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Book Reviews, Lists

200+ free e-books worth checking out

We live in an age in which so many wonderful resources are available for free. Of course, with the sheer numbers being passed along here, we haven't been able to read, let alone review all of them so, as always, be sure to use discernment. But there are certainly a good number of gems here. The books below aren't broken up by subject, but are, instead, divided into three categories based on whether you can easily download them, or whether some personal information might be required, or whether the book has to be read online. This is a list of recent books, with most published in the last decade or two. Monergism.com has a list of much older titles, with most published at a minimum of 100 years ago, and many springing right out of the Reformation 500 years past. Their list amounts to more than 700 titles and can be found here. 1. Downloads These books are completely free and can be downloaded with minimal fuss (usually just a click and you are on your way). Almost 100 from John Piper and friends John Piper seems to have released all of his books in free pdf versions, and has tackled topics as diverse as biblical manhood and womanhood, abortion, sex, retirement, C.S. Lewis, Open Theism, racism and biographies. On occasion, some of Piper's writings are clearly directed to specifically Reformed Baptists. So, for example, in his biography of Adoniram Judson, he lauds the missionary for coming to reject infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. But for the most part his books are intended for a larger Reformed audience. But with so many available, what should you start with? His short biographies are excellent, each about 70 pages or so, and one of his most popular is Don't Waste Your Life. Oh, and while the majority of the books here are by Piper, there are many exceptions, and that's important to note because if it isn't by him, it likely isn't free. 16 by WORLD magazine's Marvin Olasky The editor of the Christian WORLD magazine has written books on Journalism and how Christians should read the news (and write it), on the history of abortion and the fight against, on a Christian perspective on compassion and the government's role in it, and even written a novel about radical Islam. There is lots to love here! 20+ from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church I still haven't had a chance to check these out, but plan to download Ned B. Stonehouse's J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir. 4 volume set of S.D. DeGraaf Promise and Deliverance series The four volumes of S.D. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance series are a very expensive and rare find – they haven’t been in print for a decade or two. But these volumes would be very useful for parents and teachers who are trying to share the Bible stories with children. The set is a sort of commentary, or a set of outlines, for all the stories in the Bible, and done from a covenantal perspective. Maybe the best way to think of it would be as a sort of “cheat sheet” for parents – S.D. DeGraaf comes alongside us to prepare us to teach these stories, this biblical history, to our children. It could also be read as a devotional of sorts for teens, or even adults. These have been used in Dutch Reformed circles for generations now, but were also recognized by Christianity Today as a "landmark in interpreting the simple stories of the Bible." The free pdfs below are scanned, which means they aren't searchable or highlightable, but they are certainly readable. You can download them by clicking here for: Volume 1: From Creation to the conquest of Canaan Volume 2: The failure of Israel's theocracy Volume 3: Christ's ministry and death Volume 4: Christ and the nations You can find a longer review of these books here. Social Justice: How good intentions undermine justice and the Gospel E. Calvin Beisner is probably best known as the head of the Christian stewardship group the Cornwall Alliance. But before he started speaking on the environment, he researched and wrote a lot on poverty and economics. In this booklet, he outlines how good intentions are not only not enough, but often harmful. 31 days of purity This is a 31-day devotional to encourage and challenge the Church in regard to sexual purity. With contributions from Tim Challies, David Murray, and Joel Beeke, there are some insightful, trustworthy folks behind this. Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? This is an important topic for any Christian considering the pill. Randy Alcorn's 200-page book can be downloaded for free, or, click here for a shorter overview. Abolition of Reason Jonathon Van Maren, Scott Klusendorf and other “incrementalist” pro-lifers argue against "abolitionism" or “immediatism.” Memoirs of an ordinary pastor: The life and reflections of Tom Carson Well-known Reformed Baptist pastor D.A. Carson on his unknown, faithful father. False Messages: A Guide for the Godly Bride Aileen Challies, wife of the Reformed blogger Tim Challies, has written a booklet for women on a biblical view of sexuality (it is near the bottom of the list). The Holy Spirit Kevin DeYoung with a short 30-page introduction to the Third Person of the Trinity. Scripture Alone: The Evangelical doctrine In this 40-page booklet, RC Sproul does a wonderful job of defending this key Reformed doctrine. Why sex is the best argument for creation The folks behind the fantastic documentary Is Genesis History? have created a short 115-page e-book with ten of their most popular essays, including the title essay. You can download the pdf for free here, the Mobi (Kindle) version here, and the Epub version here. How should Christians approach origins? At just 67 pages,  John Byl and Tom Goss have put together an incredibly succinct overview of an incredibly important topic. 2. Download for free, but they want some information These books are free, but getting them will require you to give your email address, or create an account, or in some way provide them some information. But these aren't spammers, so you can always opt out of their email lists. 35 booklets from RC Sproul In the last few years RC Sproul released a series of "Crucial Questions" booklets, all in the range of 40 to maybe 80 pages. That made them concise - something that could be read in an evening or two. And Sproul managed to pack a lot in these few pages while still keeping it readable. I will say, they still aren't light reads, but because of their small size, if anyone is interested in the question, then they should be able to work through Sproul's answer. I haven't read all 28 of them, but have appreciated each of the half dozen or so I've read so far. They tackle questions such as: Can I know God's will? Can I lose my salvation? What is baptism? Who is the Holy Spirit? The e-book versions are free and will be forever. Love the least (a lot) Michael Spielman is the founder of the website Abort73.com, one of the most comprehensive pro-life websites on the Internet. And his Love the Least (A Lot) is one of the most readable, most motivating, pro-life books you could ever read. God and the gay Christian: a response to Matthew Vines This is a response, by Reformed Baptist leader R. Albert Mohler Jr., to a popular book by Matthew Vines called God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Mohler has also written a short book Homosexuality and the Bible. Parenting the Internet generation This is such a helpful book! It's by Luke Gilkerson, one of the folks working at Covenant Eyes, a Christian Internet accountability company, and his goal is to help equip parents to protect and guide their children when it comes to all things online. This is a thoroughly biblical resource, and as much a parenting guide as it is an Internet guide. You can find a longer review here. Covenant Eyes has many other booklets available on the topics of sexual purity and online safety such as More than single, A parent's guide to cyber bullying, Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives, and more, that can be found here. 3. Read online These books are free too but are only available to be read online, usually one chapter per webpage. 30+ Creationist resources from Answers in Genesis Answers in Genesis is a creationist group with a presuppositionalist approach to apologetics, which means there is a decided Reformed influence in the group. But while all Reformed folk should be creationists, not all creationists are Reformed, so these books are not specifically Reformed. Answers in Genesis has done something curious here, in making their books available for free reading. You can't download them, but can read them, chapter by chapter, on their website. That makes things a little more troublesome, but if the book interests you, it is a minor inconvenience. The very best is In Six Days, in which 50 scientists each take a chapter to explain why they believe in creationism. Old Earth Creationism on Trial and In the Beginning Was Information are also very good. 8 more great Creationist books Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Evolution, and Refuting Evolution 2 are available for online reading here. Letters to a Mormon Elder James White’s fantastic resource can be read for free online. Be a bit patient – it does seem to take a minute or two to load....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Hobbit: an illustrated edition of the fantasy classic

by J.R.R. Tolkien  adapted by Charles Dixon illustrated by David Wenzel 1990 / 133 pages There's a hierarchy so unfailingly true it could be carved into stone: the book is always better than the movie, and the movie better than the graphic novel adaptation. But this otherwise unfailing rule does have an exception! I'm not going to start talking all crazy and tell you that this comic is better than the book – that has never been and never will be! – but it is better than the film! It is even better than many a book, paling in comparison only to its original source material. For those unfamiliar with the epic tale, this is the story of Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, which is basically a human-like creature though half the size, and with twice the hair on their feet. Hobbits are homebodies so Bilbo isn't exactly sure how he joined a dwarfish expedition to steal back their treasure from an enormous talking dragon. Small and retiring though he might be, Bilbo is big in character, and while he doesn't think himself brave, in meeting up with trolls, goblins, giant spiders, and the even more gigantic dragon, he ends up doing many a brave thing. This is an old fashioned epic tale with good eventually triumphing over evil...but not without paying a price. That's the original, and the 133 pages of this graphic novel adaptation provide the space to capture it all. Illustrator David Wenzel has given this a classic look for this classic tale - there's a reason that in the 30 years since this adaptation first came out, no one has even attempted to improve on it. Its size and depth do mean this isn't for the casual comic fan, but for fantasy fans 14 and up, this will be such a treat!...

Gender roles, Theology

Who’s Afraid of Proverbs 31?

I can still see the cartoon in my memory – she was robed in white, her nose in the air, gracing a marble pedestal under which lesser women cowered. Inscribed on the pedestal were the words, “The Proverbs 31 woman.” It was illustrating a comedic piece in a Christian women’s magazine, describing exactly what the author felt when faced with such a perfect, perfect woman. My mother lifted the magazine out of my hands. “Don’t read that nonsense,” she said. “Why not?” I wanted to know. She thought a moment. “People like to mock her. It’s easy to make fun of her. But I don’t like it.” *** Lots of women do feel intimidated by Proverbs 31. We feel if we were to meet her in real life, we would only meet with judgment. We react to her as if she is a standard that points out all our inadequacies. And authors who write about her know this – they feel compelled to include an apologetic paragraph somewhere near the beginning of their article: Don’t worry, everyone comes from a different life situation. Don’t worry, this woman appears to be rich, and you might not be. Don’t worry, everyone is unique, and not everyone needs to live up to this passage in the same way. A recent article I read started off with, “Reading Proverbs 31 can be discouraging! Who can live up to such expectations?” The first reaction to her is to downplay her a little, and make her more approachable. The assumption is that an unsoftened look at the woman in Proverbs 31 will lead to discouragement. The assumption is that the first emotions this passage will raise in us will be negative emotions, and that these negative emotions will need to be navigated and managed before we can get anything useful out of the passage. I don’t deny that this is often the case, that often these are the emotions stirred up by this passage. But I don’t think this needs to be the case. It should be possible to re-frame the passage as a whole, from discouraging and disheartening to uplifting and inspiring. Maybe the Proverbs 31 woman can be encouraging without being softened. Actually, I know it is possible. I have often read this passage with a sense of excitement, a sense of possibility. In contrast to many human writings, it does not downplay the capabilities of woman, and it acknowledges and appreciates them (and urges the rest of society to do so). It is not a passage that needs to be clarified with the sentence, “oh, this applies to women too,” but it is directly applicable. However, this woman can clearly inspire either excitement or discouragement in many women. What causes the difference? Can she be inspiring to everyone? The value of ideals One problem is that we tend to think of ideals in the wrong way. The woman in Proverbs 31 is an ideal, and ideals are judges. Ideals are meant to draw our attention to the gap between them and us. They do give a verdict on our conduct by demonstrating the ways we fall short of them. But ideals are meant to be a vision of what could be, of what we can strive for, rather than a standard that is meant to crush and punish us. They aren’t there to push us to quit, but instead give us a vision of a different way to live. Our modern world doesn’t like ideals very much. In the past, people did frequently talk about the ideal country or ideal city or ideal king. But nowadays, who talks about the ideal prime minister? We don’t believe any politicians could ever be ideal. Our cynicism is unavoidable – we are much more comfortable speaking about the way our current society is not just and equal, than speaking of what a just and equal society would actually look like. Human realities have led us to give up on utopias, and create lists of our problems instead. But maybe we should take our eyes off our lists of problems, and learn to feel inspired once again. We can draw fresh enthusiasm from working towards a vision of the good. When presented with an ideal, we feel like ideals force conformity on us, tell us to be all the same, and can only make us feel bad about ourselves. But instead, the power of ideals is that they can open our eyes to a better way of living. In that way they are not limiting, but rather are a demonstration of opportunities we would never have imagined in our current circumstances. After all, children look to their parents to see what it is like to be a person who can accomplish more than what their childish limbs can manage. They can’t do what their parents do, but they can imagine growing into a future where they will be able to do more. When they look to their parents they can see an example of how to live a life they have never yet experienced – an adult life. And Christians are inspired by Christian role models too. Paul the apostle advises the Corinthians to imitate him as a model in their Christian life, as an example of a more mature Christian (1 Cor. 11:1). Having examples can be freeing rather than limiting, because we see how different lives than ours can be lived. Yes, visions of what could be are intimidating. But to erase them is to limit ourselves only to what exists right now. An ideal woman And this is the way I think the woman in Proverbs 31 can function. She can demonstrate the power of a virtuous woman, and lead us in turn to feel enthusiasm about what is possible for us in our femininity. After all, it does not take much for us to feel ground down in our femininity – we're confronted daily by negative portrayals of silly women, clingy women, bullying women, or passively helpless women in media, online, or just mentioned in general conversation. We can feel hormonal and wonder if our genetic makeup is a curse. We can struggle to perform heavy labor and feel dependent on others as a result of who we are. We can hesitate to speak up and make our voice heard, and feel held back. And when others reject us and label us or neglect to appreciate us, and we become vulnerable to harmful images of femininity. When we turn to our Bible to counteract this, we find the Bible itself does not shy away from portrayals of the shortcomings of women (just as it does not shy away from the shortcomings of men). Women can be gullible (2 Tim. 3:6), weak, (1 Pet. 3:7), or just unpleasant (see elsewhere in Proverbs itself, such as Prov. 21: 9). Faced with all this, how does one remain hopeful about womanhood? Is there any vision of a woman being a woman in a positive way? Yes, there is. When we need a picture of a woman exercising female traits and positively affecting the world around her as a result of being a woman, we can look to Proverbs 31. We can look to Proverbs 31 and begin to heal from our doubts and worries about womanhood. There are many things a woman can do, even a very “traditional” woman such as this woman. She can be strong, both physically and mentally, even though we’re tempted by negative images to believe we’re doomed to be fragile and unstable. She can be effective, even though we’re afraid we’ll only be passive and ineffective. And she can be courageous, even though we’re worried and anxious. In this way she is purely encouraging. We are not fated to be that taunting caricature of ourselves that may live in our imagination. When we need to insist our womanhood is a gift God has given us and the world, she is on our side. “A heroic poem which recounts the exploits of a hero,” is how one commentator classes this passage. Another calls it, “an ode to a champion.” What women do is not only worthy of being recorded, it is worthy of being applauded in exactly the same way as a warrior who slew a lion. But she girds her loins and takes up the heroic role in a very different setting. We can feel confident in this picture that we receive in Proverbs 31. This is not like the argument over whether Cinderella is a good role model for girls or not; we can take it as a given that this woman is a good role model. And if she is, what opportunities does that present to us?  She brings so much to the discussion that I cannot begin to include everything in a single article, so I’ll have to limit myself to the example of her strength. Strength is not the first word I associate with women, but it is the first association brought out here, in the very first line: “A woman of strength, who can find?” She draws our eyes to the quality of female strength specifically. Looking for a strong female character What is a strong woman? On one hand, we have many talking heads in media calling for more “strong female characters” in entertainment. On the other hand, strength is not typically the first female trait that comes to mind. If asked to come up with a list of feminine qualities, and you weren’t too afraid of going with the honest associations that came into your mind, you might come up with words like delicate, soft, gentle, meek. Asking for strong female characters is seen as one way to counteract this, to create new stereotypes that counteract the old. But too often “strong females” are interpreted as physically strong, as demonstrated by the number of “kickass” female characters who keep up with, surpass, or beat up men. But this kind of knee-jerk, opposing reaction to the stereotype of a weak female often glosses over the reality that women actually live. Women live their lives under the awareness that they will never be as strong as men. There is a limit to what we can physically do, and aside from a few exceptional women, most of us will burn out measuring our strength against men’s. Because of this, some of us can conclude it is not worthwhile to develop our own strength and capacity. Or others may choose to highlight only these exceptionally strong women as a defense against perceptions of weakness, in a way that makes regular women feel inadequate. Another way we do not feel strong is in our awareness of our vulnerability—we live knowing we can be overpowered and harmed by others with more strength. We structure our lives because of our awareness of our vulnerability, not walking alone in the dark, or holding our keys in our fists when we feel threatened. So no, I don’t believe that physically strong female characters in media are enough by themselves to encourage and inspire us in our regular lives. Strong and weak stereotypes However, it does not follow that in order to be a woman, we must emphasize our weakness. There has been a growing awareness through time that strength in women is a benefit and not a drawback, starting with the nineteenth-century encouragement to throw off tight-laced corsets and be physically active. Nowadays, the capacity of women is recognized on a society-wide level, and women are encouraged to develop and use their abilities to accomplish what they set their hand to do. And Proverbs 31 gives no support to ideas that weakness, fragility or delicacy are defining characteristics of womanhood. It is at this intersection between “kickass” female stereotypes and the experiences of regular women that the woman in Proverbs 31 stands. Remember, this passage is “a heroic poem which recounts the exploits of a hero,” or, “an ode to a champion.” In this way, she stands alongside Achilles and Beowulf. And yet she is not unreachable or alien to us in our everyday life. In fact, one thing many commentators notice about her is the mundane normalcy of what she is described as doing, even as the passage uses phrases such as “girds her loins” as she does these things. We might expect a woman who does “great things for God” would have more in common with female superheroes than with us. But we can relate to the strength needed to consider a field and buy it – or, in more modern terms, decide to launch a business, or plant and harvest a garden, or challenge ourselves with an activity we have never tried before. Let’s take it a step further and compare the Proverbs 31 woman with some older female stereotypes – she may be rich and of high status, but she does not spend her days in the cool shade of her porch, being fanned by servants. She has not retreated from the world to seek the safety of a carefully ordered life, buffered from anything that might jolt her poor nerves – an image of femininity that would be unreachable to most of us, even if we did desire such a life. Instead, her strength is demonstrated by taking up the task of living, including the hard things, and by working with her own hands. In other words, she demonstrates that strength is a non-gendered Christian quality. It is not men with strength, and women with fragility. But both draw on God’s strength to use their full capacity. Christianity has never been about strong men and weak women. Christianity has always been about strong men and strong women. A woman of strength We’re not used to hearing the first verse of this passage quoted as, “a woman of strength, who can find?” It is more recognizably quoted as, “a wife of noble character.” The description is translated in various ways: a wife of noble character, an excellent wife, a virtuous woman. Literally, it is a woman of valor, and the description is the same description given to Gideon (“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”) and Ruth (“I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman”). When we read it translated as “virtuous woman” we might not quite get all the overtones of power, competency and initiative this word carries. But it would be misguided to read this chapter and come away thinking this woman is not empowered (she is a woman of power), or that she is a passive housewife experiencing a lack of control over her life. And it doesn’t really matter if the power this woman possesses does not come through in every translation, because further verses in the passage underscore it: “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong,” and “Strength and dignity are her clothing.” If there exists any strong female character, it is this female character! She is the purest demonstration that strength and women can, in fact, go together. It is clear that while she is described with power, capacity and strength, this is not reduced to the physical ability to bench-press heavy weights. It is not an ability to defend her home from intruders, or protect herself through hand-to-hand combat. The various translations demonstrate the meaning of this word is much broader. Her strength is her competency at what she does, and her capacity to consider a plan and complete it. Strength in this passage is not only physical strength (though a certain amount of physical strength would be necessary for her to accomplish all the things she does), but also includes competency and strength of character. And when we talk about “strengths” we tend to use this term in a broad way as well. Strength of character in particular is important, as she is “a woman who fears the Lord.” When we think of that other “worthy woman,” Ruth, we understand it was her character that brought her notice, and not only her unflagging energy while gleaning for grain. Lastly, don’t forget that this passage is directed to a man – a king, instructing him on what kind of wife to look for. A strong woman will not be a drawback for him. “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” Strength in action There is, then, such a thing as female strength, in that woman can develop and exercise their strength. There are some aspects of this that are uniquely female, such as the ability to bear a child, but in a more general way it is women intentionally developing their capacity, skills and character. Developing one’s individual capacity is something everyone can do, regardless of what your starting point is. Sometimes women don’t realize how strong they are. They may hesitate to do things by themselves, or to take initiative to develop an idea of theirs, or to build on their skills and talents. There is nothing wrong with depending on other people, as humans are made to interconnect and rely on the strength of each other. But sometimes, if we habitually rely on others, we forget what we ourselves can do. In Proverbs 31, it does not mention her consultations with her husband over her initiatives, such as buying a field or planting a vineyard – this is not to say that she did not consult her husband (and I would argue most likely she did, and it says he trusts in her completely and her plans always brings him good).  But it does demonstrate that the emphasis in this passage is that this woman can have an idea and carry it through. She knows her strength, and does not shrink away from taking action. She makes plans, and then puts in the grunt work necessary to bring her vision into reality. This is especially true when it comes to our own faith life – we all need spiritual leaders to follow, but we also need to be able to study, learn, grow, tell truth from error, and so on, even when not directed by someone else. When many sections of Christian publishing target fluffy, easy, devotional reads to women, we can get a glimpse at what some marketing bodies think of the readers of these books. But we can also counteract these stereotypes by growing in our own faith. Strength can be used wrongly, of course. Strength can be used to bully. Strength can be used to overwhelm others. This is true of female strength too, and there can even be extremes such as female-on-male abuse. However, strength and gentleness are not contradictory. After all, 1 Peter 3:4 still applies: “let your adorning be… the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” If you can think of strong men who are gentle, you will know strong women can be as well. Am I a strong female character? There are two responses to this idea of strength. The first is to glorify the strength of women as if this strength did not come first from God. To elevate the strength of women to the point where we almost require women to attain the same level of strength as men, or to speak as if female strength always surpassed men’s. We are afraid we’d be betraying our gender by speaking of our fragility A broader understanding of strength is a good defense against this. The other response is to feel intimidated because we personally feel so very beaten down and weak. There are many of us who hate hearing about how strong women are because we don’t feel able to take even another step. Can you tell I relate more to the second? I have never considered myself the strongest, and because of health reasons I’ve spent the past couple years feeling very weak. I was weak to the point where, when certain types of men have expressed the idea that women are inconveniences, I felt like I agreed, in that I wasn’t sure I could help anyone much. It is a modern cliché – “the strong, female hero”– but I tend to notice all the ways I am not strong, physically and otherwise. And then I am reminded of verses like 1 Peter 3:7: “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,” and I feel like a weaker vessel. “A woman of strength, who can find?” In this regard, it’s worthwhile to remember that weakness is not a gendered characteristic either. What does Paul say about weakness? “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” he says, because as he says elsewhere, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” He knows his weakness points him to the power of Christ. We all know what it is to be weak, and we all need to know where to turn to be strong. The modern female hero can feel intimidating and unreachable and alien, in a way the woman in Proverbs 31 is not. Female superheroes might be fun to watch, but they do not change how I live. But Proverbs 31 is different. Proverbs 31 inspires me, because she is both like me and better. She challenges me to reach higher, through Christ who strengthens me. The greatest ideal Let me conclude with a question: what do you do if you don’t feel this way? What do you do if, instead of being inspired, you feel ground down by Proverbs 31 and don’t feel enthusiastic about its picture of opportunities for women? First, you need to recall there is another ideal that is very familiar to Christians, and that is the ideal of Jesus Christ himself. All Christians are called to conform themselves to Christ. And all Christians are aware of where we fall short in this. Do we look to Christ to feel bad? Of course, the woman in Proverbs 31 is not an ideal in the same way Christ is. We are not required to live up to the ideal of Proverbs 31 in the same way we are commanded to put on Christ-likeness.  But while pursuing Christ we can see the examples of other Christian role models, who give us ideas about how to apply Christ’s work in our own lives. The Bible has not neglected women – rather, it speaks right to us. Second, there is an undeniable cultural context here. It’s not wrong to point out that this woman is set in a specific place and time, and this affects the way she is described. She acts in the way a wife of a rich, high-standing husband would act. And since this passage is advice given to a king by his mother (see Prov. 31:1), it is, in a sense, an ideal woman viewed through the eyes of a man who will need to find a wife someday, which does explain why some features are emphasized more than others. After all, Jesus Christ himself put on human flesh in a specific place and time, and we still understand that the universal application of his example is not tied to being an unmarried carpenter. It is correct to say she’s rich and you’re not, but not as a way of downplaying her achievements or making her easier to stomach, but rather as a way of re-contextualizing your response to her. In your circumstances, what can she inspire you to do? Therefore, the third point is that we can see her as an example of a different way to live, rather than a standard meant to intimidate us. We are not doomed to some of the repeated negative stereotypes about females that are spread around: neurotic, weak, anxious, gullible. None of this is our destiny. It is not encoded in our genes, a sentence given by God at birth. No, we can draw enthusiasm about our femininity from this picture presented here. The woman in Proverbs 31 does many things. As Wikipedia sums it up, she is “an industrious housewife, a shrewd businesswoman, an enterprising trader, a generous benefactor (verse 20) and a wise teacher (verse 26).” You can look at all that and think, oh wow I have to do all that? Or you can think, wow, I could be a businesswoman. I could be a trader. I could be a benefactor. Look at all the things I could do and be. And that sense of possibility is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid of her. Remember, she comes to you with words of kindness in her tongue. Author Harma-Mae Smit loves theology and loves the Lord. If you want more articles like this, you’ll be interested to learn she has started a monthly newsletter (where this article first appeared) as an antidote to the shallow and negative stories that tend to get shared online. Join her by signing up at the bottom of this webpage to get a new issue every month, and engage in discussion....

