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Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter King

by Christine Cohen 351 pages / 2019 15-year-old Cora lives in a time of horses, and swords, and meat pies. It's also a time of poverty, and bitter winters, and threadbare clothing, and not enough food to make it through to Spring. To make things even worse, ever since Cora’s father was killed, the village has treated her and her family as if they are cursed, and as if that curse is contagious. But no matter, Cora is resourceful, and she’ll do just about anything to ensure her family lives through the winter. But how does a young girl stand up, by her lonesome, to the village god, the tyrannical Winter King, who is taking their food? I didn’t know quite what to think of this book in the early stages. While the village other villagers were religious, Cora was not. And she was the hero. So how was this a Christian book, then, if the god in the story seemed to be the bad guy? Well, as one reviewer noted, this is a very Protestant book in that Cora rejects a false religion in favor of the true one. She rejects the false representation of the Winter King that the village’s religious authorities maintain. But then she uncovers a book that tells a very different story about this King, presenting instead, a God who loves. CAUTIONS Cora is bitter and sometimes manipulative, and so driven to keep her family fed that she does stuff that she should not. There's good reason for her desperation – death is reaching for her whole family – but that it is understandable makes it tricky ground for the younger reader to tread. This is not a heroine in a white hat, and for the pre-teen, or even younger teen reader, used to simpler morality tales, they might not have the discernment skills yet to be able to cheer on a hero whose actions are not always praiseworthy. I feel like I'm making Cora sound darker than she is. There is surely darkness in her – but there is also a darkness around her that she is fighting, futilely at first. And then hope comes. CONCLUSION From the cover to even the way the pages are laid out, this is a gorgeous book, with a deep and satisfying story. I'd recommend it for 15 and up, but I know adults will find this has real depth to it that they'll enjoy exploring.

Theology

On angels and guardian angels

Does everyone have a guardian angel? Many people are convinced that they have an angel as their special protector. In the film City of Angels, actor Nicolas Cage plays a guardian angel who protects Meg Ryan, an overworked doctor who is caught in the tiresome repetition of everyday life. This idea, of a guardian angel, offers comfort and solace. And efforts such as this, to capture angels on film, have enormous clout in shaping popular understandings of these spiritual beings. Can Hollywood convey a fair, helpful, or faithful presentation of angels? Unfortunately, no. They have distorted Biblical truth and misled viewers about the nature, character, and purpose of angels. The concept of an individual guardian angel for each one of us taps into our popular, individualistic culture, which is searching for spiritual experiences, comfort, and hope. The Roman Catholic Church and guardian angels When did the idea of guardian angels first come about. While the early Apostolic Fathers spoke of angels only incidentally, some of them had the opinion that every believer has his or her guardian angel. And very early in the history of the Church, the belief that an angel was assigned to each human being as a guardian gained currency. The Roman Catholic Church deemed the angels' guardianship over mankind sufficiently based on revelation to demand belief. But as Roman Catholic scholar J. Huby points out, the most important "canonical books" for the knowledge of angels are Daniel, the apocryphal books of Tobias (aka Tobit) and 2 Maccabees, and the book of Enoch which is not in the canon of the Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. The Roman Catholic Church claims human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession of angels from infancy to death. Its catechism says,

"Beside each believer stands an angels as protector and shepherd leading him to life.... The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being."

Pope Clement X set aside October 2 as a feast day in their honor, celebrating their protection of human beings from spiritual and physical dangers, and their assistance in doing good. The Bible and guardian angels So what does the Bible say about each of us having a guardian angels who protects us? Very little! Some point to Matthew 18:10 to support the idea:

“See that you do not look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

This does speak to God caring for us through angels, but doesn't show that each of us is paired with an angel. Another passage often pointed to is Acts 12, where Peter is freed from jail by an angel and, when he arrives as the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, those there couldn't believe it was him, and wondered if it was "his angel." This shows that people of that time may have believed everyone had their own angel, but it isn't the Bible endorsing the idea. God's Word does not support the notion that each believer has his or her own personal guardian angel. And while it also doesn't speak clearly against the idea, Reformed theologian Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) has good guidance for how we should think on this matter: "God's Word does not say anything about it, and one must not be wiser than what is written." But, again, the Bible does say that God cares for us through His angels. Their intervention is not an everyday occurrence, but occasional and exceptional - not as their own option, but only as it is permitted or commanded by God. It is sufficient to know that they are employed for the good of the Church. John Calvin comments:

