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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Christian education

Learning like an adult

When school is done your education isn't

*****

Students sometimes talk of graduation as being set free. We might be able to empathize, even as this prison-break analogy isn’t that complimentary to the “prison guards” who have been teaching you these last 12 years. But let’s run with that idea for a moment. If graduation means freedom, what will you now be free to do? You’ll be free to never open a book again – you won’t have to read again if you don’t want to. But we all should want to. The freedom a graduate has is not a freedom to avoid, but a freedom to take on. It is a freedom to be able to direct your ongoing education wherever you want it to go. So, instead of a prison-break analogy, it’d be better to compare your education up to this point as being like a car ride. Early on, you were in a booster seat in the back, a little kid along for the ride, going wherever others decided to take you. God gifted you with some great guides so you’ve been taken to some fantastic destinations. But in these early years where you were going was decided mostly for you. As you got older, you started switching seats in the vehicle, moving up towards that front row. More recently, you’ve gotten to practice steering and choosing your own roads, though still with some adult supervision. Finally, when you graduate you’re going to be able to slip into the driver’s seat where you will have the freedom to go where you want to go. And along with that freedom will come the responsibility to make good decisions, make good time, and make sure you actually get where you want to go. To push the analogy, when you graduate and slip into that driver’s seat you will also be free to pull over, shut off the car, and put the whole thing up on blocks. You can make the decision to never learn again. But why would you? There’s a world out there to explore, contend with, and conquer, all to the glory of God. It is our calling and our privilege to go out and investigate sunrises, caterpillars, hummingbirds, craft beers, and whether there really is a better ice cream flavor than peanut butter chocolate. Out in the world some might think that once they’ve graduated they can sit back, relax, take a long snooze, and be done with learning forever. But not God’s people. We know this is only the beginning and we can’t wait to get out there. So what we want to look at is how to learn like an adult; we want to look at what it takes to be a life long learner. And we’ll do so by hitting three points:

1) Why we should be life-long learners 2) The qualities of a life-long learner 3) How to learn on your own

WHY WE SHOULD ALL BE LIFE LONG LEARNERS When we’re setting out to do something, it’s always helpful to know the why behind the what. So why exactly should we all be life long learners? 1. Because God calls us to it As David Mathis notes, “Teaching and learning are at the very heart of our faith. To be a ‘disciple’ means to be a ‘learner.’” We serve an infinite God who invites us to know Him better (2 Peter 3:18) through His Creation and through His Word. Because He is infinite, we’re never going run out of glories to uncover, and depths to dig into. But not all of us enjoyed the classroom setting so do we have to be bookworms and academic sorts to learn more about God? Well, reading one book is an absolute must. God has revealed Himself in His Word, and if we refuse to open the Bible, then we’re showing we’re really not that interested in Him. But that doesn’t mean to be Christian you have to have been the sort who got straight A’s in all your. God promises to reveal Himself to any and all who seek Him (Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:13, Is 55:6). In Psalm 32:8 the Lord promises: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” God is for everyone, no matter our grades. 2. To prep ourselves for the challenges ahead In Proverbs God tells us that instruction is more valuable than silver, knowledge better than choice gold, wisdom better than jewels (8:10-11). And in contrast he tells us that those who “despise wisdom and instruction” are fools (1:7). One reason we want to be life-long learners is because we’re going to be faced with a lifetime of challenges. We can take them on all on our own, or if we’re smart, we can ask for help. God gave us His Word, and He gave us brothers and sisters – both those alive today, and others who have long since passed on, but who can be consulted via the books they wrote – who we can ask for guidance. The devil has a lot of tricks, but he always recycling old ones, so when we “talk” with folks who have gone before, we can learn from them how they took on challenges an increasingly hostile government, or what advice they gave on leading your family in devotions, or what passages of the Bible they most often turned to for encouragement. If you’re looking to learn then you can benefit from the lifetime of experience your parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, older siblings, elders and godly neighbors have lived and are ready to offer. You can learn from them, imitating them in their godliness, and also save yourself some pain by learning from their mistakes…instead of having to make all the same ones yourself. 