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Economics

5 things Christians should know about income inequality

Income inequality is still at the forefront of conversation for many people. Thankfully, there are biblical principles that help Christians understand whether income inequality is a problem, and if so, how we are to respond. At the Christian research organization I work for – the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics – we talk a lot about various aspects of income inequality and how to think about it. Today, I’d like to summarize this tough topic through these five points dealing with the best approach to bringing about flourishing, especially for the poor. 1. HOW INCOME INEQUALITY IS MEASURED Income inequality measures income differences across groups of people using a statistical tool called the Gini coefficient. It ranges between zero and one. A score of one indicates perfect inequality: one person makes all the income and everyone else makes zero. A score of zero indicates perfect equality: everyone earns exactly the same amount. The U.S. Gini coefficient is 0.45 according to the CIA World Fact Book. For the sake of context, the impoverished country of Bangladesh has less income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.32). Meanwhile Hong Kong has slightly more income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.54).  Alone, income inequality data doesn’t tell us that much about whether one country is “better” than another. 2. CRONYISM MAKES INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE, AND IT'S UNFAIR Cronyism occurs when corporations pursue the government for benefits, protections, or subsidies benefiting their business at the expense of competing firms and consumers. It is a growing trend evidenced by the hundreds of lobbying firms popping up on K Street. Politicians have responded quite favorably to these lobbying efforts and have created a culture in which the most well-connected win. This is inherently unfair. An unjust system is prevailing where ordinary businesses and entrepreneurs are failing because they lack the resources to buy off politicians. The unfortunate result is that they can’t succeed, and the well-connected rich get richer and stifle more opportunities for the poor. 3. DIVERSITY IS A BIBLICAL PREMISE OF CREATION. WE ARE BORN WITH DIFFERENT GIFTS, RESULTING IN DIFFERENT INCOMES. We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and, while we bear many physical similarities, we are all distinct. That means that, by definition, we are unequal. God knew that our uniqueness makes our work and talents inherently dignifying and brings us into community with one another. Our interdependence makes us able to achieve things we never could on our own. We use our gifts and skills to provide goods and services that others need. We then trade for goods and services that we need but aren’t able to provide ourselves. The market return for our services is our income, and that income is based on the market supply of what we provide and the value people place on it. This means that our incomes will be different. However, because we do not operate in a vacuum, those who do earn high incomes tend to create lots of value for everyone, including lots of job opportunities. High incomes are not a sign that the rich have stolen from the poor. Quite the contrary, wealthy individuals have often innovated products and services that make us all richer and ease our way of life. 4. INCOME MOBILITY IS A BETTER MEASURE OF PROSPERITY Income mobility is quite different from income inequality. Income mobility tracks the lifetime income of a person. It’s a way of understanding if people are able to earn more income over their lives as a result of increases in their education, skills, and productivity. The trouble with the data on income inequality is that it doesn’t track individuals over time. If we look at the poorest income bracket in 1990 and again in 2014, we have no idea if the people who were poor in 1990 are still poor today simply by looking at the data. In fact, mobility data suggests that almost sixty percent of individuals who were in the lower income brackets moved into higher brackets in under a decade. 5. WE SHOULD FOCUS ON WHAT GOD HAS CALLED US TO DO, NOT ON WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING In a flourishing society, there are going to be lots of people who make high levels of income. Think how different the Congo or Vietnam would look if local entrepreneurs had the opportunity to create and innovate. The world would have a lot more people like Bill Gates and a lot more wealth and opportunity for all – not just the rich. It’s easy to want for ourselves what others have, but we can’t all be Bill Gates. God has gifted each of us to do something specific and special. We need to focus on our unique callings and do them with excellence rather than focusing on what others have. Unfortunately, some of the talk around income inequality is about coveting what others have rather than wanting more for the poor. I can tell you from living in a county with the highest per-capita income in the country that it is easy to want what others have: the newest car, the bigger house, the better wardrobe. It is a deceptive trap to believe that if we have these things, we will feel better or live better. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT INCOME INEQUALITY? Be aware of the cronyism all around us that often shows up in seemingly benign programs like laws mandating certain light bulbs, sugar subsidies, and occupational licensing. Government is increasingly giving in to the entitlement culture of lobbying. We need businesses to stop asking for favors and political leaders who will stop the handouts. Furthermore, prayerfully discern the path to which God calls you and pursue it with integrity, hard work, and faith. No matter what income it brings, it gives you a chance to serve others in the here and now and achieve everlasting significance for God’s kingdom.

