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Internet

Do we "like" sin?

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

Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction, Remembrance Day, Teen fiction

5 books to help us never forget

Next week will mark Remembrance Day, and to help us remember these men and women – many in uniform, and also many who were not – here are 5 books about their courage and conviction. There is something here for every age. By reading these – especially together with our children, or maybe in a book club with friends – we can be inspired and prepared. These stories remind us of why some wars need to be fought, and through these stories we can better appreciate those who fought for us so long ago. They provide us examples worth imitating for the battles, big and small, physical, and in our cases more often spiritual, that still need to be fought today. The reviews that follow have been arranged by the age of the intended audience - youngest to oldest - though all of these would be enjoyed by adults too. The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh 40 pages / 2012 How did poppies become the symbol for Remembrance Day? This beautifully illustrated (I love the water colors in this book - it's a treat just to look at it!) and well-researched children’s picture book tells the story of Moina Michael, who was 45 when World War I broke out. She was a teacher at the University of Georgia’s Normal School and realized that every home in America would be affected. “Her girls” would see fathers, brothers and sweethearts sent to the war front. As the war progressed, she did what she could to help. Her motto from a young age was “Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might." When she read John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” she knew what she had to do for all her beloved soldiers. She went on a search for poppies and found one large red poppy and 24 small ones in a department store. She put the large one in a vase in the YMCA canteen and gave 23 away. From that small, significant gesture, the Poppies have become a symbol of remembrance and bring much needed funds to help the veterans. The book has an epilogue that is helpful for teachers or parents who wants to tell children more about the history of the poppy. This book would be an asset to any elementary school library.  – reviewed by Joanna Vanderpol Innocent Heroes: Stories of animals in the First World War by Sigmund Brouwer 186 pages / 2017 Animals had a bigger role in WWI than most of us realize. Author Sigmund Brouwer has taken heroic stories of these animals and, in the interests of making a continuous, compelling storyline, fictionalized the details, placing all the animals in just one Canadian platoon, the Storming Normans. While each chapter is built around the story of a particular creature –a cat, a bird, two dogs, a horse, a mule, and a lion – the book's main characters are three fictional Canadian infantry soldiers. In the trio of Jake, Charlie, and Thomas, the author gives us soldiers who couldn't have more different backgrounds, with Jake a farm boy, Charlie the city-dwelling millionaire, and Thomas a Cree Indian. With this “odd couple” friendship Brouwer injects his story with humor even in the midst of the horrors of war. It also allows him the opportunity to educate readers as to how Natives were treated on the front lines and back home in Canada during this period. My highest praise for a book is that it is so good I have to read it to my family – we’re loving it! Brouwer has weaved these animal stories together into a compelling book that tackles some tough topics at an age-appropriate level for pre-teens and teens. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond 273 pages / 2016 "Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don’t know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God. Now when men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is good reason, and plenty of time, to talk about life's most important matters. Bond gives Lewis a fellow junior officer – Second Lieutenant Johnson – who won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their back and forth sparring is brilliant; Bond has pulled the points and counterpoints right out of Mere Christianity and other books Lewis wrote when he became the world’s best-known Christian apologist. Bond has crafted something remarkable here, capturing in grim detail what it must have been like to live, eat, and sleep barely more than a stone’s throw from enemy troops hidden away in their own trenches. I think older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis are sure to enjoy War in the Wasteland. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra Prison Letters by Corrie Ten Boom 90 pages / 1975 This is a collection of the correspondence between Corrie Ten Boom and her family while she and her sister Betsie were being held in prison by the Nazis during World War II. If you haven’t already her remarkable wartime biography The Hiding Place, then you must read that first. It recounts how her family hid Jews, not because they were brave or courageous, but simply because they were obedient to what they knew God was calling them to do. We see how God sustained them. It is a book of doubts being answered, and God being found sufficient even in the most trying of circumstances. If you loved The Hiding Place (and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t) then this collection of letters will act as a moving appendix to that remarkable book. It is the same story, but told a very different way, one letter at a time. However, because no correspondence was allowed in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where Corrie and Betsie were sent last, the book ends abruptly. So, this will be a wonderful supplement to The Hiding Place, but it is not one to read simply on its own. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 - May 5, 1945 by Mark Zuehlke 2010 / 552 pages This book is a detailed account of the Canadian Army’s advance into the Netherlands and northwestern Germany during the last phase of World War Two. It is written in a popular (rather than academic) style and frequently relies upon first-hand reports provided by the soldiers themselves for a vivid narrative of combat and other experiences of frontline troops. For this part of the war, the Canadians were superior to the Germans in almost every way, but the terrain heavily favored the German defenders. The ground was frequently too soft for military vehicles so they were confined to roads, making them easy targets. As well, there were a large number of rivers and canals that had to be crossed to reach objectives. The Germans would blow up bridges as they retreated, and time after time the Canadians would have to cross by boat in the face of enemy fire. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the frequent accounts of heroic actions by individual Canadian soldiers. When the chips were down and the situation looked grim, some responded with acts of bravery that could be straight out of a Hollywood-style movie. For example, when Major Harry Hamley found his unit pinned down and threatened by a German attack he grabbed a large machine gun.

