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Daily devotional

February 25 – Qoph: Reliance

“Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O LORD, according to your justice give me life.” – Psalm 119:149 Scripture reading: Psalm 119:145-152 With his enemies attacking, the psalmist cries out to God to answer him (145), to save him (146) and to grant him help (148). In return for deliverance, he promises obedience to God’s law. He doesn’t believe God will deliver him because of what he will do. Rather, he describes what has already been central in his life – a devotion to God, a love for His law and a desire to serve. In thankful covenant response, he has been continually meditating on God’s Word. Every day, he is deep in God’s Word well before dawn: “I rise before the dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (148,149). He is and always will be up and at it before the sun rises. Thus, the psalmist expresses confidence that the LORD will answer his cries willingly. First, he relies on God’s love and justice. “Hear my voice, according to your steadfast love; O LORD, according to your justice give me life” (149). According to His mercy and having sworn an oath by Himself, because there is nothing greater by which to swear, God will keep His word. Second, the psalmist relies on God’s nearness (150,151). Even when deep in enemy territory, even when the enemy taunts, “Where is your God, now?”, the psalmist depends on the truth that God is always near. Third, he relies on the LORD’s faithfulness (152). Enemies, powers, civilizations, come and go, rise and fall. But God is as dependable as the sun rising every morning. God’s covenant promises are absolutely reliable. Suggestions for prayer Call upon the Lord, on the basis of His promises, for the sake of Jesus Christ, to help you in your needs. Plead on His faithfulness and nearness, to grant you forgiveness of your sins and to guide you by the Holy Spirit in the renewal of your life.

This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. James Slaa is pastor of the Smithers Canadian Reformed Church in British Columbia, Canada.

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.

CD Review, Parenting

CD REVIEWS: Bach and Beethoven for kids (and adults)

C.S. Lewis once made mention of a man who did not like children. Now some of our dislikes are simply a matter of taste – whether your favorite ice cream is chocolate or vanilla says nothing about your character – but this man recognized that his disregard for little ones was wrong. There is a beauty in little children, a wonder about what God has done in making these tiny new people that everyone really should appreciate. If a man doesn't, it is because of something missing in the man. Lewis was making the point that there is such a thing as good and bad taste – all is not mere opinion. When it comes to classical music I'm like this man. I've never appreciated it, but I recognize this as a deficiency in myself. I should like it. After all, this is music that has stood that test of time. We play Beethoven and Bach's music centuries after it was first written; does anyone think the same will be done for Lady Gaga, Beyonce, or Justin Timberlake? Even those of us who don't like Bach know that in a real tangible way he is better than Beyonce. Since having kids I've hoped that my daughters' musical tastes will be better developed than their dad's. So I was very happy to come across these two CDs: Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Bach Comes to Call. Each is a dramatized account of the composer's life, sprinkled throughout with a liberal dose of their music. In Bach Comes to Call (47 min) Bach appears in modern times, under unexplained circumstances, to a girl who is having a hard time getting her piano homework done. The composer encourages young Elizabeth by telling her the story of his own childhood and musical triumphs. In Beethoven Lives Upstairs (46 min) we are introduced to a little boy who has the misfortune to live below Beethoven's apartment. Beethoven, it turns out, is demanding, short-tempered, and makes the strangest sounds as he paces in his room. The boy airs his complaints to an understanding uncle who teaches the young boy to empathize with this great composer, who hears wonderful music in his head, but who can no longer hear it with his ears. How very frustrating that must be! A couple cautions to note. First, there is a moment in Beethoven Lives Upstairs that might lead to a little tittering. The boy complains that Beethoven was laughed at by little children who, while peering through his window, saw he was composing while wearing no clothes at all! Not a big thing, but it might have been nice to leave that detail out. Second, my wife and I have listened to other CDs and DVDs in this "Classical Kids" series and have yet to find any others we would want to recommend, so don't assume they will all be good. These two, however, are excellent, and a great way to foster a love of classical music in kids, and maybe even their dads.