This article is reprinted, with minor edits, with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appears here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Go here to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog. Dr. Anne Bradley "is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom." RedPanel.com comic used with permission.

Economics

Sales as a noble calling

We might not think of sales as a good job for Christians...but we should

*****

Many years ago, when I first arrived in Australia, I was working for a dry cleaner who soon realized that I would never make it as a professional dry cleaner. One morning he asked me what I really wanted to do. When I told him that my ambition was to sell, and preferably clothing, he spoke to a fellow businessman and arranged for me to start working for him. That was my start in the menswear trade. Take a genuine interest The man I started with was a very hard taskmaster, but knew his trade inside out. The lessons he taught me have stood me in good stead. One of the first things I learned from him was to take a real interest in the customer. Customers soon know whether you are interested in them or only in the money they will leave behind. Taking a real interest means listening - taking the time to hear their concerns so you can best meet their needs. For a teenage apprentice that was sometimes a little difficult, especially on a Saturday afternoon when the beach beckoned and you really wanted to shut the shop but the customer had much to share. If I got distracted, or started giving the customer only half my attention, my boss would soon notice and let me know his displeasure immediately after the customer left. So my first lesson was to take a real interest in the customer. Sell only what meets their needs The next lesson: make sure that you sell what suits the customer. Far too often people try to sell what they want to get rid of, or what they have overstocked. Or, they take the attitude anything will do as long as I make a sale. Well, the best way of losing customers is to sell a product for the wrong reason. If you are not a salesperson, you might think this is self-evident. But when the opportunity presents itself to make a big sale it can be rather tempting to sell the product regardless of whether it suits the customer. And lets face it, some customers are far too gullible for their own good, and will buy whatever the charming salesman shows them. So this can be a real temptation. But not only is it wrong, it is shortsighted. You might be able to sell anything to them, but when the customer gets home that night his wife, or his friends will be sure to tell him he got snookered. Once he learns he has misplaced his trust in you, he will no longer be your customer. To meet your customer's needs you need not only to take a genuine interest, but you need to really know your product. That means studying, reading, and listening to others to learn more about what you are selling. I learned the necessity of that especially during the time I was in the insurance business. The client may trust you, but then you better make sure that that trust is warranted. The only way to do that is to really know your product. And it makes no difference what trade or profession one is in. The customer is turning to you for your knowledge, and your experience. The latter comes only with time, but the first can be increased with good effort. Service, service, service My boss also taught me about service. Many people have no idea what service is. It means giving of yourself, and making the other feel valued. This can be worked out in big ways and small. Many in sales, when they answer the phone fail to sound friendly, or they do not announce the name of the firm they represent nor give their own name. Small things maybe, but important ones. It is even important to smile when answering the phone. You don't believe me? Try it with someone. I did. We had a fellow working for us who always answered the phone in the most serious manner. When I tackled him on this he replied that it should not matter as the other person couldn't see his face. We decided to do a test. I picked up my phone in my office and rang him. I spoke to him in various ways and asked him later if he had noticed the difference. He had. He could tell when I smiled or when I was serious. Many people forget that the phone is often the first contact one has with a firm. So yes, service starts even in answering the phone. In a shop or showroom it is important to welcome people in a friendly and sincere manner. Let the customer know that you are there to help them. Even when you are busy serving someone it is often takes but a little effort to recognize another person and let him/her know that you will be with them soon. Go the extra mile. If you don't have the item the customer needs, offer to get it. Sure this sometimes can cause extra costs, but if you put yourself out the customer will generally appreciate it and become a customer for life. You might not be the cheapest in town but if your service is better than that of others, customers will even accept that as the price to pay for top class attention. A real estate agent will tell you that there are only three things that matter when buying property: location, location, location. Well, there are only three things that matter in sales: service, service, service. If you don't want to give service – friendly, well meant, genuine service – don't become a salesperson. How do Christians do sales differently?  So far I have only dealt with matters that everybody can agree on. But is that all there is to it? What about the fact that you and I are Christians? Won't that affect the way we do things? That is a good question. The man I learned my trade from was not a Christian. The reason he did things the way he did was because he believed that it was the best way to build a business. So whether you are Christian or not, it is easy to see the benefits of having an honest, up front approach to serving the customer. Many salesmen do not use this approach, but the best will. What then is different about the way Christians might do sales? The difference comes down to why we do things. Our whole life should be lived in a Christian manner, to the honor of God and to the benefit of our neighbor. That means that we need to examine ourselves to see if we are doing our work out of a real desire to serve God and our neighbor. We need to remember it is not possible to wear one hat on Sunday and a different one during the rest of the week. You cannot be a pious godly Christian on Sunday and a hard, sharp businessman the rest of the week. Being a godly salesman means that even if no one will find out about a little untruth – some little subterfuge which can help to increase the bottom line, some little exaggeration, or some not quite honest spin – that can never be part of our thinking. People should know you claim to be a Christian, and they will watch you to see if you are true to your profession. Therefore it is imperative that a Christian businessman lives very close to the Lord and asks Him daily to direct his life, so that in selling, too, we may give glory to Him.

