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Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution

Archer fish: a wonder of creation

This article is the first chapter from Dr. Jerry Bergman’s new book "Wonderful and Bizarre Life Forms in Creation" which you can order at Create.ab.ca. ***** The archer fish (Toxotes jaculatrix, from ejaculator fish) – named for its expert archery skills – is one of the most amazing fish known to humans.1 When first researched by scientists in the 1920s, researchers “could hardly believe their eyes” at its shooting ability.2 The existence of the fish was actually first reported by explorers as early as 1764, but for years scholars could not accept the reports of this amazing fish.3 This seven-inch long fish is well-known for accurately knocking insect prey out of overhanging vegetation with a jet of water six times more powerful than its muscles. To achieve this feat, the archer positions itself in the water with its snout just breaking the water’s surface, and its eyes just below the surface. Then it aims its jet spray using superbly designed binocular vision to accurately determine its prey’s location. If one eye is damaged, their aiming skill is lost. Archer fish modulate their water jet’s velocity to create a single large water droplet that strikes their prey with enormous force. This design avoids the requirement for specially designed internal structures to store large amounts of energy. HOW ITS WATER GUN WORKS The water shot is produced by the fish compressing its hard-bony tongue against the roof of its mouth, forcing water out the gun-barrel-like groove in the archer fish’s mouth roof by rapidly snapping its gill covers shut.4 It accurately strikes its target usually on the first attempt at distances of up to 2 to 3 feet! To position itself to hit its target, the fish can swim up, down, and even backwards to enable its vision to line up with its prey. So complex is its design, that the mechanism the archer fish uses to produce its water jet has been researched for decades. Only in 2011 were scientists finally able to understand how it works.5 Alberto Vailati and his University of Milan colleagues provided the first scientific explanation for how archer fish are able to generate such powerful jets to capture their prey. To study the mechanics of the water jet, the authors used high-speed video recordings of archer fish knocking insects out of plants. Scientists now know that a large amplification of the fishes’ muscular power occurs outside of the fish to cause a powerful impact of the water jet against the prey. The archer fish generates this power externally using water dynamics rather than specialized internal organs. Some animals, such as chameleons and salamanders, store energy in their body’s collagen fibers and abruptly release their stored energy to project their tongues outward at high speeds. Previous research on archer fish has ruled out the use of these specialized organs as the source behind their powerful water jets. Excellent vision in its typical muddy water environment is also critical to hit its target. To achieve this vision, the archer’s eye retina is far more complex than that of most fish. The cones for daytime vision number only 8 or 9, but the archers’ rods for vision in muddy water, where they normally live, number a whopping 217. The archer fish can extinguish cigarettes with their water jet in total darkness! The archer fish must also solve the refraction problem, the bending of light rays that occurs as the light rays enter the water, causing objects to appear where they are not. It achieves this feat with remarkable accuracy.6 PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT As the young fish develop, they begin practicing on targets above the water in their natural habitat.7 The tiny fish first succeed in squirting their jet only a few inches high. As they mature, they learn to shoot a stream of water as far as fifteen feet! Adult archer fish normally shoot down their insect prey at a range of less than a meter. To strike its moving target, the fish must compensate for the insect’s speed and the changing angle between the fish and its target to determine the refracted level (how much the light is bent at the air-water boundary). They also must compensate for the effect of gravity on both the fish and the water stream.8 These variables require computing a set of calculations that must be done by human mathematicians using calculus. Research has also determined that archer fish learn to make these calculations by observing other skilled fish practice their art. All of this is achieved by a “primitive cerebrum” which researchers have discovered is not primitive at all!9 EVOLUTION FAILS TO EXPLAIN ARCHER FISH ORIGINS Evolution cannot explain archer fish because evolution postulates that it gradually evolved its remarkable ability, and must have done so because it significantly helped their survival. No other fish has this ability. Nor are any intermediates between the archer fish and all other fish known. Fish either possess the complete set of biological systems to shoot insects out of the air, or lack the entire set. Another major problem with an evolutionary explanation is that archer fish most often feed on insects it finds on, or just below, the water surface. It can even jump above the surface to take insects on the wing. It can also feed on insects that sink a few inches into the water.10 For this reason, it does not need to shoot insects out of the air to survive, and can survive quite well without ever doing so. In fact, most of its food is usually obtained without ever using its water gun. It appears its archery ability is exercised mostly for sport or variety! Archer fish expert, Professor Lüling, recognized this problem, writing: Toxotes depends largely on food it finds on or below the surface. It prefers insects that have fallen to the surface, but it will also take food that has sunk a few inches into the water. This raises an interesting question for evolutionary theory: Spouting, if it is so unimportant, can hardly have been a significant factor in the survival of the species or in selection and differentiation within the species.11 Consequently, natural section cannot account for their amazing ability. Nor can evolution account for the unique ability of this marvelous little fish! Although normally existing in the waters of Australia and Southeast Asia, because of their unusual skill they are popular attractions in aquariums throughout the world. This is Chapter 1 from Dr. Jerry Bergman’s “Wonderful and Bizarre Life Forms in Creation” Each of the 23 chapters examines a different animal or creature, so if you liked this, you can order the book at Create.ab.ca. REFERENCES 1 Smith, H. M. 1936. The archer fish. Natural History. 38(1): 2-11. 2 Pinney, R. 1977. The amazing archer fish. Scholastic Science World. 34(4): 3. 3 Lüling, K. H. 1963. The archer fish. Scientific American. 209(1): 100. 4 Pinney, R. 1977. The amazing archer fish. Scholastic Science World. 34(4): 2-3. 5 Vailati, A., L. Zinnato, R. Cerbino. 2012. How archer fish achieve a powerful impact: hydrodynamic instability of a pulsed jet in Toxotes jaculatrix. PLOS ONE. 7(10): e47867. 6 Myers, G. S. 1952. How the shooting apparatus of the archer fish was discovered. The Aquarium Journal. 23(10): 210-214. 7 Brodie, C. 2006. Watch and Learn: Bench warming pays off for the archer fish. American Scientist. 94(3): 218. 8 Brodie, ref. 7, p. 218. 9 Brodie, ref. 7, p. 218. 10 Schuster, S. et al. 2006. Animal cognition: how archer fish learn to down rapidly moving targets. Current Biology. 16: 378-383. 11 Lüling, ref. 3, p. 100....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution

