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Pro-life - Fostering

7 ways to help a foster family

So you’re not able or ready to plunge into foster care? That doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved! Here are some practice ideas for how to help out a current foster family. Educate yourself Educate yourself on the local foster care system. Educate yourself on trauma and how it affects children. Educate yourself on what “reunification” means, and why we need to have a heart of forgiveness and compassion. Educate others The Church can play a big role in supporting the foster care system in your community. Find your local (Christian) foster care and adoption agencies and give freely, both financially and with your time. In our local church we did a special service offering at Christmas for a local foster care agency. Locally we also have a volunteer-run short-term “House” that is a place where children entering into foster care can spend their first few days before being placed…instead of in a hotel or social worker’s office. Get involved there! Search in your community for worthy organizations that are striving to repair the foster care system, and are Christian-based. Share with others, and pull together as a church to support them! Meals If you know a family that is fostering, chances are they have a houseful of children already, and have a lot of mouths to feed. Whether they’ve taken in a new placement or not, showing support by bringing a meal (or even some snacks to stock up the cupboards) goes a long way. They are likely spending a lot of time communicating with the team of people involved with their child, or helping the child work through trauma, or something along those lines. That’s why food is so appreciated! Items Foster parents in Washington State receive a monthly stipend from the state to cover costs but as you can imagine, the costs involved with becoming licensed, as well as ongoing costs incurred can, at times, exceed the stipend. Sometimes a child comes with nothing but the clothes on their back and suddenly the foster parent is making a trip to the store to get formula, diapers, PJs, toothbrush, shoes, underwear – you name it! In our case, we are licensed for ages 0-10, boys and girls. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to store clothes and items for each age group and gender. Also, as we were becoming licensed, we were required to have certain items available in our home (medicine cabinets that could lock, fire escape ladders, emergency food supplies for 8 people for a full week, as well as a bed available for each age of child, etc. etc.). This did become quite costly, so every little bit we got donated to us really helped. If you know of someone going through the licensing process, ask them what they are in need of, maybe you happen to have it lying around! Childcare Whether it’s offering to take their biological children for a time, or the foster child, it might just be exactly what they need. A date night? Groceries kid-free? Or maybe their foster child has yet another appointment (here in Washington State they’ve required what seems to be an overabundance of doctor and dentist appointments) and they’d love to not take along their other children. Whatever it may be, offer! Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but if it’s offered it might just be what they need right at that moment. House, yard, and transportation help This can be so helpful, especially around the time of a new placement entering a home. That’s when all the house and yard work gets moved to the bottom of the importance pile. The family needs time to bond, organize, and have a lot of communication with the new team of people that are now in their life. They need to spend that first critical week loving on that child, attaching and adjusting. Offer to come fold a load of laundry, or weed their gardens, or clean a toilet. Or, maybe they’d love you to run an errand or two for them, or pick their kids up from school, or bring a child to their lessons or practice. Just ask! Prayer Please lift these families, as well as the children they are fostering, up in prayer! Ask them if there are specifics to pray for.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Eph. 6:18

Science - Creation/Evolution

"Inferior" design: a proof of evolution?

"Suboptimal" design in nature is supposed to be the result of, and evidence for, evolutionary trial and error

*****

Everybody loves to hear about wonderful living creatures with their amazing talents. It is certainly uplifting to learn about Monarch butterfly's continent-spanning migration, and the toe pads of the gecko that allow it to walk upside down, and the amazing strength of spider silk. Christians enjoy discussing the wonderful designs that we see in nature. And among scientists, these creatures have their fans too. Indeed, there is an entire field in science called biomimicry where scientists try to learn from living creatures in order to produce practical designs for modern application. But not everyone is equally enthusiastic about the implications of these amazing talents. Prominent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) in 1978 wrote:

"...ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator."

Dr. Gould thus said that everyone should ignore examples of wonderful design and concentrate on phenomena that are below par. He continued:

"Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce."