News

UK hospital to get more "gender inclusive"

Pop quiz: if you heard that a hospital was offering “gender inclusion” mid-wifery, what would you expect that to involve? The problem here has to be the gendered mid-wifery term, right? So are the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals planning on swapping that out for “mid-spousery”? Or maybe they’re adding an option for “mid-husbandry.” Of course, husbandry deals with crop and animal care, so that might create some confusion…but who cares about a lack of clarity when we’re fighting for sensitivity? It turns out that the gender inclusion had nothing to do with renaming mid-wifery, but instead had to do with offering pregnant “trans men” – i.e. pregnant women pretending to be men – the option of having their breasts called chests. Why? Because breasts are female body-parts, and that’s a truth that they would desperately like to obscure. To do so they’re embracing a craziness that’s comparable to calling a man’s testes his ovaries, if that’s what he’d prefer. The Times reported that the new “trans-friendly” terms were going to replace the originals. “Midwives have been told to say ‘chestfeeding’ instead of ‘breastfeeding’…. Staff have been instructed that ‘breastmilk’ should be replaced with the phrases ‘human milk,’ ‘breast/chestmilk’ or ‘milk from the feeding mother or parent.’” While that got even some liberal reporters outraged – Piers Morgan called it “nonsense” – these trans terms aren’t actually replacements. They are additions, to be used only with individuals who prefer them. Had Morgan known that, he couldn’t have objected, since he’s previously conceded that men can “transition” to women. That’s nonsense too, but nonsense he’s agreed to spout, so on what basis could he object to a “breast to chest” transition, so long as it’s optional? That means we can’t expect help from the mainstream media; it’s going to be up to Christians to take a lonely stand for sanity. We should do so as Christians, boldly proclaiming that God, and not Man, decides our gender. Once that's established, we can build on that truth by highlighting where denying it leads: to nonsense like pretending breasts can become chests. Or testes can become ovaries. If your conversational partner has gone to just the right sort of public school, he might, at this point, start scratching his chin, seriously considering whether testes can become ovaries. When that happens, borrow a page from The Babylon Bee and demand he start using your “preferred adjectives.” “Here are the adjectives I identify with… ‘cool, witty, handsome, innovative, fun.’ Please use one of these adjectives when describing me.” Then he’ll have to concede that a man’s preferences can’t turn him into what he ain’t...or he’ll have to start using your preferred adjectives. Either you convince him of the truth, or you make his foolishness all the more apparent to everyone who has the eyes to see it....

Current Issue, Magazine

Jan/Feb 2021 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: Who is afraid of Proverbs 31? / Parenting: one set of guiding principles / The Great Reset: don't let a crisis go to waste / Music from the eyes: Jamie Soles on what turned him into a songwriter / A more generous ministry of mercy? / 2K is not OK / Rod Dreher's "Live not by lies": a review and a discussion / Feature author: David Macaulay / When Big Tech comes after anyone / The con in compromising / What's God's favorite verse? / Comics for every age group / Archer Fish: a wonder of Creation / Hospital to get more gender-inclusive / and more... Click the cover to view in your browser or click here to download the PDF ...

News

When Big Tech comes after anyone

In early January, when Facebook and Twitter suspended Donald Trump’s accounts it might not have worried most Christians. Yes, these “Big Tech” companies has just cut off a sitting president’s access to the more than 120 million followers who had sought him out on these social media sites. French and German leaders were concerned, with Steffen Seibert, chief spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, arguing that while the right to free speech is not unlimited, those limits should be imposed “by law and within the framework defined by the legislature – not according to a corporate decision.”  Still, Big Tech was doing this to a man who’d often been rude and rash on his social media missives, so his suspensions didn’t have implications for the reasonable, responsible rest of us…did it?  It turned out Trump’s deletion was the start of something. Over the course of the next weeks: YouTube shut down a pro-life news channel with its 300,000 followers. LifeSiteNews.com had built up its audience slowly over the last 10 years. They have now transitioned to Rumble where they have 22,000 followers. Amazon Web Services announced it would no longer host the social media site Parler, effectively booting it off the Internet for a month until Parler could find someone else to host them. This came after Google and Apple had already banned Parler from their app stores, making it much more difficult for people to sign up to this social media competitor. When Parler went offline, the Christian satire site Babylon Bee lost access to their 1.2 million Parler followers, and Prager U lost access to its more than 2 million Parler followers. Twitter suspended one of Focus on the Family’s accounts after they tweeted that the new Assistant Education Secretary, “Dr. Levine is a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman." Actor and professing Christian Kevin Sorbo reported that Facebook had deleted his account without explanation. He had over 500,000 followers.  The conservative news outlet Epoch Times was demonetized by YouTube, probably for running stories that disputed the results of the US election. Prager U has also had YouTube videos demonetized. Facebook shut down links to Australian news providers after the Australian government considered a (highly problematic) law that would charge social media sites for carrying such links. Amazon blocked sales, on its site, of Ryan Anderson's When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement. YouTube removed a doctor's testimony about Ivermectin as a Covid treatment, deciding it was misinformation.  So what can we do to counter Big Tech’s influence and power? By no longer relying on them as we do! This can even involve old school tactics – in mid-January this headline popped up on a popular Christian satire site: "To Avoid Tech censorship The Babylon Bee Announces Innovative New Print Edition." What Babylon Bee proposed in jest is what Reformed Perspective is doing in earnest. We’ve started delivering our print magazine in bulk subscriptions to churches, tripling our print numbers in the last year. And as the Bee noted in their article, it is “a technology and distribution method that Big Tech can't touch." We’re also migrating to other social media sites like MeWe, where there seems to be an already growing conservative Reformed presence. We might try Gab, Rumble, and perhaps Parler too. It seems it’s not a matter of if but only when we get kicked off Facebook and today’s other social media favorites. To be prepared we need to build up our own alternatives....

News

Saturday Selections - February 20, 2021

Organ harvesting and more in China (7 min) What China is doing in its various prisons and "re-education" camps is slowly coming out. But why so slowly? Might it be that the evil done is so outrageous as to be almost unbelievable? If so, this video from David Kilgour might be of help – a few years back already, one of Canada's most respected politicians brought his credibility to the charges against China regarding Falun Gong And in the linked article above, the BBC reports on the credible charge of genocide that China is perpetrating on its Muslim Uighurs population. Australian church set to defy gay conversion ban bill "A law before the Victorian parliament seeking to outlaw parental, therapeutic or religious discussions on issues of sexuality and gender is the biggest threat to our democratic freedoms in Australia’s entire legislative history." In response, the Presbyterian Church of Australia is going to "preach the whole counsel of God." Why not cut off more? What's coming after the transgender revolution... Wesley Smith explains that since transgender breast and genital amputations are now being celebrated, the next inevitable step is for delusional people to start lobbying for a right to cut off their limbs. This lobbying is already happening, and after conceding on transgenderism, the world won't be able to marshal a logical argument against this "transablism." But we can. So it is up to us. This is why Christians can't speak someone's "chosen" pronouns, because we can't hurt them by going along with this destructive lie. God made us male and female, and if our minds think we should start cutting off healthy body parts, then it is our mind (and spirit) that needs help, not our body. The Aetherlight: a Christian online video game Our household isn't much for videogames but one game we've been playing – maybe once a month, a few hours at a go, with dad and the kids together – is The Aetherlight. The linked article above shares a lot of helpful specifics, but gives an overall middling grade to the game. I will note, however, that their grade is based on how an experienced gamer would view Aetherlight, and yes, for them it would be quite tame. But for us, with kids 5-9 when we first started playing, that "tameness" is a feature, not a fault. The story is also a Christian allegory though not all that overtly, which might also be a feature. I liked that the bad guys are robots, so there's no ethical problems in beating them up. For my girls, their favorite feature might be the different wardrobe options (all of them modest) that our character can change into. While you can start playing for free, we ended up putting some money down to continue the adventure - I think maybe $15 so far. Not bad for a couple of years' worth of play so far. Christian mom, others, gave up their liberty to protect her daughter A now Christian mom, originally in a lesbian relationship, had to flee the US to keep her child away from the LGBT lifestyle that her former lesbian lover wanted to expose the girl to. More than ten years later, now that her little girl is an adult and free from the threat of court-ordered visitations, her mom has turned herself in to the authorities. Some podcasts be like... (1 minute) https://twitter.com/jogdenUK/status/1346442437376552962?s=20  ...

Culture Clashes, News

The Great Reset: don't let a crisis go to waste

Over the past several months, the phrase The Great Reset has swirled around media headlines and social media. Many Christians are asking, should we support The Great Reset? But a better question would be which Great Reset should we support? We should also consider why any great reset is needed in the first place, and why now might be the time for it. So, why now? So why is there a push for big changes right now? To answer that we can turn to a quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, which argues we should: “Never waste a good crisis.” Democratic governments normally change course gradually. Since humans are slow to change their minds and admit that they'd been wrong, the political views of an entire population of a country tend to change slowly rather than very quickly. Thus governments’ policies will also tend towards incremental rather than revolutionary change. Thus, during regular times, the window of opportunity for policy change is open only a crack. But a crisis swings this window wide open. When the perspectives of an entire citizenry change rapidly, the revolutionary becomes ordinary. We see this in our country’s response to COVID-10. In the eyes of most Canadian citizens, journalists, and politicians, COVID-19 has triggered a crisis. This social, economic, and health crisis – and the fear that it provoked – have enabled the federal and provincial governments to do the previously unthinkable in an incredibly short time: prohibit international travel restrict religious worship services shutter businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars And this isn’t just the preferred response of politicians and scientific experts foisted on an unwilling public. Public opinion polling throughout the pandemic consistently reports that a significant majority of Canadians support these measures. COVID-19 has thrown the policy window wide open for change. The question is, what sort of change, what sort of great reset, will take advantage of this opportunity before it closes? The Great Liberal Reset The World Economic Forum (WEF) has one proposal to seize this opportunity. The WEF is an international organization aimed at improving partnerships between governments, corporations, and non-profit organizations. With governments unshackled from normal budgetary and policy constraints, the WEF proposed that government use this opportunity to tackle current public policy issues in new ways. The World Economic Forum calls this general plan The Great Reset. The Great Reset was the theme of the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which took place in the last week of January. On their website, the World Economic Forum describes The Great Reset: “The Covid-19 crisis, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused, is fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making. The inconsistencies, inadequacies, and contradictions of multiple systems – from health and financial to energy and education – are more exposed than ever amidst a global context of concern for lives, livelihoods and the planet. Leaders find themselves at a historic crossroads, managing short-term pressures against medium- and long-term uncertainties. As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery, this initiative will offer insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons. Drawing from the vision and vast expertise of the leaders engaged across the Forum’s communities, the Great Reset initiative has a set of dimensions to build a new social contract that honours the dignity of every human being.” More concretely, The Great Reset focuses on strengthening environmental protection against pollution and climate change; encouraging private companies to do more to care for their workers, their communities, and the environment; fostering multilateral cooperation; and promoting a rather left-leaning interpretation of inclusion, justice, and equality. So, let’s call this The Great Liberal Reset. To be clear, this is not a conspiracy by a secret elite. No, this is all out in the open. This is about world leaders (politicians, businessmen, activists, the wealthy) who share a common idea of how the world could be a better place trying to implement their vision through conventional channels – government policy, business decisions, grassroots advocacy, and targeted private investments. They are using the policy window opened by COVID-19 to advance their vision. While there are aspects of this vision we might be able to support, Christians should be cautious about supporting this Great Liberal Reset, as it also includes policies that Christians should oppose. More fundamentally, The Great Reset misdiagnoses what ails the world. That ailment is not COVID-19. The Great Moral Reset? Christians know that sin, not COVID-19, ails the world. Rather than reshaping the world according to a liberal vision (or conservative, or socialist, or libertarian agenda for that matter), we should seek to shape the world according to God’s Word. Christians should support a "Great Moral Reset" of sorts, one in which our government’s policies would be aligned with the morality of God’s Word. COVID-19 has opened the possibility for this sort of change. Our society has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the lives of those vulnerable to COVID-19. Now we should go to even greater lengths to protect lives vulnerable to abortion and euthanasia, and provide better care for our elders. Many provinces have closed schools or moved classes online in their monolithic education system in their response to COVID-19. Promoting educational diversity, including supporting independent schools, homeschooling, and distributed learning in a decentralized education system where parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children, should be the new priority of provincial governments. The federal government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into supporting families and businesses through the pandemic. It should continue to defend the vitality of families by upholding a biblical understanding of marriage, gender, and sexuality and uphold the dignity of work. But a Great Moral Reset isn’t enough. The Great Spiritual Reset Ultimately, Canada and the world do not need a Great Liberal Reset or even a Great Moral Reset. It is useless for our country to be a whitewashed tomb on the outside but full of dead bones on the inside. Our society needs a Great Spiritual Reset like the Great Awakenings spurred by George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and Dwight L. Moody. This spiritual reset isn’t the task of governments, businesses, or general non-profit organizations. This spiritual reset is the responsibility of the Church. COVID-19 has opened the window wide open for evangelism. With millions of fellow Canadians searching for hope, worrying about their employment stability, struggling with their mental and physical health, and mourning the passing of loved ones, many more people may be receptive to the Good News right now. As Jesus testifies, the gospel isn’t for those who are healthy and those who think that they have life figured out. The gospel is for those who have realized their brokenness and their need for a Physician. Are all our efforts directed to defending our personal freedoms (even if they are unjustly infringed upon)? Or are we bringing the gospel to our neighbors who need it now more than ever, using both our words and our deeds? Jesus calls us to be the salt and the light of the world, two metaphors that ARPA often draws upon. Christians have taken more seriously their calling to be a salt and a light in the realm of politics and public policy through the COVID-19 pandemic and the infringements on our freedom to worship. Let’s not miss the opportunity to also speak the gospel of life to a suffering world. Let’s not waste this crisis. Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager for ARPA Canada. For more on the Great Reset, be sure to check out Chris deBoer's Focal Point podcast episode on the same topic which you can download here, or watch below. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Free book: How should Christians approach origins?

Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. Well, in this booklet it is evident that authors John Byl (who blogs on evolution and creation at Bylogos) and Tom Goss put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate. In just 67 pages they gave an overview of: the difference between historical and operation science why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles the basics of materialism and naturalism what the various origins positions are why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution how dating methods can be unreliable what books would be good for further reading And that isn’t even all of it! Both authors are professors, and one, John Byl, is Canadian Reformed. He has his Ph.D. in astronomy, and if this slim book has you ready for more, then you’ll want to take a look at his larger and more comprehensive God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe. But this smaller book, at just 67 pages, is an ideal size to share with any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. You won’t find any better! The book concludes with Resource Pages that list two dozen books – these are the very best books on various aspects of the origins debate. So not only is this is an excellent introduction, it also points you to where you can go for much much more. And the authors have now made the book available to RP readers, for free! Click the cover to view it online or click here to download the PDF. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Patterns of Evidence: Young explorers

Docudrama 190 minutes / 2020 Rating 7/10 This didn't grab me on a first viewing but as I wasn't the target audience, I thought I would still test it out on my kids. I'm glad I did: what's good-but-not-great for dad turned out to be downright funtastic for the younger set! This 5-episode series is based on filmmaker Timothy Mahoney's full-length documentary Patterns of Evidence about his search for evidence of Israel's captivity in Egypt. The original was part mystery, part biblical history and my wife and I both enjoyed it immensely, which is why I ordered this sequel of sorts. But what initially put me off of the Young Explorers version was the added element of a whole gang of kids helping Mahoney investigate this mystery. This is now not simply a documentary, but a docudrama, with fact and fiction, education and entertainment, all mixed together. The kids were decent actors but still kids, and while I enjoyed the gags and dry humor, it all struck me as just a bit...cheesy. However, after testing it out on my daughters, I realized what I was bristling against wasn't cheese so much as enthusiasm, and though the greybeard that I am should know better, I still sometimes succumb to that weird teenage cynicism that believes enthusiasm is the opposite of cool – I was actually faulting Mahoney's junior investigators for being eager beavers! But watching this with my own kids, then the gangs' enthusiasm became a key feature of the film: here were 10 keeners sharing their passions, and no one was getting mocked for gushing about this or that. It was a whole group of geeky kids encouraging and cheering each other on. Would that my own kids can be like that (would that I can be like that!). So yes, a cynical, edgy, or critical audience will find plenty to mock here, and consequently won't be interested in the gang's big adventure. But if you've got geeky kids of your own, then they may just love it! There's a lot of love in the more than 3 hours of content. One highlight is the "Exploration Chamber" – a fictitious holodeck that the group can enter to then see and explore Egypt as it once was. Adults will appreciate how we hear directly from the horse's mouth, with Mahoney often interviewing the very critics he is trying to rebut. On my second viewing with the family I caught how there is humor on two levels here, with pratfalls for the kids, and dry humor for the adults - there are some snort-worthy moments! The five episodes in order cover: The adventures begins when the kids hear about Timothy Mahoney's work and are eager to help They learn that we may know where Joseph lived in Egypt The team searches for signs of captive Israel's population explosion The Young Explorers go search for signs of the 10 plagues The search continues on into Israel, where the team now investigates the fall of the walls of Jericho Caution There are no real content concerns so the only caution I'll offer is not to take Mahoney's conclusions as the final word. Mahoney isn't the only one trying to solve these mysteries, and while his answers are especially compelling, there seem to be some other creationist contenders. Conclusion While this isn't something for dad to watch on his own, it could be some great viewing for the family...if your teens aren't going through that overly critical phase. Or skip the teens altogether and watch this with your elementary ages kids: they love it...and mom and dad will too. The one downside? It is pricey, running between $30-$45 US. You can buy it for online streaming at Christian Cinema, and Christianbooks.com, or buy it on DVD at PatternsOfEvidence.com To get a feel for the series, check out the trailer below and find other sneak peeks here. ...

In a Nutshell

Tidbits - February 2021

Sign seen on a… Whatever your business, there’s a pun for you. Here are some signs that probably never were but definitely should be… IRS building: “It’s better to give than deceive!” Lumberyard fence: “Come see. Come saw.” Locksmith shop: “Let me help you out…or in” Electric company van: “Power to the People!” Blood bank: “Don’t let us be caught with our pints down!” Home security store: “Been burglarized? Get alarmed!” High-rise condominium elevator wall: “Do under others as you would have them do under you.” SOURCE: Collected from Art. Moger’s The Complete Pun Book The leaders we should look for “We are perpetually being told that what is wanted is a strong man who will do things. What is really wanted is a strong man who will undo things; and that will be the real test of strength….We do not need to get good laws to restrain bad people. We need to get good people to restrain us from bad laws.” - G.K. Chesterton God comes to us “…if we are really to know anything about God it will probably be because God has chosen to tell it to us. Many persons seem to go on a very different assumption. They seem to think that if they are to know anything about God they must discover God for themselves. “That assumption seems to me to be extremely unlikely. Just supposing for the sake of the argument that there is a being of such a kind as that He may with any propriety be called 'God,' it does seem antecedently very improbable that weak and limited creatures of a day, such as we are, should discover Him by our own efforts without any will on His part to make Himself known to us. At least, I think we can say that a god who could be discovered in that way would hardly be worth discovering. A mere passive subject of human investigation is certainly not a living God who can satisfy the longing of our souls. “A divine being that could be discovered by my efforts, apart from His gracious will to reveal Himself to me and to others, would be either a mere name for a certain aspect of man's own nature, a God that we could find within us, or else at best a mere passive thing that would be subject to investigation like the substances that are analyzed in a laboratory. “I think we ought to stick to that principle rather firmly. I think we ought to be rather sure that we cannot know God unless God has been pleased to reveal Himself to us.” – J. Gresham Machen, Is the Bible Inspired?  A fearsome pun Three creatures – a hawk, lion, and skunk - were arguing about which was the most feared. The hawk insisted that his ability to swoop in suddenly, from above, had everyone scared of him. The lion said his loud roar and scary teeth were far more frightening. The skunk made the case that his spray could keep anything and everything at bay, so he must be the most feared. But as the three were arguing a grizzly bear showed up and, with just one bite, swallowed them, hawk, lion and stinker. SOURCE: Adapted from Art. Moger’s The Complete Pun Book  It won’t ever happen, but when it does… Back in 2013 commentator Rod Dreher coined the “law of merited impossibility” (LMI) to describe what was going to happen with gay “marriage.” He defined his law thusly: “It is best summed up by the phrase, ‘It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.’” So it is that the very same folk who asked then “How does letting gays marry hurt you?” now want to fine photographers, and bakers who don’t want to celebrate these “nuptials.” In our current context it's not hard to see the LMI's application to conversion therapy bans: it is impossible that Christians would ever be fined for speaking the gospel to homosexuals…but if they are, it’s because they have it coming! The transgender debate too: “Me being transgender has no impact on you, but if you won’t use my new pronouns you deserve to get fired.” Dreher’s LMI is a helpful warning. Those who reject God’s Word aren’t going to abide with Romans 12:18 either and live peaceably with others in as far as it is possible for them. They are after capitulation. So how exactly is that helpful to know? Well, if you’ve ever been tempted to compromise your Christian convictions for the sake of keeping the peace, keeping friends, or keeping your career, then it is a peculiar and emboldening blessing to know that such peace can’t be had. God is making it all the easier for us to take up the battle, by eliminating any options for retreat. Now that’s punny! Is a minister, busy rehearsing his sermon, practicing what he preaches? SOURCE: Art. Moger’s The Complete Pun Book Flies’ eyes Flies don’t have eyelids but they do still need something to help keep the dirt and water away from their peepers. So God has given some the equivalent of a Teflon non-stick coating for their eyeballs, to repel the water. This anti-adhesive coating has gotten scientists’ and engineers’ attention because, as Dr. Margaret Helder notes in the Winter 2020 Creation Science Dialogue, it is “highly versatile, stable and eco-friendly” which are improvements on the industrial coatings we currently have. Looking to nature for design inspiration is a field of study called biomimcry, and other examples include investigating how geckos defy gravity while climbing across ceilings, and, going years back, turning to birds to figure out how to fly. There’s another lesson to be learned here. When creatures exhibit design that is more fantastic than the best Man can produce, even using the smartest brains, biggest labs, and most powerful computers, is a clear indicator that an even greater Designer is at work here. The sin of omission If Margaret E. Sangster’s (1838-1912) poem is in need of an addendum it would be only this: when we repent Jesus can wash us clean of this sin too. It isn't the thing you do, dear, It's the thing you leave undone That gives you a bit of a heartache At setting of the sun. The tender work forgotten, The letter you did not write, The flowers you did not send, dear, Are your haunting ghosts at night. The stone you might have lifted Out of a brother's way; The bit of heartsome counsel You were hurried too much to say; The loving touch of the hand, dear, The gentle, winning tone Which you had no time nor thought for With troubles enough of your own. Those little acts of kindness So easily out of mind, Those chances to be angels Which we poor mortals find - They come in night and silence, Each sad, reproachful wraith, When hope is faint and flagging, And a chill has fallen on faith. For life is all too short, dear, And sorrow is all to great, To suffer our slow compassion That tarries until too late: And it isn't the thing you do, dear, It's the thing you leave undone Which gives you a bit of heartache At the setting of the sun.   Did you know? Did you know that the word “incorrectly” is spelled incorrectly in every single English dictionary?  And the word "wrong" is spelled wrong! Thankfully at least the word “correctly” is spelled correctly. “You are that man…” I once heard RC Sproul Jr. lay out a useful, but unusual tool to help a reader better understand the point of a Scripture passage. The key, as he explained it, was that when you’re reading the Bible and you come across someone doing something very stupid, you should not say “How could they be so dumb?!” Instead, you should ask, “How am I doing something stupid just like that?” Or, as the prophet Nathan put it to David in 2 Samuel 12, “You are that man!” No doctor in this house A young theologian named Fiddle Refused to accept his degree. He said, “It’s bad enough being Fiddle, Without being ‘Fiddle D.D.’” SOURCE: Art. Moger’s The Complete Pun Book...

Culture Clashes

"Let's meet in the middle": the con in compromise

A new administration has taken over in the US, and President Joe Biden and friends are using a lot of conciliatory talk about unity, and working together. This same sentiment made an appearance during Superbowl LV, where the viewing audience of millions was treated to a sermon from Jeep and Bruce Springsteen about "meeting in the middle” as Americans. But the middle of what? "We should meet in the middle" is: a charitable statement if you and your friend live an hour away, have relatively equal means, and want to get dinner at a central location. a terrible idea if there's a yawning chasm between the two of you. Without fixed goalposts, you really don't know where you'll end up when you aim for the middle. Republicans in the States would agree that meeting in the middle with former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an outspoken moderate Democrat, is a very different thing from meeting in the middle with Sen. Bernie Sanders. And Democrats would agree that meeting in the middle with Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican, is a very different thing than meeting in the middle with Donald Trump. If you’re negotiating the price of a house, there’s a great difference between meeting in the middle on a price with someone who starts the bid at $1, and someone who starts the bid at $100,000. A tactic Often in negotiations the term functions in a similar manner to the word "fair." Nobody wants to be thought of as unfair, so by leading off as the “fair one” you can cast your opponent as the other, unfair side. The same tactic is sometimes stated as “finding the common ground.” When your opponent in the negotiation is not budging, or more often, before they even know what direction you want them to budge in, you establish that you are, in point of fact, aiming for "the middle." It sounds so agreeable, but just as soon as a political actor says, "We hope to meet in the middle" he is maneuvering to make his opponent look like the stubborn and unreasonable one. The effect and often the intent is to weaponize people's sense of neighborliness and appeasement to push a point of view. In short, it's not negotiation, but manipulation. We can’t compromise with evil This middle-ground appeal is both caused by and a symptom of the general lack of conviction of our society. If there is no absolute truth, it’d make sense for everything to be negotiable, right? In fact, meeting in the middle may be entirely sensible on how the last $10 million of the budget should be allocated between 3 worthy projects. But meeting in the middle about whether a panel should decide who lives or dies by euthanasia is impossible. There is a fixed right response to euthanasia as an idea, because the government is tasked with punishing evil and murder is evil. Because believer and unbeliever alike know of the Truth (Rom. 1:18-22), and especially because those of us who have the Spirit have had our eyes opened to see and understand it, we must reject "meeting in the middle" on morality. We must reject "compromise" and "fair-mindedness" whenever it is proposed on principles that cannot be compromised. Right and wrong cannot be bargained, and the man on TV telling you they can is manipulating you. Need for uncompromised truth As Christians, we understand the need for showing love to our neighbors and seeking the peace of our community. But we also heed the warnings of David in Psalm 28, who pleads with God to “Not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts.” This ought to lead us to recall the words of Christ in sending his disciples out, saying “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) And as Christians, we are called to seek the peace of the country God places us in, and to love our neighbors. But these commands find their grounding in the first and greatest commandment, to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:36-40) This calls us to exercise wisdom in identifying where there is common ground to stand on, and where the only ground to stand on is the solid Rock that is Christ. In so doing we will ensure that we are no more: “tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15)....

News

Saturday Selections - February 13, 2021

Who was Saint Valentine? The ads might make this day seem to be mostly about earthly love, but the fellow it is named after gained his fame for his love of the Lord. Soft tissue in 180 million-year-old ichthyosaur There is a joke told about a man who was convinced he was dead. No one could convince him otherwise, and so, in desperation, his wife took him to the doctor. The doctor grabbed a small pin and asked the man, "Do dead men bleed?" The man thought about it for a moment before answering, "No, dead men certainly don't bleed." The doctor then pricked his finger with the pin, and when a big red drop formed the man looked down and replied: "Oh doctor, I was entirely wrong - it turns out dead men do bleed!" When soft tissue was first found in dinosaur bones, mainstream scientists ridiculed the find since millions-of-years-old dinosaurs couldn't possibly still have soft tissues. Strangely enough, on that point, both evolutionists and creationists were in agreement. But as more of these soft-tissue finds were unearthed, evolutionists were faced with the choice of either backing down on the fossils actually being millions of years old, or backing down on soft tissues not being able to survive millions of years. They picked the latter. They concluded, in effect, that like dead men, long dead dinosaurs might well bleed. Ravi Zacharias seems guilty as charged An investigation conducted at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries' (RZIM) request has found lots of evidence that their late founder was guilty of sexual misconduct. Ray Comfort weighs in here, and, for those with Facebook, James White has some helpful thoughts here. How to show hospitality I loved the opening experiment, picking which of a dozen faces was a "neutral" expression. The one almost everyone picks is neither mad nor happy, but, as author Nick McDonald notes, how would we feel if someone greeted us with just such a face? Would we feel they were being neutral...or cold? BC gov't requests authority to detain folks who might be planning to go to church "Many politicians have gotten far too comfortable with far-reaching powers over the last year, and this is an extremely unsettling example." A return to multi-generational households This isn't a specifically Christian movement, but it's something Christians can get excited about...particularly as a means of living out the Fifth Commandment. About to start caring again (2 min) With a Democrat president now in office, a Republican congressman finds he's back to caring about the budget deficit once again... ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution

Dismantled: a scientific deconstruction of the theory of evolution

Documentary 2020 / 93 minutes Rating: 8/10 The Creation vs. Evolution debate is sometimes portrayed as being the Bible vs. Science, but Dismantled wants us to know that while creationists certainly stand on the Bible, they aren't conceding on Science. Flipping the script, the documentary begins by asking if evolution should be considered scientific. "Is it proper to equate evolution with science? Does science have the ability to address questions regarding past events that we were not there to directly observe or verify – events like the spontaneous origins of the universe, the origin of life from non-life, and the evolution of the earliest life forms into mammals? Or might we be giving science a power that it does not have? To answer this, it is important that we accurately define science, as well as its limitations." Evolution has street cred because it's supposed to be scientific – it claims to come from the very same source of knowledge that gave us rockets, microwaves pizza, smartphones, and self-driving cars. But as Dismantled notes, evolution has little in common with that sort of science. A quote from the film, taken from a biology textbook, explains that: "Scientific inquiry is a powerful way to know nature, but there are limitations to the kind of questions it can answer. These limits are set by science's requirements that hypotheses be testable and falsifiable and that observations and experimental results be repeatable." It is precisely the testable, repeatable, falsifiable nature of operational science that got us a man on the moon, and it is precisely those points that evolution's historical science doesn't share. Our origins involve events that happened long ago and aren't repeatable, making these events hard to test, and these theories hard to falsify. So the origins debate isn't about the Bible vs. Science, but more about one historical account vs. another... with the notable difference that one of those historical accounts is thousands of years old and unchanging, and the other is a recent creation and constantly being revised. That's the film's lead-off point, and it takes the first 20 minutes to make it. From there, they go on to assess which of these two historical accounts seem a better fit with the world we observe around us. That's the bulk of the film, and this 70-minute tour takes us through topics including: the micro = macro fallacy which assumes, without evidence, that small changes can add up to bigger ones genetics including the limits of supposed "beneficial mutations," and the problem of genetic entropy – that we as a species are breaking down faster than natural selection could ever build us up – and the supposed genetic similarity between man and apes the fossil record including Man's supposed ape-like ancestors, and the humanity of Neanderthals radiometric dating and its problems Dismantled is a slick production – the visuals are fantastic! – but its strength is in the scientists consulted. Whether it is Jason Lisle, John Sandford, Georgia Purdom, Rob Carter, Andrew Snelling, Nathaniel Jeanson (PhDs one and all), they all know how to explain big ideas to the rest of us who may not have been in a science class for decades. That doesn't mean this is all easy to understand, and I think most of us will have to (and be happy to) watch this twice, just because there is so much here to chew on. Cautions The one caution I'll note regards a mistake the film could, indirectly, encourage: believing the Bible only when the evidence says it is reasonable to do so. It is important to remember the evidence discussed in Dismantled wasn't available 100 years ago, and yet God's Word was just as true then. We need to know the Bible isn't true because it syncs up with the evidence; rather, the reason the evidence syncs up with the Bible is that the Bible is true. If that doesn't seem like much of a difference, its significance becomes apparent when the evidence doesn't seem to fit with the Bible. In those circumstances, if our trust is grounded in the evidence rather than the Bible, then we will side with it, against God's Word. But if we trust God, then we'll always stick with the Bible, trusting that any apparent conflicts will be resolved in time. Conclusion Dismantled is superb, summarizing important foundational concepts even as it presents the most current findings. I'd recommend it as a purchase, rather than a rental, because you'll want to watch it again to be able to properly digest all that is on offer. The target audience is high school and up, and for those who want to dig in even deeper, a great place to start is the recommended resources list available on the film's website. You can check out the trailer below, and then rent it on Amazon.com or buy the DVD or Blu-ray at Creation.com. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Rod Dreher’s "Live not by lies" – a review and a discussion