Giraffe: nature’s gentle giants

This is Chapter 7 from Dr. Jerry Bergman’s new book Wonderful and Bizarre Life Forms in Creation which you can order at Creation Science Association of Alberta. ***** Giraffes, the tallest living terrestrial animals on earth, are often called nature’s gentle giants due to their nonaggressive persona. Their most well-known trait is their long neck, longer than that of any living animal. Their 6-foot (1.8-meter) neck weighs about 600 pounds, more than the entire body of most animals. Their total height often reaches 20 feet and their weight 4,250 pounds. They are enormous animals. Their legs alone are taller than many humans, about 6 feet. They can run as fast as 35 miles per hour (mph) over short distances, or trot at 10 mph for longer distances. Giraffes are favorite animals in many cultures, both ancient and modern, and are often featured in books, paintings, and even cartoons. This is not only due to its long neck but also to its very distinctive coat patterns. It looks like the paint called “crackled” that shrinks as it dries, leaving distinct patterns of cracks spread throughout the animal’s body. For most young people, the giraffe is one of the most intriguing and exotic of all animals. It is so unusual, and in such contrast to other animals, that many people typically are more interested in it than many other fascinating creatures. In fact, the word “giraffe” is derived from the Arabic zerafa, a poetic variant of zarafa, meaning “lovely one” or “charming.”1 As one author noted, viewing a giraffe is one of humankind’s greatest visual experiences.2 The giraffe’s intelligent design The giraffe’s entire body – both its anatomy and physiology – is tightly intertwined as a single functional unit.3 The giraffe is an excellent example of intelligent design that demonstrates special creation. Its neck alone is a wonder of enormously complex design that requires all necessary parts to be in their proper places before its neck structure is functional. As Charles Darwin said, it is a beautiful animal with “an admirably coordinated structure” of many parts in its neck. Of interest, in The Origin of Species Darwin did not mention the giraffe’s neck as an example of evolution until the sixth edition, and then only in response to a critical review of his book by creationist St. George Mivart.4 In this work, it is clear that Darwin never regarded the giraffe’s long neck as central evidence of natural selection like biology textbooks that discuss evolution often imply today. Another major problem with the standard textbook story is that Darwin accepted Lamarckianism later in his life. Lamarckian theory of acquired characteristics explained giraffe neck evolution by arguing that constant stretching slowly elongated their necks, and they then passed on their beneficial longer neck trait to their offspring.5 Darwin resorted to the idea that evolution occurs by use and disuse of body parts because he was unable to come up with a plausible theory that explained the origin of genetic variety that Natural Selection could select.6 Darwin knew that without a viable source of genetic variety, no evolution can occur and his theory was dead. To produce a 6-foot-long neck from a short-necked animal (like evolution requires) necessitates hundreds or thousands of simultaneous, or nearly simultaneous, mutations – a set of events that has a probability of zero. It cannot just become longer, but requires a very different design than the less-than-one-foot neck that is common in most mammals. The late Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould said, “the long neck must be associated with modifications in nearly every part of the body – long legs to accentuate the effect, and a variety of supporting structures (bones, muscles, and ligaments) to hold up the neck.”7 The giraffe’s head and neck are held up by large powerful muscles strengthened by nuchal ligaments anchored by long dorsal spines on the anterior thoracic vertebrae. The giraffe’s neck vertebrae use an atlas-axis joint that allows the animal to tilt its head vertically and reach more branches with its tongue to obtain food. Giraffes require not only long necks to reach tall trees, but also long legs and even long faces and tongues (their tongues are over a foot long) to reach the high growing acacia leaves they favor. One major problem for Darwinists is how natural selection simultaneously altered necks, legs, tongues, prehensile lips, knee joints, muscles, and complex nervous system and blood-flow control systems to control the pressure necessary to pump blood from the heart up to the giraffe’s distant brain. The common explanation of the giraffe’s long neck is that it was not produced by gradual evolution but instead mistakes called mutations produced it.8 To eat grass or drink water, because they are the tallest animals in the world, giraffes must move their heads to a point seven feet below their heart and, when upright, to a point about eleven feet above it. When the giraffe puts its neck down to drink, one would expect blood to rush into its head. Then when he raised his head after drinking, the blood flowing away from its head should cause it to faint. But a system of ingeniously designed reservoirs and valves inside its arteries prevents this from occurring. Its strong heart beats 150 times per minute. A spongy tissue mass below the brain helps to regulate blood flowing to the brain to ensure that rapid pressure changes are blunted.9 When water is available, giraffes drink regularly from ponds and streams. But during a drought, they can survive very well without water for several weeks at a time because they can satisfactorily obtain their needs from plants.10 Giraffes are an Icon of Evolution One of the more common icons almost universally presented as proof of evolution is giraffe evolution. It is used in high school and college biology, anthropology, and evolution texts. Science “has made giraffes the very symbol of evolutionary progress.”11 So important was this icon that Francis Hitching titled his critique of Darwinism “The Neck of the Giraffe” (1983). A survey of all major high school biology textbooks found “every single one – no exceptions – begins its chapter on evolution by first discussing Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characters,” then presenting Darwin’s theory of natural selection as the correct alternative to Lamarck’s theory.12 As a result, the “classic textbook illustration of our preferences for Darwinian evolution... an entrenched and ubiquitous example based on an assumed weight of historical tradition that simply does not exist.”13 Thus, this example teaches evolution by use of “a false theory,” and thus is a false icon.14 A typical explanation for the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck is that some giraffes, purely by chance, were born with fortuitously slightly longer necks, and that this conferred upon them a selective advantage enabling them to reach higher branches in times of famine and drought, which greatly improved their chances of surviving and leaving offspring similarly endowed with longer necks. Such a process repeated over many generations would inevitably lead to the long neck of the modern giraffe.15 The giraffe’s neck is used to illustrate how natural selection gives more variety within a population. In any group of giraffes, there always exists variation in neck length, as is true of any trait. Consequently, the theory postulates when their food supply is adequate, the animals do quite well, but when food is inadequate, giraffes with longer necks have an advantage. They can feed off the higher branches. If this feeding advantage permits longer-necked giraffes to survive and reproduce even slightly more effectively than shorter-necked ones, the trait will be favored by natural selection. The giraffes with longer necks will be more likely to transmit their genetic material to future generations than will giraffes with shorter necks.16 The problem with this theory is that it is not just a matter of stretching the neck. Rather, giraffes require an entirely new design. WHAT IS LAMARCKIANISM? Larmarckism or Larmarckianism is a theory of evolution named after Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He believed that characteristics that an animal organism acquired during its lifetime could be passed on to its offspring. It’s the idea that if a man started working out and getting huge muscles, his offspring would have bigger than normal muscles too, even without working out. It is also the idea that if a giraffe managed to stretch out its neck by reaching for those leaves on those tallest branches, its offspring would be born with longer necks. Long neck essential for its lifestyle The giraffes’ long necks are critical in allowing these long-legged animals to rise from a lying position. They use their neck to shift their weight, allowing them to stand on their long legs. It is also critical in climbing and running, which involve snake-like, slithery movements that propels their entire body forward. The long, thin giraffe neck provides a great deal of surface area, which is also important for effective body cooling. For this reason giraffes – in contrast to many other large mammals that live in warm temperate areas – can remain in the hot sun for long periods of time. Darwinists give reasons why giraffes evolved their long necks which include for mating, for defense, for thermoregulation, to facilitate their fast-forward travel (up to 30 mph), or for one of many other reasons, but it is a poor icon for their theory. They propose that the giraffes’ long necks evolved for all of these reasons – or none of them. As Gould concludes, “The giraffe’s neck cannot provide a proof for any adaptive scenario, Darwinian or otherwise.”17 The giraffe’s neck is far more useful as an example of the many problems with Darwinism. Common claims of giraffe neck evolution fail The typical textbook story is that giraffes evolved long necks to reach the leaves located “at the tops of acacia trees, thereby winning access to a steady source of food available to no other mammal.”18 Some question why the trees did not evolve to become taller to prevent the giraffes from consuming their leaves. Although now an icon for Lamarck’s mechanism of evolution, Lamarck presented no evidence for this interpretation but rather only “a few lines of speculation.”19 His reference to giraffes in his classic work consists of only one paragraph based on zero data.20 Lamarck also wrongly claimed that the animal’s forelegs evolved to become longer than its hind legs, indicating that Lamarck was not familiar with the literature on this animal.21 Why giraffes are used to support Darwinism A major reason that the giraffe example is used to support evolution is because it is an easy illustration of Darwinism by artwork or photographs.22 Virtually all textbooks picture giraffes eating from acacia trees, incorrectly implying that its leaves are the main staple of their diet. So “appealing is this hypothesis that students of giraffe behavior and evolutionary biologists alike accept it.”23 Although the tall acacia tree leaves may be a preferred food source, giraffes will graze on many other tree and bush types. Plentiful foliage exists at the lower-levels of the tree, and giraffes also commonly consume grass and low bushes and many kinds of ground-growing plants.24 Female giraffes are, on average, about a meter shorter in height than males – and they survive quite well. If leaves at higher levels are a large unexploited niche, then why have not many other animals, such as antelopes, also evolved the same long neck as giraffes have?25 One could argue that giraffes with shorter necks could thrive better because most of the foliage in the part of Africa where they live is near the ground, and it would be a decided survival advantage to be closer to the more plentiful ground vegetation compared to the comparatively rarer acacia tree leaves.26 All young giraffes feed on grass and bushes until their neck has grown long enough to reach the trees, usually at 3 to 4 years of age. The females spend over half their time feeding with their necks horizontal, indicating that their neck’s length may actually be a handicap. The giraffe diet is extremely varied. Generally, they are browsers, feeding by plucking leaves with their 17-inch tongue. Or they will grab a tree branch, put it into their mouth, and pull off leaves by twisting their heads. The over 100 plant species in the giraffe’s diet include flowers, vines, herbs, along with an occasional weaver-bird nest. If there are chicks in the nest, the giraffe eats them too, gaining some extra minerals from their bones. Giraffes also get minerals by gnawing on the bones of animals killed and left by hyenas and other predators.27 Other problems with the Darwinist textbook story One common theory is that the long neck evolved to aid in mating. The chief adaptive reason for evolving long necks could be sexual success “with a much-vaunted browsing of leaves as a distinctly secondary consequence.”28 The longer neck enables males to perform their ritual dominant battles called “necking.”29 The intrasexual competition theory assumes that “necking” behavior evolved first, then the neck length evolved due to sexual selection. Other evolutionists suggest that giraffes’ long necks evolved to function as look-out towers to spot potential predators. This, coupled with giraffe’s excellent vision, enables them to spot a lion as much as a mile away. The problem with this theory is giraffe’s have virtually no enemies – lions are the only wild animal that usually attacks them, but only when desperate.30 A lion is little match for a 2,000 to 4,000-pound giraffe. A giraffe hoof can kill a lion with a single blow. The giraffes’ best defense is not their necks, but it is their long legs and heavy hooves that are deadly to enemies. They defend themselves primarily by kicking. This theory may explain their long legs, but not why they evolved long necks. The legs could have evolved first to allow them to run from carnivores, then the neck grew so that the giraffe could stretch down to eat grass and drink water. The problem with this scenario is long legs do not always give the giraffe an advantage to outrun predators. Many of the fastest animals have legs far shorter than a modern giraffe’s. Fossil evidence for giraffe evolution lacking Much controversy exists about giraffe evolution, partly because no empirical evidence of giraffe evolution exists. Without any evidentiary constraints, scientists are free to speculate. As a result, they have tried to link giraffes to a variety of often very dissimilar animals.31 About a dozen giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) types are recognized. They are plentiful in the fossil record, and their bones have not changed much, if at all, in shape or size since giraffes first appeared in the record. The extant fossil record evidence leads to the conclusion that giraffes have been unchanged, by evolutionary reckoning, for about two million years.32 Furthermore, the fossil evidence that does exist “provides no insight into how the long-necked modern species arose.”33 Except that they are greatly elongated, the seven giraffe cervical vertebrae and leg bones are about the same number and are very similar to those of virtually all mammals.34 If giraffe neck and leg elongation occurred in evolution, then this should be obvious in the fossil bones. Yet no fossils supporting their neck evolution have ever been discovered. Savage and Long conclude that the origin of all three of the mainpecorans (giraffes, deer, and cattle) lineages “remains obscure” due to the total absence of relevant fossil evidence.35 Although some estimate that there exist approximately 50 extinct giraffe species, all are known from fossils extending back to the Miocene, estimated by evolutionists to be 17 million years ago. In spite of considerable effort, none of these show evidence for giraffe evolution. After unearthing millions of fossil bones, paleontologists have not located evidence for giraffe neck elongation, or any transitional stages. As Danowitz documents “the giraffe neck has been adequately researched” which has confirmed that “osteological demonstration of the fossils and evolutionary transformation of the neck is lacking.”36 Summary In conclusion, we agree with Gould that the standard giraffe evolution story “in fact, is both fatuous and unsupported,” and the existence “of maximal mammalian height for browsing acacia leaves does not prove that the neck evolved for such a function.”37 Gould’s major concern about this case is, “If we choose a weak and foolish speculation as a primary textbook illustration (falsely assuming that the tale possesses a weight of history and a sanction in evidence), then we are in for trouble – as critics properly nail the particular weakness, and then assume that the whole theory must be in danger if supporters choose such a fatuous case as a primary illustration.”38 We critics have nailed, not only this major weakness in Darwinism, but also its many other weaknesses and outright incorrect conclusions. This is Chapter 7 from Dr. Jerry Bergman’s “Wonderful and Bizarre Life Forms in Creation” Each of the 23 chapters examines a different animal or creature, so if you liked this, you can order the book at the Creation Science Association of Alberta. References 1 Allin, M. 1998. Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, From Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris. New York: Walker and Company, p. 5. 2 Burton, M. and R. Burton. 1969. Giraffe. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Volume 7. NY: Marshall Cavendish, p. 885. 3 Davis, P. and D. Kenyon. 1993. Of Pandas and People; The Central Question of Biological Origins. Dallas, TX: Haughton; Brantley, G. 1994. A Living Skyscraper. Discovery. 5: 26. April. 4 Spinage, C.A. 1968. The Book of the Giraffe. London: Collins. 5 See J. B. Lamarck’s English translation. 1914. Zoological Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Elliot. London, England: Macmillan, p. 122. 6 Gould, S. J. 1998. Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History. NY: Harmony Books, p. 312. 7 Gould, ref. 6, p. 309. 8 Sherr, L. 1997. Tall Blondes, A Book About Giraffes. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, p. 40. 9 Hofland, L. 1996. Giraffes; animals that stand out in a crowd. Creation. 8 (4): 11-13.; Davis, P. and D. Kenyon, 1993. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Dallas, TX: Haughton Pub. Co. 10 Peterson, D. 2013. Giraffe Reflections. Berkeley, CA: University of California; Dagg, A. 2014. Giraffe: Biology, Behaviour and Conservation. NY: Cambridge University Press. 11 Sherr, ref. 8, p. 40. 12 Gould, ref. 6, p. 302. 13 Gould, ref. 6, p. 302. 14 Gould, S. J. 1991. Bully for Brontosaurus. NY: Norton, p. 166. 15 Denton, M. 1986. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Bethesda, MD. Adler and Adler, pp. 42-43. Emphasis added. 16 Kottak, C. P. 2000. Anthropology: Exploration of Human Diversity. NY: McGraw-Hill, p. 166. 17 Gould, ref. 6, p. 317. Emphasis added. 18 Gould, ref. 6, p. 303. 19 Gould, ref. 14, p. 166. 20 Sherr, ref. 8, p. 41. 21 Gould, ref. 6, p. 306. 22 Hoagland, M., B. Dodson, J. Hauck. 2001. Exploring the Way Life Works: The Science of Biology. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett. 23 Simmons, R. E. and L. Scheepers. 1996. Winning by a neck: sexual selection in the evolution of giraffe. The American Naturalist. 148(5):771-786. p. 771. 24 Burton and Burton, ref. 2. 25 Gould, ref. 6. 26 Spinage, ref. 4. 27 Allen, T. 1997. Animals of Africa. Washington DC: Levin, p. 86. 28 Gould, ref. 6, pp. 317-318. 29 Sherr, ref. 8, p. 42. 30 Simmons and Scheepers, ref. 23. 31 Dagg, A. I. and J. Bristol Foster. 1976. The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior and Ecology. NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 32 Sherr, ref. 8, p. 42. 33 Gould, ref. 6, p. 315. 34 Gould, ref. 6, p. 309. 35 Savage, R. G. and M. R. Long. 1986. Mammal evolution. NY: Natural History Museum, p. 228. 36 Danowitz, M. et al. 2015. Fossil evidence and stages of elongation of the Giraffa camelopardalis neck. Royal Society Open Science 2: 150393. See also Danowitz, M., R. Domalski, N. Solounias. 2015. The cervical anatomy of Samotherium, an intermediate-necked giraffid. Royal Society Open Science. 2: 150521. 37 Gould, ref. 6, p. 318. 38 Gould, ref. 6, p. 314....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