For if the fact that all of the heavenly hosts are keeping watch for his safety will not satisfy a man, I do not see what benefit he could derive from knowing that one angel has been given to him as his especial guardian. Indeed, those who confine to one angel the care that God takes of each one of us are doing a great injustice both to themselves and to all the members of the church; as if it were an idle promise that we should fight more valiantly with these hosts supporting and protecting us round about! (Institutes I,xiv,7)

The ministry of angels Angel appearances are not rare as we usually think. Many stories in the Bible reveal the visible and audible manifestations of angels. Repeatedly, we read of those surprised by them. Yet we should not be surprised. Angels do minister to believers. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). The Puritan theologian John Owen (d. 1683) comments on this text that God employs angels

"for the good of them that are heirs of salvation, to manifest unto them the greatness and glory of the work of the gathering, preserving, and redemption of his church."

Angels have a special role in the execution of God's providential care. God instructs His angels to keep vigil for our safety and to take care that harm will not come to us. In Psalms 35 and 91 we read that God will encamp around those who fear Him and guard them in all our ways. Even archangels have been put to work in the interest of God's elect (Luke 1:11-38; Jude 9). In times of danger we may freely ask God to send an angel for our protection. And some have received the aid of an angel without even asking for it. When the prophet Elijah, exhausted with the relentless persecution he suffered from Queen Jezebel,

"lay down and slept under a broom tree....and behold an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' Elijah looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank... and strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God" (1 Kings 19:5-8).

When Dothan was surrounded by the Arameans, Elisha's servant was deadly afraid. The prophet reassures him, "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prays, " O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." The servant is astonished to see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Ki. 6:8-17). Angels guarded Daniel who, when falsely accused, was thrown into the lion's den. He told the king Darius, "My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight" (Dan. 6:22). Although the Great Commission was given to the Church (Matt. 28:19-20), angels take an active part in the spread of the Gospel. They cooperated with the church in its mission outreach. They saw to it that unbelievers could hear the Gospel despite opposition to the Church. In the book of Acts, the great missionary record of the early church, angels are mentioned 21 times. Angels displayed miraculous powers on behalf of some of the apostles. Apostles were arrested and put into jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the jail doors and brought them out. "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell all the people the full message of this new life" (Acts 5: 17-20). James and Peter were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Peter, expecting to be executed, was rescued by an angel. A heavenly light shone, an angel poked Peter and said, "Quick, get up!" He led him past two guards, through an iron gate, down the street, and to freedom. Only then did Peter realize that God had sent an angel to rescue him from King Herod's clutches (Acts 12:1-11). Philip, the evangelist, was preaching the Gospel in Samaritan villages, when an angel came and told him to "get up and go south." Philip obeyed the angel, and explained to an important Ethiopian official the good news of the Gospel taught in the book of Isaiah, and led him to the Lord (Acts 8:26-40). Angels today G. K. Chesterton said that the most wonderful thing about miracles is that they do sometimes happen. And this is true also of angels' interventions today. Why should God not send His angels to minister to the saints in the third millennium? Centuries do not make any difference to the eternal and unchanging God. Elizabeth Elliot tells about a blind man her father knew, who was to step into what he thought was his cabin aboard ship. It was in fact a hatchway, but he felt a hand on his chest pushing him back. He asked who was there. There was no answer. Was an angel sent to rescue him? Dr. B. Wielenga in his book Het Huis Gods (The House of God) notes when the Secessionists were persecuted in 19th century Netherlands, it was a time of miraculous answers to prayer. Angels watched over the safety of the faithful believers in all their ways. The history of missions records many authentic stories of heavenly assistance received in critical times. Missionaries have shared amazing experiences about the mysterious intervention of angels when their lives were threatened. G. Van Asselt, a 19th century missionary in Sumatra recalled that one of the Bataks had seen a double row of guards surrounding his house. They stood hand in hand and had shining faces. The Bataks suspected that the missionary had hidden soldiers in his home during the day, but after he was allowed to search Van Asselt's house, he had to admit that he was wrong. When the Batak asked Van Asselt why he had not seen the guard of angels, Van Asselt replied that this was not necessary for those who trust in God's Word. God's providence Many Christians have testified that in times of critical danger they suddenly felt an unseen hand. Some tell of a mysterious warning not to proceed with their travel plans and then to discover later that the plane they were booked to fly with had crashed. Playwright Tony Kushner was greatly troubled by the belief that angels appear to some people and not to others. He said,

"I find that horrendously offensive. The question is, why are you saved with your guardian angel and not the woman who was shot to death shielding her children in Brooklyn three weeks ago? That suggests a capricious divine force. If there is a God, he can't possibly work that way."