Charging into the face of enemy fire, Hamley burned through a magazine as he ran, shooting eight Germans dead, wounding several others, and scattering the rest.

There were many such real-life heroes. We learn here that the Canadians were not reluctant combatants. When Dutch authorities requested that Canadian forces undertake a particularly dangerous mission, the Canadian commander consulted his troops about their willingness to attempt it: “There wasn’t the slightest hesitation or any objection raised, they were prepared to lay it on the line for the Dutch people.” Author Mark Zuehlke goes into much detail about individual army units and their experiences as they move from one objective to another, fighting much of the time. Many of the events described occur simultaneously in different parts of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. At times it can be difficult to keep track of how each event relates to the others. This is not the fault of the book so much as a reflection of the large battlefront continually in action. Thankfully, there is a series of maps at the front of the book, making it possible for the reader to keep track of events as the Canadian Army advances over a broad geographical front taking in numerous cities, towns and villages. There are also two sections with photographs. In short, this book lucidly describes a period of history that will make any true-blooded Canadian feel proud, and anyone of Dutch roots so very grateful. – reviewed by Michael Wagner

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

****

I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends. We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons. Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her. Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one. But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women. Positive character traits So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out. I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics. And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity. Uniforms Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes,  (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts. Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons. Questions for discussion Are there sports women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author's list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? Why or why not? What is the difference between "godly femininity" and "worldly feminism"? The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. What do you think of these examples? Can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?

Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).

Children’s fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Love That Dog: a novel

by Sharon Creech 2001/ 86 pages A review of a read-aloud book, to be read aloud.

*****

As I started reading the very first page of this book, I thought it was dumb. I’ve never been a fan of poetry, particularly if it was the type of poetry that didn’t even rhyme. And that’s what was in this book. But I kept reading and found out, on that very first page, that the author agreed with me! The book is by Jack, a boy in elementary school, who doesn’t like poems either. Each day he writes a journal entry, for his teacher Miss Stretchberry, and there on the very first page, in his first entry, he tells her his thoughts on the poem they have just read in school. He writes:

If that is a poem about the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens then any words can be a poem. You’ve just got to make short lines.

It was a book of poetry, by a boy poet, who didn’t like poetry! So I kept reading, and I started learning. Jack’s teacher showed his class poems. Some did rhyme, some were by famous writers, and some weren’t very good at all. But I started learning, along with Jack, that poetry doesn’t always have to rhyme, or even have a set rhythm. Sometimes it can just be a different sort of way to express your thoughts, to lay them out, so people understand them better.  Poetry can be easier then teachers sometimes make it. And it can be powerful. And it can make you cry. I started reading this book, about a boy learning about poetry, and making poems, and expressing beautiful thoughts about his beautiful dog, and by the time I got to the end of it I realized it wasn’t dumb at all. Love that book.

Christian education

Teaching English from a Christian perspective, as brought to you by the Letter C

As Christians, we are rightly thankful for what has been brought to us by the letters A, B, and C, and the letters D through Z, through which we may read the word of God.

Our culture, too, so highly values the ability to read and write that it supports the public school teaching of those skills, as well as the related skills of listening, speaking, viewing (the “reading” of visual images), and representing (communicating through visual images). But Christians have even stronger reasons for valuing language and communication, since we know a personal God, who communicates his love and glory to us. So how does a Reformed teacher live out his faith, and enable his students to live out their faith, in the Language Arts classroom?

Well, unsurprisingly, given the title, there are (at least) six different things that make the Reformed language arts classroom distinct, all beginning with the letter C.

Christ-Centered

First of all, Reformed language arts teaching must be truly Christian, or to put it even more strongly, Christ-centered. Obviously this is true of all Reformed education, but what does it actually mean in the Language Arts classroom? For one thing it means Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and rule should be at the center of our discussions of literature and life.

In Schindler’s List, for example, Oskar Schindler is frequently spoken of as a kind of savior, since his factories kept many Jews out of the concentration camps. A Christian discussion of the film (or of the novel upon which it is based) will ask how Schindler fails as a “savior,” and deal with whether Schindler himself recognized, directly or indirectly, his own need for the Savior.

Other kinds of literature either exclude the possibility of salvation, or the need for it (since man is “naturally” good), or show it less directly as being accomplished by some character’s heroic acts (or his or her “decision” for Christ). A Reformed teacher will discuss with his students how to react to the false gospels of our culture, and will demonstrate how even these false gospels show the need for the true Savior.

Finally, Reformed Language Arts teachers will show and kindle passionate love for literature that fully acknowledges our need for salvation through God’s grace alone, and demonstrates that Christ is both Savior and Lord.

Covenantal

Reformed Language Arts instruction is also covenantal.

How?