Movie Reviews

The Wild Brothers: 8-episode DVD series (+ free vlog series)

Reality / Documentary Each episode is 28-30 min / 2015-2016 Rating: 7/10 Everyone in our family enjoyed this DVD series, from our 2-year-old all the way up to mom and dad. At series start, the Wild family lives in the deep jungles of Papua, Indonesia, where dad is a missionary to the Wanu tribe. The four Wild brothers are the sort of boys who collect pets in their pockets, and who love to explore the jungle with a butterfly net in one hand and a slingshot in the other. In their first adventure, titled Welcome to our World, we get introduced to the family, and the boys introduce us to God’s creation. We go hunting with them, we’re introduced to their best friend, a native Indonesian child named Pu, and we get to watch their facial expressions as Pu introduces them to a local delicacy, raw echidna brain. A fun extra is the boys skinning a ten-foot python that even after it has been dead for an hour is still moving! The second in the series, called Jewels of the Jungle, follows the family as they go butterfly and moth-hunting. Our girls wanted to buy butterfly nets of their own after that one. Then in the third, Paradise Lost, the family is on vacation with another missionary couple, the Browns, and their three girls. My own girls love this series even though it is all about boys, but I think they appreciated how the girl-to-boy ratio was upped for this adventure. The two families head from the inland missions to on the coast of a beautiful island. From this home base they head out each day to explore reefs and bays and check out sea turtles, manta rays, and sea snakes and so many gorgeous fish. Some misadventures also occur, some painful, like mom getting stung by a jellyfish, and some hilarious, like the boys contending with a large snake (8-12 feet long) that decided to take up residence in their cabin roof. As they do in each episode, the boys bring a solid Christian perspective to their exploration: when they come across an old bone deposit – a burial grounds where skulls are haphazardly stacked by each other – they take the opportunity to talk about how despite the beauty of this world, it is still fallen, and waiting for restoration. There are five other episodes, and each is just as interesting as the next. The only disappointment is maybe in the way the series concludes. In the last two episodes they are make preparations to sail across the ocean in a giant canoe. It is fascinating, as they carve the boat out with local help, and point out parallels to what Noah had to do. But because this is real life, and because in real life sometimes plans get upended, the finale doesn't end on the triumphant note we might have wished for. Cautions There are no cautions to note. While it isn’t clear what denominational background the family is from, the Christian reflections the boys and their parents share with viewers are thoughtful and solid. In one episode a brief shot of some human skulls is seen, and an encounter with a snake in the extra features of one episode was just a tiny bit scary for my little ones. That said, my girls, at the time 2 though 6, enjoyed this immensely – that little bit of tension didn't scare them away! Conclusion The Wild Brothers are very adventurous boys, the sort who play with bugs, and even eat the odd one now and again...at least when they are properly cooked! And they are very godly boys too, very aware of how God makes Himself evident in the creation all around us. And while they are boys, this was exciting for me girls too – I don't know that they fully appreciate bugs yet, but this did move them in that direction. I'd recommend this as great viewing for families with young kids from 10 and under. Mom and dad will enjoy it too, but there might not be enough action for the teenagers. You can buy the series on DVD or via download at AnswersInGenesis.org and as DVDs at Amazon. The trailer below is for the first episode, Welcome to our World. Addendum: free vlog series The Wild Brothers also now have a free vlog series, called "Highlands to Island" that you can find here. While you should watch the first episode, my daughters and I found the later episodes, from maybe 8 onward (there are 30 so far) more interesting than the first few. The vlog isn't quite the DVD series, but until new DVDs come out, this sure is a nice way to reconnect with this wonderful missionary family. https://assets.answersingenesis.org/vid/prod/etc/trailer/30-9-507_wild-brothers-1-trailer.mp4

Economics

Work is Worship

Done right, it is an expression of God’s character and beauty

****

There we sat under the starry skies, talking faith, family, fun and business. A familiar space. Like many of you, I get to enjoy some nice campfire-convos each summer. But this particular night challenged me. It didn’t take long for the business conversation of this committed Christ-follower and marketplace leader to leave me saddened. “We’ve tried investing in people for years, even hired consultants to help us! At the end of the day, nothing works. We’ve just resigned ourselves that there’s only one reason we’re in business: to make money. At the root of it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Similarly, a Christian business owner recently told me the purpose of his business was to simply retire with a healthy nest egg so that he didn’t have to worry. It’s a familiar business ploy by the great Deceiver.