Christians do not subscribe to a New Age theology which says that we live in a benign universe where all you have to do is ask an angel for help. Our view of angels and their activities is formed by Scripture. Any other view is either a fiction or a counterfeit. Since the Bible teaches that God employs angels for our good, we know He uses them to guard us. As the Puritan Thomas Watson (d.1686) testified, "The angels are of the saints' life-guard...The highest angels take care of the lowest saints." But God does not always come to the rescue. Faith in Him does not depend on miracles and angelic interventions. Faith is a relationship to the sovereign God through Jesus Christ, independent of the miraculous. Christians too get into fatal car accidents. In the early church, the first martyr Stephen died by stoning, though God could have prevented it. James the brother of John was executed, though Peter was miraculously rescued from the same prison. But this same Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down in Rome. The apostle Paul died in Rome under the cruel persecution of Caesar, though John survived his exile on Patmos under similar persecution and came home to die of old age. God's ways with His people are mysterious. They are beyond our human understanding. Christians don't pretend to know all the answers. Who can understand the mind and ways of God? (Rom 11:33ff). The Bible record of miraculous interventions enriches and encourages believers, as we can see in Hebrews 11:32-40, where we read of those "who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, " and of women who "received back their dead, raised to life again." However, "others were tortured and refused to be released." There were those who faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put into prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword." Some were rescued; others were not. Yet, they were all commended for their faith. They did not count the cost of their faith walk. They lived in complete obedience to their Lord. They were not preoccupied with the ministry of angels. Their faith was not shaken or weakened by the lack of divine interventions. They believed that they were not their own, but belonged body and soul, in life and in death, to their faithful crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ.

A version of this article was first published in the March 2001 issue, under the title "Surprised by Angels." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections.

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.

Gender roles

"Homemaking is the ultimate career" - C.S. Lewis (sort of)

There are some quotes so good you desperately wish they were real. This one below, often attributed to C.S. Lewis, isn’t authentic. But the point it makes certainly is:

“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

While C.S. Lewis didn’t use this exact verbiage, in Letters of C.S. Lewis he did say something quite like it, showing that this longtime bachelor still understood the pivotal, and pinnacled position of the homemaker: 

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…”