3. To help and instruct others Do you feel ready to teach your children how to pray? Do you know how to share with others the hope that is in? Are you ready to be an elder and go on home visits counseling younger couples on marital difficulties? Can you advise your congregation’s younger women how they can better love their husbands? If you’re asked, “Why should I be a Christians?” or “Why do you believe the Bible” or “Why do Christians hate homosexuals?” do you have a ready answer? Do you know how often and for what you should spank an errant child? Have you figured out how much to save for retirement? There’s a lot to know so what a wonderful blessing it is when you’re younger that you have an older generation you can turn to for advice and instruction. But not too long from now, and maybe its already happening now, you’ll have people looking to you for advice. Maybe right now you can still rely on the older generation to do some heavy lifting, leading the fight, and all that. But at some point you are going to have to replace your parents. At some point you’re going to be the older generation. And wisdom doesn’t just come with grey hair. If you’re going to be a help to anyone, if you’re going to be a leader for your family, and in your church, you need to be learning how to do so now. QUALITIES OF A LIFE LONG LEARNER As we set out to become life-long learners, what sort of qualities should we be encouraging and developing in ourselves? 1. Go to the ant One quality to start with is to ant-like. In the book of Proverbs two bad guys pop up repeatedly: the fool and the sluggard. The difference between the two comes down to how active they are: the fool mocks and scoffs God’s law; if God says to do one thing, then the fool does the very opposite. Sometimes we can be troublemakers like this, but the more probable temptation for us is probably the sluggardly tendency. The sluggard doesn’t cause much trouble because he doesn’t do much of anything at all. His days are filled with Netflix binges, and long hours with his phone, whether that’s on Instagram or Snapchat, or endlessly checking the latest sports scores. In Proverbs 6 Solomon tells this sluggard sort to “go to the ant” for inspiration and see how “it has no commander, no overseer or ruler” and yet there it is working hard. Nobody is telling it what to do. It’s just going out and doing it all on its own initiative. This same advice is repeated other ways in Proverbs – in 3:3 we’re told to actively tie mercy and truth around our necks and write them on a tablet in our heart. Being ant-like means being self-directed and actively choosing to do what’s right.A life-long learner won’t drift, won’t make dents in the couch. He’ll decide what destination he’s heading for, and then plot out the steps it will take to get there from here. 2. Humble enough to seek correction A life long learner also needs to be humble. In Proverbs, Solomon makes this point repeatedly: the wise love correction, and the fool hates it. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he hates reproof is stupid – 12:1 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence – 15:32 Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning 9:9 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction – 1:7 Again and again, we’re told, wise/righteous sorts love correct and fools hate it. So which are you? Well, seeing as we’re still this side of heaven, all of us are a mix, maybe really good at taking feedback in one area, and in another, we just don’t want to hear what others have to say. But if you look at something you’re really good at, it’s like this is an area where you welcomed feedback. I just found out that one of my uncles who has been playing organ all his life just signed up for organ lessons again. He’s still looking for correction and instruction because he wants to get better. I make my living as a writer, and I think my English teachers must have still gets the giggles every time they get another issue of the magazine – in high school I didn’t have obvious natural talents in wordsmithery. But I’ve gotten good at what I do precisely because this is an area I have frequently sought, and most often gratefully received correction. If you want to get good at something, you need to be humble. It gets harder to take correction when we tie our own personal worth into something. I’ve coached kids at basketball, and if a kid really identified as being a basketball player, that sometimes made it harder for them to take feedback from their coach – correction was taken as an attack on their self-worth. I know how that feels. Parenting is one of the bigger challenges I face, and when one of my kids publicly misbehaves, that is humbling, because then everyone can see I’m not doing the greatest job here – I want them to believe I’m a good parent, and I feel embarrassed when I get revealed as having some troubles. But I’m not going to get better if I don’t go looking for help. I am not a perfect parent, but I can be a godly one, trying, failing, repenting, and then assured of forgiveness, trying again. A life long learner needs to be humble enough to seek and appreciate correction. 3. The “Wow!” factor A life long learner will also foster their sense of awe. As kids, we’d see a dandelion and in delight pluck it, blow, and watch all the white parachutes float up and away. As adults we see a dandelion and we just wonder where we’ve put the weed-killer. For many adults, the only time that child-like sense of wonder kicks back in is when a baby is born: all those tiny toes and fingers wriggling gets our jaw to drop. But isn’t an adult every bit as miraculous as a baby? And yet, somehow we’ve become blind to walking in amongst all these miracles. In Notes from the Tilt-A-WhirlNate Wilson reminds us of what we’re overlooking. Our world, he writes, is the kind of place