ON PSALM 46: an excerpt from "Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms – Study Resource"

What follows is an excerpt, on Psalm 46, from the new commentary "Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms - Study Resource." Written by pastors, it is meant as a resource for the everyday reader of the Psalms to better understand how they relate to Christ and to ourselves. The commentary's Christological focus sets it apart, though, as the editor Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer has noted, the pastors take care never to "dream-up links to the Saviour but to base their conclusions on sound grammatical-historical exegesis." As you can see it what follows, the resource makes use of 16 different headings, to allow the busy reader to easily find the particular information they are looking for. If you've appreciated this peek at Psalm 46, be sure to order "Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms - The Study Resource" right here. ***** 1. Author & Purpose Psalm 46 is one of the best-known songs written by the sons of Korah (see further information at Pss. 42/43). As strongly as any another psalm, and perhaps more so, it assures God’s people that no matter what may befall us, either as a result of natural catastrophes or at the hand of human opposition, the God of Jacob will protect us and provide for us, both now and for eternity. 2. Setting The superscription of this psalm does not give a specific historical setting, and there is nothing in the psalm that would tie it to any particular moment in redemptive history. Instead, with its dominant theme of God’s sovereignty ensuring our security, this psalm has a timeless quality to it. Since the word alamoth in the superscription can also mean “maiden” or “virgin,” some have suggested that this psalm was originally sung by a women’s choir. Others have postulated that the term indicates that the tune should be played on the higher register of a musical instrument. Truth be told, though, since alamoth occurs in musical contexts only here and in 1 Chronicles 15:20, it is virtually impossible to ascertain its meaning. 3. Type & Structure This psalm is a hymn of praise*. In this respect, among the psalms of the sons of Korah it falls in the same category as Psalms 47, 48, 84, and 87. This song is divided into three almost equal-length stanzas: 1–3– God is a refuge for us during calamities in creation 4–7– The God of Jacob is a fortress for us during combat with foes 8–11– The God of Jacob is a fortress for us until the end of time Each stanza is demarcated with the transliterated word selah*. In addition, the second and third stanzas culminate in an identical refrain: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (vv. 7, 11). The third stanza is unique in that it contains a direct address from God to us whereas in the rest of the psalm we address God. 4. Poetic Elements This psalm is filled with unforgettable poetic imagery. Mountains plunge into the sea. The earth itself melts. Bows break and spears shatter. The Holy Spirit saturates our minds with one vivid word picture after another. He also pulls the psalm together through various repeated verbs. The mountains are “moved” (v. 2), but Jerusalem “shall not be moved” (v. 5), even though the kingdoms “totter” (v. 6). In each case the same Hebrew verb is used. Similarly, just as surely as the waters “roar” (v. 3), so also the nations “rage” (v. 6). Again in the original the same word is used. Parallel lines also contribute to the tight, cohesive structure of this psalm. “The city of God” is in line with “the holy habitation of the Most High” (v. 4), and knowing that “the LORD of hosts is with us” gives all the more weight to the expression “the God of Jacob is our fortress” (vv. 7, 11). 5. Placement within the Psalter In 44:4 the sons of Korah made a personal confession that we all should echo: “You are my King, O God.” This acclamation of God as our royal head continues in Psalm 45. These “verses to the king” (v. 1) portray an elaborate royal wedding ceremony. Furthermore, under the LORD’s blessing this royal couple will receive royal children and so begin a dynasty with many princes all over the earth (v. 16). Indeed, from nation to nation and from generation to generation, the name of the King will be remembered. At the same time, the nations will not naturally come to the point of exulting in the LORD. Quite the opposite, they will have to be brought to this point. For this reason, before the “princes of the people gather as the people of the God of Abraham,” as we hear in 47:9, the LORD must do something to subdue them in Psalm 46. Though these nations may roar against the King of kings, his people, and his city (v. 6), the God of Jacob will silence them and insist upon his divine prerogative to be exalted among the nations (v. 10). To sum up, then, the royal expectation of 45:17 becomes a wonderful reality in 47:9 but only through the mighty decree and work of the LORD in 46:10. In addition, Psalms 46–48 form a sub-unit of psalms that focuses on Jerusalem, God’s chosen city. This focus on the city of our God is explicit in Psalms 46 and 48, and if we take into consideration the setting of Psalm 47 as connected to the return of the ark to Jerusalem, then all three psalms form a compact litany of praise from within the walls of Zion to the God of Zion. The interrelated themes of Zion and kingship combine to serve as an echo of Psalm 2:6 where both are mentioned right beside each other: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Notice how both are dear to the LORD. He calls the king “my King” and he identifies Zion as “my holy hill.” Since he holds this person and this place near to his heart, it is not at all surprising that the Holy Spirit expands on these themes in this section of the Psalter. 6. Key Words Refuge (Heb. root ḥsh, 1); fortress (vv. 7, 11) – Normally speaking, a refuge (v. 1) or fortress (vv. 7, 11) is a place where people are safe from calamity and combat. Remarkably, in this psalm the refuge is not a place but a Person, namely, the God of Jacob. Finding our refuge in God is a common theme in the Psalms (e.g., 14:6; 61:3; 62:8; 73:28). River (v. 4) – In both the ancient and modern worlds people tend to build cities by rivers or other large sources of fresh water. Think of Cairo on the Nile, Babylon on the Euphrates, New York on the Hudson, and Vancouver on the Fraser. Yet the inspired irony here is that Jerusalem is not situated on the banks of a river. The Jordan River is about thirty kilometres to the east of the city walls. In the days of the sons of Korah, Jerusalem’s main source of water was the Gihon spring, yet in faith they trust that since the LORD is in their midst he himself will provide for them as abundantly as if their city sat on the banks of the mighty Nile. The LORD of hosts (vv. 7, 11) – God’s personal name is Yahweh, or I AM WHO I AM (Ex. 3:14), or the LORD, as it is often printed in our Bible translations. About 250 times in the OT and twice in this psalm God’s personal name is combined with “hosts” to form Yahweh Sebaoth. A host is a big army or a large multitude of creatures. Thus, the LORD of hosts is the supreme commander of the armies of heaven (i.e., the angels) and all the nations and creatures on the earth. He also commands the heavenly hosts, which are the billions of stars in the night sky. 7. Unusual Words or Expressions Very present help (v. 1) – Literally this verse speaks of help that is easily found. You don’t have to go searching high and low for God’s help. He is always right at hand, ready to help whenever and wherever his people need his assistance. Heart of the sea (v. 2) – This poetic expression describes not only the deepest part of the sea (Ezek. 27:27) but also possibly a geographical point that is far away from the shore of the sea (Ezek. 27:25). Today we might say “in the middle of the sea.” Earth melts (v. 6) – The verb used here means either “to totter” (cf. 75:4) or “to melt” (cf. Jer. 49:23). In either case the earth, which is normally so stable, now becomes utterly undone simply at the voice of God. This same God has set a day on which heaven and earth and its very elements will be dissolved by fire (2 Peter 3:10, 12). 8. Main Message Summing up the message of this psalm in one sentence, we might put it this way: God is our fortress, therefore we need not fear. Although many psalms serve as an antidote to anxiety, this psalm does so in a particularly powerful way because each stanza provides another layer of assurance until, by God’s grace, we walk away with a calm and confident heart. The first stanza sets calamities in creation before our eyes. In fact, the sons of Korah highlight some of the most extreme events one could imagine. Throughout the course of history there have been terrible windstorms, violent earthquakes, overwhelming floods, and horrific plagues, but the terra firma remains firm. Added to that, centuries, yes, millennia have passed but Mount Baker is still Mount Baker and Mount Everest is still Mount Everest. However, what if that all changed one day? What if the earth itself gave way (v. 2a) and melted (v. 6)? What if the seemingly unmovable mountains were picked up and tossed into the middle of the sea (v. 2b)? Or what if such a furious tsunami crashed ashore that even the solid granite mountains began to shiver and tremble (v. 3)? Obviously, these are extreme events, not unlike those things that the Lord has prophesied concerning the last days (e.g., Isa. 24:18; 2 Peter 3:10–12). Yet even if such cataclysms begin to occur, God’s people can confess, “We will not fear” (v. 2). Is this unfounded bravado? No, this is confidence that comes from acknowledging the God of all creation as “our refuge and strength” (v. 1). Even cataclysm comes “not by chance but from his fatherly hand” (LD 10), so God’s people can find in him a refuge that is greater than the most extreme disaster. The second stanza shifts our attention from the raging seas to the quiet waters of a river with its streams. There is a deep irony in water. When it rises and rages (v. 3a) it can cause destruction and death. Yet when it flows gently it sustains life, refreshes the parched tongue, and even gives joy to an entire city (v. 4). The city in view in this psalm, though, is not just any city; it is God’s city, his holy habitation, the city of Jerusalem. The river being described is not just any river. As explained above (see Key Words), Jerusalem did not have a large, natural river flowing within walking distance of its houses yet in faith the citizens of this city confess that since “God is in the midst of her” (v. 5), they will surely receive all that they need from his hand, especially the still waters that restore the soul and symbolize regeneration for the entire person (cf. Ps. 23:2–3; Titus 3:5). With this truth implanted in our hearts, God’s people do not even need to fear mighty armies or fierce nations that may march against them. The God of Jacob, the Chief Cosmic Commander, before whom no enemy can stand, only needs to speak once and the very earth itself will melt (v. 6). Since he is our fortress, we are assured that no sword or soldier will separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:35). The third stanza pulls together the LORD’s sovereignty over creation (“desolations on the earth,” v. 8) and all armies (v. 9). In fact, the LORD is so comprehensively sovereign that he can not only direct the outcome of a war, but he can defeat war itself so that even battles themselves become obsolete (v. 9). This last stanza also contains a dramatic pause as the LORD of hosts himself speaks. All must be silent before this almighty God. All must be silent, humble themselves, and exalt him. God’s people too must be silent and set their anxieties aside knowing that with the God of Jacob as our fortress (v. 11), we need not, and will not, fear (v. 2). Believers today have even more reason to be confidently calm since our Saviour has ascended the throne at God’s right hand, been given the name above every name, rules over all authorities, and will one day hear every tongue confess him as Lord (Phil. 2:9–11). 