I recently spent several months leading a Facebook group discussion of Rod Dreher's Live Not By Lies. Each week I would post a summary of a chapter, and the members of the group would discuss it. That experience led me to do a closer reading of Dreher's book than I would normally do. And it also led me to appreciate all the more the importance of the message of this book for God's people. The genesis of the book began back in 2015 when Dreher began to speak with Christians who had once lived under communism in the former Soviet-bloc countries. They told him they believed America was drifting toward some sort of totalitarianism, and they were upset that their fellow Americans weren’t recognizing what is happening. Building on these interviews, and first-person accounts of those who survived life under anti-Christian, totalitarian rule, Dreher lays out what he sees happening in the United States (and throughout the Western world), and his conclusions as to how Christians can effectively deal with it. Realism, not pessimism Some reviewers have said that Dreher is overly pessimistic. Totalitarianism? Really? Dreher says the reason many can’t see it, is because what’s happening here is different from what we see in China and saw in the USSR. That’s the old “hard totalitarianism,” while Dreher say what we’re facing could be described as “soft totalitarianism.” What others have characterized as his “pessimism,” I would call “realism.” Dreher understands what is happening in the Western world, and what he sees rightly concerns him. So what is this "soft totalitarianism" that Dreher is talking about? There are many ways in which our freedom to express ourselves honestly is being taken from us, and we are being pressured to conform to the world's narrative. Recently, Focus on the Family had one of its Twitter account suspended for “violating rules against hateful conduct.” They will not be allowed access to their account until they delete the offending comment, which said only: "On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he had chosen Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of HHS. Dr. Levine is a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman." Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram police "hate speech" – and it is those who define "hate" who make the decisions about who can stay and participate, and who must be excluded. Christians who have expressed "unacceptable" opinions on Facebook have been forced to participate in "sensitivity training" sessions in their workplace, after their posts were reported to management and deemed unacceptable. The private sector and government work together to expand surveillance and data collection, whether for the purposes of public safety and "homeland security," or for public health and "bio-security," or to combat the most recent threat to be uncovered, that of "far-right domestic terrorism." Increasingly repressive measures are being enacted to stifle the ministry of the Church, as bills are passed that ban activities like "conversion therapy," which seek to help those who are struggling with their gender identity. Speaking out against sin is defined as "bullying" (regardless of whether it is done compassionately and lovingly or not), and events like Pink Shirt Day, anti-bullying initiatives, and government-mandated school clubs all have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas, especially those that are no longer accepted by the mainstream. When Biblical teaching is defined as "hate speech," and those who dare to publicly contradict mainstream orthodoxy on subjects like sexuality and gender ideology can be silenced and excluded from public discourse, we are well on our way toward this state of soft totalitarianism. This isn't the hard totalitarianism of the old Soviet Union; but in the end, the results of Soft Totalitarianism are the same. Outward conformity to the prevailing ideology is demanded, inappropriate use of language is censured, those who express the wrong kinds of ideas are branded as intolerant, hateful, and dangerous to society. We’re doing it to ourselves What is particularly concerning about this move toward soft totalitarianism is the fact that it is being done with the largely unquestioning acceptance of the populace. We have willingly given up our privacy and control over our own data for the sake of convenience, to remain connected through social networks, and to have “free” access to entertainment and consumer goods. And as we have done that, often unthinkingly, we have opened ourselves up to the growing influence of corporations like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and their policy-makers who are using these tools to shape public discourse, control what can be communicated publicly, and influence the way we think. What can we do? Live not by lies! Dreher’s realism also leads him to recommend steps that Christians can take to remain faithful in the face of ever-increasing pressure. This is where the rubber hits the road for the Christian reader. I often hear this question in response to my writing on current events: “What can we do to stop this?” And realism leads me to say that, humanly speaking, there is very little that we as individuals can do to halt a process which has been gathering steam for decades. The combined forces behind soft totalitarianism appear, on the surface, to be unstoppable. But that does not mean that the situation is hopeless, and that there is nothing we can do as individuals, each within our own sphere of influence. The first thing that we need to do is live according to the injunction of the book’s title, which itself was taken from the title of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s essay “Live not by lies!” Solzhenitsyn wrote that we as individuals may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what we really believe, but we can at least refuse to affirm what we do not believe. We may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but we can, individually and as a community, find the means to live in “the dignity of truth.” So that’s the first important step we need to take. In a world that is demanding more and more that everyone affirm ideals that are inherently non-Christian, and in fact anti-Christian, we need to live in the truth. What does it look like to live in the truth? It means refusing to take over the language that the world uses, and refusing to use it as our own. There is a reason so much emphasis is put on policing speech and policing the way in which certain words and expressions are used – it’s because controlling language is the first step in influencing and controlling thought. Over time, the words we use shape the way we think. We can see this happening with the transformation in the use of the word "gender." In the past, "gender" was a grammatical concept. In languages like Spanish and Portuguese, nouns are either masculine or feminine, and while English is not a gendered language, there are still a few examples of gendered words; for example, ships have often been referred to as "she." But the meaning of the word "gender" has shifted, largely under pressure from activists who would like to believe that gender is a fluid concept, a kind of sliding scale between masculine and feminine. So now, instead of "sex" with its binary male or female biological reality, we have "gender" and a world of multiple options, based on personal choice and identification. So how can we "live not by lies" in this area? We can, in our speech, show that we do not buy into the idea of a shifting scale of "gender," by maintaining the distinction that reflects reality, and not the ideology of the activists who have taken control of public discourse. Does this mean we have to correct people every time we hear the word "transgender" being used instead of "transexual"? No. But it does mean maintaining the created distinction between male and female by the way we ourselves use words, and the way that we teach our children. But there is more that we can and must do. In the second half of the book, Dreher closes each chapter with a section with the heading, “See, Judge, Act.” In this section, he provides the reader with practical advice gleaned from his interviews with Christians who lived under hard totalitarian regimes and kept the faith. While Dreher was raised Methodist and is now an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I think his vision of how Christians can counteract soft totalitarianism has much in common with Reformed thinking, and specifically the distinctly Reformed emphasis on the doctrine of the covenant. Dreher doesn't use the term, but we could summarize his practical steps under the heading of “covenant living.” So in our families, we must deliberately focus on teaching our children, reminding them of who they are, and of the realities of history in world in which history is being rewritten or even erased. In our churches, we need to continue to use the means of grace faithfully and passionately. Dreher recommends the gathering of small groups for teaching and discussion, with believers encouraging and instructing one another about how to “live not by lies.” In a world in which social units are fracturing and social connections disintegrating, we need to make the effort to not only preach covenant theology, but to live out the covenant theology that we confess! Conclusion I highly recommend Live Not By Lies, and believe that its message is vitally important for God’s people today. The first step that we need to take to remain faithful to our calling as followers of Christ is to recognize that we are in a battle, and understand that battle. Dreher does a commendable job of revealing the reality of our current situation, as he seeks to open the eyes of those who may not recognize the seriousness of what is currently happening in our society. He also provides realistic counsel to Christians, based on the experiences of those who have lived through totalitarianism themselves. History is in the Lord’s hands. He is directing all things according to his purpose, and he is in absolute control. For us, that is the greatest encouragement of all, and internalizing this truth is how we’ll steer clear of pessimism and hopelessness. At the same time, we must be realists, and not live in denial about what is happening. The forces united against Christ and his Church are becoming stronger, and we need to recognize that there is a battle, we need to know who the enemy is, and we need to be prepared to fight the good fight of faith in confidence. Live Not By Lies will help you to do just that. Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative magazine. He’s written and edited for the New York Times, and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Beliefnet, and Commentary and numerous other publications. "Live Not By Lies" is his fifth book, and his fourth, "The Benedict Option," dealt with similar themes....

Assorted

A more generous ministry of mercy?

The Lord loves his church and gave her the gift of the ministry of mercy. But is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? Let’s consider the following scenarios and the possibilities they present.  1. After a miscarriage A sister has had a miscarriage or stillborn child. Initial visits by the elder and/or minister have taken place. There is concern that it will take some significant time before the sister will have the energy and emotional strength to take on the regular management of the household. The husband has a good paying job so doesn’t think to ask the deacons for help. A few sisters have dropped off meals, and this has been a godsend. Nevertheless, laundry is piling up, the kids are not bathed, the house is not getting cleaned. The sister knows that this is not the way it should be, but that only makes her feel more guilty and incapable of taking next steps. Her husband has tried to take on more responsibilities, but now he is also starting to feel overwhelmed and is afraid of coming across as insensitive. They need more help! Do the deacons know that there is a problem? Maybe not, but perhaps it should be expected that they inquire again two or three weeks after the loss of the child, to see how things are going. If the deacons were to follow up with the brother and sister, and to inquire how things are going, they might find that while there isn’t any help need financially, the family does need to experience the love of the communion of saints in other tangible ways. 2. In the face of cancer A brother has been diagnosed with cancer. He is sixty years old. The news is shared with the congregation and the minister/elder come to make a visit. After the initial shock is over, the couple decides that it is best that they move out of their large home and into a smaller place. They have children all over the country but who here in town can help them move? Members of the congregation can get together, but the deacons can also take a lead here. They can ensure that this couple, under their care, has the physical help they need. And, of course, the deacons will want to ensure this couple has adequate financial means after the cancer diagnosis led to the brother’s necessary decision to stop working. 3. An unplanned trip A brother in Ontario has a father deathly ill in British Columbia. The deacons or close friends in the congregation know that this family does not have a lot of financial resources. The brother takes his wife and three children to BC to make a visit. He can afford this trip because he has a line of credit, and feels such a trip justifies the expense. Who would disagree? This brother would not be likely to ask for assistance from the deacons because he has a full-time job. But might it be good if the deacons (or other church members) made a visit? Could they, or other members, inquire as to the cost and conceivably gift the family with a signed cheque to help cover some of these unexpected costs? Was this family in dire straits? No. Could they use the help? Absolutely! **** I am sure we can come up with a plethora of other examples in which the minister of mercy, led by the deacons, can be administered within congregational life. Nevertheless, let’s return to the question we began with: is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? My hope is that this article causes all of us to reflect on God’s Word to determine the answer to the question: Is the ministry of mercy equipping all the saints to live in the joy of being redeemed? Loving and caring as God does I strongly recommend Dr. Van Dam’s book “The Deacon” available at Amazon and elsewhere. The New Testament church of our Lord Jesus Christ is blessed to have a formal ministry of mercy as ministered by men serving in the office of deacon. As Dr. C. Van Dam notes in The Deacon: Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy, seven men were originally chosen in Acts 6 with the task “to see to it that there were no needy so that everyone could rejoice and celebrate the salvation and freedom given in Christ.” As the number of followers was increasing, there seemed to arise a tension between the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) and Hebrews because the Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. In order to ensure that the ministry of the Word was not hindered, brothers were appointed to an additional office to begin exercising the ministry of mercy. These men were “set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). And so the ministry of mercy is initiated. How does this office function today? In the first place, this ministry of mercy proceeds from the love of our God and Saviour. While he was on earth, Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, and showed compassion to the afflicted. And while the formal ministry of mercy was not initiated in the Old Testament, the loving covenant God provided numerous laws to ensure that the poor and afflicted were cared for in generous ways (e.g., gleaning, labor, and marriage laws). God loves and cares for his people. That is a consistent characteristic of our covenant God throughout scripture. In Matthew 26:34-40, Christ teaches that on judgment day: “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” “The Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons” used in many continental Reformed churches summarizes Matthew 26 with the conviction that “no one in the congregation of Christ may live uncomforted under the pressure of sickness, loneliness, and poverty.” Living uncomforted is not an option for the Christian community; rather, we should be living in the joy and comfort of our freedom in Christ. And so, the Form explains, it is for the sake of this service of love, that Christ has given deacons to his church. Diaconal work is made possible by the congregation sharing their resources, monetary and other gifts, with these office-bearers, for distribution in one’s home congregation and beyond. Sharing resources is rooted in our love for each other. We love each other because Christ first loved us. Scripture also teaches that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). And it remains an important principle that collections are done in such a way that members can give in secret, without sounding the trumpet and making a public show of their generosity (Matt 6:1-4). When we give generously, there is no need for brothers and sisters in the Lord to experience the burden of poverty or the suffering of want. Not waiting to be asked However, while there is no need for poverty and suffering of want in Christ’s church, for some of us, it is a challenge to ask for help, especially financial help. When we lose our job, become seriously ill, or struggle with frailty, we are often not prepared to ask for help. In The Deacon, Dr. Van Dam suggests (insists) that deacons should be visiting the members under their care in order “to give those he visits the opportunity to feel comfortable with him.” The idea is to build mutual trust. The deacons can learn a lot about family life when they make a visit, and can quickly learn to trust a member in their ward when they have the courage and humility to ask for help. Likewise, when a member trusts the deacon, confident that neither an audit or interrogation will take place, he can ask for help without shame or fear. In addition to building this trust, deacons can also ascertain “whether church members have any needs, financial or otherwise, that are not being met… ideally can see or anticipate needs and offer to help rather than waiting for those in need to come to them.” Love is the greatest command within the congregation of Christ. We love, because he first loved us. It remains important that office-bearers practice servant-leadership as they serve the congregation in which they are appointed. Love requires a servant’s attitude. This means that when they hear someone has lost their job, deacons make a visit and offer help; when a member is diagnosed with a serious illness, deacons should make a visit; when a baby is born and requires a lengthy stay in the hospital, the deacons should ensure the parents have sufficient kinds of help during that challenging time. Deacons do not wait to be asked for help, they need to take the initiative to offer help to the members. Deacons need help too At the same time, deacons do not always know when there are needs. Communication is a two-way street, and the members can also take initiative. When we lose our jobs, we confess that this is under God’s providence. There is no shame in asking the communion of saints for help. This can be done by asking members directly, if a solid relationship of trust has already been established. There is no rule that suggests that members should not help each other directly, rather it should be encouraged. Nevertheless, the ministry of mercy is there to provide for the financial and physical needs of those in need. A relationship with deacons helps members ask for such assistance. The ministry of mercy is a gift – it bears repeating. Do we make good use of this gift? And, yes, like all good gifts, we can abuse them, but let’s leave that for another article. Let’s first commit to making good use of this godly gift of our Lord for His children. For more on the ministry of mercy, be sure to check out the episode below of the Focal Point podcast where Dr. Chris deBoer, along with special guest Dr. Cornelis Van Dam, discuss the why, what, how, and where of the Church's ministry of mercy. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

It goes without saying: Peanuts at its silent best

by Charles Schultz 2005 / 160 pages There seems something almost wrong with using a multitude of words to recommend a wordless book so let me hit just a few highlights and be done. This is Snoopy and the gang but with not a word spoken in this 50-year collection of "Peanuts pantomime strips." The brilliance manifests in at least three different ways. This is all ages. With no words to struggle over, my 6-year-old, still-learning-to-read daughter enjoyed this just as much as me. Might it be a gem for a reluctant reader? This is unique. We're all used to the regular puns that populate the newspaper comics page and know what to expect, but the sight gags here are humor of a whole different sort, and that curveball is sure fun. This is art. Author Charles Schultz does a lot with a little - not just wordless, but his artistic style is also sparse, and it is amazing to see what he can communicate with just a few lines here and there. I'll only add that if you enjoy It Goes Without Saying, you might be interested in Garfield Left Speechless. It doesn't have the same charm – Garfield is sometimes meanspirited in a way that Snoopy never is – but it has some of the same slapstick creativity. (For a twist, check out the website Garfield minus Garfield ...although this one will be above kids' heads.). ...

Letter Writing

How letters mingle souls

"Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls, For thus, friends absent speak. – John Donne (1572-1631) When my father courted my mother, he wrote her sonnets in Dutch, German, English and French. Amazing! I think she was truly impressed and also touched by the fact that he took the time to do this especially for her. The personal touch I do not know a great many people who still write letters, let alone sonnets, to dear ones to express their feelings of love, appreciation and other issues. Letter writing seems to be a lost art. When we first immigrated from Holland to Canada, it was a happy day when an overseas blue vellum envelope was delivered by the mailman through the mail slot in our door. I can vividly recall my mother's happy face as she opened such a letter, avidly reading the news that my maternal grandmother sent her across the ocean. I also retain the memory of sitting around the luncheon table, home from school for an hour or so that first year in Canada, while my father read family bulletins in the form of letters from aunts and uncles to all of us – so that we would not forget the family we left behind. I can't think of anyone who does not enjoy receiving a card or letter with some encouraging words, some personal sentence, written next to the text. But truthfully, I can think of very few who actually put pen to paper to communicate such things. Yes, there is e-mail, but you cannot hold an e-mail in your hand. You cannot fold it up and put it in your pocket or purse, or lay it on your night table next to your bed to reread at your leisure before going to sleep. E-mail, although it is an easy way to correspond, has a certain amount of machine-feel to it, a good dose of impersonal touch. The flick of a button can send the exact same greetings to others besides yourself. An e-mail is simply not as individual as that letter which arrives in your mailbox addressed to only you. Actually, I remember a funny anecdote in which a teenage nephew of mine was so infatuated with a pretty face that he sent her a long letter in which he declared his undying devotion to her. In the epistle he detailed the girl's pretty cheeks, eyes, eyebrows, hair, and so on. On that same day he penned a letter to my father, his grandfather, telling him about his studies at medical school, his progress with those studies, and so on. When he got around to mailing these two letters, however, he put the wrong address on the envelopes. The girl received the letter intended for my father, and my father received the letter intended for the girl. I think I've never seen my father laugh so hard, and he certainly lost no time in phoning his grandson to tell him he was very touched by the fact that his elderly face was held in such high esteem. Seriously, to write something by hand forces one to think carefully and sincerely. You can't erase what you have written without making a bit of a mess. Scratching out words or sentences can create unsightly black blobs. Consequently words should be wisely chosen while reflecting on needs and encouragement needed by the recipient. Writing by hand makes one think carefully, slowly, and forces you to build relationships with others. More than anything else they remind the one receiving the letter that you are thinking of them, possibly praying for them and loving them. Letters, written in the right spirit, have an amazing ability to console, strengthen, and soften hearts that might have contained bitterness towards the world and God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: loving, letter-writing husband One of my favorite preachers, although he died a great many years ago, is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Strongly opposed to liberal theology, he became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England in 1939, and he remained in that church for thirty years. A gifted speaker, he preached to thousands, but classified himself, with regard to letters, "... a truly bad correspondent." Martyn Lloyd-Jones, however, had an intense affection for his wife. If he was away from her for more than a day or two, he always wrote her a letter. Iain Murray, who edited a book of his letters in 1994, more than twenty years ago, wrote about Bethan Lloyd-Jones, Martin's wife: "She was in every sense a partner in all that her husband did. Although a medical doctor herself, she happily gave her life to keeping him preaching and to the care of the home." They had a very good marriage. In 1937, while still a pastor at Sandfields, Aberavon in Wales, Dr. Lloyd-Jones went to the United States on a speaking trip. Bethan could not come with him as their youngest daughter Ann was only 5 months old. He wrote her: There is one constant regret right through everything – that you are not with me. I was counting it out in bed this morning, that by three weeks today, I ought to be with you again. You said in your letter that you hoped I would not forget you – I am prepared to enter into a competition with you on that score without the slightest hesitation! ... All my love to you, dearest girl in the world. There is no one like you anywhere. The more I see of others the more obvious does this become. Kiss each of the girls for me. Yours for ever and ever, Martyn. If you have ever heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones preach, his serious, throaty voice punctuating Biblical truths, and if you have stood in tremendous awe of his God-given ability to argue and defend the faith, these touching words in the letter to his dear wife will undoubtedly raise him to higher levels of affection and esteem in your heart. At the conference in Ohio, he penned thoughts to his dear spouse again: I have not had a letter from you since I left New York, but I have just realized that letters take an extra two days to arrive here. I felt very homesick on Monday. With me on the train was Dr. Wilson from New York... In the Pullman he met another minister and his wife. After talking for a while Dr. Wilson said to the other minister's wife; “You know, you make me feel very homesick for my wife - I think I'll send a card to her to come along.” “Yes, do,” said the other, “most of the wives are coming this time.” And me, having to think of the dearest little wife in the world, thousands of miles away, across the sea! I became totally depressed as I thought of it. When we arrived here, I saw that the wives were here by the dozen! This is surely one of the best hotels in the world. I never saw anything like it. I have a double-bedded room with a private bathroom, toilet, etc. This is real luxury. But Oh! the bed is much too big for one! You ought to be here with me. How wonderful it would have been for Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones to receive that letter and to be able to read and reread her faithful husband's declaration of love, of his missing her. His words were simple and unadorned words – words we can all understand – and words which came straight from his heart. Saying it with written words With Valentine's Day on the loom, Hallmark cards and Hershey Kisses are for sale in supermarkets, drug stores and dollar outlets. It's a great market. Good business! Sales experts know that deep within all human hearts there lies that desire to be told they are special – loved as no other. Ironically, there is one letter which is addressed to all people and one which we can read and reread again and again. Sadly it is probably a letter which is gathering dust on bookshelves throughout North America. Yes, of course I mean the Bible. Listen to the words of the greatest of all Lovers, the Lord God Himself. ... Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, Who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10). And, "...I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness..." (Jer. 31:3). These sentences are part of that old, extant letter which has been delivered to all mankind. We should read them aloud to our children so they will be caught up on the news of their Father as they gather around the lunch or supper table; and it is a letter which we should place on our night table so that we can reread its words when we feel lonely at night. Perhaps, lacking in ability to formulate words ourselves, we can even copy this letter's words and put them on cards for relatives and friends. For even as John Donne said a long time ago, "...more than kisses, letters mingle souls. For thus friends absent speak." Happy Valentine's Day! This first appeared in the January 2016 issue....

