a large number of single members decided to post personal ads as a joke, some of which were described as “over the top.” After a few days, the Admins suggested to these single members that perhaps they should go and make their own group. A member named J. T. Hoover took the initiative to start the group as a light-hearted endeavor, and about 30 single people joined. For the first few months, it was called Reformed Pub Harmony. Taylor DeSoto reached out to several of the Admins with his ideas, asking to be on the Admin team, and permission was granted. About 6 months later, differences of opinion with Reformed Pub regarding rules and procedures arose, and so Reformed Harmony became its own organism around December 2015. DeSoto believes he’s the one who came up with their slogan: “We’ll love you until somebody else does.” He devised many of the rules, and in many other ways shaped the culture of the group. There were often themed posts for each day, and members were encouraged to post info about themselves, to help people interact and get to know one another. Once people started meeting and getting married, the enrollment increased a lot. About 50 marriages happened within the first two years. Membership grew from 200 in the first year to 600 by the end of the second year. At 4 years, there are now approximately 1,100 members. One RH rule is that, upon marriage, the couple ceases to be members of RH. But many continue to nourish the deep friendships that they built there, but now communicating outside of RH. Admins are single members as well, to protect existing marriages. It’s not a good idea, for instance, for single women to be contacting married men with their concerns. GROUP "HANGOUTS" RH quickly expanded to include Google Hangout chat groups. These chat groups involve a member inviting others to join in on a separate discussion group on any number of shared interests, from political and theological topics to interests in food or movies. Sometimes groups are formed by geographical proximity. It is in these smaller groups that people really get to know one another as they share their thoughts and experiences. Member Laurel Bareman of Washington says: I’ve enjoyed the way the discussions have really challenged me to think about my beliefs. I’ve seen the diversity that exists among churches/peoples in the Reformed faith. RH has brought home how diverse and broad the spectrum of Reformed is. There is a solid foundation of people our age who seek to honor the Lord and follow Him. RH has provided fellowship and friendship and been a great blessing to my life. If you are seeking the fellowship and friendship, just like with a local church, you will get what you give. You have to be involved with the discussions, go to some Meetups, be involved in group chats, and put effort into it. Some people have questioned whether RH interferes with church membership. On the contrary, Sarah Wolfe stated: RH has never intended in any way to take the place of one’s own church. It’s not a church, and people don’t treat it as if it was. Women can be in leadership here too because it’s just a website. There is constant exhortation to go to your own pastor and elders, and to seek to serve in your local church.” Meetups can be organized around shared interests...including hiking! MEETING OFFLINE, IN PERSON Face-to-face “Meetups” have been a part of RH from the very beginning. Any member of RH can plan one just by setting the dates, and organizing activities, food, and sometimes lodging for those who come from afar. Meetups have been held in British Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, New York City, California, Colorado, Washington State, and other places. It’s a “Y’all come!” sort of gathering that draws anywhere from 5 to 80 people, mostly from the USA and Canada. It’s a whole lot of fun mixed with Bible devotions and getting to know other believers. My son, Kevin Bratcher, attended his first Meetup in Phoenix, AZ with some trepidation. About 30 people were expected, of whom he had interacted with about 5 online. He said: I discovered that while we had many different backgrounds, the sense of family and fellowship was so clear to everyone there. I had hours-long conversations with people I'd never talked to before, played games, joined a local charity event with several friends, and left with a profound sense of awe and gratefulness at the common connection we had.” He added: Later Meetups reinforced these emotions, particularly when I attended them with the express intent of only making friends. Wherever you go - whether it's splitting an Airbnb with 5 men you haven't met for a conference in Atlanta, or piling 