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News

Australian rugby player won’t back down

Editor's note: After this article was posted, it was suggested that Israel Folau might be a Trinity-denying (and thus, heretical) Oneness Pentecostal, and he did make a Jan 18 tweet that does sound like that is what he believes. But he is reported as attending the Trinitarian denomination, the Assemblies of God. So, that makes it a little less clear what he believes. We will let you know should we get clarification. **** In Australia there are four main “football codes” (i.e. sports that fall under the general heading of “football”): Australian rules football, soccer, rugby league and rugby union. Recently, one of these, rugby union, had a major problem on their hands. A player had responded to a question he had been asked online, and his response was causing outrage both on and offline. Through it all, the player, a young deeply Christian man called Israel Folau, stood tall. Lets consider what he did, and try to summarize his response using some of his own words as you can find them in his April 16 article, “I’m a sinner too.” So what happened? Twenty-eight-year-old Folau currently plays rugby union for the Waratahs club in the Super Rugby competition that has teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He also plays for his country, the Australian team known as the Wallabies. This very talented sportsman has played professionally in three of the four football codes, having previously played rugby league and Australian rules football. Earlier this year he was ranked in the top ten rugby union players in the world. (Speaking of rankings, 105 countries play rugby union. New Zealand is ranked number 1 in the world and by quite a margin. Australia is currently ranked fourth, the USA fifteenth and Canada twenty-first.) Folau had injured his hamstring quite badly in a recent game and was likely going to be sidelined for some time. Folau wrote: “…that afternoon I put up the following Instagram post, referring to James 1: 2-4: ‘Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.’” He continued: “In the comments section of that post, I was asked a question by somebody about what God’s plan is for gay people. My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings, specifically 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10…’Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’” This response created a furore, and not only in the media. Some key Wallabies sponsors, such as Qantas Airways and Asics sportswear, threatened to withdraw their financial support. Many fellow players also condemned him for his position, and there was a strong implication that he shouldn’t be allowed to hold his view, at least not publicly. Sports commentators were very strident in their condemnation of Folau and called for him to be sacked or resign. Rugby union governing body, Rugby Australia, tried to diffuse the situation and issued a statement that Folau had been spoken to, and that he would tone down his message. Folau denied ever agreeing to this, and reaffirmed his opposition to same sex marriage, and same sex relationships. This is what the world has come to: a man stands up for God and for his faith, and he is railed down. You might expect that he would back down. Not Folau. In a meeting with the code’s hierarchy he told them that if they “…felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately…I would sooner lose everything – friends, family, possessions, my football career, the lot – and still stand with Jesus, than have all of those things and not stand beside Him.” Folau is not without support and supporters. In fact, his stance has gained the attention of many international teams who would be willing to pay considerably more than he is currently receives. It is a shame that so many of our politicians don’t have the same backbone and willingness to openly live and declare their worldview. Bill Shorten, the leader of the main opposition party, the Labor Party, is one among quite a number of Australian politicians who claim to be Christian, but from whom we see no actions or words to back it up. If only they dared to be a Daniel, or that they took a lesson from Israel Folau, then perhaps integrity may return to the corridors of government. Now we might question why Folau chooses to play professional sport, which includes much time away from Sunday worship. We could assume that we might disagree with him on other things as well. But would any of us be so open, so courageous and steadfast when the pressure is put on? Folau started his column with a confession, “I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily.” Quite the start! Then he continues: “But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life. I read the Bible every day. It gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find in any other area of my life. It gives me direction. It answers my questions.” Like us, Folau believes the Bible to be the truth, and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear. “If you see someone who is about to walk into a hole,” says Folau, “and have the chance to save him. He might be determined to maintain his course, and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. But if you don’t tell him the truth, as unpopular as it might be, he is going to fall into that hole. What do you do? In this case, we are talking about sin as the Bible describes it, not just homosexuality, which I think has been lost on a lot of people. There are many sins outlined in that passage from 1 Corinthians and I have been guilty of committing some of them myself. No man or woman is different from another – if you sin, which we all do, and do not repent and seek forgiveness, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Folau clearly holds some very traditional Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell, and homosexuality. In a supposedly free country, surely Folau should be able to express his genuinely held religious beliefs, especially when asked to do so? It is clear that it is getting more and more difficult for a Christian voice to be heard. Sadly, this episode joins so many from around the world that indicate we are steadily losing our rights to freedom of speech, conscience, and religious belief. As Folau noted, freedom of speech means that sometimes people will say things that others find disagreeable. So we should, firstly, stop trying to silence those who offend us. We cannot argue for these freedoms if we don’t allow them ourselves. We are heading into a new world, a new kind of tyranny, where contra opinion is muzzled, and dissent is howled down and crushed into submission. This is what we need to highlight, to raise our voice of concern on the silencing of opinion and freedoms. Secondly though, it is one thing to fight for these freedoms, it is a bigger challenge to honestly and openly use them and express God’s truths, our worldview, just as Folau has done, and continues to do. Are we, and would we be, willing to do the same? Would we be willing to actually exercise our diminishing freedoms? Would we be willing, for example, to stand up and openly call out homosexuality as a sin? We can hope and pray that Folau’s message has struck a cord in some ears that should be listening. A version of this article first appeared in the May 19 edition of Una Sancta. Photo is adapted from one by David Molloy and used via a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license....