News

Saturday Selections - February 6, 2021

The jewels of winter (6 minutes) You might sort-of know how snowflakes are made, but how they are actually made is more amazing than you knew! If $2,000 stimulus checks are good, wouldn't $200,000 be better? (10 min read) We've gotten so used to the government handing out money it no longer seems crazy or outrageous. But what if we took the same logic behind the US $2,000 "stimulus" and used it to argue for $200,000 checks for everyone? To frame this another way, does God encourage us to help the world by spending and consuming? Or by producing? (Eph 4:28, Matthew 25:14-30, Gen. 1:28). Where Salome danced Archeologists make a fascinating find that verifies once again "the Bible is the best-attested book of antiquity, and nothing else comes close." Addictions: a banquet in a graveyard A solid review of an important book looking at addictions from an explicitly biblical perspective. Do as I say, not as I do? An American group has mapped out instances where political leaders have imposed COVID restrictions they haven't then followed. That raises the question of whether these politicians believe in the rules they have imposed. If they find the restriction too strict to be able to follow themselves, shouldn't they ease them for others? The two helmet act In light of the two masks talk... ...

Apologetics 101

I love apologetics

Don’t be intimidated; sharing the good news isn’t as complicated as we make it  **** The Evidence Bible is filled with my favorite apologetical arguments. I love to use these arguments to pursue the lost. I also enjoy watching instructional videos about the subject of apologetics. One of my favorite Bible teachers explains how to defend the faith. He is so eloquent and has such a brilliant mind, it makes me want to never open my mouth again. Plus, he is incredibly gracious and humble. I say that because I want you to know that what I’m going to say is not a criticism. It simply illustrates a very important point when it comes to sharing our faith. I remember him speaking of the importance of truth when reasoning with the unsaved. He spoke of five critical grades to keep in mind when it comes to reaching the lost. He said that when testing truth there are two theories – the “correspondence theory” and the “coherence theory” – plus there is consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance. Then he added, “There are four questions to be dealt with – our origin, meaning, morality, and destiny – and to deal with those questions there are five disciplines you have to pull together: theology, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and anthropology.” He also spoke of three cultures that we deal with: the theonomous culture, the heteronomous culture, and the autonomous culture, which dictates a “mutual autocracy.” Got it? If you did, you’re more intelligent than most people. Most people have trouble even pronouncing those words, let alone knowing what they mean. And that’s okay. That’s because proclaiming the gospel can be as simple as doing what Jesus did: use the Ten Commandments to stir the conscience, and show the sinner that he needs the Savior. I rarely get into arguing about apologetics, the infallibility of Scripture, the deity of Christ, evolution, why there is suffering, etc. When I do enter that territory, I am always aware that there is a way out, and I take it. I can get out, because I have learned the importance of having control of the conversation. I know our ultimate agenda; it’s to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). If I wanted to teach you how to fish, I could take you to a quaint little pond and catch a nice small fish. But I’d rather take you deep-sea fishing and let you see some action. If you watch a deep-sea fisherman, when he gets a marlin on his line he will let it run. He does this because he knows that at any time he chooses he can pull back the rod and get the hook deeper into the fish’s jaw. The “hook” that Jesus used was the moral Law (the Ten Commandments), and the “jaw” is the sinner’s conscience. It is because of this knowledge that I can let him run off in any direction he wants to, because I know that any time I choose I can take complete control, simply by asking the question, “Do you think you’re a good person?” and bringing out the Ten Commandments as Jesus did in Mark 10:18–21. That gives me a level playing field because I’m not talking to his contentious intellect. I have moved to his conscience. This puts even Einstein on the defensive. Never be intimidated by so-called intellectuals. Our Creator has put something infinitely more powerful into our hands: the gospel. It is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). This article is reprinted with permission from LivingWaters.com....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Facing darkness

Documentary 99 minutes / 2017 Rating 8/10 In early 2020, when New York was hit with a surge of serious Covid-19 cases, Samaritan's Purse set up a mobile field hospital to relieve the State's overwhelmed health services. Running towards danger was nothing new for this Christian group – they'd already been busy helping with the Covid outbreak in Italy. And years earlier, when West Africa was faced with an Ebola outbreak, they led the way there too, despite the horrorific nature of that disease. Facing Darkness is a documentary about that 2014 outbreak, and Samaritan's Purse's courageous response to it. This is certainly not a film for everyone, but it might be great viewing for anyone feeling overwhelmed by our current Covid situation. Here are Christians facing risks many times greater, and while they are afraid – terrified even – it isn't a contradiction to say they were not fearful. They kept working. They kept helping, even when one, and then two, of their own staff became infected. As Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham detailed, when he got the news, it was devastating: "My phone rang...and Ken Isaac said, 'Franklin, one of our doctors, Kent Bradley has ebola.' I didn't even know how to pray. I just kept saying, 'Lord, why? We were there to save life. We are there in your name. Why?'" And, of course, they weren't the only ones impacted by the outbreak. The film begins with a young man sharing, one after another, the names of his aunts, uncles, his mother, brother, sister, nephews, and other relatives, who were all taken by Ebola. It is heartbreaking! So why should anyone see this film? Why would anyone want to? Because, at a time when the world is overwhelmed with fear, here are Christians who were certain God was with them, and trusted He would provide for them even in the face of sickness and death. These are people who live out the promise God has given, that whatever the here and now, He has treasure stored up for them in heaven. That makes this such a hope-filled film. It is wonderful! Caution With death an ongoing topic, no matter the safe visuals, this is not a film for children. Conclusion Facing Darkness tells an amazing and encouraging story – brothers and sisters in the Lord showing what it means to trust Him with our all – and that's an example that we can all benefit from. Check out the trailer below, and watch the documentary for free (with ads) at Tubi, or rent it at Amazon, Vimeo, and elsewhere. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Live not by lies, in 7 quotes

In Live not by lies, Rod Dreher shares the warning he's hearing from former emigrants from the Soviet Union and other Iron Curtain countries. They lived through totalitarianism and fled from it, and they told Dreher they are seeing signs of a "soft" totalitarianism now showing up in the West. This soft sort is less about the State imposing its will, though conversion therapy bans and requiring a hospice to provide euthanasia, show that is happening too. But the soft totalitarianism is more about a culture that will cancel Parler, block Focus on the Family, demonetize The Epoch Times, and keep conservative speakers off university campuses. This soft sort also evidences itself when people, out in public, start feeling the need to whisper their opinions, afraid others will hear that they still think boys can't be girls, abortion is murder, homosexuality a sin, and Donald Trump was actually the lesser of two evils. Dreher wants Christians to hear these former Soviets' warnings so we can be prepared for what they think is coming. What does being prepared mean? Dreher's particular focus is to have us ready to face persecution. To give you a feel for Dreher's argument, and a flavor of his writing, here are seven quotes from Live not by lies. Silence can be a stand “‘Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!’ You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe….If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, said, then our response must be: ‘Let their rule hold not through me!’” Government that cares for you cradle to grave “The term totalitarianism was first used by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who defined totalitarianism concisely: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Free to say all that Google and Twitter will allow "Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic – and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit." Don’t bat for the other team “What did it mean to live by lies? It meant, Solzhenitsyn writes, accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state compelled its citizens to affirm – or at least not to oppose – to get along peaceably under totalitarianism. Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all the other lies their malign force. The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be its loyal subject.” Demanding you call him “her” “According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is.” Judged by our group, not our character “In classic Marxism, the bourgeoisie are the oppressor and the proletariat are the oppressed. In the cult of social justice, the oppressors are generally white, male, heterosexual, and Christian. The oppressed are racial minorities, women, sexual minorities and religious minorities. (Curiously, the poor are relatively low on the hierarchy of oppression. For example, a white Pentecostal man living on disability in a trailer park is an oppressor; a black lesbian Ivy League professor is oppressed.)” Christians as the enemy, not as allies “Consider that the civil rights movement of the 1960’s was led by black preachers who articulated the plight of their people in biblical language and stories. Those days are over, and we will not be able to take the measure of the long struggle ahead if we don’t understand the essential nature of the opposition. It regards Christians as the most significant remaining obstacle, bearers of the cruel and outdated beliefs that keep the people from being free and happy.”...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Freiheit! The White Rose graphic novel

by Andrea Grosso Ciponte 110 pages / 2020 I grew up reading stories about the Dutch resistance during World War II, and it was only years later that I realized the Germans had their own committed dissenters. Freiheit! is the story of one such group, "The White Rose." These university students wrote and distributed pamphlets urging Germans to rise up and actively resist their government. The problem, they said, was not that everyone supported Hitler, but that too few opposed him – too many were being silent bystanders. "We are your guilty conscience" their pamphlets declared, as the group tried to prod their fellow Germans to oppose Hitler, not just in thought, but in deed. The White Rose story doesn't have the happy ending we'd want: within a year the group's leaders - all of them 25 or younger - were caught and executed by the Gestapo. But their bravery inspired others, and when the Allies got a hold of their pamphlets they ended up using quotes from the final one in a flyer, and dropped five million copies of it as leaflets over Germany. Today that willingness to stand up to wicked leaders, no matter the cost, continues to inspire. That's the appeal of this graphic novel – this is good food for our own young men and women. The White Rose's pamphlets, translated and printed in the back of this graphic novel, make it clear that there were some Christian underpinnings to what they were doing. Andrea Grosso Giponte's art style is effective, and unlike anything I've seen before, at times photo-like, but of the low-resolution newspaper sort, and with the sort of angles and shadows that made me feel like I was watching an artsy spy movie. Check out the book trailer below to see what I mean. The story is a bit jumpy, so this isn't a graphic novel for pre-teens. It requires some work from the reader because the author isn't holding our hand, explaining every last thing. He expects us to think through and fill in what must have happened between those jumps. It is worth the effort. I'd recommend this for 16 and up, not because of any content cautions, but only because of the effort it requires. If Freiheit! is of interest, you may also enjoy The Faithful Spy, about German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a plot to kill Hitler. ...

News

Saturday Selections - January 30, 2021

Should we erase income inequality? (5 minutes) Abraham was rich and Solomon too. So how should we respond when we're "in a conversation and someone says, 'In America, the richest 1% have 40% of all the wealth. This kind of inequality shouldn’t be tolerated.'” Never let a crisis go to waste The latest survey on persecution found that many governments are using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to oppress their Christian populations. On the Enneagram personality test "...we have always known forever that there are different kinds of people in the world, some gloomy and some cheerful. This is the result of people having eyes in their head, and I am not complaining about that. But there is a clear tendency to take this way too far." – Douglas Wilson. And Kevin DeYoung weighs in on enneagram here. Still no evidence for an RNA origin to life When some evolutionists propose an RNA origin of life, that's more an acknowledgment that DNA couldn't do it than that they have any evidence that RNA could. In fact... "there is precisely zero evidence of any 'RNA World' organisms. Now or ever. There is no organism that does this. There is no organism that does anything like this. There is no controlled, laboratory, version of such a thing. There isn’t even a computer simulation of it, at least in any kind of detail." "But animals do it!" - the anti-science extremism of the Left "Here’s the premise: Whatever animals do in nature is natural. What’s natural is normal. What’s normal is moral....Homosexuals extrapolate that what animals do naturally in nature applies to what higher “animals” can do naturally without any moral judgments attached. But the lower animal/higher animal model breaks down when other so-called natural behaviors in animals are considered. For example, the Bible states, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit’ (Prov. 26:1)..." Cookie monster is a rock! This is just fun...and it is real! ...

Parenting

If you want to spank your child, don't

Discipline is controlled, calm and loving...or it's sinful ***** The photo website I use for most of the pictures for Reformed Perspective has more than 24 million stock pictures, so no matter what the topic, I usually have piles of options to choose from. But when I tried to find something to illustrate an article on parenting, and I punched in the search term "parents" along with "discipline" or "punishment" I got only one basic type of picture: glowering, shouting, finger-waving moms and dads. The variety from one picture to the next was only whether the parent had already lost it or was just about to. This seemed to be the world's idea of parents doing discipline, and no wonder then that they want to ban spanking. No one wants to allow enraged adults to vent their frustrations by hitting kids! But, of course, this is not what discipline should ever be. In Proverbs 13:24 we see that God both clearly encourages corporal punishment, and prescribes the boundaries under which it is to be administered: Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. It can be easier not to discipline our children, to let things slide, to pretend we don't see and don't know what they are up to, and to just hope that they will smarten up without us having to get up from the couch. But if we love our children more than the TV program we're watching, the book we're reading, or the friend we're talking to on the phone, then we will stop what we are doing and apply the corrective that is needed when it is needed... which is immediately. But this verse is about more than a willingness to discipline; we're told that this discipline is motivated by love. There was no love to be seen in any of the website's stock pictures. These screaming, reddening, out-of-control parents looked like they wanted to hit their kids. As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains: Discipline is corrective, and it is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and it is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it. When you are spanking a child, you are either being selfish or you are being selfless – one or the other. You are doing it because you are exasperated, frustrated, beside yourself, and frazzled, or you are doing it as a fragrant offering to the God of your fathers.... When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified. When you are qualified, you don’t feel like it. Screaming and spanking simply don't go together. Or rather, they often do go together, but as parents we need to recognize this for the sin it is. Discipline must be an act of love....

Theology

Fighting error in the Church

Sometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood.  All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church.  We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.”  The term is used pejoratively; but should it be?  Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think. In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth. Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves. Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church. I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on. II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle. Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism. Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage. Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism. I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology. I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals. Philemon is a welcome exception Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism. James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works. I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel. II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things. I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort. II John warns against hospitality for heretics III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church. Jude throughout its entirety is an exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter. Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians. Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church? This originally appeared on Dr. Adams’ blog at www.nouthetic.org and is reprinted here with permission....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Theology, Watch for free

The Marks of a Cult: a biblical analysis

Documentary 2005 / 115 minutes Rating: 8/10 How would you define a cult? Some think of them as being deadly, like the 900 followers of Jim Jones who, in 1978, committed suicide en masse by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid (this is the origin of the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). What this documentary focuses on are religious groups that have some connections to biblical Christianity, but which have departed so far from it, that they are worshipping another God. Overview One of the film's objectives is to give Christians an easily understandable way of spotting those departures. And to make it memorable, host Eric Holmberg uses the four common math symbols: +– x ÷. As he explains it, "A group can be classified as a cult when they: Add to the 66 books of the bible... Subtract from the triunity of God by either denying the personhood or the deity of one or more members of the Godhead Multiply works necessary for salvation Divide the loyalties of their followers from God..." These math symbols are then used as the documentary's four "chapters" and serve as logical breaks for any who might prefer to digest this 2-hour documentary in chunks. 1. Additions (starting at 24:50) Holmberg explains that the first sign of a cult is that it will add to God's Word, "relying on some new, so-called revelation. either new scriptures, or by the discovery of some new interpretive key to the Bible that has somehow been hidden from the historic church." But why would such additions be needed? As Dr. Curtis Crenshaw notes: "If anything is contrary to Scripture, it is wrong. If anything is the same as Scripture, it is not needed. If anything goes beyond Scripture, it has no authority." 2. Subtraction (starting at 47:30) Cults will also subtract from the "triunity of God." Sometimes this involves denying the Holy Spirit's deity, but more often, it involves a denial of Jesus as being fully God. 3. Multiplication (starting at 1:11:35) Another sign of a cult is that they multiply the works needed to be saved. This springs directly from the subtraction or undermining of Christ's deity because, as Jerry Johnson highlights, when Christ is no longer God (or at least fully God), then his sacrifice will no longer suffice. And then Man will have to step in and do his own "share." "To downplay the divinity of Christ is to ultimately to surrender the doctrine of justification. Now, why is that? We must remember that God is holy, holy, holy. He is a thrice-holy God. Our mildest sin offends Him greatly....God doesn't wink at our sin. God is offended by it. He doesn't even want to look on us because we are not reflecting the character of being made in His Image. And when we think about that, and think about the fact that Christ came as deity to die in our place, that's because our sins are an infinite offense to the infinite nature of God, and therefore an infinite payment had to be made, and we couldn't make it. So to take away the deity of Christ does what? It opens up the door. You have got a satisfaction that isn't a full satisfaction. It's a partial satisfaction. And therefore, something else has to be added to it. And that's what the cults always do. None of them believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone. They always add some works to salvation. Christ's work is not complete, because Christ is not diety. 4. Division (starting at 1:35:40) A fourth sign of a cult is that they will divide their followers from God so that their first loyalty belongs to the group or to the group leader, rather than to God. Conclusion Marks of a Cult is a lot of things: a history of how some of the biggest cults began; a rebuttal to some of their aberrant theology; an explanation of how they have different definitions for key theological terms like grace and justification; and a primer on the beliefs that Christiandom hold in common. It is also entertaining – this is education made, if not easy, then at least engaging. But it's also important to mention what this is not: this is not a film you'd show your Mormon or Jehovah's Witness friend to convince them they are worshipping a false god. This is a film for Christians, intended to clarify the conflict more than argue for the historic Christian side. That makes it a great introduction to the topic of cults. Those who want to go deeper can turn to the resources suggested throughout the film, including the likes of Dr. James White's The Forgotten Trinity and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner's God in Three Persons. Overall, Marks of a Cult is an outstanding documentary, and what's even better, you can watch it for free below! ...