Gould was telling us that he knew how God should act if, that is, God really existed. God, according to Gould, would make everything perfect. And since we know that everything is not perfect in nature then, said Gould, this proves there is no God. This kind of argument, based on assumptions of how God should act, continues to be common in science today. There is thus a lot of interest among scientists, in suboptimal (less than perfect) design. Let us look at some examples to see what the implications are. THE PANDA'S THUMB The example Gould discussed in 1978 was the thumb of the Giant Panda. These animals, native to China, eat almost nothing but bamboo shoots. They use their hands to strip off the leaves, leaving the nice tender shoots on which to munch. Their flexible hands are unusual – they have a thumb of sorts, an extra structure produced from an enlarged wrist bone, with associated muscles and nerves. Gould declares that this extra finger is a "somewhat clumsy, but quite workable solution…. A contraption, not a lovely contrivance." Here he was declaring that the panda's thumb was of suboptimal or inferior design, which thus constituted proof that the source of the thumb was evolutionary trial and error rather than from a "divine artificer" (supernatural designer). A major argument employed by many evolutionists, even today, is to point to suboptimal (inferior) design and to declare that this proves that evolution was the source rather than God. However, what makes something "suboptimal" is an open question. Sometimes a phenomenon that appears less than ideal actually displays superior and unexpectedly sophisticated design. Gould might not like the panda's thumb, but there is no denying how wonderfully this thumb gets the job done. INFERIOR EARS? Another example: the inner ear of humans includes a spirally coiled structure called the cochlea. Lining its interior are very fancy hair cells which, by their motion, amplify the sound. The whole cochlea functions as a remarkably sensitive and finely tuned sound detector. However, at the same time, it also distorts the sound. Might these distortions be considered inferior design? A study in 2008 (Nature, Nov 13) demonstrated that the distortions actually contribute to clarity of sound. The distortions come from a particular structure connecting the top of the various hair cells. Mice without this connector in their cochlea became progressively deaf. Who knew distortions were so useful? STABLE vs. MANEUVERABLE A recent article published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (November 4-8) discussed another counter-intuitive (contrary to our expectations) situation. The study was conducted by engineers trying to build efficient robots. This is a large field of research. The designers want systems that are not only stable but maneuverable. The problem is that these are opposite objectives. In general, the more maneuverable a robot is, the less stable it is. If your robot tips over, clearly it is not going anywhere. Alternatively, the more stable a robot is, the less one can fine-tune what it does – the harder it is to make sudden changes of direction. Thus your robot may be able to proceed briskly straight ahead, but what if you need it to turn a corner or climb over an obstruction? Will it be able to turn, or will it instead tip over? Animals obviously have no such problems. That's why engineers have turned their attention to animal locomotion. They ask themselves, how do animals achieve the "impossible" combination of stability and maneuverability? How indeed do actual insects like cockroaches manage their excellent locomotion skills? Biologists may have already observed the solution without recognizing its significance. Why, many biologists have wondered, do animals move in directions that are different from their desired destination? Why, for example, do cockroaches and lizards tilt from side to side as they run forward? An engineer would most likely eliminate these motions, which seem to waste energy, as they do not obviously contribute to the forward motion. Lately, however, mechanical engineers have begun to research how unexpected, "inefficient" movements may benefit these animals. Insight into this mystery recently came from studies of a tiny fish from the Amazon basin. In order to avoid predators, this fish prefers to hide in various shelters such as tiny tubes. Scientists used slow-motion video to study fin movements of this fish as it finessed its way into its hiding places. At 100 frames per second, a strange situation became apparent. The fish was using one part of the lower body fin to push water forwards, and the other part to push it backwards. This was definitely against common sense since it was like two propellers fighting against each other. When scientists built a fishy robot, they found that the opposing forces actually improved the stability and maneuverability of their model. The assumption of the engineers that it is wasteful or useless to employ forces in directions other than the desired forward motion had now been proven wrong. Apparently, the same principle applies to the motion of many other creatures. The take-home lesson is that what, at first glance, appeared to be inferior design (opposing forces) actually turned out to be superior design! PENGUIN ROCKETS  Another recent robotic study which shows promise is one inspired by the talents of emperor penguins. While these creatures look pretty inept on land, in the water they can accelerate from 0 to 7 meters/second in less than a second (a veritable rocket). One student at Caltech's Aeronautics Department set out to create new propulsion technologies with high maneuverability and improved hydrodynamic efficiency. The new mechanical design is based on the penguin's shoulder and wing system and features a spherical joint with various other technical features. Concerning the promise of the study, the student declared that the manner in which penguins swim is still poorly understood. Nevertheless, by accurately reproducing an actual penguin wing movement, he and his collaborators hope to shed light on the swimming mysteries of these underwater rockets (ScienceDaily.com November 14, 2013). THE FLY EYE There are many other examples of unrecognized excellence in design. For example, the compound eye of insects and other invertebrates is often considered to be less ideal than our own camera eyes. However, a recent study that modeled the compound eye found that it does offer some advantages over the camera style eye (Young Min Song et al. Nature. May 2, 2013). Specifically the compound eye provides for an exceptionally wide field of view, and secondly such an eye has a nearly infinite depth of focus. As an object recedes away from the eye, the object becomes smaller, but it still remains in focus. It is apparent that in the case of eye design, there is no such thing as inferior design. There is instead good design that is more applicable to certain applications than to others. GOD TELLS US TO EXPECT "INFERIOR" DESIGN Obviously however there are many situations in nature that are less than ideal. This is a fallen world and there are many cases where we see distressing phenomena. The secular argument that a good God would never mandate inferior design is simply not valid. God cursed nature as a result of man's sin, so we have no reason to expect wholesale perfection, and the former "very good" creation now displays many inferior design choices. For example in Job 39:13-17 we read: The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,    but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth    and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them    and that the wild beasts may trample them. She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;    though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear, because God has made her forget wisdom    and given her no share in understanding. Clearly, the breeding behavior of the ostrich is suboptimal but nevertheless designed by God. Yet "when she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider" (Job 39:18). The strong legs of this bird and her running prowess also come from God. These gifts are a strong contrast to the behavioral deficits of the ostrich. The evolutionists think they have proven that God did not work in nature. However, since their argument depends upon a discussion (however faulty) of the nature of God, this is a religious argument. Since they claim to have ruled out all religious arguments, then how can they use arguments concerning what God would or would not do – arguments touching on the character of God – to prove evolution? They need to make up their minds. If they want to explore the character of God and why He'd allow brokenness in the world, then let's open our Bibles. As for Christians, despite the fallen condition of the world, we can still enjoy and benefit from, and give thanks for, the many wonders of creation as coming from God's divine wisdom.