“…where water in the sky turns into beautifully symmetrical crystal flakes sculpted by artists unable to stop themselves (in both design and quantity). The kind of place with tiny, powerfully jawed mites assigned to the carpets to eat my dead skin as it flakes off. The kind with sharks, and nose leeches, and slithery parasitic things (with barbs) that will swim up you like a urinary catheter if only you oblige by peeing in a South American river. The kind with people who kill and people who love and people who do both. The kind with people who think water from the Ganges is good for them and people who think eating the heart of their enemy will ward off death, and others who think they can cure their own failing brains if only they harvest enough uncommitted cells from human young. This work is beautiful but badly broken. St. Paul said that it groans, but I love it even as its groaning….I love the world as it is because I love what it will be.”

If we’re not amazed, it’s only because we’re not paying attention. So let’s start. LEARNING ON OUR OWN So a life-long learner will appreciate wonder, appreciate correction, and appreciate ants too. That’s why we should be life long learners, and what a life long learner should look like. But how do we actually go about learning on our own? Here are three suggestions. 1. Pick good teachers A life long learner has to pick good teachers. I remember reading, some years back, about a pastor’s wife who wanted to find out what the Bible said about homosexuality. She began her study by reading everything she could by “Christian” homosexuals – for two years she read only what they wrote on the topic, and it was only afterward that she started reading anything by orthodox Christians. B y then it was too late; she wasn’t willing to hear what the Bible really said. As Solomon explains in Proverbs “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (13:20) and “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge” (14:7). Or to put it more colloquially, “You are what you eat.” After that steady diet of trash, she’d made herself incapable of appreciating solid food. When you’re at a Christian school your teachers have largely been chosen for you, but even then, with all the information coming at you from your phone, you make some choices about what sort of teachers you’ll have. So what kind of a diet are you ingesting? Do you have good godly men and women providing insight? Or are you getting a steady diet of whatever it is the world is churning out? If you want to find some good authors and bloggers and pastors to read and listen to, then the best place to start your search is by asking the good teachers you already have – your parents and relatives, your elders and pastor, Christian school teachers – who they would recommend. I’ve included my own list at the end and one key point to remember is that, even with good teachers, they all have their own shortcomings and blind spots. We celebrate the wisdom of Luther every year again on October 31, but we don’t appreciate all he said, especially about the Jews. John Piper is a great resource, but we differ with him on baptism. C.S. Lewis had a real way with words, but he also believed in purgatory. So you, as a learner, still have to assess and weigh what your teachers say – even your good and godly teachers – up against God’s Word. You have to use discernment even with them. 2. Ask good questions And that brings us to point two. To be a good life-long learner you have to ask good questions. Proverbs 18:17 says: “The one who states his case first seems right, until another comes and examines him.” To be able to discern fact from fiction, the opportunity for a good cross-examination can be key – we want to hear from both sides. The questions I ask most often are some version of these two: how can God be glorified in this area? how is the devil active in this area? In whatever we do, we want to learn how it can give glory to God. Whether that’s our recreational soccer team, or a philosophy class at university, or our part-time fast food restaurant job, the more time and energy we’re devoting to an activity, the more thought and effort we should give to learning how we can, here too, worship God with our efforts. The follow-up question is, how is the devil is active in this area too? If we’re heavily involved in our church it might not even seem like we’re in the middle of a spiritual war. But God tells us different. He says the devil is prowling “around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). So part of being a life-long learner is learning to see through the devil’s attacks. What temptation are you being confronted with here, what ideas are being pushed at you? It could be as simple as the temptation to laze off when the boss’s back is turned, but whatever it is, it’s important to remember that all of life is filled with opportunities for worship. And we need to remember, too, that the devil is trying to distract and intimidate us from doing so. 3. Read, read, read the Bible! Finally, the most important part of being a life-long learner is diving deeply and regularly into God’s Word. In preparing for this talk I was struck by how much the Bible had to say on the topic and I was only scratching at the surface. The Bible tells us about God, about the purpose behind His creation, and about our own purpose too. If we were to return to our driving analogy one last time, we could compare the Bible to our GPS system. This is our map, and if we’re going to be setting out on our journey as life-long learners, then the smartest thing we can do is look to it for guidance. QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION 1. What are some other tips and strategies to help us learn on our own? 2. What other qualities should life-long learners foster in themselves? 3. In Ecclesiastes 12:12b we read the warning: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” and in 2 Tim 3:7 we’re told that it is possible to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Is there a case to be made then, that we should not be life long learners? Why not? Recommended resources In keeping with the theme of threes, three of each…. Podcasts Albert Mohler’s The Briefing The World And Everything In It CrossPolitic                                         Websites ReformedPerspective.ca/resources World.wnd.org Creation.com Authors RC Sproul Edward T. Welch Nancy Pearcey Specific books (for more recommendations see ReallyGoodReads.com) Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson Can I smoke pot? by Tom Breeden and Mark L. Ward Jr. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Church history

When the Word of God is not preached

Half-truths, little tidbits of information used for one's own interpretation and advantage, can be harmful, even damnable. Zeal without knowledge can be destructive, extremely destructive. Indeed, this type of zeal can become the devil's toy.

*****

More than 250 years ago, a little girl was born in the parish of Ottery St. Mary, in the county of Devon in the west of England. The month was April and the year was 1750. Joanna Southcott, for so the girl-child was baptized, grew up in rather poor conditions. Her father, William Southcott, sprang from rich stock, but circumstances had reduced him from living on a manor to working a small dairy farm. A Church of England member, by all accounts, he read the Bible to his family. As she grew older Joanna was taught to help out on the farm, even running it for a time when her father was ill. She was capable girl.

Eventually Joanna left home to begin a career. Employed by an upholsterer in Exeter, she learned how to cut cloth, choose fabric, work with trims and sew welted edges. It was during this time that she became engaged to a young man by the name of Noah Bishop. Noah was a footman, whose duties at his place of employment included admitting guests and waiting at table. They seemed a well-matched couple. However, after a rather short courtship, Joanna suddenly broke off the engagement. The reason she gave her fiancé was rather strange - she let him know that an angel had appeared to her one night telling her that she must not allow her body to be defiled by a man. Poor Noah!! His intentions towards Joanna had been honorable. He concluded that she was deranged!

During Joanna's stint of employment with the upholsterer, a revivalist Methodist preacher visited the area. Notoriously amoral, he openly lived with a mistress and flirted freely with the opposite sex. Yet he was allowed in the pulpit, preaching loudly about sin and damnation. Proud and boastful of his salvation status, he openly thanked God for not making him like the other “sinners” in the congregation. All Joanna's fellow workers were afraid of him. Joanna was not. She saw through the man and was amazed that his hoax was accepted.

Leaving the employ of the upholsterer after breaking her engagement, Joanna began work as a domestic servant in Exeter. According to a later portrait drawing of her by artist and engraver William Sharp (1749-1824), we can conclude that Joanna was probably a sweet and pretty-looking girl in her younger years, becoming more buxom and well upholstered around the waist in middle age.

A woman in need of friends

Although she had been raised in the Church of England, Joanna joined the Wesleyans in 1792. Persuading others that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme. She also began to teach, preach (Had she never been taught regarding I Tim. 2:12?) and prophesy. A number of her predictions seemed to come about. Many of these “prophecies” referred to events that occurred during her lifetime. For example, she is credited with having foretold the famine of 1795, the bad harvest of 1797, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the deaths of several more or less well-known persons.

Was Joanna a loner? She surely needed Christian companions who loved her enough to caution her. Her feet and her mouth were steering her towards greater and greater heresy. The worst heresy was that she claimed to be the woman mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6. Quite a profession! She openly designated herself a prophetess whom God had divinely appointed to be the mother of the Messiah. (What happened to Isaiah 7:14? Did she not know the Christ Child had already been born?) Joanna must have been without Christian friends. Friends will caution you; friends will reprove you; friends will point you to the truth of the Gospel fulfilled; and friends will tell you of the hope of heaven and the danger of hell if you do not turn from error.