60 people into a couple homes in Seattle, or just a handful of folks for a retreat in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone . . . you’re at home with family. Wolfe hosted three Meetups in her Florida home and attended one in New York City. Bareman said that she loved both Meetups she attended, discovering that the people she’d interacted with online “were even more amazing that I thought they would be.” She has found it to be affordable travel too, sharing costs with others. Helping to plan the Meetup with a new RH friend was a lot of fun for her and it helped to cement the friendship. Scott Vander Molen describes an RH Meetup thus: It’s like a foretaste of what life will be like on the new earth. Everyone is so welcoming and accepting of each other for who they are. You can really feel the Christian love and by the end of the weekend you feel very close to your new friends. My RH friends have really helped me to improve my attitude towards women and marriage; I’ve learned that our focus should be on friendship, and the relationship will come when God decides that it should. I had to learn that important lesson before I could find contentment in my singleness and truly be ready for marriage.” He met his fiancée Mary – who lives in South Africa – in 2018, and he adds that “RH has been a tremendous blessing to me.” A FEW CONCERNS On an average day in January 2019, there were 98 notifications on RH. These are comments that people have posted on various topics, and sometimes there are even more. If we let it, Facebook could end up taking up a lot of time, causing us to neglect service opportunities, or family, or the existing friendships in your life; but that’s a choice. To deal with the flood of RH comments some members change their Facebook settings to ensure they don’t get notified every time someone says something – instead, they can go to the RH page when desired. Sometimes there are arguments in the group, and some members shared that they didn’t want to find themselves stressing out over Internet discussions with people they didn’t even know; it didn’t seem to be a very good use of their time. Sometimes referred to as “dumpster fires,” these are the most controversial discussions, and usually draw the most comments. Some people enjoy the debates; others do not. And just like with any group, there can be silliness and pettiness, with people saying things it would have been better that they not say. And there’s a wide circle within the title of “Reformed”, so there may be differences of belief on issues such as baptism, creation, and even eschatology. That means that at times the Admins have their work cut out for them, with Wolfe describing her Administrator role as being like a part-time job. Admins will discourage guys who keep messaging any and every girl they find attractive even though the girls are not really interacting back. As Wolfe put it, “RH is not a meat market!” There are rules as to what can and cannot be posted, and members told me they feel that the Admins do a great job of stopping inappropriate posts. Early on, it was arranged that there would always be female Admins as well, because female members might feel more comfortable reporting problems to them, and sometimes even seeking counsel. When problems happen, Admins will usually begin by advising those with the problem post to stop their bad behavior, and then, if the person does not comply, he or she will be removed from membership. There was a situation, for instance, where a man was very actively pursuing two women at once without either of them knowing about the other. When it was discovered, the Admins removed him and informed the women. In another serious situation, they even contacted the member’s elders and family to report what had taken place. CONCLUSION Reformed Harmony is a connecting tool that helps Reformed Christian singles to locate like-minded people who love the Lord as sincerely as they do. Once they have found these folks, they can put in the effort necessary to build deep friendships. And for approximately 200 individuals thus far (counting currently engaged couples as well), God has used it to bring together men and women to marry and establish homes that seek to further His Kingdom. If you are single and want more information, open up a Facebook account and just type in “Reformed Harmony” in the search bar. Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of the devotional book “Soup and Buns: Nourishment From God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles” and “Bible Overview for Young Children, 2-year lesson plans.”Contact her for information at sharoncopy@gmail.com. ...