A version of this article was first published in the January 2000 issue under the title "Salesmanship." Rene Vermeulen published more than 150 articles in the pages of Reformed Perspective from 1984-2010.

Assorted

Love is...

Love is a mostly misunderstood word – it’s mistaken for sex, for sentimentality, for some sort of chemical thing that just happens, or doesn’t, and either lasts forever, or doesn’t. Some think it’s effortless. Some even think it can be bought for money. Christians too, are confused. We know love is more than sex, more than sentimentality, and more than chemistry, but most of us are still trying to figure out whether love is a feeling or an action! So what is love then? God tells us that love is… sacrificial “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Some misunderstand love as a math formula, where things are supposed to work out even on both sides of the equation: if you give a friend a thoughtful present, you should be able to count on getting one in return; if you give your spouse a backrub, they should get up and make you coffee; tit for tat, back and forth, even-steven. But Christ demonstrated the complete inequity of real love – He loved us, so He gave himself up for us, even though, in return, we can offer him nothing. Loving is giving with no thought of getting. something you do “Let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Love is more than a feeling, more than an attraction, more than arousal or sentimentality. Love is expressed in what we do for one another. We can say we love our brother, but if we won’t visit him when he’s lonely or help him when he is troubled, there is no love. Love is an action. not a duty to be performed “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). Doing is not enough – it’s not enough to give to the poor, go to church twice each Sunday and read the Bible regularly if we are not doing this out of our love for God. A daughter can take her aging father to medical appointments, help him with his shopping and pop by regularly for a cup of coffee, but this, by itself, isn’t love – the very same tasks could be done by hired staff. Love is more than just a verb. A husband can play the part of a loving spouse – he can do all the right things, but love is more than just action, more than just duty. It is an attitude... Love is a feeling. not God “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Beatles got it backwards when they sang, “All you need is love.” All we need is God, and while God is indeed love, that doesn’t make the reverse true – love isn’t God. The Beatles aren’t the only ones to get it backwards though. Our society is in love with love – they insist it's the only way to bring meaning to our lives so it must be pursued no matter what the cost. Affairs, naturally, have become commonplace; if love is god, nothing should stand in the way of it, not vows, not spouses, not family. Instead of pursuing the God who is love, our society pursues love itself had has made an idol of it. But love is not God. from God “In this is love, not that we loved God, but the He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God commands us to love our neighbor, and it’s a command most of us find easy to do. Or at least easy to do with old Mrs. Todd, our next-door neighbor who bakes cookies for us every Thanksgiving. But this command isn’t as easy to obey with that neighbor two doors down, who always steals our parking spot. Or the guy right next door who leaves beer cans on our lawn. Love these guys? Maybe we would if they were only a bit more lovable. But of course, the love God is commanding here is of a more godly sort – the love that comes from Him. We need to humbly remember that we love, only because God loved us first. He, after all, didn’t love us because we had first in some way earned or prompted his love. No, He loved us first, sending his Son to die for us even while we were his enemies. And it is because He loved us first, that we can now love Him, and our neighbor. Love comes from God.