Joanna's followers were marked by peculiarity of dress, which resembled that of Quakers, the men sporting long beards. With thousands of adherents, among whom were some clergy, Joanna also began making and selling printed seals which supposedly guaranteed the buyer entry into paradise after the Apocalypse. (Even the familiar John 3:16-18 seems to have been lost on Joanna and her supporters.) Seating, it was said, was limited to 144,000, so buy seals while you can. Exorbitant prices were charged. Joanna, denying that she was profiting from the sale of these “indulgences,” continued to manufacture them. Some six or seven thousand were sold and a number of them are still in existence. They are small pieces of paper with a circle drawn in the middle. In this circle are written words which imply that the buyer is saved. Every one of these seals was signed by Joanna Southcott.

In addition to teaching and lecturing, Joanna also wrote some thirty or so books which were published during her lifetime. The manuscripts, many of which are written in different handwritings, are still available, pointing to the employment of an assistant.

Pregnant at 63?

In 1813, Joanna now being 63 years old, and living with two lady companions, began to take on the appearance of a pregnant woman. Her stomach grew rounder and rounder, and she announced to her followers that she was now about to become the mother of the promised Child spoken of in Revelation 12. She asserted that redemption would be completed in herself. (What happened to Hebrews 9:12?) She would bruise the serpent's head and the immediate aim of her life was to destroy the devil.

Possibly due to a tumor growing within her abdomen, Joanna presented herself to the public as one shortly to give birth. Those who believed what she spouted, waxed enthusiastic. Holding collections, they sent a delegation to an expensive cabinet-maker and bought a cradle - a fashionable cradle, richly ornamented and decorated. They set this up in a specially prepared place and began to collect accessories. Baby blankets, pillows, linens and embroidered sheets began to accumulate. It was, after all, for a miraculous child and who would not want to hail this baby with luxury and comfort!

The excitement over this apparent pregnancy and upcoming birth was palpable among the population, especially in the London area. The number of eager followers were said to have numbered around 100,000. Most of them were illiterate and rather credulous, but some were middle-class and clergy. They all fully believed the claptrap and nonsense. (Where there is no prophetic vision people cast off restraint - Proverbs 29:18.) One pastor even offered to resign from his diocese if the “Holy Joanna,” as he called her, failed to give birth to the Messiah.

The days and months passed. No baby was born. In August of 1814, a physician by the name of Dr. Reece, examined Joanna, to “ascertain the probability of her being in a state of pregnancy, as then given out.” He affirmed that she was indeed with child. Other doctors were called in, reputable medical men, and they, as well, concluded that she was pregnant. More weeks passed and Joanna herself, despite her grand delusions, became uncomfortable with her bulky stomach. She hesitatingly allowed that she might have been deceived by some spirit, either good or evil. Dead but still causing problems As the year of 1814 drew to a close, Joanna Southcott died. She died surrounded by a few of her ill-informed disciples, and she died without giving birth. She had been barren. Prior to her death another surgeon had been called in by Dr. Reece and he had, without any uncertainty, declared that Joanna was not in the family way, that she was ill, and that he did not foresee any hope of her recovery. Before her death at the end of December 1814, she had been confined to bed for ten weeks. Dr. Reece, who was in attendance during her last hours, immediately after Joanna died, wrote to the editor of the Sunday Monitor:

“Agreeable to your request, I send a messenger to acquaint you, that Joanna Southcott died this morning precisely at 4 a.m. The believers in her mission, supposing that the vital functions are only suspended for a few days, will not permit me to open the body until some symptom appears, which may destroy all hopes of resuscitation."

Holding on to the hope that Joanna would resurrect, something she had predicted, her followers wrapped her body in warm blankets, placed hot water bottles at her feet, and kept the room warm. Crowds assembled around the house, hoping and waiting for her to rise from the dead. However, it was all to no avail and her body began to putrify. Even as decomposition set in, there were those who swore not to shave their beards until Joanna's resurrection. Likely a great many men with very snarled and lengthy beards were consigned to the grave in the years that followed. A later autopsy showed that Joanna Southcott had suffered from dropsy which had killed her. She was buried in Marylebone cemetery on January 2, 1815. Laid into her coffin, she was interred under a fictitious name. The authorities feared that if they did not do this, grave robbers might want to open the tomb, ransack her remains, and profit by the sale of her bones. Prior to her death Joanna had dictated a will in which she professed to have lied, professed to have been prompted by the devil. In this document she insisted that after her death, the cradle and all things with it, should be returned to the people who gave them. The 1568 Bishops' Bible reads Proverbs 29:18 in this way:

When the worde of God is not preached, the people perishe: but well is hym that kepeth the lawe.

In twenty-first century English language this translates freely as:

When the Word of God is neglected, ignored or not preached properly, the people will perish: but discerning people who hear the Word of God and obey it, are blessed.

Again, where God's Word is not preached, people become fools, believing anyone and everything. Strange and ludicrous as Joanna's story is, many Joanna's have walked the earth in the past and are still walking it. A William Davies (1833-1906), leader of a Latter Day Saint schismatic group, taught his followers that one of his children was the reincarnated Jesus. Lou de Palingboer (1898-1968), founder of a religious movement in Holland, claimed to be “the resurrected body of Jesus.” And a couple of years ago, a parish in the Church of Sweden, tweeted out that Greta Thunberg, teenage climate activist, was an appointed successor to Jesus Christ. Pregnant with self-deception and self-importance, such people give birth to the wind and reap the whirlwind. Make sure you are able to recognize such frauds. Make it your 2020 resolution to become better acquainted with God's Word and to read it faithfully each day!