Dating

10 questions to discuss when “interviewing” someone for marriage

These 10 questions were crafted for Reformed Harmony by Taylor DeSoto, with the hope that they could provide guidance for prospective couples to get to know one another more deeply. He encourages singles to keep their emotions low at the outset, until compatibility on the most meaningful levels has been established. The questions are reprinted below with DeSoto’s permission, and my commentary accompanies them in the brackets. 1. When did you know your sin and misery and when did you feel the love of Christ in your life? 2. What are the core tenets of your theology? What are the secondary tenets of your theology? (Which issues are important to you, or not?) 3. What political views do you hold?  (Do you have strong views regarding political parties, poverty, abortion, the environment, or list any other topic important to you). 4. How do you view the husband-wife relationship regarding headship, chores, division of labor? 5. What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies? How do you spend your time? 6. How is your relationship with your parents and family? Do you want your parents to be involved in our relationship? 7. How do you serve your church as a single person?  (This is geared to rooting out the people who don’t go to or participate in church in a meaningful way. DeSoto believes that if you are not serving your church while you are single, then you are not going to serve it as a married person OR serve your family). 8. Do you hope to have children, and how many? How do you want to raise them - what type of schooling or catechism? Do you believe in the baptism of infants? 9. What are your deal breakers in a relationship? This covers everything - where to live, job to have, smoking, drinking alcohol, sports - he encourages people to make a list. 10. How do you want to manage finances when married? This includes views on spending money, finances, credit/debt, and how to share assets. DeSoto adds that an eleventh question could be: May I contact your pastor if I want to? This may seem extreme, but if you are going to live with this person for the rest of your life, his or her character should be known objectively, as well as possible. And if you have nothing to hide, why would it bother you?...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Thoughts on Deepak Reju's "She’s got the wrong guy"

Sometimes a pointed comment sticks with you for years. A decade back, a dad of two unmarried mid-twenties daughters exclaimed in exasperation, “I really don’t know what guys are looking for in a girl.” I knew those young women. They were beautiful, talented, educated, faithful Christians. The one in particular even had a delightful sense of humour. So what are guys looking for? And when they don’t make a move, what is the girls’ response? Sometimes it means that a woman – a smart woman – will “settle.” That is the premise of Deepak Reju’s book, She’s Got the Wrong Guy-Why Smart Women Settle. Deepak Reju, a pastor of biblical counseling and families in a Baptist Church in Washington, DC, writes from a wealth of experience with the sad consequences that arise when women make poor choices in marriage. He writes with genuine empathy for the realities 21stcentury Christian women face. Some problems are ageless. When confronted with the spectre of the single life, women have always questioned themselves. What is wrong with me?  Am I never going to have children? Doesn’t God care that I feel lonely? Today there are added challenges. Sex is everywhere, more than ever. Both men and women are single longer and marry later, requiring a sustained commitment to purity. Technology has changed the way we do relationships. Face-to-face conversations, always more risky, become the exception.  There is comfort in hiding behind a screen. “It’s a lazy man’s dream – no intentionality, no commitment, and no risk” (p. 5). Online dating allows optimal, but not necessarily honest, presentation of oneself. Another reality is that today more women are educated, accomplished and talented as they enter the workforce. With university degree in hand they move into successful careers. This may be intimidating for some men. The secular world generally does a better job valuing women for their intelligence and capabilities. Christian women are affirmed and rewarded in the workplace, but often treated like second-class citizens in their church. Dating as a conservative Christian woman is hard; dating as an intelligent, gifted and self-confident Christian woman seems almost impossible (p. 6). Added to this mix of challenges is the current confusion over sexuality, gender, the value of marriage, and the rising number of divorced singles and single parents. Reju suggests that faced with such a confusing, complex world of dating, women too often make the choice to simply settle for an OK man. It could be that a woman thinks of marriage as the most important goal of life, a sort of idolatry. “As Christian women, we teach the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel – and we secretly hope for marriage” (p. 7).  One can hardly blame her, since that is typically an unspoken expectation in church communities. Or “settling” could be the result of personal baggage that makes a woman undervalue herself. I don’t really deserve better. It’s the best I can do.  