Christian education - Sports

A Good Coach is Crucial: the potential and danger of school sport teams

“They’re nice, but not a priority.” Ask Reformed parents about our school’s sports teams and that’s a response you’re likely to hear. It's an understandable answer. With all the effort that has to go into finding and hiring good teachers, and developing curriculum, and fundraising school building projects, there may not be much energy left to think through how our sports teams can best be put to use. However, sometimes that means that the coaches are simply whoever is willing. And being willing is a good attribute; that's a virtue, certainly. But what other qualifications should we be looking for? If we're going to have sports teams in our schools they need to be a priority. And that's because these teams can be a potent force for good in our schools, or just as potent a force for evil. Without proper guidance, school sports teams may do more harm than good to our sons and daughters. Sports are good Sports can do harm? That may strike you as a bit over the top. After all, one of the arguments frequently used in favor of having these teams is that sports are said to build character. There’s a lot of history to this argument. 2400 years ago Plato insisted that physical activity made a man both physically and mentally tough. A little more than 400 years later the apostle Paul linked perseverance (Heb. 12:1), and self-control (2 Cor. 9:25) with athletics. In the 1800’s the Muscular Christianity movement promoted physical activity across North America believing that good Christians could be created by developing good athletes – the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was started by those that believed sport developed character. These last two groups thought that sport was intrinsically moral. They believed that just by playing a sport you would pick up character traits like teamwork, daring, discipline, cooperation, courage, perseverance, loyalty, and self-restraint. Sports are bad The biggest problem with this approach is that these character traits don’t make you moral. Sure, many of them would be useful to a Christian, but how many of them would also be equally useful to a mafia bodyguard or mob hitman? Teamwork, daring, discipline and cooperation? Those look good on anyone’s resume. These traits themselves could be seen as morally neutral. It’s what you do with them that counts. The fact is, rather than being intrinsically good, sport has a tendency to reinforce negative behavior. Without guidance, sports can teach kids that winning is all that matters. Athletes may learn that cheating or cheap play is only wrong if you get caught – kids will even learn how to retaliate without getting caught. They'll start dehumanizing their opponents by viewing them primarily as enemies to be conquered. And left on their own, kids will learn they can get away with griping about the refs too. After all, authority figures only deserve respect when they get the calls right! Sport’s potential This dark side to sport is why it needs a higher priority in our schools. Sport is a moral quagmire for even the most upright players. There are moral challenges every time a student steps out onto the court, field, or ice. Yes, students will be confronted with moral challenges in other areas of school life, but many will be of a more black and white variety. In any of their classes they will have to decide if they are going to do their own work, and their own test…or whether they'll cheat. It’s black and white. Even the students that do cheat know what they’re doing is wrong. They might still succumb to sin, but they don’t have to figure out whether they’re sinning. But in sport there are vast areas of gray. Kids have to contrast caring for their opponent with figuring out how to get past him to score the winning goal. Jostling is involved in most team sports, but how much physical contact is too much? Or for that matter, too little? Just how far do you go to win the game? It is this grayness that makes the playing field either one of the most potentially useful environments for character development, or one of the most harmful ones. An attentive and intelligent coach will force his players to work through these challenges, and will guide them back when they make the wrong decisions. He will bench his best player even if the ref didn’t notice the player’s cheap conduct. He’ll allow players to respectfully query the ref, but nothing more. He’ll explain that without opponents there is no game and won’t tolerate any bad sportsmanship. He’ll sit his team down to discuss the gray moral areas and the challenges present on the playing field. He'll encourage them to fail boldly, to get back up after messing up, and to stop caring how they look. He'll teach them that it really is how you play, and not whether you win or lose that gives God the glory. He'll talk about what it means to be a supportive teammate, and be others-focussed. He’ll teach them to turn the other cheek even when the opposition is playing cheaply or the refs are missing calls. A good coach will brag about how many good sportsmanship awards his team has won. He won’t leave them on their own, and he won’t let them learn the bad lessons of sport. But a bad coach…he'll just let the kids play. Conclusion Sports teams are a lower priority in most Reformed schools and that has to change. It isn’t so much that every school should have countless sports teams but if we are going to have them, then we need to be mindful as to how we are going to run them. It's important enough that if we can't find enough quality coaches, we should consider having fewer teams. Left to its own devices sport can be pretty bad…but in a Christian school, with an attentive Christian coach, it can also be an awesome means for young men and women to develop and grow athletically and spiritually....