This article has been corrected to note that it was a parish in the Church of Sweden and not the Church of Sweden itself that tweeted “Announcement! Jesus of Nazareth has now appointed one of his successors, Greta Thunberg.”

Science - Creation/Evolution

What you need to know to survive and thrive in your secular science class

If you're heading into a secular university or high school science course, and you're a little intimidated, here's something to remember. It is not just the Bible-believing Christians who base their interpretations of nature on their worldview. So do secular scientists. However, these two groups' worldviews, and their assumptions used in interpreting nature, couldn't be more different. Two different starting assumptions The Christian scientist's most obvious assumption is that God’s work and character are evident in nature. Meanwhile, mainstream scientists assume that God will never be revealed in nature, but only matter and processes. One thing that cannot be overemphasized is how important it is to identify the assumptions used to draw conclusions from a given set of observations. The thing about assumptions is that they are based on the worldview of the expert. On this topic, philosopher of science, David Berlinski remarks in his book, The Devil's Delusion:

“Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs…”

The whole point is that there are no objective scientists. Everyone has starting assumptions. The Christian starting point The Christian naturally confesses that God exists, that He is omnipotent and omniscient and has communicated with us. Nature is God’s handiwork. Thus the Christian confesses that we see testimony to God’s work and character when we look at nature. For example, we read in Psalms 19:1-3:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”

The apostle Paul points out the importance of this revelation from nature when he quotes the above passage. Thus he writes in Romans 10:17-18:

“So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

We see God’s works revealed in nature. The secular foundation The secular position contrasts sharply with the Christian view. Mainstream scientists maintain that natural explanations can be found for everything. It isn't just that they don't see evidence of the supernatural, but rather that, from the start, they presume no supernatural input will ever be evident. Different questions lead to different answers With different expectations on the part of secular individuals and some Christians, there is a big difference in the questions asked of natural systems and the answers obtained. For example, suppose that somebody showed you a photograph of an unfamiliar object (for example an alga). If you were to ask that person “How did you make that?” the only possible response would be some sort of process. However, if you were instead to ask “Did you make that?” then the person has the opportunity to reply that he did not make the object, that it is in fact an alga floating in lakes in the summer. Similarly, in our study of nature, it matters what questions we ask. If a scientist asks “How did life come about spontaneously?” Then the only possible answer is a process. They have assumed it must have happened spontaneously, and aren't open to any other explanation. However, if the same scientists were to ask “Could life come about spontaneously?” he now has opened up an opportunity to examine what cells are like and what biochemical processes in cells are like. And then the evidence will show him that life could not have come about spontaneously. He will be able to reach a conclusion he could not have seen if he didn't ask the right sort of question. The answers obtained from the study of nature depend upon what questions are asked. Mainstream science has blinded itself The mainstream scientist approaches the study of nature with a specific agenda. Nature is to be interpreted only in terms of matter, energy, and natural processes, even if the results look ridiculous. A prominent geneticist, Richard Lewontin actually stated this very clearly. In a famous review of a book by Carl Sagan, Dr. Lewontin wrote:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science…. because we have an a priori commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (New York Review of Books January 9, 1997).

What Dr. Lewontin said, was that scientists bias their studies so that only natural explanations will ever be obtained. Secular scientists may restrict what explanations about nature qualify for the term "science" but they cannot at the same time claim that what they are dealing with is truth. For example philosopher of science Del Ratzsch from Calvin College pointed out in 1996 that:

“If nature is not a closed, naturalistic system – that is, if reality does not respect the naturalists’ edict – then the science built around that edict cannot be credited a priori with getting at truth, being self-corrective or anything of the sort.” (The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate. InterVarsity Press. p. 167).

Thus secular scientists, with their expectations of never seeing God in nature, have confined themselves to mechanistic explanations and interpretations. As Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… materialists have no viable choice but to view the world through evolutionary spectacles of some sort” (p. 197). And concerning the creationists, Dr. Ratzsch remarks:

“… creationists who accept the authority of Scripture and take it to be relevant to issues also will have unique input into their view of the cosmos, its origin and its workings. And there is nothing inherently irrational merely in the holding of such views — at least not on any definition of rational that can plausibly claim to be normative. Some critics will, of course, refuse to grant the honorific title science to the results of such views, but that is at best a mere semantic nicety. If the aim is genuine truth, the mere fact that a system purporting to display that truth does not meet the conditions of some stipulative worldview-laden definition of the term science can hardly carry serious weight” (p. 197).

What better statement could there be to the effect that no one should be intimidated by the pronouncements of mainstream science? Any scientist who claims that science proves that man has descended from chimps has based his conclusion on a biased study of the issues in that it presumes a materialistic worldview. Conservative Christians do not need to be intimidated by such conclusions. Conclusion The nature of the materialistic assumptions and objectives of mainstream science must not discourage Christians from studying science. It is very important to understand how the information content and irreducible complexity of the living cell (among other issues), can really only be understood in terms of creation by a supernatural mind. There are many who want their children to appreciate this and to be able to resist the appeal of mainstream science.

Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June 2015 issue of "Creation Science Dialogue," (Create.ab.ca) where it appeared under the title "Surviving advanced courses in Science." It is reprinted here with permission.

Science - General

Don’t push Dad into the pond (and don’t tell Mom about the bugs!)

An aquarium-based science experiment for the whole family

*****

Summer is here and there are any number of projects in which the whole family can participate. Of course, some are more fun that others – painting the fence, for example, will not rank high on anyone’s list. This is especially so if the junior members of the establishment spill the paint, or elect to decorate the family car with it.