9. Christ Connection The connections between Psalm 46 and our Saviour Jesus Christ are numerous. In the first place, there is a direct line between the refrain of this psalm and one of the names of our Saviour. Both in verse 7 and 11 we are assured that “the LORD of hosts is with us” (emphasis added). Not only does this assurance resonate with what the LORD says elsewhere in the OT (see next section), but it also reaches forward to the name Immanuel, which the prophet Isaiah already announced concerning the son of the virgin in Isaiah 7:14 and which the angel confirmed as a name of our Saviour in Matthew 1:23. Indeed, in Christ the comfort of God’s presence with us reaches an entirely new level. In the OT God was always present with his people, but in the NT the Son of God became flesh (John 1:14) and “took upon himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary” (LD 14). In this way the Son of God was not only with us but also became one of us, “like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17) and “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Secondly, the sons of Korah begin by describing God as “a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). This means that God’s help is easy to find. Human beings naturally conclude that since God and we are so different, it must also be difficult to find him and speak to him. Jesus Christ taught us differently when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In addition, since Christ is both God and man, we can confidently draw near to the throne of grace at any given moment and be assured that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). BC 26 explains in a deep and moving manner that with God’s own Son as our intercessor, divine help is always close at hand. Finally, Psalm 46 presents a striking image of the city of Jerusalem with a river flowing from it or at least near it (see Key Words above, as well as Ezek. 47:1–6 and Rev. 22:1–2). It goes without saying that water is essential for life. However, there is physical life, common to all, and also the new, spiritual, heavenly life, given only to God’s chosen ones (BC 35). Yet although cisterns and streams give us ordinary water that is necessary for physical life, Christ alone gives us the special, spiritual water that sustains the new life that leads to eternal life. As Jesus Christ told the woman at the well of Sychar, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14). And, as Christ later explains, this special “living water” refers to the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39). 10. Old Testament Links Just as we hear in verses 7 and 11 in this psalm, so the LORD himself has repeatedly assured his people that he is with them, with his power and his grace, through good times and bad. This reassurance ought to quiet our fears. For example, when Moses felt too inadequate and too scared to confront Pharaoh, the LORD assured him: “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). Similarly, when Joshua faced the seemingly insurmountable task of leading God’s people over the Jordan, into the Promised Land, and onto the battlefield against fierce nations defending their home turf, the LORD also encouraged him saying, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). The blessing of having a river nearby is also found elsewhere in the OT. Already the garden of Eden was watered by a river that divided into four headwaters (Gen. 2:10–14). Moreover, even if the actual city of Jerusalem did not have a large river beside it, the eschatological Jerusalem, described by the prophet Ezekiel, certainly did, symbolizing the life-giving power that flows from the LORD and his temple (Ezek. 47:1, 5). 11. New Testament Links The same theme of the Lord’s abiding presence returns in the NT at a most significant point in redemptive history: the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Commentators and preachers alike have paid much attention to the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), yet comparatively less consideration has been given to the words that follow immediately thereafter: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Given the calamities and persecutions that we read about in the book of Revelation and that are occurring or will yet happen, these words of our Saviour, echoing the refrain of Psalm 46, are an immense comfort. The river theme of the OT, including Psalm 46, finds its final and most spectacular fulfillment in the river that flows with the water of eternal life in Revelation 22, water that is “bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 1). 12. Confessional References BC 27 uses verse 5 (“God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved”) to substantiate its conviction that the holy church of Christ “is preserved by God against the fury of the whole world.” To be sure, this is an appropriate reference. A rapid glance through the pages of church history should be enough to convince any alert reader that if the God of Jacob were not the fortress of his church, she would have died and been buried in the dust long ago. 13. Scriptural Themes Creator/Creation– The God who created the mountains (Gen. 1:9) can also throw those very same mountains into the heart of the sea (v. 2). The God who separated the waters (Gen. 1:6) is more than able to provide a river’s worth of water to a city that has only one big spring (the Gihon) as its water source (v. 4). This psalm vividly affirms the Creator’s comprehensive control of his creation. God’s Sovereignty– The God of Jacob is sovereign over creation (vv. 1–3) and over the nations (vv. 4–7). Indeed, his divine rule will be acknowledged and exalted throughout the entire earth (v. 10). God’s Kingdom– Although the terms “king” and “kingdom” do not occur in this psalm, God’s own decree that he will be exalted among the nations (v. 10) clearly implies his kingship. God’s Covenant (of grace) – The prominent reference to God’s covenant name, Yahweh (LORD), in “Yahweh Sebaoth,” at the end of the second and third stanzas reminds us that the doctrine of the covenant undergirds this psalm as well. God’s Grace– He who is our “very present help in trouble” (v. 1) is certainly a kind and gracious God. God’s Church– The city of God (v. 4), otherwise known as Zion or Jerusalem, is not only a location on a map but a dwelling place for God’s people. In this way, the city of God in the OT symbolizes the church of God in the NT. Antithesis– Though the nations may rage against God and his holy city, the LORD of hosts will protect his people as their refuge, fortress, and ever-present help (vv. 5–7). Man’s Depravity – Nothing noteworthy. Justification – Nothing noteworthy. Sanctification – Nothing noteworthy. Mission/Outreach – Nothing noteworthy. Other – Nothing noteworthy. 14. Application 1. For the Christian We tend to focus on our personal crises, whether that be a sudden financial upheaval, an unexpected medical concern, or a severe tragedy within our family. The mountain of the crisis looms large and at times feels overwhelming. Psalm 46 teaches us to step back and see things from another perspective. Without undermining the difficulty of anyone’s struggles, isn’t the cataclysm described in verses 2–3 more extreme? And since the LORD of hosts can help and hold his people through a meltdown of the earth itself, surely he is also able to help each of us through our individual crises. 2. For the congregation The world, with all of its secular and sinful passion, always seems to be stronger than the church. Numerically, the world looks bigger than the church. Financially, the world has more resources than the church. Visually, the world, with the glamour of Hollywood and the appeal of so-called freedom, appears more attractive. How can the church survive the flood of ungodliness that threatens to drown it (Rev. 12:15)? Psalm 46 provides an unforgettable answer. There is one who is always and infinitely more powerful than the world, and he is the Creator of, and Commander over, the entire world, including its population. Since he is our fortress, the church, even in its most vulnerable moment, is more than adequately protected. 15. Occasions for Use The comforting truths of Psalm 46 resonated with Martin Luther so deeply that he composed a famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” on the basis of it. In an era where disease was rampant and heretics were banned or burned, Luther found solace in this psalm, turning it into a hymn that is still sung around the world today. It is noteworthy that Luther, just as we did above, found this psalm to be utterly and thoroughly Christ-centred. Therefore, what may lie in the shadows in Psalm 46 is brought right out into the open in Luther’s hymn. Lord Sebaoth (or: Lord Sabaoth) is Christ Jesus and the foes are not an army of Syrians but rather Satan and his malicious horde. 16. Questions for Further Study In John 4:7-15 Jesus spoke to the woman at the well of Sychar about “living water.” What exactly is living water and how does Christ give it also to us? Twice in the psalm we hear the assurance that “the LORD of hosts is with us” (vv. 7, 11). Which name of our Saviour captures this same truth? In this psalm the sons of Korah call our God “a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). Yet sometimes God’s people are in trouble and they call out to God for help, but he does not seem to hear their voices. How do we understand and deal with this? Is anxiety sin? Even if you are not a worrywart by nature it’s hard to live in this broken world and avoid all anxiety. Yet the question remains: is worry a transgression of God’s command? In this regard contemplate verse 2of this psalm and connect it to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:25–34. Spend some time unpacking the imagery of the joy-giving river in verse 4. In what different ways does this water give gladness to God’s people? What different kinds of blessings are associated with water in Scripture? Isaiah 12:3and Titus 3:5 are good places to start, but what others can you think of? In verse 6 the Holy Spirit speaks of the earth melting and he uses similar language in 2 Peter 3:10–13. Compare various translations of these passages and then discuss whether this eschatological melting is literal or figurative. At the end of time, will the elements of this present creation be melted down in the smelter of God’s refining fires and be recast into a new heaven and earth, or does Scripture mean something different? Dr. Jason Van Vliet is Principal and Professor of Dogmatics at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. You can order "Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms - Study Resource" here....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