This article first appeared in the January 2014 issue under the title " Upon further reflection..." Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.”

Humor, Theology

Humor and the life of faith

"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God"  – G. K. Chesterton

*****

Nothing is quite so ironic as to talk seriously about humor. Yet it would be perverse to treat the subject of Christian humor with irreverence or anything approaching vulgarity. And by Christian humor I do not mean those harmless puns and riddles that are often classified as Bible jokes. Who is the shortest person in the Bible? Who is the only person in the Bible who doesn’t have any parents?1 If Christian humor ended there, then we might feel slightly cheated. There must be more. And indeed, humor is more than an occasional joke; it is indicative of a broader attitude to life. We see this most clearly in the word “comedy.” In literature, the term means simply a story with a happy ending – it doesn’t even have to be funny. You might say that the story of salvation is a divine comedy, for it promises a life happily ever after. Of course, to unbelievers this faith in the afterlife is itself a joke. To some extent, then, the question is who will have the last laugh. So let’s take a closer look at this comedy of salvation. Does the biblical narrative include any humor, and what role should laughter play in our life of faith? Humor in the Bible When I was still growing up – a process that may not have ended – my father sometimes liked to refer to “humor in the Bible.” But looking back I had no recollection of what he actually meant by that. Was he referring to some of those funny names in the Bible, like the ones the prophets gave to their kids? Was he thinking of Joshua, the son of Nun? I wasn’t sure, and so I figured that writing this article would be like discovering a forgotten corner of my childhood. Childhood is, of course, an appropriate metaphor for thinking about humor. Those who have studied humor in the Bible suggest, for instance, that the sober attitude of grown-ups obscures the comic aspects of Christ’s rhetoric. Elton Trueblood, in The Humor of Christ, tells how his son burst out laughing at Bible reading over the idea that someone might be so concerned about seeing a speck in someone else’s eye that he failed to notice the beam in his own eye.2 The child has not yet become accustomed to all that is at first glance merely preposterous or grotesque. Trueblood – whose views we’ll focus on here – believes that Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, but also a Man of Joys. Jesus’s humor comes from the incongruity of his sayings (particularly in his many paradoxes) and from his sense of irony. Surely, says Trueblood, there is an aspect of comedy in the blind leading the blind, in the notion of “saving by losing,” in the thought that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, in giving Peter the nickname “Rocky.” It is frequently the contrast between the literal and the figurative moment that provides a space for laughter, or at least for a smile. When Christ asks “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” our trained inclination is to answer “No, because then no one can see the lamp.” A child might respond, “That would be funny, because then the bed might catch on fire.” The examples can be multiplied – at least according to Trueblood. They show Christ not merely as an ascetic and acerbic preacher – as we sometimes imagine John the Baptist – but as a man who drank wine in genial conviviality and spoke in surprising and shocking language. Whatever reservations we may have about this slightly irreverent view of the Savior, the resulting picture actually fits surprisingly well with the general Reformed worldview, which sees Christ as restoring and renewing life and culture. We all know of Luther’s hearty humor and his penchant for beer. What is humor? There are of course problems as well. If humor encompasses everything from outright jokes to fine shades of irony, then where do we draw the line? In addition, humor is fiendishly difficult to trace in written documents, for so much depends on tone and context. Take, for instance, Trueblood’s explanation of the following words of Jesus from Luke 12:58:

As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.

Trueblood is surely right that Jesus treats miscarriages of justice with a touch of sarcasm, but he pushes the argument too far when he tries to find the passage humorous: “What Christ seems to be advocating is a clever deal or a bribe. . . . Translated into our language, ‘It may prove to be cheaper to pay the officer than to pay the court, so why not try?’ . . . If this be humor, it is humor with an acid touch.”3 It seems more likely, though, that the adversary is not an officer of the law at all, but is rather a fellow citizen; what Jesus advocates is what we would call an “out of court settlement” – a common practice in ancient societies – and represents prudence, not humor. In the Old Testament There are two other sources of humor that require some attention. The first is, of course, the Old Testament. There are a number of places where God is said to laugh (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8; Prov. 1:26). This is the laughter of poetic justice: God laughs at the wicked. Surprisingly, the Psalms also suggest that the proper response to God’s laughing judgment should be joy: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:8-9; cf. Ps. 96). Judgment is no laughing matter, we instinctively feel. However, as the Philistines found out when they placed the ark of God in the temple of Dagon, God will have the last laugh: “When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 5:3). The man most famed for wisdom in the Old Testament also had a wry sense of humor, something that is often missed. Consider the following ironic passages from Ecclesiastes, that book that we take such pains to explain away:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2).

All things are wearisome more than one can say (1:8).

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (12:12).

Who writes a book to explain that everything is meaningless? The Teacher sounds tired before he even begins. In fact, in an amusing turn of phrase, he explains that he is too weary to explain weariness. Perhaps the appropriate response when faced with such irony is laughter. There is a bad sort of biblical humor But there is also a negative type of humor. There are hints of it in the nervous laughter of Sarah. This is the laughter of those who sit in the seat of scoffers. The man who suffered most from such mockery was Jesus. All those involved in crucifying him try to turn him into a joke. And the joke is always the same: how can a crucified man be king? The soldiers dress him up in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns before they torture him. Pilate practices his own version of the laughter of judgment by placing a placard above his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The joke then gets passed on to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who focus on the final paradox of Christ’s ministry: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’” (27:42). The laughter of the cross is the laughter of Sarah magnified; it is the laughter of skepticism, and it is at heart a nervous defense against the laughter of faith and judgment. As Paul realized, the Christian faith is foolishness to the world, because doubt manifests itself through mockery and laughter. Laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy – the two poles are actually not as far removed from each other as we sometimes think. Since laughter lives on the border with terror and tragedy, it is not surprising that we also find it at the cross. True joy What does this all mean for our life of faith? An elder of mine once pointed out that one of the great gifts of the Christian religion is the joy it provides. And this joy is not simply confined to a kind of internal spiritual peace, although it is that too. The writer G. K. Chesterton suggests that, compared to the Christian, the secular man is generally happier as he approaches earth, but sadder and sadder as he approaches the heavens.4 True – but the happiness of the Christian also extends downwards – to the earth renewed in Christ. There remains one obstacle, however. Franz Kafka once said – in a comment about Christianity – that “a forced gaiety is much sadder than an openly acknowledged sorrow."5 I think this is exactly the problem we face as Christians today. How can we demonstrate the happiness that comes with the good news in a spontaneous way? Laughter is something that you shouldn’t force. So, how can you purposefully live a life of laughter and joy? I think it has to start with something further down in your heart; it has to start with faith and hope. If you start here, then laughter will inevitably come bubbling up. And this is not a nervous laughter, like the laughter of Sarah or the mocking of scoffers – this is a wholesome and healthy laughter. This is the joy of Christ. Endnotes 1 In case you haven’t heard these groaners: Bildad the Shuhite (i.e. shoe-height) & Joshua, son of Nun (i.e. none). 2 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: HarperCollins, 1964). 3 Ibid., 66. 4 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in Basic Chesterton (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1984), 127. 5 Quoted by John F. Maguire, “Chesterton and Kafka,” The Chesterton Review 3.1 (1976-77): 161.