However, almost everyone enjoys splashing about in water, so why not consider an expedition to a pond in your area to start off your own family aquarium? Be warned: some individuals may get a little wet while chasing aquatic insects with a bucket or net. And dad may have to venture the farthest out to catch some particularly elusive creature. But children, just remember that if you want the project to be a happy experience, don’t push your Daddy into the pond! If anyone gets pneumonia, the project will definitely not be judged a success!

Step 1 – set up the aquarium

The first thing to do is acquire an aquarium. It doesn’t need to be too big, and you can probably find something used on Kijiji or Craigslist for $50.

The aquarium should be placed in a window where it will receive moderate light, or it should be equipped with a fluorescent light. Place about an inch of gravel in the bottom – soil works too, but it is messier.

Next some structure should be provided in the form of a few larger stones, a rock, sea shells, or pieces of waterlogged wood. Don’t overdo the structure. Only a small proportion of the volume and at most a quarter of the bottom area should be occupied by solid objects. These are important because they provide hiding places for various animals and surfaces on which to grow. Living aquatic plants also provide structure.

Several inches of water may then be added. City water contains chlorine, which isn’t good for our aquatic life so if you are using it, be sure to leave it out to sit for several days to allow the chlorine to escape. Once living creatures are in the aquarium, then any new city tap water you add (to make up for whatever evaporates) must be boiled and thoroughly cooled first, in order to remove the chlorine.

Step 2 – just add life!

The aquarium is now ready for the addition of pond water with its contained organisms. The objective is to set up a self-perpetuating ecosystem (physical environment with its contained living creatures).

Ideally all you will need to add once the system is established is water and light. Plants use the light to combine water, dissolved carbon dioxide, and mineral nutrients into food for the rest of the organisms in the aquarium. Moreover, plants in the light release oxygen into the water. This is essential if the aquatic animals are to stay healthy.

Gathering your aquatic animals is a particularly fun part.

Before setting out for the pond, make sure that mom and dad and all the offspring are equipped with rubber boots and buckets or large jars all with tops. Scoop nets are optional. The best procedure is to fill the bucket with pond water and some submerged pond weeds. You will acquire many pond creatures simply by collecting water and weeds. A few small pieces of decaying vegetation are good to collect too. These will have other organisms growing on them and, besides the dead material will provide for scavengers.

However, don’t collect very much of this “nonvigorous” (i.e. decaying) plant material because too much decay will result in all the oxygen being used up. And without oxygen many animals will die and soon the whole aquarium will smell “swampy,” releasing hydrogen sulfide gas and methane into the atmosphere. At this point some mothers might banish the whole system right out of the house!

Step 3 – let’s find out what we have

Once the aquarium is filled with water and pond weeds, then you and your children can peer into the water to discover what you have collected. Some creatures last only a few days, others last almost indefinitely.

Among the animals in your fresh water ecosystem, some will be easy to see, others hard to see because they are small or because they hide. Some will be so small they’ll only be visible with a microscope. While all have fascinating life stories we will discuss only easy-to-see animals. Here are your possible cast of characters. 

Gammarus

In our family the favorite pond inhabitants are the amphipods or scuds known by the Latin name Gammarus. These delightful creatures do well in an aquarium. They swim through the water in a conspicuous way so that it is easy to show doubters that indeed there are animals present.

Gammarus look much like marine shrimp. Their bodies are protected by a hard exterior skeleton or surface made of chitin. That is a hard, not easily decomposed material like our hair and fingernails. The body is divided into numerous sections and each segment bears a pair of legs. There are five different kinds of legs. Some have gills attached. The legs are used for swimming, for grasping food, and for obtaining adequate oxygen.

These animals swoop through shallow water in semicircular arcs. They feed on bacteria, algae, and decaying plant and animal material. Mostly they confine their activities to within 20 cm of the bottom sediments. When collected in the summer Gammarus are at most one-and-one-half centimeters long. They continue to grow, however, as long as they live. By March, Gammarus which were collected the previous summer are three cm long (approximately twice as long as their maximum size in nature). Few will survive beyond April. Outside, in the Canadian climate, they would have died with the frosts of the fall.

I add small pieces of boiled and cooled lettuce to the aquarium when the food supply for Gammarus seems low. If these “shrimp” are observed swimming round and round the aquarium, it is a safe bet that they are short of food. They seem to have a chemical sense for detecting food. When lettuce is placed into the water, they circle closer and closer. One individual may find the lettuce within seconds, eight or more within three minutes.

As far as reproduction is concerned, in nature this proceeds throughout the summer. Both sexes are found in the population. The females carry their eggs and developing young in a brood pouch. The young resemble adults in miniature. One or two young have appeared in our aquarium during the winter months.

Water fleas

Most likely your aquarium will harbor water fleas as tiny as they are numerous. The white specks which move in jerky fashion through the water, are most probably Daphnia. You might even catch a species bigger than the tiny ones which presently populate our aquarium. The largest species of all can be found in very productive waters like the Delta Marsh of Manitoba. It boasts individuals as large as the fingernail on a lady’s fifth finger. All water fleas are crustaceans, as are Gammarus. They have an exterior skeleton of chitin and numerous jointed legs. Water fleas are an important source of food for aquatic insects, larger crustaceans, and various fish.

Each Daphnia has a small head from which extend a pair of branched antennae. By moving these projections like oars, the animal is able to make awkward progress through the water. Five pairs of legs are attached to the body, but they do not show, nor are they used for swimming. Like the rest of the body except for the head, they are enclosed in a convex shell which is hinged along the back and opens along the front. Constantly moving within their confined space, the legs create a current of water which brings in oxygen to bathe the body surface and also a stream of food particles. The numerous hairs on the legs filter out the food particles and push them forward to the mouth.