Assorted, Book excerpts

10 QUOTES: On technology and the family

We need to control our technology; it can't control us   “…it is absolutely completely possible to make different choices about technology from the default settings of the world around us….it is possible to love and use all kinds of technology but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives.” – Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family “The essential question we must constantly ask ourselves in the quickly evolving age of digital technology is not what can I do with my phone, but what should I do with it? That answer…can be resolved only by understanding why we exist in the first place.” – Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You “Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct sense in Scripture that the answer is 'no'.” – Reinke Your family may need to restrict technology “There is a better way. It doesn’t require us to become Amish, entirely separately ourselves from the modern technological world, and it doesn’t require us to deny the real benefits that technology provides our families and our wider society. But let me be direct and honest: this better way is radical. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors aren’t making. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors in church aren’t making. Let me put it this way: you don’t have to become Amish, but you probably have to become closer to Amish than you think.” – Crouch Parents need to be examples “Can we really tell our kids, ‘Do as we say, not as we do?’” – Delaney Ruston, doctor and the documentary filmmaker of Screenagers “The kids know we need help too….An awful lot of children born in 2007...have been competing with their parents’ screens their whole lives.” – Crouch Parents need to act sooner than later “Many parents fear that if they approach certain topics too early it will give their kids ideas about those things before they actually need to face them. Let me ask you some questions…. Do your kids ride the school bus with older kids? Are there older kids in your neighborhood? …. You may shield your tweens from talk of dating and teen relationships, but what about the eleventh graders making out in the back of the bus? You might supervise Internet activity, but what about the computers at friends’ houses?” – Nicole O’Dell, author of Hot Button Topics: Internet Edition “An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.” – Crouch We need to be parents, not policemen “Research shows that parenting with rules and boundaries but with love and caring promotes better everything; better grades in school, better relationships with their friends and family, everything!” – Ruston “Our children need to feel love, not condemnation. They should trust that we’re an ally, not the enemy. You’re not fighting against your kids in hopes of coming out victorious over them; you’re in a battle for them.” - O’Dell...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

The hardest peace

Expecting grace in the midst of life's hard by Kara Tippetts 2014 / 189 pages In this part biography, part devotional Kara wants us to understand it was not in spite of her long battle with cancer, but because of it and through it, that God showed his goodness to her. She writes of how her life hasn’t always been pretty – full of surgeries, and chemo, and hair loss, and scars, and medical tests, and radiation – but God has ensured it was beautiful. This is a must-read for everyone – I'd recommend it to young and old, married or not, men and women. Whether you are near death or far from it, there is but one end for us all – death is the final enemy, but before it comes there is the loss of strength and loss of ability, loss of friends, and loss of family. It is easy to trust God when the going is good, but what of when we have to ask, "Who is our only comfort in death?" At one point Kara shares how, as one of her daughters was being tucked into bed, the girl asked her father, "Is Mama going to die of cancer or old age?" Kara's husband couldn't find the strength to say the words and asked Kara for help. So Kara padded down the hall and slipped under the covers with her daughter. She wasn't asking for false hope; she wanted me to love her with honesty. I told her I had heard her question, and I asked her my own question in response. I asked her if she believed God would meet her in both of those places. I looked at her face and wondered at her love, her beauty, her tenderness and I asked her a question many grown people cannot answer or embrace. In the most painful fear and hurts of our lives, will God be good? Not just the simple: God is good, indeed always good. Not the rote, recited, memorized answers we have been trained to give in the edges of life. But the asking: Is Jesus really good in the awful of cancer, fire, heartbreak, and devastation? In the face of all that is broken, is God good? We all know the answer, but it is one thing to know the answer and another to believe it when the going is not good. This is why I loved this book: Kara praises God for his goodness, and all that He provided her, and she also acknowledges her own weakness and doubt. She asks, How do you speak to your young child of grace you struggle to have the imagination to behold? You just do. It’s the raw places of faith without sight. It’s the painful moments of preaching a sermon to yourself you know you struggle to believe. It’s the quiet prayer from Mark: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That is what we are all struggling with: we trust God in the good times; help us trust You in the bad! Kara is wonderfully encouraging in showing how she came to understand that God is faithful, even in the bad, and even in her doubts. He is good, and He can be trusted. Several months after finishing the book, on March 22, 2015, Kara Tippetts died and went to be with the Lord. If you loved the book, you'll also want to see the documentary, The Long Goodbye: The Kara Tippetts Story which we review here....

News

Saturday Selections - January 23, 2021

The magical birth canal The state of things under Canadian law... How to enjoy wealth to the glory of God In 1 Tim 6:17-19, the Apostle Paul gives 3 warnings about wealth and teaches 4 purposes it can be put to. What they aren't telling us about electric cars The push is on to move from gas to electric autos, but what we're not hearing about are the downsides to electricity. Everything in life requires tradeoffs because we have limited time and resources: what we spend in one place can't then be spent in another. That's why, when one side presents their idea as trade-off free – as if it has no notable downsides – we should seek out further information. Pandemic parenting: why some kids are less stressed than usual COVID, coupled with the government's restrictions, has left some of us extra anxious. However, it seems that some children are actually less stressed than normal. How could that be? Might it be related to extra time and attention from mom and dad? A final assessment of the Trump presidency (15-minute read) How should Americans (and others) assess the Trump presidency? David Bahnsen offers this: 1) With gratitude that...we have bought ourselves time as it pertains to the Supreme Court’s protection of our most basic liberties; 2) With regret for the significant losses, embarrassments, and failures evident throughout the last four years; and 3) With renewed wisdom and understanding that the “character doesn’t matter” angle didn’t work for us... How to speak during the coronavirus A little levity to lighten the load... ...

Science - Creation/Evolution

Our remarkable Sun

Evolutionists like to claim that our Sun is merely an average star, just one among billions. There’s no reason to believe our Sun is unusual…or so they say. After all, if our Sun were special, that might support the idea that a benevolent Creator made it for us! Nevertheless, our Sun is special indeed. As I pointed out in my DVD, Our Created Stars and Galaxies, stars come in a variety of sizes, colors, and temperatures. As a single “Class G” star, our Sun is very well suited to support life on Earth. Most other stars are not. Calm… For example, the most common stars (about 75 percent of all stars) are red dwarfs. These stars commonly emit flares: eruptions of superheated material, radiation, and charged particles blasted out into space. They do this so frequently that they’re often called “flare stars.” Large-enough flares can sterilize any planets orbiting these stars. Although our Sun occasionally releases small flares, they’re gentle compared to what we see elsewhere. We’ve seen other stars produce “superflares” up to 10 million times more energetic than those from our Sun. Is our Sun so quiet merely because of its size, temperature, and other characteristics? No. Even among Sun-like stars, our Sun is unique. A 2012 study of solar-type stars found that many had erupted in superflares. Of 83,000 stars that were observed, 148 erupted in just 120 days of observing. Extend this rate out, and each solar-type star would have more than a 50% chance of erupting every 100 years. This result is consistent with previous studies that showed that solar-type stars erupt about once per century. …and quiet Over thousands of years, a typical Sun-like star should have multiple massive eruptions. Yet there is no evidence that our Sun has ever emitted a superflare. As the study’s summary in Nature noted, “The flares on our Sun are thousands of times punier than those on similar stars.” But why? Secular astronomers are scratching their heads over this. They attribute the Sun’s gentleness to a lack of large sunspots. But that doesn’t really explain anything. Why should the Sun have smaller sunspots than other solar-type stars? They don’t know. But creationary astronomers aren’t surprised by this. As Isaiah 45:18 says, the Lord created the heavens and Earth “not in vain… He formed it to be inhabited.” Since our Sun was designed by a masterful Creator to support life, we shouldn’t be surprised that it supports life very well. Meanwhile, secular scientists are still grasping for some excuse to deny a Creator. They still wish to find other worlds like ours, so that ours won’t seem so unique. But even the most “habitable” places they can find are hellish planets like Gliese 876d. Here’s artist Inga Nielsen’s conception of what the surface of this planet might be like. Conclusion Our Earth, Sun, and Solar System are fearfully and wonderfully made to be our home – and to proclaim the glory of their Creator. May His name be praised! This first appeared in the October 2015 issue. Spike Psarris was once a member of the United States military space program, entering it as an atheist and evolutionist and leaving it as a creationist and a Christian. He has produced three wonderful DVDs about what God is up to in space – “Our Created Solar System,” “Our Created Stars and Galaxies,” and "Our Created Universe". They are available at his website CreationAstronomy.com. For Spike Psarris' testimony about how he became a creationist first, before he became a Christian, see the video below (7 minutes).  ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Free Speech Apocalypse

Documentary 89 minutes / 2015 Rating: 8/10 In 2012 Pastor Douglas Wilson gave a public lecture on the contentious topic of sexuality God's way. But it wasn't simply a public lecture: his event took place on the campus of a large university and was advertised well ahead of time, giving campus LGBT groups and their supporters time to arrange protests and arrange to fill the auditorium seats. In addition, this wasn't just any university campus: it was Indiana University, home of the Kinsey Institute, where the infamous sexologist Alfred Kinsey helped launch the Sexual Revolution. For a talk on God's thoughts about sex this was as hostile a setting as could be had. His talk, and all the hysteria and hoopla that surrounded it, is the centerpiece of director Darren Doanne's new documentary The Free Speech Apocalypse. Doanne uses the event to tackle three related subjects: The intolerance of the Left – As the title suggests, free speech and tolerance are the main topics tackled. Douglas Wilson comes to Indiana to dialogue, but that's not what the Left wants. Instead activist students scream and shout: "We believe in free speech, but this is hate speech!” False allegations made about Douglas Wilson – When students chant, "Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay; Douglas Wilson go away!" we get to see how Wilson is able to respond and rebut these accusations. The difference between Left and Right – Wilson notes, "this is the difference between the conservative mindset and the liberal mindset: The conservative thinks always in terms of tradeoffs. The liberal thinks in terms of solutions. The liberal wants solutions. And he doesn't want to think in term of tradeoffs. He doesn't think there is ever a price tag for what he is advocating." Liberals demand more and more, not thinking about how someone will have to pay for this. Conservatives are grown up enough to realize there are no perfect solutions – everything comes with a cost. Related to this last point, the American Civil War is touched on. In the US it is a near universal belief that this was a good and just war because it ended slavery. But it also resulted in 600,000 dead - that was the tradeoff that liberals don't consider. American presidential candidate Ted Cruz appears in the film for less than a minute, but his interview highlights how even conservatives and Christians can forget to consider the tradeoffs. Concerning the Civil War he says it "was absolutely a just war" but concerning abortion, "We have the ability to change this, and to change this without a war fought in the streets." So he understands that war would be an unsatisfactory tradeoff for today, but won't even consider whether that might have been true for the Civil War. Cautions The topic matter – sexuality God's way vs. the world's way, and tolerance God's way vs. the world's way – means this is a film for mature audiences only. The F-bomb is put to regular use by students, and these occurrences are not bleeped out. The one thing I found surprising was the selection, by the director, of some backing music for a ten-second segue that also included multiple f-bombs – an unnecessary, but fortunately very short, addition. There are also a few brief shots of homosexuals and others prancing about, and one line-drawn diagram shown for a few seconds that includes a depiction of a naked male butt. Conclusion This is an enormously ambitious film but because it tries to fit so much in, it might leave viewers exhausted by the time the credits role. But it is worth putting in the effort. Few Christians are both able and willing to beard the liberal lion in his den, and it is fun and encouraging to watch Wilson venture forth. Here we get to see a brave man standing up, outnumbered, but not outmaneuvered because he stands on God's Word. This film is also a must-see because it shows what is coming and what we are up against. As the Left continues to marginalize Christians, it may well be that in some circumstances no matter what we say or do we will not be able to win the debate. And not because of any weakness in our position, but rather because the other side has no interest in discussing. They'll want to meet our words with their shouts, or their claims of victimhood, or even their fists. However even then our light can shine. If our words are shouted down, our demeanor can stand in sharp contrast. In Wilson we see a joyful warrior, secure in the knowledge that God has already won. This is how we need to be. The Free Speech Apocalypse can be bought on DVD or purchased for streaming here. ...

Culture Clashes

Animal rights vs. animal welfare

If you think that a dog’s owner shouldn’t be allowed to beat it for fun, you might think you support animal rights. But Wesley Smith, the author of The War on Humans wants us to understand that as a stand for animals' welfare. Why the different word choice, and why does it matter? It’s because those making the loudest call for animal rights are also those who have the least interest in animal welfare. As Smith explains: Advocates of animal rights ideology seek to end all domestication of animals. Advocates of animal welfare, on the other hand, seek to create ever-improving standards of animal husbandry. Christians know we have been put in charge of the animals – we are stewards of creation, and animals, even the wild ones, are ours to be managed and cared for. But animal rightists want us to think of animals not as objects of care, but as our moral equivalents. As Ingrid Newkirk (one of the founders of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) put it: “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” No Ms. Newkirk: while a lonely boy is a sad situation, a lonely rat is often a cause for celebration, as rats without playmates cannot beget more rats! As Smith concludes: You may think you are for animal rights when you are really for animal welfare. It is time to use the correct terminology so that "animal rights" becomes a scorned and shunned movement. This post first appeared in the Oct 2015 issue....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Feature author: David Macaulay

David Macaulay (1946-) is a children's author who loves to investigate how things are made and how they work. He covers everything from architecture (skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) to machines (computers, inclined planes), and even biology (cells, the human body). Macaulay is first an artist and then an author, so even though he writes for all ages, his books are always picture books. His first, Cathedral: the story of its construction (1973), set the template for much that would follow. It was filled with detailed, full-page illustrations showing the whole construction process, right from the decision to build in 1252, all the way to the church's completion more than a hundred years later. It isn't the history of any real, specific cathedral, so, to give added color, Macaulay included a fictitious backstory. While this narrative is interesting, it's also quite bare-bones - we learn the architect's name and hear about some of the monetary troubles involved in paying for the cathedral, but not much more than that. Most of the "story" details the construction challenges these ancient builders faced, and the ingenious solutions they came up with to solve them. Many people are mentioned, but the story is more a biography of the building than its creators. A combination of detailed text, and big pictures, gives Cathedral a cross-age appeal. Younger, elementary-aged children can flip through it (maybe with some help from mom or dad), while teens and adults will likely read it front to back. Cathedral was followed by others of a similar sort, exploring how pyramids, jet planes, inclined planes, and even toilets work. Then, in more recent years, Macaulay has delved into the way our bodies work. RECOMMENDED So what Macaulay books would be great to check out of your local library? Or might be good purchases for your home or Christian school library? The following list isn't exhaustive - Macaulay's output is impressive, so I haven't gotten to them all yet - but what follows are my recommendations, grouped by age group. Kindergarten to Grade 4 While many Macaulay books are oversized, these are more typically sized, just right for the younger reader to hold and flip through. But mom and dad will also enjoy reading these to their kidlets. Toilet: How it works 32 pages / 2013 A great one to start boys on. Considering the topic matter, it is quite remarkable that this is free of any potty humor. Jet Plane: How it works 32 pages / 2012 Eye: How it works 32 pages / 2013 A very fun look at just how amazing the eye is. Castle: How it works 32 pages / 2012 A much simpler version of his earlier Castle (1977) book, it might create interest in that bigger volume. Shortcut 64 pages / 1995 This is a creative mesh of several seemingly unrelated storylines, and the fun for kids is to figure out how they are all interconnected. This brightly colored picture book is a departure from any other Macaulay book, being more a mystery than anything architectural. Black and White 32 pages / 1990 A Caldecott winner, this unique book has 4 stories being told simultaneously on each two-page spread. Or is it all just one story? Very fun, but not for the impatient, as the answer reveals itself slowly. Grades 3 to adult - bigger books These architectural books are all big, but not too big to scare away the elementary reader. I've grouped them in order of preference, leading with the very best. But if a child loves any one of these, they'll likely enjoy them all. Castle 80 pages / 1977/2010 A Caldecott Award winner, it tells the detailed, historically-accurate (though fictitious) story of how an English castle was constructed in the late 1200s. Be sure to get the 2010 version, which has all the full-page pictures in full color. Castles are the coolest, so if you were to get just one Macaulay book, this should be it. It won a Caldecott award. Cathedral 80 pagers / 1973/2013 The one that started it all. Its oversized pages showcase in words and wonderful, detailed pictures how a medieval people, lacking all our modern construction tools, could build something that would marvel us still today. The black and white original was redone in color in 2013, and the added vibrancy is wonderful. UnBuilding 80 pages / 1980 A fictional, fantastically illustrated story of how a rich Arab prince buys the Empire State Building to move it to his home country. It is a floor by floor account of how something this big would be “unbuilt.” City 112 pages / 1974 Describes how the Roman Empire would plan and build their cities. Pyramid 80 pages / 1975 As you might imagine, there is some mention made about the ancient Egyptians' pagan beliefs, but nothing that the target audience, Grade 3 and up, shouldn't be able to see through. But they might not realize that Macaulay is including some guesswork in amongst the facts since there are a few theories about how exactly the pyramids were made. Grade 6 and up - huge tomes Building Big 192 pages / 2000 This might be my favorite of all Macaulay's books, with short treatments of various historic bridges, tunnels, dams, domes, and skyscrapers. More than 30 structures are covered, going as far back as the Pantheon, all the way to today's skyscrapers. It's a treat to see just how creative engineers have been in building bigger, higher, and deeper, even as they used less and cheaper materials. I'll own up to not understanding even half of what Macaulay explains, but that didn't detract from the enjoyment. Crossing on Time 128 pages / 2019 This is part autobiography, sharing the author's trip across the Atlantic Ocean when he was only a young boy and his family immigrated from Great Britain to America. But it is, even more, a story about the development of the steam engine, passenger ships in general, and the SS United States specifically. As always, detailed pictures provide lots for the viewer to explore. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT Mosque Another big book about how a building gets built, and while there is no real reason to avoid it – it treats Islam with deference, but doesn't actually promote it, as this is about a building rather than the religion – there is also no pressing reason to get it either. I know it wouldn't have interested me as a boy, especially when compared to his book on castles. The Way We Work In this enormous tome (300+ pages), Macaulay explores how amazingly well-designed we are (though he doesn't put it quite like that). He details it from the atomic level on up to cells, eyes, and even our reproduction system. It is the brief section on sex that makes this a take-it-or-leave-it book. It is quite restrained and comparatively tame to what else is out there, but this isn't a topic that kids should tackle without adult supervision, making this a questionable book for a school library. And while parents could conceivably use it to introduce and discuss this topic with their kids, there are better, specifically Christian, books available. So I'd only recommend this for an age group who already knows the basics about sex since for them this could be a fascinating overview of the whole body (and the sex section isn't remotely titillating). I'll also note the passing mention made, 2 or 3 times, of ancient ancestors or of evolution. However, the more important worldview implication is the glaring omission of any mention of God, even as His handiwork is explored and praised. The creation is praised rather than the Creator, and kids may miss the significance of that misdirection, so parents will need to make that plain. The Way Things Work Now Macaulay uses cute mammoths to explain everything from how basic machines like screws and inclined planes work, to the inner workings of computers and jets. There is the very occasional mention of millions of years, and, on a few pages, some tiny angel-like creatures appear to help illustrate how a machine works. It's a mystery why he uses them there instead of the mammoths that are everywhere else. Mammoth Science Mammoths are used to illustrate and introduce scientific topics as varied as light, molecules, density, bacteria, pressure, hydraulics, and magnetism.  But evolution is a minor theme, popping up at least a half dozen times, including a couple of pages devoted specifically to it. Angelo This is the story of Angelo, who cleans and restores ancient architecture, and the pigeon he saves. It is a charming and different perspective on these ancient buildings, but Angelo dies at the end and that made my girls cry. So, at least in our house, two thumbs down. DON'T BOTHER Baaa Strange dystopian picture book in which humans have disappeared due to overpopulation, and then sheep follow in their footsteps. A Malthusian/overpopulation allegory. Simply nonsense. Underground This is not a bad book, but it isn't a good one. It details what is found underneath a downtown city street, but the book is dry and dusty because there is no story element. Great Moments in Architecture This is an attempt at humor, with various strange works of impossible, fanciful architecture shown, but it ends up being odd and weird, not funny. TV SERIES While this review is about Macaulay's books, I'll briefly mention a video series based on one of them. The Way Things Work is 26-episodes long and utterly fantastic, and while the $200+ price tag is too expensive for parents to buy, many public libraries carry it. To learn more, see my review here. CAUTIONS There aren't many worldview conflicts to be found. It comes out that Macaulay does think people are really something, which, of course, we do too, though likely for a different reason. We know our worth comes from outside ourselves – it comes from being made in the very Image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) – whereas Macaulay seems to believe that what makes us special comes from what we can do. In the preface to his updated Cathedral (2013), he writes: “Whatever magical or superhuman notions these buildings may stir, castles and cathedrals are tangible reminders of human potential. Understanding how they came to be is just the first step in recognizing that potential in each of us.” If you were to ask, "Who or what is the 'god' of Macaulay's books? Who or what is the object of worship?" this would be the answer: human ability and human potential. In the same book, he also offers a seemingly cynical take on medieval Christianity: “For hundreds of years the people were taught by the church that God was the most important force in their lives. If they prospered, they thanked God for his kindness. If they suffered, they begged for God’s mercy, for surely He was punishing them.” Of course, as children of the Reformation, we know there was a good deal about the medical Church to be cynical about, so maybe there is no fault to find here. A clearer problem lies in the one or two dozen mentions Macaulay makes about evolution and millions of years. But these mentions are spread out over his many books, such that in a book of 300+ pages it might happen twice or thrice, and in his shorter books, not at all. The most overt worldview conflict I've found is in his strange dystopian Baaa (1985), in which humans have overpopulated themselves out of existence, only to have sheep take their place and then repeat their mistake. The overpopulation lesson preached here is in opposition to God's command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). CONCLUSION If you have a budding engineer in your family, they'll love David Macaulay. He has books for all ages, and sometimes two books on the same subject, with one for a younger age group and the other for a couple or so years older. Because so many of these books are about engineering marvels, they might be categorized as "boy books" but my girls were interested too. I think they could also be a way to hook a reluctant reader into working through a very big book – they might open the book for the illustrations, but then curiosity will get them to start reading this page and that. There's certainly good reason that David Macaulay remains a favorite of so many, even 50 years after his first book!...