I am not referring simply to the fact a Reformed teacher teaches covenant children (although this is true). My point is that our communication must be a response of thankfulness (our obligation) to His love (according to His promise). This doesn’t mean that we can’t write for personal reflection or entertainment. It does mean, however, that our more personal writing will reflect on more than just whether we are meeting our own “personal goals” – something that government curricula take for granted as a primary focus of personal reflection. Rather, students should learn to make explicit their understanding of their relationships with God – to “meditate on your precepts and consider your ways” (Psalm 119:15) – and with others through Him.

As far as our communication with others is concerned, our basic goal should be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and communicating “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). For instance, the novels Peace Shall Destroy Many and The Chosen both deal with isolated religious communities’ attempt to deal with the increasing secularism of the society in which they exist. Their response is to withdraw from that culture – an idea that is clearly less than fully faithful. A Reformed language arts teacher will encourage class discussion, journal writing, presentations, and essays about how and whether we fall prey to the temptation to withdraw, and what we might do about that situation of failing to be light and salt in the world.

Cultural

Education in a Reformed language arts classroom is also cultural. I have already mentioned that as Jesus commands in Matthew 5: 13 – 16, we are to be involved in the world around us. To do that, we need to know the culture in which we live – its idols, and how we may well be rather impressed by those idols ourselves. To gain that knowledge, we study literature – both contemporary literature for a glimpse of our own culture, and the “classics” for a glimpse of the roots of current ideas and attitudes.

One other reason to study the classics has been given by C. S. Lewis, who recommended that we read at least two old books for every current one we read. Why? Because like a fish in an aquarium, we are living in our culture, so we may not even see its errors clearly. Lewis said that reading the books of the past is like putting on a new pair of glasses, because while old writers also made errors, they were different errors – ones that we have often learned to see through. At the same time, the old writers saw things about purity, love, and godliness that our own culture may have blinded us to.

Counter-Cultural

Although Reformed language arts education is cultural, it is also counter-cultural. For example, I use Frank Peretti’s Prophet in my Grade Eleven media studies unit on journalism and news coverage. The novel rewards study in two ways. First, it sheds an interesting light on the way the news can be packaged to promote various agendas. Secondly, the novel has its own weaknesses, coming from a somewhat Pentecostal, and arguably Arminian, point of view, which can promote discussions about exactly how the Spirit does do His work among His people, and how God exercises His sovereignty in man’s salvation. After we analyze both of these issues from a Biblical perspective, I challenge students to respond concretely to the errors of our culture by writing a letter to the editor and/or a critical or persuasive essay.

Creativity

The challenge of responding concretely, to both Christ and culture, brings us to the fifth element of Reformed language arts education: creativity. Though we must test (and challenge) the spirits of our age, we cannot stop with a purely negative and critical approach. We must also be positive, using our talents in communication to glorify God and build up the neighbor. This is why the students in each grade of my English classes must submit a piece of work to be published, or at least considered for publication, by someone outside the school. There are plenty of places to seek publication: the annual Remembrance Day Contest and various poetry contests, magazines like Reader’s Digest and Reformed Perspective, and books like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Whether or not a student gets published, he or she must write a process paper dealing with the issues faced in crafting his or her work.

Cooperation

The aspect of Reformed language arts education that I find hardest to carry out is its communal/cooperative nature. When a baby is baptized, God’s covenant promises to him or her are witnessed by the whole congregation, the body of Christ. Two chapters in the Bible deal extensively with how the members of the body are necessary for each other’s welfare: Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Covenant youth should be trained to seek the good of the whole congregation, to work together, to build each other up. Unfortunately, the students’ all-too-human nature often makes this difficult, since group projects – setting up an assembly together, putting on a drama skit, or presenting a dramatic reading of a poem – often mean that some try to ride on the coat-tails of others. This can be avoided by giving each group member a distinct role and responsibility (as in the body of Christ), by cementing the cohesion of the groups with various team-building activities, by assigning groups smaller tasks with more supervision at first, and by assigning “group” work outside the school walls. For example, students can be assigned to write up the memories of older members of the congregation, for an anthology of anecdotes about various moments in history, thus requiring them to work with people they might rarely, if ever, talk to otherwise.

The most challenging part of bringing out the communal aspect of communication, however, lies in encouraging more gifted students to support their fellow learners without short-circuiting their learning. The best way to meet this challenge is to ensure that the tasks a teacher gives his or her students are meaningful and thoughtful enough to require everyone’s participation. However, equally important is the kind of examples students have seen of Christian cooperation within their school, churches, and families. How well do we, as adults, model a patient attitude toward those weaker than ourselves – neither ignoring them, as our competitive and individualistic society tempts us to do, nor taking their independence from them?

Conclusion

As you can see, Reformed language arts education is a colossal challenge, requiring caring, commitment, compassion, and consistency. A Reformed teacher must not only teach effectively, but also model the values he or she teaches. This can only be done, with many shortcomings (with which I am all too familiar), through the work of the Spirit, by the Word and prayer, and within the communion of the saints. I would love to hear from any of my fellow saints out there whether these thoughts have struck a chord. (There, I ended with a c-word.)


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