During most of the growing season only females can be found in the Daphnia population. Like dandelions which reproduce without benefit of sex, so water fleas also reproduce by parthenogenesis. Females produce eggs which do not need to be fertilized. These develop directly into more females. A pond can fill up with females in a very short time! The number of eggs per clutch varies from two to forty, depending on the species. The eggs are deposited within the female’s body into a brood chamber or cavity under the protective shell on the animal’s back. The eggs develop there and hatch to look like miniature adults. They remain within the pouch under the shell until the female molts, shedding her external skeleton and shell. Then the young are released.

As conditions in the pond become unfavorable through drought, cold weather, or decline in food supply, fewer parthenogenetic eggs are produced. Now some eggs, by a mechanism which is poorly understood, develop into males! Other eggs at this stage require fertilization in order to develop. The brood pouch around eggs which have been fertilized, now thickens into a saddle-shaped structure called an ephippium. These are released to sit through long periods of drought or freezing. Ephippia can be transported from pond to pond in the intestines of aquatic birds or simply by clinging to their wet feet. When favorable conditions return, ephippia hatch exclusively into parthenogenetic females. 

Plants

Perhaps we should turn our attention to some suitable pond plants as well. The duckweeds are the easiest to identify. Exceedingly widespread, lesser duckweed (Lemna minor) is common in quiet ponds. Often these tiny leaves will form a mat over an entire pond. In these circumstances hardly any plant life grows below the water surface because the duckweed has intercepted almost all the light. In an aquarium this species does not grow well unless it has very bright light available. Dying leaves are quickly eaten by snails and Gammarus. Another species, ivy duckweed (Lemna trisculca), is much more suitable for aquaria. The leaves grow in T-shaped configurations which remain tangled in large clumps below the water surface. It does very well with moderate light and it is an important oxygenating agent in the water.

Coontail and milfoil are similar plants often found floating free in tangles beneath the surface in ponds. Coontail (Ceratophyllum) is known for its densely bushy stem tips. The leaves, which occur in whorls, have tiny toothlike projections. This plant does only moderately well in aquaria. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the plants may take all winter to die and be eaten by scavengers. Milfoil (Myriophyllum) has whorled, finely divided leaves which look like fern fronds. These plants are good aerators of pond water and should do well in an aquarium.

Waterweed or Elodea is so suitable for aquarium culture that you can buy it in pet stores. More enterprising individuals may simply fish some out of a pond. The stems are bushy with whorls of three oval leaves arranged along the stem. These plants start out rooted but can become free floating. Elodea has been popular in biology laboratories for generations. Students can perform experiments on oxygen production on whole submerged plants. Individual leaves, which have only two layers of cells, are good for examination under the microscope.

A handy reference booklet, available for generations, is Pond Life (a Golden Guide) which was last updated in 2001.

USOs – Unidentified Swimming Objects

Having acquired an aquarium, pond water, and pond plants, your family may at this moment be scanning several unidentified swimming objects. Some of these may well prove to be aquatic insects.

Among the varied inhabitants of ponds, the insects provide the greatest interest for many people. All insects have an exterior skeleton much like that of crustaceans, but, whereas crustaceans have numerous legs, insects have only six.

Many insects make fresh water their home during part or all of their lives. Most, including those which spend all stages of their development in the water, have one or two pairs of wings as adults. The young of some insects have the same general build as their parents. They resemble miniature adults and differ from them only in the partial development or their wings and the lack of sexual organs. Mayflies and dragonflies produce such young called nymphs. These develop in fresh water, but the adults spend their lives in the air. Among the true bugs, of the fresh water representatives, water boatmen are the easiest to find. They live in water throughout their lives.

Many other insects have young quite unlike the adults. These young often seem quite wormlike. Such larvae must enter a resting stage, the pupa, before an adult emerges. During the pupal stage, an individual’s tissues are broken down and reassembled into those of an adult. Among such insects, caddisflies spend immature stages in the water and adult stages on land. So do certain flies including crane flies and phantom gnats. Mosquitos act the same way. Aquatic representatives among the beetles, however, spend their complete lives in or on the water. These include whirligig beetles and predaceous diving beetles often called water tigers. 

Mayflies

Nymphs are typically found clinging to stems or stones in the water. Their abdomens curve upward towards the rear and the tip is equipped with three feathery tails. The abdomen sweeps continuously back and forth, perhaps to create a current in the water. In side view the numerous paired flaps down each side of the body cannot be seen. Viewed from above, however, these structures, called gills, are visible. Although the flaps are called gills, they seem not to be involved in gas exchange.

Nymphs feed on small plants, on animals, and on organic debris. They live a few months to three years in the water, depending upon the species. This fall at least one adult successfully emerged into our living room after several weeks sojourn in an aquarium. Adults have four nearly transparent wings which they hold vertically when at rest. Adults are unable to eat, and they die shortly after mating. The females lay their eggs in water. 

Dragonflies

Nymphs are solid looking, flattened creatures up to 5 cm long. They do not swim much, preferring rather to wait until some suitable prey happens to pass. Then they suddenly extend a huge hinged “mask” or folding lower lip to seize the unsuspecting victim. They feed on insect larvae, worms, small crustaceans, and even small fish. They are very fierce, and I, for one, would not offer a finger to any of them. I maintained two nymphs for several months by feeding them small pieces of hamburger. They would seize the meat only as it was sinking. Often, they would fail to notice the food. In order to keep the aquarium from becoming foul due to meat decay, I usually retrieved the missing pieces (with tongs) and dropped them in a second time near the nymph.