Skewed view

See, many Christians hold a decidedly skewed image of work. Some view it simply as a curse post-Genesis 3. Others make a false distinction between what they perceive as the sacred (God), and the secular (everything else), separating Sunday’s worship from Monday’s work.

The problem with these is that these views of work always disappoint. They force us to view God as an evil taskmaster and you just have to buck-up because “that’s your lot in life.” Or, when my identity is not a reflection of God’s character and design, that’s because I’m choosing to run parts of my life on my own, thank you very much.

Both these approaches to work will leave you banging your head against the wall – we’re hungry for something more, because we’ve left God out of the picture.

Work is a gift

Work is God’s gift to us. It’s not a result of the fall into sin. In giving Adam and Eve the job of cultivating and caring for the garden, He not only made them the first landscapers, He designed their DNA so that whatever they put their head, heart and hands to is a form of worship. The same is true for us. Made in His image, vocation is an extension of God’s work of maintaining and providing for His creation, bringing Him glory and enjoying Him.

Hundreds of times in the Bible the Hebrew word “avodah” is used to mean both “to work” and “to worship.” Our work is meant to serve God’s purposes more than our own, which prevents us from seeing work as a means to stock up our coffers, set ourselves up for retirement, or just plod away ‘cause it’s a necessary burden.

Simply put, work is worship. The Gospel actually gives us new lenses to see work through: we actually work for God Himself! Consider Eph. 6:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people…”

Now there’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning!

Why does it matter?

Martin Luther said that you can milk cows to the glory of God. Why? It’s your attitude that says, “God I’m doing it for you.” So whether you’re cutting flagstone or someone’s hair today, your handiwork, even with imperfection, is for God’s glory. Your and my work is an expression of His creativity, because we’re made in His image. That’s a calling. That’s worship!

So why does having the right understanding of work matter? Because it is only when we understand it rightly that we can best use it to:

  1. GIVE GOD THE GLORY: a response of gratitude for what He did for us
  2. REFLECT HIS CHARACTER: made in His image, we get to display this to others
  3. SERVE PEOPLE: we are conduits for God’s grace and kingdom to extend
  4. GIVE: we earn so we can to give to others
  5. MEET OUR NEEDS AND INVEST OUR TALENTS: by exercising God-given gifts He provides for us

So, the next time you arrive in your office, on the plant floor or at your client’s site, remember who you are, and then consider what you are doing. Your spiritual life is being expressed through your work. Your work is worship. It’s life changing.

Col. 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” It’s my prayer that you will see your work as significant and view that significance in the light of God’s favor and plan. We are created to intimately know God, glorify him and enjoy Him forever. Let’s do that in our work!

Deliberate application:

  1. How does seeing work as a form of worship change my company’s purpose and values?
  2. If I begin doing everything “as though I’m working for the Lord and not for people” (myself or others), how would that change the way I work?
  3. Because God loves business and the marketplace, and because we are called to imitate God (Eph. 5:1) let’s consider, how would Jesus do my job? Which people would He serve? What would be His vision or S.M.A.R.T (or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time) goals?
  4. When we finish a job, can we say, “Thank you Father, for making me for this purpose”?

Darren Bosch is a partner at DeliberateU, a group offering business leadership mentoring for Christian business owners in their workplace, families and communities, with the goal of increasing their capacity to grow in both faith and business effectiveness. Their conviction is that God uniquely uses the marketplace to extend His kingdom purpose – to serve others while growing in faith, hope and love. You can learn more at DeliberateU.com where this article first appeared.


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