When C.S. Lewis was an atheist...

An excerpt from Douglas Bond’s novel War in the Wasteland Editor’s note: This excerpt takes place during a prolonged Germany artillery barrage that has the British hunkering deep down in their trenches. Private Nigel Hopkins ends up deep underground with his two of his Company’s junior officers, 2cnd Lieutenant Johnson and 2cnd Lieutenant C.S. Lewis. With nothing to do but wait the two officers restart a conversation they began some days before about the meaning of it all. Lewis, at this point in his life, was an atheist, and, in some ways, a thoughtful one. But in this exchange (in which we come mid-way) Johnson exposes how Lewis’s argument against God is not, as Lewis seemed to suppose, a matter of cold logic, but rather emotion. **** For several moments, listening to the continuing barrage, sitting in total darkness, no one said anything. Lewis broke the silence, his tone sober, brooding, almost simmering: “My mother was a rock, the fortress of our existence. When she died our fortress crumbled.” “I am so terribly sorry,” said Johnson softly. “You were how old?” “Nine. Almost ten.” “Tender age,” said Johnson. “Such a pity. How did you cope?” “I became an atheist.” “Why an atheist?” “Why not? I had prayed – nobody could have prayed more earnestly than I. She died, my praying notwithstanding. God did not answer.” “I am truly sorry for you,” said Johnson. “You need not be,” said Lewis. “It’s just the facts. Facing them is the same as growing up, leaving childish ways behind.” “‘God did not answer,’ you say,” said Johnson, picking his way cautiously, so it seemed to Nigel. ”Ergo, He does not exist? It sounds to me as if you do believe in God, but want Him on a leash, dutifully at your side, a tame lion, coming when you call, doing your bidding.” “Balderdash,” said Lewis. “‘Facing the facts,’ as you call it,” continued Johnson. “I’m rather fond of facts myself. Enlighten me. Did you decide not to believe in God because you had grappled with the evidence and had concluded that no such divine being existed? Or did you – I mean no offense, mind you – did you decide not to believe in such a being because you were angry with Him for not healing your mother? Put simply, was your unbelief in God to spite Him?” “That’s more balderdash. It was –“ Lewis broke off, saved by a rapid staccato of exploding ordinance above them. After another uncomfortable silence, Johnson cleared his throat and began again. “One wonders if it makes rational sense to organize one’s metaphysics around the notion that by simply choosing not to believe in someone that this someone, thereby, no longer exists. If that actually worked, I’d commence not believing in the Kaiser – Poof! Away with him. Poof! Away with the firing their ordinance at us right now. Poof! Away with the whole dashed war.” “All right, all right. Perhaps, strictly speaking,” said Lewis. “Perhaps, I did not become an atheist. I do not know.” “I used to think I was one,” said Johnson, striking a match. “But at the end of the day, Jack, atheism is too simple, wholly inadequate to explain the complexities of life, a boy’s philosophy. That’s what it is.” Lewis, mesmerized by the flickering match light, sat brooding, seeming not to hear him. “Perhaps I had become something worse.” As he proceeded his voice was a strained monotone, each word coming like a lash. “Perhaps it was then that I began to think of God, if He exists at all, as malevolent, a cosmic sadist, inflicting pain on his creatures for sport. Or an eternal vivisector, toying with his human rats merely for curiosity or amusement.” It was pitch dark again. Listening to the exploding artillery rounds above them, no one said anything for several minutes. Nigel concluded that, furious as it yet was, clearly the main force of the bombardment was winding down. He wondered if one of the German howitzers had jammed, or if the British counterbattery fire had managed to take out some of the enemy’s big guns. It was Lieutenant Lewis who broke the silence. His voice was barely audible in the dark. “I wish I could remember her face.” If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to pick up a copy of Douglas Bond’s novel “War in the Wasteland” which can be found at any online retailer. And you may also like "The Resistance," a sequel of sorts, which takes place during World War II....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, People we should know, Teen non-fiction