Some dragonfly species complete their development from egg to adult in three months, while others take as long as five years. During this time, they molt frequently. At about the fifth molt, wings begin to form. Adult dragonflies have slender silhouettes and they hold their transparent wings horizontally at right angles to the body. With their legs or jaws, adults grasp insect prey such as mosquitos, and they eat them while in flight. They live only a few months, but during that stage adults mate while in flight. The female often drops her eggs from the air into the water. 

Water boatmen

These adult bugs are one of the easiest insects to spot in ponds, but they do not do well in an aquarium. This is probably because they are strong fliers and can leave any body of water which they do not like. Adults appear silvery in the water since air taken at the surface surrounds them like a silvery envelope. Strong flattened hind legs enable these bugs to swim strongly. They feed on algae and decaying matter sucked out of the bottom mud. Adults lay their eggs on aquatic plants. In our aquarium, boatmen have reacted very negatively to the glassy confines of their new home. They spend their time frantically trying to swim through the glass walls. None lasted more than a day.

Caddisflies

The larvae of these insects are generally easy to identify. Only the head and front legs can be seen peeping out of tube-like cases made of green leaves, sand, twigs, or bark. Each species fashions a different characteristic house for itself. The adult emerges into the air and looks much like a moth. 

Crane flies

Last fall our children spotted a revolting, pudgy-looking worm just under the water surface of our aquarium. It was the larva of a crane fly lurking among the aquatic weeds. It always positioned itself so that its rear tip projected up into the air. This creature had no legs at all. Our tentative identification proved correct when after several weeks a crane fly, like a large mosquito with long legs, appeared in our living room. Apparently, we had missed the pupa stage. Adults of some species feed on nectar, others do not eat at all. None bites.

Phantom gnats

If you peer intensely into your aquarium, you may see one or two phantom larvae. Except for prominent eyes and a threadlike intestine running the length of the body, the rest of this creature is almost transparent. The rear is capped with a tuft of obvious projecting hairs. There are no legs. These larvae, 1-2 cm long, hover horizontally well down in the water. This animal is unusual among insects in its ability to maintain such a stationary position in the water. Antennae attached to the head allow these larvae to prey on mosquito larvae and other small animals. The adults, which develop from a pupal stage, look much like mosquitos, but they do not feed and hence do not bite.

Mosquitos

Probably no aquarium is complete without several wrigglers (mosquito larvae). These bend double and extend to their full 1 cm length again as they wriggle through the water. They too lack legs. Frequently they return to hang almost vertically from the surface. A tube extending from near the rear tip is extended up into the air to get oxygen. The larvae feed on microscopic organisms or organic debris. Within a few days, after passing through a pupal stage, the adults emerge. The females must obtain a blood meal in order to be able to lay eggs. Males feed on nectar and ripe fruit. If your mother does not like mosquitos emerging into her house, do not call them to her attention. Alternatively, you could place a screen over the aquarium. 

Whirligig beetles

Often the most conspicuous insects in a pond are swarms of small oval shiny black beetles darting frenetically back and forth on the surface of the water. Their eyes are divided into upper and lower parts. They are believed to be able to see both above and below the water surface at the same time. They eat anything they can find. Their front legs are long and slender, the others are shortened and flattened to serve as paddles. They can dive down into the water very suddenly if alarmed. Everyone chases these beetles, but they are difficult to catch. Anyway, they do not do well in aquaria. 

Dytiscus

Among the hungriest and meanest of aquatic insects are the larvae and adult stages of the predaceous (from predator) diving beetles. The streamlined larvae, up to 3 cm long, with upturned abdomen and fierce jaws open, stand awaiting the arrival of prey. Konrad Lorenz, in his classic book King Solomon’s Ring, devotes several pages to the nasty personalities of Dytiscus larvae. These larvae will attack other insects, tadpoles, minnows, or anything that smells of animal in any way. They will bite a finger or even attack other larvae of their own kind. Through hollow jaws they inject a digestive juice which dissolves the insides of most of their victims. For people, the bite is simply extremely painful. We had several such larvae in our aquarium, but they died within several days, probably because of lack of suitable food. The shiny oval adult beetles also manage in the air and they may grow to be as large as 3-4 cm long. The beetles enjoy much the same menu as the larvae, but the former are also strong fliers when they so desire.

Other easy-to-culture animals

Both leaches and snails are easy to identify and easy to keep in an aquarium. A leach has done well all winter in our aquarium. It occasionally appears undulating through the water. It is growing, so it must be doing well eating bacteria. Certainly, it is not obtaining any blood meals. Our giant pond snails also do extremely well. With a thin, narrowly spiraled shell, these animals grow to be about 5 cm long. Often you can see the mouth opening and closing as one oozes forward along the glass. Inside the mouth is a rasping tongue which scrapes algae and bacteria off all surfaces over which it moves. Occasionally, jelly-like masses of snail eggs appear on underwater surfaces. These soon hatch into numerous tiny snails which immediately begin eating their way around the aquarium.

Keep it going

Now the whole family is organized for a project which can last all year. Remember not to load too many relatively large animals into an aquarium. The larger the total volume of animal life, the more likely it is that you will have to bubble in air and supplement the food supply. One minnow, for example, could eat everything living and require oxygen besides. This is not your objective. Stock with more, but smaller animals! Tadpoles, too, will require oxygen and will eat everything in sight.

Make it a practice to observe life in your aquatic ecosystem every day. It makes a wonderful topic for conversation at the supper table. You will have expanded your interests and your pleasure in God’s creation.


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