She might have blinders on, refusing to see the problematic aspects of a dating relationship. He’s not very spiritually minded now, but I’m sure that’ll change after we’re married. She may live with anxiety, fearful that she is not really lovable, or seen as too picky, or that she’ll always have to fend for herself. Fear of loneliness is real. It’s good to reflect what it would be like attend several weddings each year as a single (Will I ever walk down the aisle?) and baby showers after that. And how about never having a reason to go to the church nursery except to babysit other women’s children?  I remember the exasperation of one single woman in her early thirties who still visited with her married girlfriends: “If I hear another breast feeding or diaper rash story, I’m going to scream….or puke!” Men to watch out for Reju is not dismissive of the discouragement and loneliness single women feel, but he urges them not to forget Jesus. Instead, desire him above all else. As Christians, our goal, male or female, is to form our lives around growing closer to Jesus. Marriage and family life are valuable, but they are earthly treasures. Christ remains the greatest treasure. That said, the bulk of the book deals with the ten, yes ten, categories of men to avoid in dating. It’s a formidable list. Avoid the following: the control freak the promiscuous guy the unchurched guy the new convert the unbeliever the angry man the lone ranger the commitment-phobic man the passive man and the unteachable guy Each of these types will present significant issues in a marriage. It will be more difficult for the wife to mature as a Christian. It is unlikely the relationship will be truly loving or of mutual benefit. Likely the woman will suffer. Each chapter of about ten pages includes an engaging story of a couple that highlights the serious challenges that develop. A brief look at one of the stories – that of Janelle and Dominique – will give a taste of Reju’s approach to the complex topics he’s addressing. Janelle, from a Christian home, met Dominique, a relatively new believer, at church and began dating. It wasn’t long before she noticed his controlling patterns. When she was with girlfriends he would call to ask where she was. He would check with her multiple times a day. She rationalized his behavior, “He’s protective of me.” But his behavior was sometimes accompanied by anger, jealousy, and insistence on his own way. Despite realizing that her relationship had problems and that her guy didn’t meet the biblical criteria of a loving husband, she carried on. She thought, “He knows me; we are making it work; he’s fun; and I like him.” It seemed like too much work to untangle the relationship and start over. Besides, that would be admitting failure. And things would change once they were married. But warning flags should be flying! Such a man displays a warped perspective on what the Bible says about male leadership. He uses Scripture to make his girlfriend or wife do what he wants. He lords it over her through spiritual language that is twisted to support his demands.  Maybe such a man could change with growing maturity, but it’s better and much safer not to date this sort until he does. Don’t assume that you can change him. Better to break off and not marry him, than face a lifetime of emotional abuse, and worse. Interestingly, Reju devotes a whole chapter to the topic of ending relationships: “Breaking up for the Glory of God.” Who’s left? As I made my way through chapter after chapter on men to avoid, I began to wonder, “Well, who’s left. Now what? Should women just stay single?”  Thankfully, the author offers a way forward. There are godly men who desire to serve the Lord within the context of marriage. Women must realize that there is no perfect man, even if he is a committed Christian. It happens that good men are overlooked because they don’t meet expectations in superficial or non-essential things, like physical appearance, age, or charisma. Furthermore, a woman cannot expect complete maturity and thoughtfulness from a man in his twenties or even thirties. Christian maturity takes time. So it is possible to choose wisely while choosing an imperfect man. Choose to be attracted to one who is growing in Christ and demonstrates interest in continued growth in Christ together with you. Don’t settle for the problematic man who is far from God and shows little sign of change. Reju devotes a final segment explaining that waiting is OK. Yes, waiting is hard, but there is a way to wait well. I think it’s fair to say that in many churches singleness is not seen as a beautiful thing. Scripture presents a high view of marriage, with only a couple passages highlighting the benefit of being single. Reju suggests that singles may be made to feel incomplete. I would argue that at times we are even guilty of taking advantage of our singles, counting on them for some heavy lifting for our church programs and duties. One mature single confided to me, “They say, ‘Well, you’re alone anyway so you have more time.’” She continued, “They should realize that I have to do everything myself, including groceries, home repairs, painting and car maintenance. I have no one to share the workload. I work full time. I probably have less not more time.” So, church involvement, yes, but certainly to be accompanied with a lot of appreciation and support. The author argues that what makes waiting hard is that it exposes the heart. You begin to believe that what you “want” is what you “need.” Waiting is hard because it shows what you really worship.  