This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue. Conrad van Dyk is the author and narrator of the children's story podcast "Sophie and Sebastian."

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Riot and The Dance

Documentary 2018 / 83 minutes Rating: 8/10 Biologist Gordon Wilson is excited about God's creation, and it's catching! In The Riot and the Dance, Wilson explores locations both exotic and familiar, showing us how amazingly the Lord has made his creatures in his awesome world. Nature films are most often spoiled by the Darwinian approach of their makers; we're accustomed to using the "pause" button while we remind our children and ourselves that it's God who made all the beauty we are watching, not random chance. How refreshing to hear Scripture quoted, and God's creative hand praised, in these beautifully filmed scenes. Wilson starts in ponds near his home in the northwestern US, finding the familiar in water striders dancing across the water's surface, and the less familiar in giant water bugs. He pauses in Montana for bison, in Manitoba for a snake den, and in California for comical but dangerous elephant seals. He dives across gravel paths in the Sonoran desert of Mexico, catching snakes and lizards to bring their beauty right up to the camera, and ends his world tour in Sri Lanka, marveling at elephants and water buffalo. Wilson believes Christians can and should find out more about the Creator by exploring what he made.

"If we wanted to study someone like Michelangelo, we would want to study all his works, his art. The way you get to know God, you study everything He wrote, and made, His living creation, His creatures. They are not only paintings but sculptures!"

Wilson does not ignore the brokenness of creation: "Life is not a basket of kittens... and there's all this death, and predator-prey relationships, and parasite hosts. But even in the midst of a fallen creation, the glories of God are still very present. Man needs redemption, and so does creation." Thus he includes some brief moments of gore – as a water buffalo is devoured by warthog and other scavengers – though there are not a lot. There is much to commend in this beautiful film. Give this one a viewing; you'll find yourself ready to dive into that field or pond, eager to explore your own corner of God's handiwork.

Americans with Amazon Prime will be able to watch this there.

AA
News
Tagged: featured, Hell, Saturday selections

Saturday Selections – July 13, 2019

Fined $8.2 million for pro-life work, this pastor wouldn’t pay

Randy Alcorn’s name is well known in Christian circles for the many books he’s written. Less known is how he worked at a minimum wage for 20 years so he wouldn’t have to pay an $8.2 million judgement to an abortion clinic. This is an amazing story of faithfulness!

Free e-book: Transgender

In this short 80-page book, Vaughan Roberts lays out the biblical understanding of gender and body and shows how to talk lovingly to transgender folk. To get the free e-book you do have to give your email address, and you do have to act quickly because it will only be free for a short while.

Parents: 8 tips for a snark-free summer

Our kids don’t always talk to us the way they should. Here are some practical tips to help them and you.

Hell interrupted

The eternal punishment of hell is a difficult doctrine for many to accept. But as Greg Koukl and Tim Barnett make clear in this 5-minute read, it is what Scripture teaches.

Can China’s demographic nightmare be undone?

China’s four-decade-long one-child policy taught citizens that children were a burden, rather than the blessing God says they are. The country is now facing a demographic nightmare, with siblingless couples the sole working support for their two sets of parents and four sets of grandparents. Not having children has been the real burden – if their parents and grandparents would have had more children then there would have been brothers and sisters and cousins to share the work.

And while the government now allows families to have two children, they’re finding they can’t undo the “children are a curse” outlook they spend 40 years creating.

Evolution can’t explain the origin of life (7 min)

If life originated without design or intent, but by chance, why can’t the world’s most brilliant minds – with their computers and chemicals and machines helping them and with the blueprints provided by already living cells – make life from scratch? This is a fascinating video, though the Intelligent Design perspective underlying it doesn’t explicitly give God His due.


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