News

Saturday Selections - January 16, 2021

Sea shanties go viral (7 min) If you have boys who think singing is girly, there's a new viral trend of men singing manly. For more on this sea shanties trend, and the Nathan Evans performance that started things off, click on the link above. 50 countries where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus Every day, 13 Christians are killed, 12 unjustly arrested or imprisoned, and 5 are abducted - so reports the 2021 World Watch List. Our politics are cracking under the weight of a thinning civil society "...agitators, after making their violent intentions clear on social media, successfully incited Trump supporters to mob the Capitol. Still, even the most-crafty agitator can only agitate a crowd that is agitate-able." This flower can "hear" bees Bees' buzzing can actually trigger a flower to increase its nectar output, and the flower's petals function as a type of "ear" to amplify the buzzing. Alternatives to Google Google makes its money by selling users' information. And it gathers that information a lot of different ways! Here's alternative services that can provide some of the same features. Annecdotally, it seems like MeWe is becoming an alternative to Facebook, at least for some Canadian Reformed folk. Is Capitalism all about greed? (5 min) This video is fantastic, even if it doesn't get to the root of the issue. Capitalism stands on property rights, which we find in the Bible as well, when God forbids us from stealing (Ex. 20:15). In contrast, socialism presents it as right, and even just, for me to look over my back fence and covet my rich neighbor's goods (Ex. 20:17). While capitalism has this spiritual benefit (that it can be practiced in a way that aligns with God's Law), this video highlights its material benefit. To give one more perspective, a quote from Walter E. Williams (1936-2020): "Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering, and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man." ...

Culture Clashes

What’s the best response to a wedding cake request?

What do you say to a homosexual couple who asks you to bake a cake for their wedding a month from now? That was the question that Joel Belz posed in his WORLD magazine column a few years back. A little over a month later, he revealed the difficulty that both he and over 200 readers (including five in prison!) had in answering it – by the end of this second column, Belz was no closer to an answer. What made Belz’s challenge tougher were two of his conditions: it had to be a brief reply, and, like Christ himself was prone to do, the couple’s request had to be answered with a question. What further complicates the situation is the fact that we don’t know the couple’s motivations. Are they simply unaware of our Christian moral convictions? Or are they trying to cause trouble? That's why any answer to the question needed to challenge the couple to make their intentions clear, so that we need not cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) if they hate the gospel and those who bring it. And our response needs to honor “Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). So if this stymied Belz and his readers, how can we answer it? Well, we can start with what we’ve been given in the first question of our Heidelberg Catechism. Here is my response to, as Belz calls it, “the baker’s challenge”: "I am a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, and I believe that I belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Do you want me to disobey my Savior?" The couple (one or both of them) have three possible responses: “Yes, we do!” in which case, you may still face a human rights tribunal, but you have made the issue clear and exposed their hostility to Christ and Christianity; “No, we don’t, so we withdraw our request!” which may keep you out of legal trouble and still give you a chance to explain your moral stance as an working out of your hope in Christ, rather than as simply an individual issue of conscience; “We don’t understand the problem” which may be the answer we should most hope for since it allows us, with gentleness and respect, explain how our hope in Christ compels us to honor the commands of God. There seems to be an increasing number of situations in which we might be pressed to do something that compromises our Christian convictions: Sunday work, using certain pronouns, shading the truth on a tax return, celebrating a homosexual wedding, etc. What is most important in any response is to love Christ more than even our conscience (because it’s about Him, not us), and to confess, as it says in Lord’s Day 1: “Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”...

Assorted

"I’m fine"...and other lies we tell

In Canada we don’t have Nazis at our doors asking whether we're hiding Jews. And yet we still lie. When a telephone solicitor calls we tell him we “can’t talk right now” whether we can or not. The waitress asking “How are you?” is given an “I’m fine” whether we are or not. And children who want to play with Mom or Dad are told “later” whether there will be time then or not. No lives are at stake and no one is in danger; our lies don't save anyone. So why do we – Christian folk that we are – lie like this? Half truths? We lie because at the time it seems the quicker thing to do, and because the “half-truths” we’re telling seems harmless enough. We lie because we doubt the sincerity of the people around us: “He can’t really want to know how I'm doing, can he?” And when we lie often enough, then the lying spills out of us as a matter of habit. There is a temptation to dismiss these “little lies” as harmless. However the Bible is quite clear about the overall need for honesty and the value of truth in our day-to-day lives (Col 3:9, Lev. 19:11-12). We find that the very character of God prevents Him from ever lying (Num. 23:19) and indeed Christ is so inseparable from honesty He is called “the truth” (John 14:6). So if we want to imitate Him then we too should be concerned about honesty. Half trusted Consider also the damage done from our ordinary lies. One example: how many parents make a habit out of lying to their kids? How many of us make promises we can’t keep and making threats we don't carry out? When a parent’s “yes” doesn’t mean “yes” and our “no” doesn't really mean “no” how can we be surprised when our children don't accept anything we say as the final word? Experience has taught these kids that Mom and Dad’s “no’s” are at best half-truths, because half the time a bit more badgering will result in a favorable “yes.” Now, in some instances we may not be able to deduce the harm caused by a bit of deception – who gets hurt when we lie to a telephone solicitor? But consider the harm that comes from the fact that if we are not habitually honest we all too easily become habitually deceptive. Sin separates us from God (and would do so permanently but for the grace of God) so we should never dismiss any sin as inconsequential. An experiment If you don’t think you lie, consider this challenge, taken from Diane M. Komp’s book Anatomy of a Lie: carry a small notebook with you to tally every time you lie, or are tempted to lie, and ask yourself “why?” Keep this up for a week, or even just a day, and if you may well be astonished at how often you are lying, and how often it is for no discernable reason at all! Of course becoming more aware of our sin isn’t any sort of place to stop. Now that the need for repentance is clear, go to God, ask Him for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you speak the truth in big things and small....

In a Nutshell

Tidbits - January 2021

Silent Cal speaks American president Calvin Coolidge was so close-lipped his nickname was “Silent Cal.” A popular joke told about him had an attractive young lady approach the president to explain that she had made a bet with her friend that she could get him to say more than two words. "You lose," the president replied. But while he didn’t say much, when he did speak up, it was worth hearing. Here are some of the best quotes from Silent Cal. "Don't expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong." "No man ever listened himself out of a job." "No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave." "Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped." "Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business." “I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant.” History majors can be wise before they're gray “History maketh a young man to be old, without either wrinkles or gray hairs; privileging him with the experience of age, without either the infirmities or inconveniences thereof.” – Thomas Fuller It is scientific to say the Sun goes around the Earth Some Bible critics say that Joshua 10:12-14 can be used to show that the Bible is not trustworthy when it comes to scientific matters. Here we read that at Joshua’s command the Sun stood still, and yet as we all know, it is the Earth that moves, not the Sun. So this passage gets it wrong, right? Not so fast! Even today, we talk about the Sun as if it moves – setting and rising – and no one complains that we’re unscientific when we do so, or doubts our ability to be clear about other matters. When a house builder says his latest building project will be done in six days, we won’t assume he actually meant six million years just because we also heard him talk about seeing the sun rise that morning. Days still mean days even when someone talks about the sun rising. But let’s pick nits for the moment and consider if there is any way at all we can find fault with Joshua’s statement. Sure, it makes sense in common terminology, but it still doesn’t make sense scientifically speaking, right? Not so fast! It turns out it is perfectly valid, scientifically speaking, to talk of the Sun being in motion around the Earth. Why? Because all motion is relative – i.e., it is measured compared to some other object. Most of the time, the other object we are comparing our motion to is not explicitly stated – when we go driving, running, or even biking, we measure our motion relative to the ground, but we never actually state that. So when we say a train is traveling 20 miles an hour east, it would be more scientifically precise to say it is traveling 20 miles/hr. east relative to the ground. But the ground isn’t the only frame of reference we use – we can choose to use another. If a fellow was on this train and walking 10 miles an hour towards the back (westward), we could say he was traveling 10 miles an hour eastward, relative to the ground, or we could say he was moving 10 miles an hour westward relative to the train. When it comes to our Solar System, we most commonly – because it has the strongest gravitational pull – speak of motion compared to, or relative to, the Sun. And relative to the Sun, it is the Earth that is doing all the moving. But we could choose a different frame of reference. Relative to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, the Sun is moving too! From this vantage, the Earth isn't simply orbiting the Sun, but spiraling around it...and have you ever heard someone describe it like that? Now, if we chose the Earth as our frame of reference (a logical choice, since this is our vantage point) and described all motion relative to the Earth, then we could say, scientifically and accurately, that it is the Sun that goes around the Earth! And that’s the reference point that Joshua chose to use. So Joshua 10:12-14 can’t be used to undermine the clarity of the clear six-day creation account in Genesis 1 and 2. In fact, if you find someone trying to do just that, we should instead understand this attempt as undermining the critic’s credibility – they have no interest in being fair. The wit and wisdom of Winston Churchill “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” “Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen.” “Everyone remembers the remark of the old man at the point of death: that his life had been full of troubles most of which had never happened.” Words that mean their opposite (or close to) Stylist to customer: I can clip your hair, certainly, but would you like me to clip it off or together? The sales manager was tired of his job and wanted to resign. But the money was too good, so instead, he decided to resign, this time with a four-year contract. Giving the very forgetful Fred oversight of the packing led to many oversights. The UN gave us sanction to impose sanctions on Iran. C.S. Lewis on humans' historic, hopeless quest for happiness apart from God “The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the center – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake... What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” – Mere Christianity...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Saint Patrick

by Jonathan Rogers 2010 / 132 pages While legends about St. Patrick (385-461) abound, facts about this Irish saint are hard to come by. Jonathan Rogers explains that the most substantive information we have about Patrick comes from just two documents, which are the only pieces of writing we have from the man himself. The Confession of Saint Patrick, lays out his theological beliefs, even as he shares the story of his capture by Irish slavers, and his later escape back to civilization. The Letter send to the soldiers of Coroticus, was a plea to a British raider to return the newly baptized Irish Christians the man had stolen and taken off to slavery. These two documents are included, in their entirety, as appendices in the back of this slim volume. Rogers uses the remaining 100 pages to put Patrick's writings in a historical and cultural context. The biggest eye-opener for me was the reason Ireland hadn’t yet been evangelized. With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, people of this time saw “outside the Empire” as being “outside the Church.” So to most it was unthinkable that the barbarian Irish could even become Christian. But it wasn't inconceivable to Patrick. My takeaway from this book is that what made Patrick special was his zeal for lost people that others thought irredeemable. That’s a takeaway worth applying. While new copies are getting scared, used copies abound, and the e-book is readily available on Amason....

News

Saturday Selections - January 9, 2021

It ain't not possible to be more wronger For the English teachers out there... Snowflake adoption is wonderful, but it is not the solution "For the most part, we have accepted the destruction of countless lives so that some infertile couples can have a child of their own genetic making. For the most part, many Christians have also accepted this." BC closing churches without clear explanation of why them specifically A secular take for why the government should be offering a better, clearer explanation for why churches are closed and Costco, AA meetings, and more, aren't. Dutch bike culture An intriguing look at a Dutch difference. Mosquito rights right now! There are crazy people everywhere, so does it matter that a few academics are pushing for bee rights? Only in that their argument is consistent with an ethic many more in the world claim to share: that animals are people too. Does the Bible say life begins at first breath? (6 min) Tim Barnett takes on this curious pro-abortion claim. ...

Christian education

Why study History?

Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 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. – Psalm 78:3-4 ***** History is important for day-to-day life in ways that most of us don’t know. A shared history unifies communities, and knowing history can inspire individuals to be better people because they can learn from previous generations what to do and what to watch out for. Recently history professor John Fea of Messiah College in Pennsylvania wrote a book about the importance of history called Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. While an aim of the book was to encourage college students to major in history, what he shares would be beneficial to all Christians. Shared history binds us together Fea points out that historical accounts are important to the identity of communities: “We need the stories of our past to sustain us as a people. History is the glue that holds communities and nations together.” The history of our community (whether as a church, ethnic group, or political unit) creates a perception of shared experience with other members of our community. This helps to bind us to one another. The kind of experience we share with other community members will be influenced by how its history is presented. In a national context, competing groups may emphasize different aspects of the past and thus offer different versions of history. In the United States, disputes of this nature have arisen in public schools. Fea writes, “The battle over what American schoolchildren learn about the nation’s past has been a significant part of the ongoing culture wars in this country.” “Past” versus “history” Fea makes an distinction between what he calls “the past” and “history.” The past consists of all the events that have occurred before the present time. This includes the dates and facts about what happened. History, on the other hand, involves the creation of a narrative using information about the past. History is always written by a person, and each historian has to determine which information from the past is important and how it fits together. In this sense, history always involves an interpretive framework provided by the historian – all history is written from a particular perspective or worldview. The right worldview is key That being the case, it is very important to determine whether or not a particular historian works within a good worldview. For example, when a Marxist writes a history of the sixteenth century, he sees economic forces as the primary factors leading to the origin and success of the Reformation. He will discount the specifically “religious” aspects of the Reformation as window dressing for the real action which he believes is in the economic sphere. The Marxist does not even believe in God, so how could he attribute any facet of the Reformation to spiritual activity? It’s completely outside the realm of possibility in his worldview. Thus a Marxist interpretation of the sixteenth century will inevitably miss the most important aspect of the Reformation, namely, the work of God in restoring His truth to the church. A Reformed historian will look at exactly the same information as the Marxist and see an entirely different picture. The Reformed historian will focus on the religious and spiritual nature of the Reformation. Economic forces do matter at various points throughout history but they cannot account for genuine spiritual occurrences and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. While there are many learned and thoughtful historians of various persuasions who have written important books, if they didn’t approach history from a Biblical Christian perspective it is possible that they missed important features of their subject. Like a Reformed historian, a Roman Catholic historian may also see the Reformation within a spiritual context. However, his analysis would likely be the opposite of the Reformed view. To him or her, the Reformation involved a schism from the true church. Clearly, the perspective held by any historian will provide the interpretive framework through which he or she evaluates the past. All historians operate within a particular worldview that determines what they will consider to be worthy of including in their account. Leftwing history Leftwing historians, often known as “progressive historians,” understand the importance of history in the life of a community. They also understand the power of historical interpretation as a method of promoting political change. Particular historical accounts can be used as the justification for political action. As a result, they interpret history through an especially leftwing framework as a means to advocate for socialist solutions. Fea explains: As these historians began to speak out against the injustices that they saw in society, they began to articulate a method of approaching the past that was concerned less with objectivity and more with activism. They looked to the past for antecedents to contemporary social problems that might help point the world in the right direction. Their accounts of American history, therefore, focus on the negative aspects and largely ignore the positive aspects. Fea notes, “They wrote books calling attention to the nation’s long history of injustice. Such works were largely one-sided, but that was the point.” If the United States is historically based on racist oppression and capitalist exploitation of the poor, then the way to improve it is through socialism. Government planners can enforce “social justice” through state coercion. This is the leftwing ideal, and it appears more plausible when backed by historical arguments about pervasive evil in the nation’s past. If individual freedom has led to oppression and exploitation, then it must be sacrificed to government control in order to achieve justice. History motivating politics In other words, a particular historical perspective becomes the underlying basis for an associated political agenda. History conducted in this way provides the driving force for a program of political change. The example of the “progressive historians” demonstrates the use of history in a powerful and negative way. But history can also be used to undergird a positive agenda. Fea points out that some American Christians have written history books to boost the case for Christian political activism. For example, if Christianity held a privileged position in earlier periods of American political life (and it did), then Christianity should not be expelled from American political life today. However, Fea also notes that some of these efforts by Christians have been so lopsided as to turn history into political propaganda, much like the progressive historians have done. This is certainly an error to avoid, but it does not discount the possibility of the proper use of history to buttress Christian activism in the culture wars. Sanctification Besides the political role of history mentioned above, history can also motivate us to improve ourselves as individuals. As Fea explains it, The past has the power to stimulate us, fill us with emotion, and arouse our deepest convictions about what is good and right. When we study inspirational figures of the past, we often connect with them through time and leave the encounter wanting to be better people or perhaps even continue their legacy of reform, justice, patriotism, or heroism. Used in this way, history can actually be an aid in sanctification. Conclusion History is important for the role it plays in binding communities together and in motivating political action. It can also help to encourage individuals to improve themselves or inspire them to become involved in a cause. The value of particular historical accounts will be heavily influenced by the perspective of the writer of the account. Only a Christian historian can truly appreciate the role of God in history. It’s hard to love something you know little about. Learning the history of your country can help you to love your country. Learning the history of your church may help you to appreciate your church more too. Whatever the case, it is certain that studying history is a valuable activity. This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition....