Patience is difficult. What do you pray while you are waiting? And then there is the challenge of maintaining sexual integrity. Desire for sex is a healthy thing. Desire for children, no less so. These are challenging realities to face, while not knowing if the desire for marriage will ever be fulfilled. But it is possible to wait well. Scripture does portray singleness as a positive thing that allows a single-minded devotion to the Lord. Remember, marriage is temporal, singleness lasts to eternity, for everyone. The goal is to wait on the Lord, not to wait for marriage. Be willing to share your heartache and pain with others. In the church we live in community; singles and marrieds need each other as we wait together. Remember that no man will ever fulfill your ultimate desires; only one bridegroom does that and he’s planning the ultimate wedding banquet. Conclusion 192 pages / 2017 Would I recommend this book? Yes, certainly for single women who are dating. The book offers pertinent questions and issues to consider before making any commitment to marriage.  Breaking up for the glory of God may be necessary. The book also offers helpful advice for single women not in a relationship. It will expose the heart’s desires, and help her not to settle for being married to an unsuitable man, but to wait, relying that God’s grace will be sufficient. Single men should read the book as well. They will gain insight into the typical longings of a woman’s heart. If they find a chapter or two that serves as mirror for them, there is the choice to put away ungodly attitudes and become the mature man in Christ. It will also be a helpful read for friends of singles and those who counsel them. And while I agree the title is catchy, I wonder if it might put off exactly those who could benefit most from reading it. I was also left with the thought there could be a second volume, warning men which women to avoid: the manipulator, the gossip, the passive-aggressive, the I’ll-change-you-for-the-better-agent and of course, the unbeliever, the unchurched and the angry woman. All in all, I appreciated the honesty of Reju’s book. He writes with empathy and understanding. His advice rings true. Some final reflections: I read this book with keen awareness of the many beautiful, talented, educated, godly young women (and some men) in our church communities.  I wonder what it’s like to be a single in our churches. That would be worthwhile to explore. Are they lonely even while being part of a congregation? Are they appreciated for who they are as singles, or perhaps somewhat pitied? How well do our churches serve and support our singles in their twenties and thirties, and beyond? Do our conversations revolve around our families, our spouses, and children with scant thought what that feels like to someone who longs for marriage and children? Do we encourage post-secondary education for our young women according to interest and ability, or do we fear that will make them less marriageable? Do we expect singles to shoulder tasks in the church because, “Well, they have the time, anyway?” Are we as inclusive as we purport to be? It’s a good thing when a book makes the reader reflect on the broader issues at play in our churches. She’s Got the Wrong Guy: Why Smart Women Settle is one of those books, and well worth the read!...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye"

Documentary 78 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Aug 3, 2019 UPDATE: This past month Josh Harris used his Instagram account to announce he was rejecting God, separating from his wife, and endorsing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. The review below is of a documentary he made last year, while still a professing Christian, in which he took a critical look at the book that first made him famous, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." While the film's director, Jessica Van Der Wyngaard, is also critical of his book, she is worried that, in light of Harris's apostasy, Christians will now think it dangerous or wrong to ask hard questions, lest doing so lead to the same sort of turning away from God. But as she shared in an email sent to the film's many Kickstarter backers: "This wasn’t the case for me, the rest of the crew, the film's interviewees, or numerous people we spoke to for 'I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.' It is possible to ask hard questions about sexuality, relationships, God’s morality, church culture, marriage, and not lead to the same conclusion as Josh." So, even as the principal figure is now working actively against God, this documentary remains a useful and helpful resource. ***** Twenty-one years ago the then 21-year-old Joshua Harris struck a nerve with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was written for Christian young people