Christian education - Sports

Sports teams are important for our Christian schools

Sports teams in a Christian school are sometimes seen as an expendable extra that requires a lot of time and effort. Some may even argue that the energy spent on these extracurricular programs detracts from the Biblical instruction that is our focus. However, team sports can be a very important part of a Christian school and their benefits should not be underestimated. For example, they provide an excellent means to teach Christian living and build Christian characteristics in the personalities of the students. Through these activities, athletic talents and abilities can be developed and recognized publicly. Sports teams can also be an effective way to build a sense of community by enhancing relationships between students, students and teachers, and the school and supporting families. The larger community can also be enhanced through school sports teams as athletics can serve as a method of witnessing. Implementing Christian principles Interactions on a playing field can be a great place to put Biblical principles into practice. The different scenarios that arise supply ample opportunity for teaching moments, especially lessons aimed at attitudes pertaining to a Christian lifestyle. During the sports action, attitudes such as caring for the opponent, playing honestly, and smiling under pressure can all be encouraged. Coaches can instruct their players to keep unwholesome talk from their mouths, to speak truthfully, and to say only things that are up-building to others (Eph 4:25-29). It is one thing to teach these in a Bible class and another to put them into practice in a pressure situation. Sport teams provide a controlled, supervised environment in which to monitor and encourage these proper Christian attitudes. Being a part of a sports team enables students to learn the art of losing gracefully (not trying to place blame on others, not making excuses) as well as winning gracefully (congratulating the other team, giving praise to God, not boasting). Overall, the athletes can be encouraged to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27) and make their faith evident to all. The teaching of respect for sport authorities is especially relevant for young Christians who are in the process of understanding the act of submitting to the authority of God. They can practice this attitude through interactions with coaches, referees and others in such positions. Respect in the sport domain includes following the command to do "all things without arguing and complaining" (Phil 2:4). What a teaching opportunity to put this into practice when the referee makes a call we do not agree with! Being on a Christian team will also help keep the stress of competition in perspective. Students will be taught that winning is not the most important aspect in athletics and definitely not a goal to obtain using means such as cheating or dirty play. Here also, students may enjoy the fact that sports teams in a Christian school will not pressure their athletes to play and practice on Sunday. This is an obstacle that young people face when they participate in community teams which frequently incorporate Sundays into their playing schedule, especially at the higher levels. Nurturing athletic talent Another benefit of the inclusion of sports teams in Christian schools is the development of athletic talent. We believe that we are all given gifts and abilities by God. For some, their strongest talents lie in athletics. When we instruct students to develop their gifts to the fullest, we should strive to provide a means and support for doing so. Sports teams are one way to grant such an opportunity. Public recognition of these athletes is a way to praise God for His wide diversity in granting abilities. This recognition is especially important for students that may excel in the sports arena, but struggle in other areas of school, such as academics. Celebrating athletic talents is also an important lesson for spectators to learn. Sports is a venue where students can be taught to compliment each other and look for the abilities, not the disabilities in their classmates. We must all learn to speak positively about each other and put our emphasis on building others up. Building relationships The third thing that school sports teams do is build a sense of community. This is evident primarily between the students themselves. Sports teams boost peer interaction by providing an avenue for fun. As opposed to class-time, which is primarily for working and being attentive, sports allow for a time of release and downtime. During this less-structured time at school, friendships can be fostered and peer pressure can be motivated towards a positive, wholesome goal. Sports teams also allow for unique interaction between teachers and students that may not arise in the classroom setting. Rules in the extracurricular arena are not as strictly defined, and the teachers and students have an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level. These friendships can build mutual respect that then transfers back into the classroom, promoting a very positive learning environment. A third area of the community that is strengthened by sports teams is that of parents and school. In our parental schools, this bond is an especially important one to foster. By being involved and supporting the school teams, the parents can stay in touch with activities at the school. Parental involvement also sends a supportive message to the teachers who often dedicate a lot of extra time to these activities. Parental support of the sports teams is also an excellent way for parents to strengthen the bond between themselves and their child. Supporting your child's team shows interest in his or her life. Watching your child play opens many doors for communication. For instance, you can discuss different plays, acknowledge accomplishments and analyze upcoming games. Increased communication, such as this, can only serve to strengthen the parent-child relationship and form a bond between the generations. Witnessing through sport Besides building up our own Christian community, school sports teams can serve as a way to reach out to our neighbors. For some people in our larger community, interacting with the athletes from Christian schools is as close to church as they will ever come. These people see the name "Christian" on our jerseys and scrutinize closely to see if our athletes, coaches and fans behave differently from them. What an opportunity to let our light shine! Our athletes must be taught to put Christian principles into practice and show exemplary sportsmanship. Coaches should discipline themselves to be even-tempered, positive and respectful. The coach can often set the tone for the team and proper Christian leaders should be encouraged to become involved to do this mentoring. A final aspect of our witnessing through sports involves the spectators. The command to say "only what is helpful for building others up" (Eph 4:29) applies especially to this group. Things such as coarse language, constant criticism and disrespect for referees are unacceptable for a Christian spectator. We should be careful to send the right message and let God's love shine through us! There are so many ways to praise God, and opportunities to focus on Him in the realm of sport. School sports teams should be supported by the community so that Christian teaching does take place and proper Christian leadership does occur. It is very important for Christian teachers and parents to become involved. In this way we can instruct and encourage our youth in ways that are pleasing to God. There are many benefits to the physical training that accompanies sports teams and if we maintain the proper focus in our Christian schools, then we can use these means to also promote godly training (1 Timothy 4:7b,8). Let's take the challenge and strive to run the race, not only physically, but also spiritually, so that we may win the prize of the imperishable "crown that will last forever" (1 Corinthians 9:24,25). This article first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Reformed Perspective....