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.

AA
News
Tagged: featured, pro-life

University demands trigger warnings for pro-life display. But why?

“The event conducted just beyond this sign may contain triggering and/or sensitive material. Right to life and or Pro-life messages and imagery are some of the topics included within this event. If you feel triggered, please know that there are resources to support you…”

Welcome to the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV)’s Student Union Building. The above excerpt is the exact wording of signs that were taped to doors and walls near our “Value of Life art display” this February.

How did it come to this? Some context is required.

Several years ago, some Reformed students began a pro-life club called “UFV Life Link” at the UFV in Abbotsford, BC. It has had between two and two dozen members of diverse backgrounds, with current membership sitting at around a dozen. Our club goals are to initiate discussion, increase awareness, and facilitate learning about life issues. Last year, we planted 10,000 pink and blue flags on the campus green, representing the 100,000 abortions that happen every year in Canada. The event was successful, yet controversial: virtually everyone on campus saw the display, some asked questions, protestors were respectful and we garnered coverage (albeit critical) in the school paper.

However, some students were vehemently upset that we had been allowed to have such a provocative display in the center of the campus. They used words like “triggering,” “offensive,” and “upsetting.”

Fast forward one year and the university did not want a repeat. Apparently, bad press and student outrage unnerved the administration enough to drive them to seriously limit the scope of Life Link’s outreach. When Life Link proposed an art display, the university immediately demanded it be set up behind closed doors with “trigger warnings” at the entrance. We obliged – an art display behind closed doors is better than no art display at all, and we recognized that images can have an immense impact upon students, regardless of the university’s attempts to censor their viewing.

We didn’t see the trigger warnings until the day of the display and when we did we were staggered – both by the number of them and by their pernicious tone. Though the display itself was limited to an unimposing corner of the Student Union Building, all the entrances had warnings posted. Look at the pieces of art for yourself – you can see three examples with this post. There was nothing graphic. Meanwhile, this past September the university allowed a display about the persecution the Falun Gong face in China that had images of torture and organ harvesting. It was held with open doors and no trigger warnings.

This is not simply a debate over free speech (though it is that too). Rather, it is a debate about whether we are going to protect the basic rights of the weakest members of our society. If abortion is not ending a human life, there is no debate, and we would have no reason to stop abortions. However, there is truth in the pro-life message, and deep down, the other side knows it. That’s why they want the discussion far away from them; they don’t want to stumble upon it, or entertain discussion. The truth upsets them, and it does so because… confronting your own sins is always painful ordeal. To acknowledge your own support for a decades long crime as brutal as the mass killing of the most vulnerable would be unbearable. That’s why they want to hide the truth away.

We need to have this debate, but we can’t be consumed by hatred or frustration in propelling our message. We need to speak the truth in love and in a respectful manner. There are many people who suffer because of abortion, both distant and close to home. We often don’t know the context or the circumstances, and can therefore only endeavor to show the humanity of the unborn and to implore those who oppose us to delve deeper. As Christians, we cannot stop striving to initiate discussion – this debate is best done one-on-one in conversation, and there are countless resources to aid you in the discussion. Let’s shape our culture positively. Let’s not stay silent.


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