by a Christian young person, on a topic that every young person was interested in – how to find that special someone. It sold more than 1.2 million copies and was a big part of a purity movement within the Church that helped shape the way a generation of Christians thought about sex, dating, and looking for a spouse. Fast forward to today, and in a just-released documentary the now 42-year-old author revisits his book and meets Christians who were impacted by it, for good, but also for ill. With a title like I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" it's no surprise that the documentary presents a rather negative overall assessment of the book. Early on Harris's wife Shannon puts it this way: I think it was a good book, and a well-intentioned book...well, I don't know that I can say it was a good book. But it was a well-intentioned book. So why watch a documentary about a seemingly-not-so-good 20-year-old book? Because the film is about much more than a single book. It tackles the Purity Movement overall, and more specifically, what it got wrong. Of course, the Purity Movement got a lot right – hey, they want young people to abstain from sex until marriage, and that's even in the Bible! But it's because the Purity Movement seems so obviously good, that the unveiling of their errors is so instructive. As Spurgeon once noted, discernment isn't the ability to tell right from wrong, but rather to tell right from almost right. The Purity Movement is almost right – if we weren't worried about grammar Nazis we might say they are so very, nearly, almost right. So if we can learn to spot their mistakes, then we'll be able to apply that lesson to most any other well-intentioned, but similarly misguided Christian movement. THE BOOK AND HOW IT'S MISREMEMBERED While I love the documentary, my one big criticism would be that it isn't fair to the book. If you just watched the documentary and hadn't ever read I Kissed Dating Goodbye you would think it was completely against dating, and all about courtship. But after rereading it this week I would describe it as a strong condemnation of dating as it was commonly being done in the Church. Harris was against the recreational dating that had guys and girls paired up quickly, intensely, and most often briefly, with the focus on pleasure or prestige, and no thought spent on how to honor God through dating. He was cautioning against teenagers experiencing too much too soon: too much physical intimacy, too much emotional intimacy, paired with too much immaturity – selfish and uncommitted kids pressuring each other to go further and further. Harris was speaking against turning girlfriends and boyfriends and dating and sex into idols that push God out of His proper place as first and foremost in our hearts. But in taking a stand against an Archie Andrews-type of dating, was Harris pushing the courtship model? Well, there's courtship and then there's courtship. Under one definition, courtship would require a man to first ask a woman's father before he could take her out on a first date. But a broader definition would define courtship as dating done with the specific intent of seeking a marriage partner – dating that isn't done just for fun – and conducted with some level of parental involvement/supervision. In I Kissed Dating Goodbye Harris does encourage more parental involvement, and also intentional, marriage-focussed dating. But the book spends far more space highlighting all that's wrong with modern dating than it spends prescribing a cure. And when it does come to presenting the alternative, Harris is more about general and often clearly biblical principles, than any specific outworking of those principles. He argues at one point: The Bible doesn't provide a one-size-fits-all program for moving from friendship to marriage. Our lives are too different, our circumstances too unique, and our God too creative to have only one formula for romance. While a lot of what he says does align with a courtship model, Harris simply wasn't pushing that model as hard as his critics in the documentary make it seem. THE PURITY MOVEMENT'S FALSE GODS In the documentary, the book serves as the leap-off point for a look at the Purity Movement. It turns out it wasn't just reckless, immature kids who were turning sex into an idol. Strangely enough, the Purity Movement was doing it too. I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" begins with Harris traveling to Washington DC, where he recalls a 1994 conference he attended there with 25,000 other young Christians. A part of the conference was a "True Love Waits" rally. With rubber mallets in hand, young people staked more than 200,000 True Love Waits commitment cards into the lawn of the Washington Mall. These commitment cards read: Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship. As good as that sounds, there's a hint here of the Purity Movement's big mistake. It comes down to one question: Who, or what, is the god here? Calvin noted it is in man's nature to perpetually be manufacturing one new idol after another – we continually put this god and that in God's place. So in this pledge who or what is the "god"? Is it God? No. He's only one of several this commitment is being made to. But this commitment is