Edith Cavell: a brave guide

Some 150 years ago, on December 4, 1865, English woman Edith Cavell was born. And 100 years ago, on October 12, 1915, during the First World War, she was executed. Instilled with a desire to please her Creator God, Edith Cavell became a nurse; she lived what she professed, and died bravely at the hands of German soldiers. Her crime? Assisting Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. In a seemingly hopeless situation, she persevered and did not shun the victor's crown. She was a gift given by God to His Son Jesus Christ and, as such, saved for eternal life. Throughout the fifty years of Edith Cavell's life, she was content to work hard and live humbly. She was a godly woman and, therefore, a godly historical example. The Bible instructs us to teach our children about such historical examples. Psalm 78:4 reads: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that He has done." At a time in history when examples of godly women are few and far between, much needed strength and encouragement can be drawn from the life of this lady who put all her trust in Jesus Christ, her Savior. 
 The following is an excerpt from the Christine Farenhorst historical fiction novel of Edith Cavell’s life, called A Cup of Cold Water, (P&R Publishing, 2007). At this point Edith has been helping many Allied soldiers escape out of German territory. *** December 4, 1914 - Brussels, Belgium Breakfast was generally served at an early hour in the L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, the Belgian School of Lay Nurses. Too early some of the nurses said. “It is actually 7 o’clock, you know,” José said at 6 o’clock one morning, as he bit into a thin piece of toast. Puzzled, everyone stared at him and he went on. “The Germans changed our time yesterday. We are now on German time and no longer on Belgian time. All the public clocks have been put ahead.” “Well, I’m not going to pay the slightest bit of attention,” Gracie said, glancing at her wristwatch, “That’s just plain silly.” “Well maybe,” Pauline added hopefully, “we should get up later.” She eyed Edith but Edith was looking at cook in the doorway. “Excuse me, Madame,” the cook said, “there is someone to see you in the kitchen.” Edith got up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and left the dining room quietly after glancing at Elisabeth Wilkins. Elisabeth nodded to her, indicating that she would supervise while Edith was gone. Two more Louise Thuliez, one of the resistance workers Edith had come to know, was waiting in the kitchen. She had come in through the back entrance. Brown hair hidden under a kerchief, the young woman was obviously relieved when Edith walked in. Ushering her through the hall towards her own office, Edith could feel the woman’s tenseness. As soon as the door closed behind them, Louise spoke. There was urgency in her tone. “I have two men waiting to come to the clinic.” Edith nodded. “Fine. Direct them here. I’ll see to them.” Louise nodded, brusquely put out her hand, which Edith shook, and disappeared. Left alone in her small office, Edith passed her right hand over her forehead in a gesture of weariness. Running a hospital in peacetime was not easy, but running it in wartime, with mounting bills for food and medicines which would never be paid by the patients, was next to impossible. She had received some money from Reginald de Cröy and Monsieur Capiau but the men who had been sent to her regularly since Monsieur Capiau’s first appearance all had hearty appetites. Resources were at the breaking point. With a glance at the calendar, she saw it was her birthday and with a pang she realized that it would be the first year she had not received letters from Mother, Flo, Lil, Jack and cousin Eddie. She swallowed. Jack growled softly and she looked out the window. Two men were approaching the walkway. Bracing herself, she smoothed her hair, patted the dog and went out into the hall to await their knock. Although most of the men sent to the school only stayed one or two nights, some of them stayed a longer. As Edith awaited the arrival of the new refugees, she wondered how long she would need to provide them with shelter. If they were ill, they would be nursed right alongside German patients. Many of the nurses in the school were unaware of what was going on. All they saw were extra patients — bandaged, limping and joking patients. The Café Chez Jules was situated right next to the school. To recuperating soldiers, as well as to idle men with nothing to do for a few days, it became a favorite gathering place. The Café served watered-down wine and at its tables the men played cards, chatted and lounged about. But even if the Germans were not yet suspicious, word quickly spread around the Belgian neighborhood that Allied soldiers were hiding in the nursing school. Once again, as she had done so often, Edith opened the door. A short, thickset man looked Edith full in the face. “My name is Captain Tunmore, sole survivor of the First Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.” He spoke with a heavy English accent. “And this,” Captain Tunmore went on, indicating the man at his side, “is Private Lewis of the Cheshire Regiment. Password is yorc. We’re both looking to get across to border.” Edith shook their hands. They were a little nonplused that this small, frail-looking lady whose hand totally disappeared in their grasp, was rumored to be so tough. Captain Tunmore, noting a picture on the wall, remarked, “Hey, that’s Norwich Cathedral!” “Do you know Norwich?” Edith asked. “It’s my home. I was born on its outskirts.” Edith took another look at the man. The fact that he said that he was Norfolk born, gave her, for just a small moment, the feeling that she was home, that she was looking into her mother’s face. “Well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend Christmas here with us as there is no guide to take you until after the twenty-fifth.” *** Captain Tunmore and Private Lewis had come without identity cards. Edith, consequently, took photographs of the men herself and had contacts make identity cards for them. After Christmas, she arranged to have them travel towards Antwerp in a wagon but they were discovered and barely made it back safely to the clinic a few days later. Edith, therefore, prepared to guide them out of Brussels herself. “Gentlemen, be ready at dawn tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Louvain road. From there you’re on your own.” “I was thirsty…” At daybreak, Edith taking the lead and the men following her at a discreet distance, the trio made their way to a road outside of Brussels. Once there, Edith passed the soldiers a packet of food as well as an envelope of money. “In case you need to bribe someone – or in case you get a chance to use the railway,” she said. Shaking their hands once again, she turned and disappeared into the mist. On the walk back, Edith reminisced about how she had walked these very paths as a young governess with her young charges. It now seemed ages ago that they had frolicked about her, collecting insects, drawing, running and pulling at her arm to come and see some plant which they had found. Now she understood that God, in His infinite wisdom, had used that time to intimately acquaint her with this area. How very strange providence was! At the time she had sometimes felt, although she loved the children dearly, that her task as a governess was unimportant – trivial perhaps. Yet it had equipped her for the role she now played. Smiling to herself she thought, “Why am I surprised? After all, does not the Bible say that it is important to be faithful over a few things. A noise to her left interrupted her reverie and she slowed down. A German guard suddenly loomed next to her. “Halt! Papieren, bitte — Stop! Papers, please.” Silently she took them out and waited. He waved her on after a moment and she resumed her way. What would her father have thought about these activities, she wondered? “Out so early, my Edith?” she imagined him asking. “Yes, father. Just a little matter of helping some soldiers escape to the front lines. If they are found, you see, they’ll be sent to an internment camp somewhere, or they might be shot.” “What about you, my Edith?” “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And besides, what else can I do? These men, these refugee soldiers, father, they just come to me. They arrive on my doorstep and look so helpless, so afraid that I will turn them away.” “Well, my Edith, you are doing right. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, child: “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.” “I remember, father. I remember.” “And in the end ... in the end, Edith, He will say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” “I know, father.” No time for childhood Throughout the spring of that new year, 1915, Edith continued to rise early on the mornings that soldiers were to leave for the frontier. English, French, and Belgians – they were all men eager to leave so that they could help the Allies. Between five and seven in the morning, she would accompany the men to the planned rendezvous point with the next guide, generally a tramway terminus or a point in some street. Arriving back after one such venture, in the early days of March, she found Elisabeth waiting for her in her office with a very guilty-looking Pauline and José at her side. “What is the trouble?” Edith asked as she took off her coat. “Would you like me to tell her, or shall I?” Elisabeth’s voice was angry. José shuffled his feet but he met Edith’s gaze head-on. Then he spoke. “I encouraged all the families on Rue Darwin to set their alarm clocks at the same time. I told them to set it for six o’clock in the morning, the time I knew a single patrol would be passing.” He stopped. Edith sighed. “And,” she encouraged, “what happened?” “Well, when all the alarms went off at the same time, the soldier jumped a mile into the air. You should have seen– ” “Was anyone hurt?” Edith interrupted him. “No, no one,” Pauline took over, “everyone only let their alarms ring for five seconds exactly. After that they shut them off at the same time. It was deathly quiet in the streets and all the people watched the silly soldier through their curtains as he looked behind him and around corners and pointed his silly rifle at nothing. We laughed so hard.” Edith sat down. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if that soldier had shot up at a window? Or if he had kicked open a door and ...” She paused. They really had no idea about the seriousness of the times in which they were living. She sighed again and went on. Pauline looked down at the floor and José appeared fascinated with the wall. “You ought to know better than anyone, José, how dangerous it was what you did. After all, you have come with me many times to help soldiers find their way through and out of Brussels so that they can escape to safety. War is not a game.” *** After they left her office, thoroughly chastened, Edith sat down at her desk, put her head into her hands and wept. Childhood seemed such a long way off and the Germans were stealing much more than blackberry pie. Edith Cavell's death was memorialized on propaganda posters like this one....