Culture Clashes, News

ESPN.com Embraces Nudity

Sports Illustrated has been featuring near nudity in their swimsuit edition for years now. Pictures from that annual issue were also featured prominently on their website, so if a fellow wanted to follow the happenings of his favorite team, but didn’t want to see barely clad women, then he’d best idea head to rival sports website, ESPN.com. But no longer. On July 5 the front page ofESPN.com featured a nude picture of Mixed Martial Arts fighter Conor McGregor. The picture was from The ESPN Magazine “Body Issue” in which prominent athletes pose nude. ESPN started the Body Issue in 2009 as competition to the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue, but until this year the nudity wasn’t front and center on the website. Conor McGregor’s exposure was a departure and the website’s Public Editor, Jim Brady, heard from annoyed and disgusted readers. So is ESPN.com going to listen and stick to reporting on sports? Nope. Brady noted that while he had heard a lot of complaints, they seemed to be exclusively from people over 40. And when he polled friends and co-workers he found that no one he knew under 30 thought the pictures were offensive. SoESPN is going to show flesh. And if you’re offended, they’re sorry you’re such a prude. So what’s a sport fan to do when the continent’s two most prominent sports websites are selling sex? Well, there are still other options. In Canada there’s TSN.com, which, while it has ties to ESPN (ESPN has a minority stake), doesn’t have links to the Body Issue on their website. But nudity isn’t the only problem. With the NBA moving their 2017 All-Star Game from North Carolina because the state didn’t want men in women’s washrooms, and the NHL embracing homosexuality with promotions like “pride tape,” and the NFL putting on half time shows that we don’t want our children to see, it’s clear that professional sports are, overall, embracing evil. I love my NBA. But if this league, and the NHL, and the NFL and so many others, and the media that reports on them, are all intent on shaking their fist at God,is it time to tune out? And if not now, when?...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

The Farm Team

by Linda Bailey 32 pages / 2006 The Farm Team is about a bunch of chickens, pigs, sheep, and one cow, who love hockey and want to bring the championship trophy back home. For the last 50 years, the Bush League Bandits have always come out on top, but this year the Farm Team has a great goalie and they think they have the right stuff to get it done. One problem: the Bandits are cheaters! When the score gets tight their porcupine drives for the net and punctures the Farm Team's porky goaltender. How's the Farm Team going to handle it with their best player injured? Never fear, coach Clyde (a Clydesdale) will think of something! Parents could use this book to teach children a little about sportsmanship – the Farm Team are great examples of hardworking and clean playing good sports. But the real value of this book is in just how fun it is to read out loud. There's lots of action, some good twists, and some very fun play-by-play dialogue to shout out. It's the kind of book that is so well written it made it easy for me to become quite the performer. My kids loved it, and even my wife, who was busy making supper as we read, really got into the action. So a good dose of Canadiana and a great big heaping of fun....