being made in service to a very specific desired outcome: the securing of true love. That's the "god" here. In a conversation with Christine Gardner, author of Making Chastity Sexy, Harris discusses how the Purity Movement sold abstinence, not so much as a way to please God, but as the way to secure the very best sort of sex. There's truth to what they were saying: studies have shown that on average married people enjoy sex more than sexually active unmarried people - married sex is best. But while "great married sex" can be a reason to stay abstinent, there's a problem when it becomes the reason. The Purity Movement lost its way when it started placing something – even fantastic married sex – ahead of God. FALSE GODS AND FALSE GUILT In setting up a variety of false gods, the Purity Movement also caused people a lot of false guilt. As my wife put it, false guilt happens when we sin against, not God, but the idols we've made. These idols of our own making are often entirely unforgiving. Consider the idol some have made out of maintaining their virginity. Serving this god, they've been told, is the way they can secure the spouse of their dreams (false gods always offer some version of the prosperity doctrine – serve your god in just the way it asks, and you can force it to give you just what you ask). But what of the boy or girl who has lost their virginity? What offering can be given, what forgiveness can be had from this god? You can't become a virgin again. No wonder then, that the followers of this god feel unrelenting guilt – where no forgiveness can be had, guilt remains. Isn't it amazing that we keep setting up these false gods? They bring us only misery and guilt, while the one true God offers us real forgiveness....and we don't have to earn it! CONCLUSION Of course, false gods and false guilt aren't limited to the Purity Movement: money, career advancement, exercise goals, new year's resolutions, the spotless home, the perfectly behaved child – all of them can become idols of our own making. That, then, is what makes this is a must-see documentary. The discernment it fosters is desperately needed in every sphere of life. More could be said: the film also explores legalism, and critiques how Christians will often treat certain books as if they were on par with the Bible itself. And while I have a far greater appreciation for I Kissed Dating Goodbye than the author seems to at this point – the film concludes by noting that Harris and the publisher have agreed to stop publishing I Kissed Dating Goodbye – I'd agree there are some notable flaws....but nothing that would keep me from sharing and discussing it with my own daughters. And I'll be just as enthused to share this film with them, knowing it will be a springboard to all sorts of great conversations. I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" can watch below for free. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Dating

Dude, where’s your bride?

As I speak at different venues across the country, one of the recurring questions I get comes from women, young women in particular. Their question usually goes something like this: “What is up with men?” These aren’t angry women. Their question is more plaintive than petulant. I’m not quite sure why they ask me. Maybe because they’ve read Just Do Something and figure I’ll be a sympathetic ear. Or maybe they think I can help. They often follow up their initial question by exhorting me, “Please speak to the men in our generation and tell them to be men.” Boys aplenty, but where are the men? They’re talking about marriage. I have met scores of godly young women nearby and far away who wonder “Where have all the marriageable men gone?” More and more commentators – Christian or otherwise – are noticing a trend in young men; namely, that they don’t seem to be growing up. Recently, William Bennett’s CNN article “Why Men Are in Trouble” has garnered widespread attention. The point of the post is summarized in the final line: “It’s time for men to man up.” Sounds almost biblical (1 Cor. 16:13). Virtually every single single person I know wants to be married. And yet, it is taking couples longer and longer to get around to marriage. Education patterns have something to do with it. A bad economy doesn’t help either. But there is something even more befuddling going on. Go to almost any church and you’ll meet mature, intelligent, attractive Christian women who want to get married and virtually no men to pursue them. These women are often in graduate programs and may have started a career already. But they aren’t feminists. They are eager to embrace the roles of wife and mother. Most of the women I’ve met don’t object to the being a helpmate. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of mates to go around. What’s going on here? Why are there so many unmarried, college graduated, serious-about-Christ, committed-to-the-church, put-together young women who haven’t found a groom, and don’t see any possibilities on the horizon? Women can make things more difficult... Maybe women have impossible standards. That is a distinct possibility in some circumstances. I’m sure there are guys reading this thinking to themselves, “I’ve pursued these young women, Kevin! And they pushed me over the edge of the horizon.” Some women may be expecting too much from Mr. Right. But in my experience this is not the main problem. Impossible standards? Not usually. Some standards? Absolutely. On the other end of the spectrum, some women may be so over-eager to be married they make guys nervous about showing any signs of interest. There is a fine line between anticipation and desperation. Men don’t want to spot the girl they like inside David’s Bridal after their first date. The guy will panic – and be a little creeped out. ...but there's a serious problem with the guys This path of prolonged singleness is a two way street. But I think the problem largely resides with men. Or at least as a guy I can identify the problems of men more quickly. I see two issues. 1. Where's the drive? First, the Christian men that are “good guys” could use a little – what’s the word I’m looking for – ambition. Every pastor has railed on video games at some point. But the problem is not really video games, it’s what gaming can (but doesn’t always) represent. It’s the picture of a 20-something or 30-something guy who doesn’t seem to want anything out of life. He may or may not have a job. He may or may not live with his parents. Those things are sometimes out of our control. There’s a difference between a down-on-his-luck fella charging hard to make something out of himself and a guy who seems content to watch movies, make enough to eat frozen pizzas in a one room apartment, play Madden, watch football 12 hours on Saturday, show up at church for an hour on Sunday and then go home to watch more football. I don’t think young women are expecting Mr. Right to be a corporate executive with two houses, three cars, and a personality like Dale Carnegie. They just want a guy with some substance. A guy with plans. A guy with some intellectual depth. A guy who can winsomely take initiative and lead a conversation. A guy with consistency. A guy who no longer works at his play and plays with his faith. A guy with a little desire to succeed in life. A guy they can imagine providing for a family, praying with the kids at bedtime, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and being eager to take everyone to church on Sunday. Where are the dudes that will grow into men? 2. Where's the commitment to Christ? The second issue is that we may simply not have enough men in the church. Maybe the biggest problem isn’t with nice Christian guys who lack ambition, maturity, and commitment. Maybe we have lots of these men in the church, but they’re all married and there aren’t enough of their brethren to go around. I don’t know which is the bigger problem, the lack of good men or the lack of men in general. It’s probably a combination of both. The church needs to train up the guys it has. And by “training” I don’t mean “clean ‘em up, plug ‘em in the singles ministry and start matching them up with a spouse.” I don’t believe most unmarried Christians are looking for a church community full of Yentas. But a church full of godly, involved, respectable, respected, grown up men? That’s a project worth undertaking. What we can all do to help So, what can be done about the growing tribe of unmarried women? Four things come to mind. Everyone, pray. Pray for a joyful accepting of God’s providential care, believing that godliness with contentment is great gain. If you are single, pray more for the sort of spouse you should be than for the sort of spouse you want. Pray also for the married couples and families in your church. If you are married, pray for the single people in your church, for those never married and those divorced or widowed. All people everywhere, pray for ways to start serving the Lord now, no matter what stage of life you are in or wish you were in. Women, don’t settle and don’t ever compromise on requiring solid Christian commitment in a husband, but make sure your list of non-negotiables doesn’t effectively exclude everyone outside of Mr. Darcy. Churches, don’t make church one giant man cave or machismo, but think about whether your church has been unnecessarily emasculated. Do you challenge and exhort? Do you sing songs to Jesus that men can sing with a straight face? Does “fellowship” at your church always focus on activities men don’t typically excel at, like sitting around and talking about how you feel? Does your church specifically target the discipling of men – particularly young men in high school and college? Grab them young and get them growing up in their teens instead of their twenties. Men, you don’t have to be rich and you don’t have to climb corporate ladders. You don’t have to fix cars and grow a beard. But it’s time to take a little initiative – in the church, with your career, and with women. Stop circling around and start going somewhere. It’s probably a good idea to be more like your grandpa and less like Captain Jack Sparrow. Even less like Peter Pan. Show some godly ambition. Take some risks. Stop looking for play dates and – unless God is calling you to greater service through singleness – start looking for a wife. This article first appeared on The Gospel Coalition blog is reprinted with permission of the author (h/t to Reformed Outfitters)....

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.”...