Book excerpts

What a Savior! Christ on the cross intercedes for his enemies

In Dr. Wes Bredenhof’s new book "Seven Wondrous Words" (available in Canada here, and in the US here) he shares Christ’s seven final conversations or “words” from the cross. In this excerpt he addresses the first, “The Word of Forgiveness” when Jesus says: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a). **** Perhaps you have heard of The Hunger Games. Some time ago, it was popular in the broader culture and controversial among Christians. The story involves a young woman named Katniss Everdeen. It is set in the future, in a time when the political landscape of North America has radically changed. It is now a country called Panem and there are twelve districts governed by a central region known as the Capitol. In years previous there had been a revolution. The revolution was violently overthrown by the Capitol and now as retribution each year the districts have to send two young people to the Capitol. The young people participate in a reality TV show that involves mortal combat. Only one can survive. There are all sorts of ways to view this story – which is to say there are many classic themes of literature. For many people, one of the most moving moments in the story is right at the beginning. It takes place at what they call “the reaping.” This is where the two young people are chosen by a draw. Katniss Everdeen’s little sister Prim is chosen. The choice means certain death for Prim. She is young and does not stand a chance in the Hunger Games. So Katniss steps forward and takes her place. She essentially offers to die for her sister. She is the substitute. This is one of those classic themes I just mentioned – something that has always resonated with audiences and especially with those who have some familiarity with the gospel and the Savior who offers himself as a substitute for sinners. But very much unlike the Savior, Katniss Everdeen is partly driven to survive by her rage against the system that brought her to the Hunger Games. Yes, she wants to survive for her sister and she tries to help others survive too – she has a sympathetic heart for the weak and helpless. But for her enemies in the Hunger Games she has no sympathy. Moreover, she also hates the people in charge and is filled with spite for them. She wants to destroy them. In this sense, she is a true daughter of fallen Adam and Eve. What a difference from Christ as he hangs on the cross as our substitute! The first of his seven sayings on the cross is often called the Word of Forgiveness. We are going to reflect on the content of the prayer of Jesus, the reasons behind it, and the attitude driving it. WHAT JESUS PRAYS When describing the actual crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, Luke is extremely brief. Verse 33 simply says that when they had come to Golgotha (the place of the skull), “there they crucified him.” Luke wrote his gospel for a man named Theophilus. Luke takes it for granted that Theophilus knew what this involves. He lived in the Roman Empire and so he surely knew the drill for Roman crucifixion. Luke did not need to go into the details. He did not need to tell of how the rough cross was laid out on the ground, of how Jesus was thrown down onto it and nailed to it. Luke did not need to tell of how the cross was then lifted up, with Jesus nailed to it, and then dropped into a previously dug hole in the ground. Theophilus knew all that. People were crucified by Rome all the time. As you might expect, it was customary for those who were crucified to die with some fairly foul words on their lips. The crucified would usually curse the Romans for their cruelty. They would usually curse the crowds watching and jeering. Under the best circumstances, someone might just die quietly without saying a word. But that would have been unusual. The more typical crucifixion involved crude words filled with hatred and anger.1 Realizing this makes Jesus’ first words on the cross all the more remarkable: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now as he hangs on the cross, he does the very thing he taught. Even at this moment, he is being obedient to the will of God and doing so in our place. Yes, he is suffering to pay for our sins, but he is also still actively obedient in our place. There is overlap here between what theologians call the passive obedience of Christ (his suffering obedience) and his active obedience. But the thing to keep in the front of your mind here is that this is not just some tidbit of Bible trivia: Jesus prayed for his enemies, for those who persecuted him. It is something he did for you – in your place. His righteousness here, too, is imputed to you, which means that it is credited to your account. This is personal. Do not let that slip by you here. There is gospel encouragement in that for people who have failed in following God’s will in this. After all, it is so hard to love your enemies and pray for those who attack you. You may have failed in doing that, but Jesus did not and God looks at you through him. Your Father sees his Son and he sees you in him. You see, this is not just okay news, this is good news! This is grace. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Many questions come into our minds as we hear these words. Let me try and answer as many of them as I can. As we do, the wonder of grace here should become more apparent. First of all, who are “them” and “they”? Who is Jesus speaking about? Our thoughts would first go to the Roman soldiers who are standing by and getting their hands dirty in all this crucifixion cruelty. Certainly, they had no idea what was happening. They had little (if any) clue that they were torturing and killing the Lord of glory. Jesus asks the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers. But does he also have the Jews in mind? To answer that, we could turn to Acts, which is part 2 of Luke’s historical work for Theophilus. In Acts 3:17, the apostle Peter tells a Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Peter says that they did not know what they were doing. They understood it at some level, but in a real way they were just driven by what John Calvin called “inconsiderate zeal.”2 They were led on by their emotions. Perhaps there were some in which there was a wicked spirit and premeditation. With some there may have been knowledgeable intention, but not all. Many were caught up in the mob mentality. So, yes, it is fair to say that Jesus had Jews in mind too. As he was being crucified, many of the Jews and their leaders stood round to watch. Verse 35 even says it, “The people stood by watching, but the rulers scoffed at him…” So Jesus is asking the Father to forgive both the Romans and the Jews involved in his crucifixion, for they were sinning in ignorance and not with what the Old Testament called the uplifted hand.3 But what does it mean that Jesus asks the Father to forgive them? Can he even do that? Does that mean this sin was forgiven? In the Bible forgiveness is a transaction which removes an obstacle in a relationship. It involves a promise that the sin committed will never be brought up again and will never be used against the person who committed the sin. When describing God’s forgiveness, we find these powerful images in the Bible of God casting our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and removing them as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). God no more remembers our sins, which is to say, they are no longer a barrier to covenant fellowship (Jer. 31:34). That is what Jesus is asking for. However, in order for that to happen, there will have to be repentance. There will have to be a turning from the sin committed. That is what happens in Acts. When the Jews hear the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost and other occasions, some of them are cut to the heart. They ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” We can say this happened because of the preaching of the apostles. We can say this happened because of the work of the Spirit. However, we can also say all this ultimately happens because of the prayer of Christ on the cross. Jesus asks the Father to forgive them, which means he was asking the Father to set the wheels in motion so that all the pieces would later fall together so that they would repent and believe. Many did – thousands, in fact. They repented and sought the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus and received that forgiveness from God. Now probably another burning question has to do with what we are to do with this. Can we pray to the Father for the forgiveness of those who hurt us? To answer that we ought to think about our relationship to Jesus Christ. The Bible describes that relationship in several ways. One is found in John 15:5 where Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches. This pictures our spiritual union with Christ through the Holy Spirit and faith. If we are truly united to him, then our lives ought increasingly to reflect his. Another important picture of our relationship with Jesus is that of a Master and his disciples. All Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ. It is crucial to recognize that the biblical notion of discipleship includes following the example of the Master. Jesus reflects this in John 13:34-35: …just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Therefore, being a disciple of Jesus means becoming like him. Union with Christ and discipleship are two key ways to consider application here in Luke 23:34. These sorts of notions are in the background of what the Holy Spirit says in 1 Peter 2:21-23: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. To see an example of that in action, we can turn to Acts 7:59-60. When Stephen is being stoned, as he is dying, he echoes Jesus’ words. He prays to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He prays in almost the exact same way as his Savior. He has a forgiving and gracious spirit. His heart has been touched by God’s grace in Christ and he cannot die like so many others, with words of bitterness and cursing on his lips. Christ prayed for his enemies, Stephen prayed for his enemies, Christians are to pray for their enemies. In union with Christ and as his disciples, we are to pray that they would be brought to forgiveness through the blood of Christ. The Word of God calls us to this stance of grace towards those who might hate us and would hurt us. WHY JESUS PRAYED THIS “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Why did he pray this? In the first place, it was to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah 53:12 speaks of substitution: “For he bore the sin of many,” but then it also speaks of prayer, “and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Our Lord Jesus knew this prophecy and he knew this was what was needed. He made intercession for sinners – he spoke up on their behalf before the throne of God. That brings us to the second reason why he spoke these words: to magnify his grace and love for us. Jesus is portrayed here as the priest making intercession for sinners still lost in their sin and still under sin’s condemnation. That reminds us that he cares about us long before we make any moves towards him. Quite remarkably, Scripture even tells us that Jesus prays for those who do not yet believe. Sometimes we have this idea that, at the right hand of God, Jesus’ ministry of intercession only involves people who already believe. We have this idea that he only prays for Christians and speaks up on their behalf. Yet that is actually unbiblical. He said in John 17:20 that he also prays for those who will yet come to faith through the preaching of the gospel. When did Jesus begin praying for you? As soon as you became self-consciously committed to him, whenever that was? No, he has been praying for you all along, praying along the same lines as what we find in Luke 23:34. He has been praying that you would find grace and forgiveness in his sacrifice once offered on the cross! You see, his grace is far more wondrous than we often realize. He spoke these words on the cross to bring us to the realization of that. He wants us today to see the deep, deep love of Jesus, so we would love him in return and long to live for his glory. A third reason why he prays here has to do with where he is in his ministry. He is at the end of his three years of preaching and teaching. It began with prayer back in Luke 3:21 and now it ends with prayer.4 In fact, it must end with prayer. There is nothing else he can do. That hands that healed are nailed to the cross. The feet that traveled from town to town preaching are nailed to the cross. There is no more room in any synagogue for him and certainly not in the temple. What is left for him? He can only pray and that is what he does. When he cannot do anything else, he prays. That is powerful enough. When everything else is stripped away, there often still remains the possibility to pray. And prayer should never be underestimated. Jesus’ prayer was answered beautifully in the book of Acts. We are united to Christ through faith, and as we pray, we can also do so with the hope and expectation that our prayers will be answered. There may not be anything else we can do but pray, but God will hear and answer. Maybe not always in the way we asked or expected, but his promises are sure. He always hears and answers prayer offered in the name of Christ. You can count on it. HOW JESUS PRAYED THIS That brings us last of all to consider his manner in this prayer. I can be even briefer on this point, because it should be obvious from everything else. This prayer is drenched in wondrous grace. There is amazing grace, even if his oppressors are ignorant of what they are doing, even if they do not fully comprehend the extent of their evil, and even if they are still violent and bloodthirsty. What do these Roman soldiers deserve from God’s hand except his wrath? What are the wages for the sin of these Jewish crowds and their leaders? Do they not deserve death? Could not Jesus justly call down bolts of lightning from the sky to incinerate them on the spot? He could stop the wind and the waves, could he not do the reverse and call in a tornado to give these sinners a taste of what they have coming? They deserve all that and worse. They deserve the cup of hell he is drinking. But instead, he utters words of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” It is truly amazing when you stop and think about it. We hear forgiveness prayed for those sneering, for those mocking, for those nailing, for those stripping him naked. Grace for those hurling insults and taunting him. Mercy for those whose commitment to him flags and fails. For me – and you. He does not return evil for evil. What a Savior! Now you may be thinking: was this not the same Jesus who preached woes against the Jews in the Olivet discourse? In Mark 13 and Matthew 24, Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the terrible covenant curses that would fall on the Jews for their unbelief. How does all of that tie into the first word from the cross? Note well: the fall of Jerusalem did not take place right away. In his mercy, God delayed. God gave the Jews some forty years to hear the gospel of grace. They were given much time to repent and believe. Some did. They found forgiveness in the blood of Christ and while the covenant curses raining down around them affected them, they were not directed at them, nor did they have any relationship to their eternal destiny. The central thing to remember is that God gave time. In reply to Christ’s prayer, God mercifully gave room for the preaching of the gospel to be heard among all the Jews following Pentecost. The dreadful covenant curses fell on those who remained in unbelief. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” This first wondrous word from the cross is a word of grace. In this prayer, you can see what your Savior is all about. As he enters into the darkness of our curse, he says, “Remember that I practice what I preach. I preach grace and I embody grace.” His grace and mercy are for you. He uttered these words in obedience for your benefit, so that you are declared righteous by God and can stand before him without fear of condemnation at the Day of Judgment. He also spoke these words to show us, who are united to him, how we are to be a gracious people, even with those who seem to have it in for us. We see grace here and how to respond to grace with more grace. All of that results in praise and glory for the God of grace and our Savior. “Seven Wondrous Words” is available in Canada at The Study (thestudy-books.com), in the USA at Amazon.com and in Australia at Amazon.com.au. QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION Can you think of other examples from Scripture and church history of believers reflecting their union with Christ in forgiving their oppressors as he did? Arthur Pink asserts that Peter’s eloquence was not the cause of the conversion of the 3000 on the day of Pentecost. Rather, he insists, it was the prayer of Christ. What is your evaluation of this assertion? Why is it so challenging for us to adopt the forgiving attitude of our Savior in Luke 23:34? What does Scripture say about this in passages like Matthew 18:21-34? Is it legitimate to conclude that in the first word from the cross, our Lord Jesus was only praying for the elect? Why or why not? As we saw above, Christ’s prayer effected a delay in God’s judgment over the unbelieving Jews. Does this relate to the preaching of the gospel inside and outside the church in our day? If so, how?  ENDNOTES 1 Tom Wright, Luke For Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), page 284. 2 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint), page 301. 3 Numbers 15 makes a distinction between sin committed unintentionally (Num. 15:22,27) and sin committed “with a high hand” (Num. 15:30). 4 Arthur W. Pink, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), page 9. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Theology

A passage from "The Hiding Place" I can't manage to read out loud...

Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical The Hiding Place is best known for its account of her war time experiences. But one of the many powerful sections in the book is about something that happened decades before, in the year 1919. Corrie's describes her Tante Jans as a Christian social activist, who helped the poor, and also wrote tracts and pamphlets decrying such evils as mutton sleeves and bicycle skirts. In other words, a busy, well-meaning, but generally humorless lady, who was trying to earn her way to heaven. When the doctor diagnoses her with diabetes it is quite a shock as there was no real treatment at that time. It meant that Tante Jans had very little time left, maybe a few years. Her response? "And from then on she threw herself more forcefully than ever into writing, speaking forming clubs and launching projects." But then one day her weekly blood test came back black. Black meant she not longer had years or months, but merely days, three weeks at most. The family learns this before Tante Jan, and as they consider how to tell her Corrie's father hopes that: "Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!" So upstairs to her room they all go. "Come in," she called to Father's knock, and added as she always did, "and close the door before I catch my death of drafts." She was sitting at her round mahogany table, working on yet another appeal... As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test. “My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!” “All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured. “Your writings…,” Mama added. “The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie. “Your talks…,” I began. But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”...

Book excerpts

One good deed is worth more than a thousand good intentions

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might..." Ecclesiastes 9:10a “Whatever your hand finds to do,” refers to works that are possible. These are tasks and deeds that you, with your skills and abilities and resources can accomplish. Now, there are many things which our hearts wants to do which we'll never actually do. It is fine to have these desires in our hearts; but if we are to be at all useful, we must not be content with making plans in our hearts, and talking about them. No, we must practically carry out “whatever your hand finds to do.” The fact is, one good deed is more worth than a thousand brilliant theories. So let's not wait for some big opportunity, or wait until just the right sort of situation pops up. Instead let's do the things we “find to do” day by day. Today is what we have - we have no other time. The past is gone; the future has not arrived; we never shall have any time but the present. So don't wait until you know more, or can do more, or are more mature before you attempt to serve God. Strive now to bring forth fruit. Serve God now...but be careful as to how you perform what you find to do –“do it with all your might.” That means, do it promptly; don't fritter away your life in making plans for what you intend to do tomorrow. As if that could make-up for the laziness of today! No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow. If we honor Christ and are blessed, it is by the things which we do today. So whatever you do for Christ throw your whole soul into it. Don't give Christ a little grudging labor, done as a matter of course now and then. No, when you serve Him, do it with heart, and soul, and strength. Where is the might of a Christian? It's not in ourselves, for we are perfectly weak. No, our strength lies in the Lord of Hosts. Knowing that, let us seek His help; let us proceed with prayer and faith, and when we have done what our “hand finds to do,” let's wait upon the Lord for His blessing. What we do in this manner will be well done, and will not fail in its effect. This is a modernized version of the November 26th morning reading, from Charles Spurgeon's twice daily devotional "Mornings and Evenings." You can find both the original and modernized or "updated" versions at online bookstores, and you can also find daily doses for free online in both the original and modernized  versions (h/t to ReformedOutfitters.com)....

Book excerpts, Remembrance Day

Living through World War II

This an excerpt from Gerda Vandenhaak's "Geertje: War Seen through the Eyes of a Child as an Adult" ***** I am lining up for food. I can feel the crackling of the papers my mom put under my jacket against the wind. I have in my hands a round brown enamel little pan with two black handles. The edge is black too and there is a chip broken off the edge. We line up at the soup kitchen. I see no adults. It must be for children only. But I do not see my brother and sister. The soup smells good. It is grayish brown. It makes me feel good inside.... **** I keep looking at my legs. They feel so heavy. I am surprised every time I look at them. They look the same. It seems like I am wading through something heavy. I don't know why I feel this way. I did not find much food today, only a white paper bag with some powder in it. I don't know what it is. I did not even steal it. I just found it on a windowsill. When I walk into the house, mom right away puts her arms around me and says: "What's the matter?" Nothing is the matter. I only have this powder and I hand it to mom. Mom smiles and seems to be happy with it. "Salt," she says, "Real salt, this is great." She pulls me towards her and holds me and then I tell her about the dead people and the three that we knew. Mom cries and I let her. "Are you sure?" she asks. "Yes, I checked," I tell her. Then my mom holds me so tight, it almost hurts, but it also makes me feel good. Mom says it is a good thing that they do not shoot children, so I won't tell her about the twins.... My brother and I are standing outside in the darkness. Our backs are pressed against the wall of our house. I am seven and my brother is five years old. I can feel the roughness of the wall under my left hand. My brother is very brave. He holds my hand very tightly. I am never afraid. My mother said to wait before we start walking, to wait until we could see. And if we were afraid to look up to the stars and God would look after us. We have to get some milk for the baby. Mom only has water for her. We have to go to the second farm. Mom said not to go to the first one. We walk slowly, we do not talk, not even whisper. People are not allowed to be outside after eight. We come to the farm and knock on the back door, it opens and a hand pulls us inside. The door is closed behind us and then a candle is lid. The warmth of the place puts its arms around us. "What do you want, you are only kids," a voice says. We ask for some milk for the baby. The farmer’s wife smiles at us and says, "Yes." I can feel my insides again. The farmer’s wife says we can come again, as she fills the milk container. When we get home, mom hugs us so tight, it almost hu rt again. Mom loves us so much.... **** I did it! All morning I had waited on the side of the road with the other kids. The trucks with the sugar beets would come by. This was the place where the trucks really slowed down, because of the curve. I had jumped on the back of the truck and now had three sugar beets – two I grabbed and one that fell down after me. My arm was scraped and blood trickled down one leg, but I did not feel it at all. I was so overjoyed with the beets I ran all the way home. My brother and I cleaned the beets in the kitchen sink and then we sucked on them. I can still taste and feel the breaking of the beet skin. It felt funny and ribbling. For the next two days we sucked the beets. At night we would climb in mom and dad's bed and huddle together under the blankets. I don't remember what happened after that. But I do know that was the last time I needed to steal food.... **** I sit between them, my mother and her friend. We are taking the horse and buggy to the concentration camp in Amersfoort, to visit dad and the friend’s husband. The buggy belongs to the friend. We have two plates of food wrapped in towels, in the back. They talk softly right above my head. I can hear every word. The steady talking makes me sleepy. I am so hungry and now we are bringing food to the camp. Why? We need food ourselves! Suddenly we are there. I even see my dad. He is wearing pajamas… strange. Mom's friend talks to the guard. The guard shakes his head. Mom starts to cry, so the guard does not look at her again. We go to the fence. The men all look funny, as if they are dead. I have seen dead men, but the men here still walk. They guard starts yelling and the men leave, including my dad. He looks at us, his eyes are very strange. Then he leaves too. We go back home. In the back are two plates of food. Mashed potatoes with red cabbage. Mom says we can share it when we get back home. I want to eat it so badly, but I keep thinking of my dad and I feel bad about wanting the food. I don't want to feel anymore.... **** I am setting the table in the dining room. Mom is singing in the kitchen and that makes all of us happy. She got a whole whack of potato peels and she washed them and washed them. Now they are cooked and she added some red cabbage. Mmm… It smells good and we are getting a meal today. It is my brother’s turn to sit in dad's chair today. As usual, I open my eyes real quick, just for a second, while mom prays. I am sure that when mom prays, God, Jesus and the angels are there in the dining room with us. Again I was not quick enough. We start to eat, then suddenly a siren, shooting and yelling. We all jump up and run to our hiding places under our house. We have three hiding places under our house. I know that, but mom does not know that I know that. I have taken my plate of food with me and go to the farthest corner of the place, my little brother next to me. Other people are coming in and find a place to sit. I hold my plate close to me, my arms protective above it. Someone sees my plate and food and wants to take it away. I start to cry and suddenly there is my mom. She says: "This is still my house and this is my daughter. This is her food and she is going to eat it." My mom sits next to me and I still remember the feel of her arm around me as I was eating then. I just could not stop crying and my sobs fill the room. People are telling me to be quiet, but I just can’t. I eat and I sob and sob. Even when I was quiet my body kept shaking. All night my mother kept her arm around me. My big sister was on the one side and me on the other, my brother next to me. I did not care about all the other people, just about us and my mom. All night long there was yelling and loud noises around us and all night long mom prayed. First out loud with all the people and then softly just with us.... **** Mom woke us up and told us to get ready, quick. "Dad is home,” she said “and we have to flee.” In minutes we are on the road, mom pushing the baby buggy. In the middle of the night we ran. All I remember is the confusion at first: the shooting, yelling again, the piercing scream of some missile and the terrible fear. We wound up in the middle of a skirmish near Nykerk. A soldier came and told dad to go the other way. I remember hiding under a bridge and waking up in the morning in the middle of a field with dad’s arms around the three of us. We started walking again along a path at the bottom of the dike. I remember mom pushing the buggy and in it the baby and a little pan of cooked horsemeat, taken from a dead horse behind our house. I remember dad suddenly having a bicycle. He was walking alongside it, my oldest sister sitting on the crossbar. I remember my brother walking in front of me, step by step. His feet were bleeding and we were walking on all alone in the countryside. Late in the afternoon we rounded a curve in the dike and we saw a farmhouse. I can still see it. It had orange ribbons all over it and a sign that said they were free!! We did it. We somehow had broken through and were free. I really did not know what that meant. They, the farmers, welcomed us and took us in their home. The farmer’s wife set us all at the table and gave us a bowl of hot oatmeal. Then she poured milk over it and brown powder. Brown sugar, she called it. Dad prayed with us. His voice again sounded funny and mom cried. It was the most wonderful meal I had ever tasted. We all sat there and smiled at each other and cried some more. Dad said we were free and the war was over. We would never be hungry again. The next day we reached our destination, Putten.... This first appeared in the October 2004 issue of Reformed Perspective. ...