Apologetics 101, Pro-life - Abortion

Pro-life 101: Removing the red herrings

RED HERRING: In argument, something designed to divert an opponent's attention from the central issue. If a herring is dragged across a trail that hounds are following, it throws them off the scent. – Dictionary.com ***** It’s about the unborn, but we so often get distracted. There’s only one issue that matters in the abortion debate, and that’s who the unborn are. If they aren’t human beings made in the very Image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) – if the unborn is just a bit of tissue – then no one should care if a woman goes in for elective tissue to get this bit of excess tissue taken care of. Tonsillectomies, appendectomies, bunionectomies: we don’t protest any of these things. If the unborn aren’t human, no one, including Christians, should object. But if they are human, if they are fellow Image-bearers, then the unborn warrant the same protection that everyone else has under the law. God has said, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13) and written that on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15) such that even the world acknowledges (or at least knows) that killing human beings is wrong. So it comes down to just one issue, just one question: “What are the unborn?” That’s what it’s about…but this isn’t what we most often talk about. Abortion supporters will talk about anything and everything else, trying to distract us with red herrings. And, strangely, pro-lifers will throw out red herrings of our own. So how can we stay focused? First, we need to be able to spot these red herrings whether offered up by their side or our own. Then we need to always, always, get back to the only issue that matters: the humanity of the unborn. 5 pro-choice red herrings So what are the most common pro-choice, pro-abortion red herrings?* #1 "Women have the right to privacy.” This argument is the basis for legal abortion in the United States, and it is popular in Canada as well. But we all know a right to privacy has limits and can’t be used justify child abuse – parents aren’t allowed to abuse their children so long as they do it behind closed doors! So the real issue isn’t privacy, but rather whether the unborn is a human being. If it is, then it shouldn’t be abused or killed, even if that abuse/dismemberment takes place behind closed clinic doors. #2: "Women should have the freedom to choose.” This is another right that must have limits. We aren’t free to do everything, so the key question here is: “women should have the freedom to choose what?” We don’t believe people should have the choice of whether they are going to kill others, so if the unborn are human beings then they should be protected like all other human beings. #3: "Women shouldn't have to carry a child conceived through rape.” The emotional impact of rape can be devastating, and complex. However, the moral issue is clear – it still depends on whether the unborn are human. If the unborn child is human we shouldn’t kill it for the sins of its father (we don’t even kill rapists!). So the issue is not rape, but rather whether the unborn are human. #4: "Making abortion illegal forces women into dangerous back-alley abortions.” In what other circumstances are we worried about making crime safer? Bank robbing is also hazardous, but no one thinks that a good reason to make it legal. Thus, if the unborn are humans, we would not be all that concerned that those who want to kill it may have to do so under risky conditions. So, once again, the issue isn’t back-alley abortions, but the humanity of the unborn. #5: "What about when the woman’s life is in danger?” Before Canada’s abortion law was struck down, this was one of the reasons abortions would be legally permitted. However, in many instances it was only the mother’s mental, not physical, health that was said to be at risk. So while this was a frequently used justification, it is only a very rare situation in which a mother’s life can be saved by aborting her child. This might seem an ethically complicated situation, but clarity can be found if we ask the one key question in the abortion debate: “What is the unborn?” If the unborn aren’t human beings, then if the woman’s life was in any sort of danger, abortion should be permitted. However, if the unborn is human, then this baby should be treated as fully human, just like the mother, and treated as such. Then abortion wouldn’t be permitted for faux dangers, as was happening in Canada. But it would be an option where there is a genuine danger, not because the unborn is worthless but because in some circumstances only one life can be saved. Common ground Both abortion advocates and pro-lifers employ red herrings and for the very same reason: pro-choicers raise red herrings because they don’t want to talk about the real issue. pro-lifers also raise red herrings, and again, it's because pro-choicers don’t want to talk about the real issue. When the abortion supporters absolutely won’t talk about the humanity of the unborn – when they won’t stick around for it, when they won’t take their fingers out of their ears, when they won’t stop screaming long enough to listen – then what use is there to talk at all? In the face of such bluster there is no reasoning, and no chance to dialogue. That's why many pro-lifers have changed tactics. Instead of asking the pro-choice side to join with us in common cause for the unborn, we've instead looked for a common foe. Feminists don’t want to defend the unborn, but they oppose sexism. Can we work together to stop sex-selective abortions, which target girls far more than boys? Might a woman who cares nothing for the unborn, still be concerned with anything that would impact her own health negatively? Can we save her baby by raising the abortion/breast cancer link and showing her that abortion isn’t in her own best interest? What of a vegan who catch-and-releases even the flies in her home? Might she be shocked to hear that a 20-week fetus feels pain as its limbs are being torn off one by one? Though she has no interest in the unborn as human beings, she wouldn’t treat her rescued pet goldfish like this. Maybe this sort will join with us in opposing abortion when the fetus is developed enough to feel pain. These are “red herrings” in that they don’t address the only issue that really matters: whether the unborn is a human being. But we use them because through them we seem able to make the forward progress that can’t be had while talking about the humanity of the unborn. 4 pro-life red herrings Thus there seems real potential in talking about more than just the humanity of the unborn – trying other approaches can save lives! But there is also an accompanying danger. The truth is that the only reason abortion should be illegal is because the unborn are human beings. As pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf has noted, it would be fine to experiment on fetuses, clone them, use them in make-up, harvest them for their stem cells, eat them, kill them for any reason at all… if the unborn were not human beings! But if they are precious human beings like you and me, they deserve the very same protection. That's the heart of the matter and the only relevant issue. The danger with using "pro-life red herring" arguments comes when we present these arguments as our only, or main, objection to abortion. These are arguments we can use, but they are not ones we can stand on...because they won’t support us. What follows are four of the more common pro-life red herrings, and explanations of how these arguments fall to pieces when they are presented on their own, apart from the issue of the unborn’s humanity. #1: “Maybe your unborn baby is going to cure cancer!” There are many versions of this argument (it is sometimes called the “Beethoven argument” as in “What if your child is going to be the next Beethoven?”) but all focus on the baby’s potential: the reason a child shouldn’t be aborted is because of what they might do in the future. But what if a mother already knows that their child isn’t going to be a genius? What if they’ve been given a Down syndrome diagnosis? Do we think the mother should be allowed to abort then? No, of course we do not. So this isn’t about what the child might be able to do one day, but rather about whether or not they are human beings. If they are, then no matter what they will or will not be able to do some day, they should be given the same protection as all other human beings. #2: “What if the fetus can feel pain?” Here the focus is on what the unborn can do right now. Other forms of this argument focus on other abilities: it has brain waves, or a beating heart, or can react to music, etc. But what if a child doesn’t have this ability yet? Would it be fine to abort the child then? No – that’s not what we believe at all. The real issue for us is not what the unborn can do right now – whether they have this ability or that – but whether they are human beings, made in the very Image of God, just like you and I. #3. “Studies show that abortion causes breast cancer!” While some studies show abortion increases a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer, drinking a glass of wine a day, or being overweight also increases her risk. Should we then restrict wine or caloric intake for women? No? Then why would this be a good reason to restrict abortion? This issue is not whether abortion harms a woman, but whether it kills her child. #4. “Did you know they’re selling baby body parts?” The Center for Medical Progress has exposed that Planned Parenthood in the US is selling body parts from the babies they abort. This is contrary to federal law and the details have horrified many millions. In response Planned Parenthood has agreed not to take money for these body parts – they promise to stop selling them, though the abortions will continue. Are we satisfied? No, our objection isn’t to the selling of body parts, but rather that there are body parts to sell. The killing is what we want to stop. Using red herrings the right way To be clear, it’s not wrong for us to use these “pro-life red herrings,” but we shouldn’t rely on them. These are not, after all, our arguments. We don’t believe them. We know it’s not the possibility of breast cancer, or that the fetus could feel pain, that makes abortion evil. That’s not only not our position; we know that it is factually and actually wrong. Instead, these are arguments we’ve adopted from the other sides’ worldview. We aren’t feminist (or at least, not at all in the way they are) but we can step inside their worldview and consider why a godless feminist might still object to abortion. And then, with that insight in hand, we can confront them with the reason why they, by their way of thinking, should oppose at least some abortions. But we always want to up be clear about the fact that they’ve got it all wrong. We want to use their arguments, but we sure don’t want to stand on them because they are without foundation. Thus when we make use of their arguments, they should always be connected to our own. First we adopt their worldview for the sake of argument, and then, once we have them talking, we lay out our own. Our argument need not be presented explicitly, but it does need to be done clearly. That might seem a contradiction in terms, but that's exactly what has been done by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Their brilliant undercover work exposed that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal baby body parts. Their explicit argument was that Planned Parenthood was breaking the law, but barely concealed was the real issue: Planned Parenthood isn’t just doing something illegal, but murderous. The CMP aren’t speaking to the humanity of the unborn, but the video footage they shared speaks for itself. It’s hard to miss the horror of what’s really going on when we hear abortionists laughing as a speaker recollects the time a baby’s “eyeball just fell down into my lap!” ARPA Canada is another example of how to make good use of red herrings. They use the fetal pain and parental notification arguments, and then put on enormous cross and flag displays (see the October 2014 RP issue for stunning pictures of the Parliament Hill display) that speak directly to the humanity of the unborn. Again, it is hard to miss the horror of what’s really happening when 50,000 pink and 50,000 blue flags – each one representing a child killed by abortion in Canada this year – cover the hillside. Conclusion There are many arguments offered in the abortion debate, but just one issue that matters. If we can spot the red herring arguments, and then either clear them away, or put them to our own uses, we will be ready to direct the conversation back to where it belongs. Then we can highlight the humanity of the unborn to a culture and a country that wants desperately to talk about anything else. May God grant us insight, clarity, and courage as we speak up for these little ones. Endnote * These five examples are taken from a list in Making Abortion Unthinkable: the Art of Prolife Persuasion, a DVD-based pro-life apologist group study by Greg Koukl and Scott Klusendorf (that I highly recommend). The wording is mine but the ideas are largely theirs. A version of this article first appeared in the November 2015 issue....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Logic on Fire

Documentary 2015 / 102 minutes RATING: 7/10 Even if you don’t know Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones (1899-1981) you likely do know some of the people praising him in this documentary. The list includes John MacArthur, Iain Murray, Kevin DeYoung, Sinclair Ferguson, and RC Sproul, who say of him: “I believe that Lloyd Jones was to twentieth century Britain what Charles Spurgeon was to the nineteenth century.” Like Spurgeon, this was a man God used to stir up Britain. The joy in watching this documentary is to see what God did, and how He acted through this servant. Another good quote from one of the interviewees highlighted how very different Lloyd Jones was from the pastors of his time and many of the celebrity pastors of our own. …he wasn’t at all seeker-friendly. In fact he was seeker-unfriendly, because he felt that a non-Christian ought to be deeply uncomfortable in church. Because you actually want him to be uncomfortable because you need to realize your need for the Gospel. The only caution I would offer is that while Lloyd Jones was generally Reformed, he got some notable matters wrong. For example, his views on baptism differed with those of the denomination he served – he seems to have opposed paedo-baptism, though not loudly. But that is an aside because it is his preaching, and his generally Reformed perspective, that are the focus here. Both my wife and I really enjoyed this very polished production, and it might be the most re-watched documentary in our house.  It comes comes with 2 bonus disks and a small hardback book among the extras. Logic on Fire would make a great gift for any pastor and anyone who enjoys Church history, or documentaries. It can be rented and streamed online for $6 US here. Canadians and Americans can order the DVD set via the Banner of Truth US website BannerOfTruth.org/US. ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Saving my assassin

by Virginia Prodan 2016 pages / 336 pages How would you respond if you were staring down the barrel of a gun held by someone the government had paid to kill you? That’s how Virginia Prodan found herself. A citizen of communist Romania, her memoir begins when she was a young girl, in trouble already for her family’s attendance at the Catholic Church. Then, as a recently converted lawyer, she defends fellow Christians from the government’s persecution, and eventually she is exiled to the United States. It is an intense story, full both of bravery on Virginia's part, and reliance on God to make that bravery possible. It is also an important window into the persecution that many of our brothers and sisters face all over the world. Finally, it wraps up with some information on the assassin mentioned on the title, showing the ways God’s grace goes much further than was ever expected. Cautions There are elements of daily life in Romania, especially prior to Virginia’s conversion, that fall outside of how Christians ought to live. There is also a brief mention of the ending of a marriage that feels strangely cavalier, though it is likely just not highlighted further as it falls outside the main timeframe of the book. These cautions are minor, and should not deter mature teens or adults from reading the book. Conclusion This is a book that would be interesting as an action story or spy thriller. But it is more than that, a book that examines how God can provide great courage to his people, how He works in situations that are frightening, and how He uses means that no one involved would expect to bring his sheep home to the fold. It’s an exciting and moving story that is well worth the time....

Assorted

There's an app for that!

Reformed Perspective's "Reformed Outfitters" app can be downloaded for Apple and Android devices by clicking on the appropriate button below. Get it on your phone now to have ready access to our devotionals, articles, and podcasts. So click on the Apple or Android buttons below. And after you’ve downloaded and enjoyed the content, let your friends know so they can get it too! ...

News

Saturday Selections - January 2, 2021

Faster, faster! (5 min) Two friends race down a marble maze - it's some innocent fun for the kids. These buddies also appear in "Don't smash." Top 10 biblical archeological finds of 2020 Even as many and maybe most of the people doing the digging don't believe the Bible is the Word of God, the places, names, and details they uncover often show the Bible to be accurate history. 10 ways to foster gratitude in our kids' hearts Some great tips here for all parents...and to apply to ourselves as well. Seattle considers making it permissible to steal...if you really need to The intent behind the law is to help the desperate. but this should bring to mind the proverb that "the compassion of the wicked is cruel" (Prov. 12:10b). This will drive businesses out of the poorest districts if they can't afford the extra losses, or the cost of extra security, that would come with such a law. Their exist would means a loss of employment, and higher security would mean higher costs for goods for those who can least afford it. Good intentions, without good sense (Prov. 27:14), are not good. Rearrange, Remove, and Ruin – Evolution that isn't evolution at all  This is a fun one, something that mom or dad can read, and then use the illustrations to give their kids an easy-to-understand explanation of evolution's shortcomings. The 7 habits in 7 minutes (some discernment required) Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a very popular self-help book, and like many books of this type, there's a lot of common sense to it. And, as you might expect from a Mormon author who operates from a largely Judeo-Christian worldview, much of what he write lines up with Scripture, particularly what's captured in this 7-minute summary. This summary is actually better than the book, because in the book there's more of a specifically Mormon theology discernible. That's a long way of saying, there's common sense captured in this video that is well worth pondering...but it is valuable only in as far as it does line up with Scripture. ...

Culture Clashes

Can one culture be better than another?

Yes, in so far as one culture can be more Christian than another ***** Can one culture be better than another? We use to think so. We used to understand that Western values — those that are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition — were values worth promoting, and values that could adequately replace other cultural values. The West was best But the West’s values aren’t what they once were. Today what we are best known for now is the promotion of “values” like gay marriage and abortion. No longer are we famous for our freedom and democracy, but rather Internet porn, pop music, and Hollywood films. One can scarcely blame people for assuming that the West is populated by sex-crazy hedonists, since our pop culture icons usually are precisely that. When we contrast these values with those of other cultures there wouldn’t seem a better or worse – it seems more a matter of different – and we find cultural barbarism practiced on both sides. Some cultures circumcise little girls; some abort them by the millions. Some drape their women in body bags; others produce entertainment celebrating the pornographic destruction of the feminine. Some deny women their inherent rights; others consider the destruction of life in the womb to be one of them. So the West’s values as they are, can hardly be said to be superior. And yet even now there is a shadow of what once was. And even that shadow shows that one sort of culture – Christian culture – is superior. A controversial thing to say, sure, but the Christian religion is one that makes universalist claims and has a universalist message. Some differences remain Consider this example from a report by CNN reporters Jake Tapper and Kim Berryman: Sergeant 1st Class Charles Martland, the Green Beret being separated involuntarily from the U.S. Army for kicking and body slamming an Afghan police commander he describes as a "brutal child rapist," began telling his side of the story Monday. Martland is under a gag order imposed by the Pentagon, but at the request of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, he wrote a statement detailing his actions on Sept. 6, 2011, which was obtained by CNN… "Our ALP (Afghan Local Police) were committing atrocities and we were quickly losing the support of the local populace," Martland writes in his statement. "The severity of the rapes and the lack of action by the Afghan Government caused many of the locals to view our ALP as worse than the Taliban." Quinn and Martland were told by a young Afghan boy and his mother, through an Afghan interpreter, that the boy had been tied to a post at the home of Afghan Local Police commander Abdul Rahman and raped repeatedly for up to two weeks. When his mother tried to stop the attacks, they told the soldiers, Rahman's brother beat her. Quinn says he verified the story with other ALP commanders from neighboring villages… "While I understand that a military lawyer can say that I was legally wrong, we felt a moral obligation to act," Martland writes. In short? Sergeant Martland was kicked out of the Army for interfering with something that was considered to be none of his business, even though what was happening was brutal child rape. The Christian contrast Now contrast that with a different example. Sati is a now-obsolete practice of an Indian widow immolating herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, but it was once widely practiced. In fact, when the British colonial forces first arrived in India, they ignored these practices, considering it outside their mandate to limit the cultural practices of others, no matter how repulsive. However, Christian influences inside Great Britain soon effected a change in policy, and the British began to view civilizing as synonymous with colonizing. British officer Charles Napier is famous for his response to a number of Hindu priests who complained about the British prohibition against widow burning. As related by his brother William, Napier responded: Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs. Regardless of your views of colonialism et al, I think it’s important to recognize the words of a man who is confident defending his national customs, and confident in their moral rightness. Today’s West doesn’t recognize objective morality, and doesn’t recognize any concepts of right and wrong. And thus, the “values” we end up promoting both politically and culturally end up being a relativism that is understandably repulsive to many. We used to know how to combat cultural practices and values that we recognized as repulsive: put forward and promote an objectively better set of values, those rooted in the Christian tradition. Short of that, we have no adequate response. As I wrote after the shootings in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, we are too often presented with a false choice: The barbarism of some cultures versus the lazy, blasphemous nihilism of our own. Conclusion Christians in the West need to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts. We need to reject both in favor of a third way, one that is mocked and ridiculed by cultural elites as it has been for 2,000 years. It is, after all, the only way that has survived both decadence and barbarism many, many times before. Christians passed laws against infanticide, banned gladiatorial combat, destroyed the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and led the movement against segregation. We need to share what it is like to have a culture better than any other – a culture that is Christian. Christianity has been declared dead by the elites time and time again. Each time, this demise has been greatly exaggerated. This time will be no different. Jonathon Van Maren blogs at The Bridgehead, where you can also find his podcast. This post was first published in the December 2015 issue....

In a Nutshell

Tidbits – December 2020

A million monkeys “Someone once said that if you sat a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, one of them would eventually type out all of Hamlet by chance. But when we find the text of Hamlet, we don’t wonder whether it came from chance and monkeys. Why then does the atheist use that incredibly improbable explanation for the universe? Clearly, because it is his only chance of remaining an atheist. At this point we need a psychological explanation of the atheist rather than a logical explanation of the universe.” – Peter Kreeft, in Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics Kipling on Canada Rudyard Kipling was a world traveller, and, as his limerick below shows, must also have made it to Canada.  There once was a boy in Quebec Who was buried in snow to his neck. When asked, “Are you friz?: He replied, “Yes! I is But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.” Why I ain’t a grammar purist There is an apocryphal story about how, after submitting a draft of an important wartime speech to the Foreign Office, Winston Churchill was surprised to see upon its return there were no comments on its content. But where he had ended a sentence with a preposition a Foreign Office purist had transferred the preposition to its stiffly grammataical position. At this Churchill dashed off a note to the offending purist. “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” SOURCE: The Reader’s Digest’s Bedside Book of Laughter Smart people can believe dumb things How come so many very smart people believe the world is millions of years old? It’s because smart people can still get caught up in a philosophy that blinds them to the truth. This has happened in the past as David Berlinski and Uncommon Knowledge host Peter Robinson highlight in this exchange: PETER ROBINSON: “So how is it that Darwin comes along and within what seems like twenty seven seconds he’s carried the field. That is to say, intellectually, in the academy, he’s just carried the field. By the turn of the twentieth century Darwin is the dominant way of looking at the development of species. How did that happen?” DAVID BERLINSKI: “How did it happen that Marxism swept its field, swept it so thoroughly and completely that a hundred million people had to die before someone realized? You know that’s not such a swell theory at all.” “Son, we need to talk” The November 2015 issue of Faith in Focus tackled the topic of maturity and men. While the whole issue was wonderful, Pastor Andrew de Vries’ article “Son, we need to talk” packed particular punch. He was addressing the many ways that boys can resist becoming men, one of which is to lose sight of any sort of play/work balance. Son, I’ve noticed that you tend to play a lot. I know you’ve got a job, and you’ve got your studies, but your “play dates” do seem to take up a lot of your schedule. Is it possible that your “playtime” is stunting your spiritual growth? The video games into the early hours of the morning, the DVD collection, the weekends away motorbiking or tramping, the fitness regime Monday through Saturday (and just a light workout on Sunday of course). Isn’t that an excessive play regime? Please don’t think I’m opposed to such activities. These are all legitimate pursuits to play at. I have no interest in binding your conscience with a list of what is good and what is bad, or rules about the appropriate amount of time that you should be spending on these pursuits. But you have to ask yourself the question, ‘are these things really helping to further your spiritual growth?’… Or have they become distractions which are keeping you in spiritual diapers when by now you should have been able to put childish ways behind you. Best mistake Our magazine’s wonderful proofreader marked it as a typo; some friends thought it might have been ego. While writing about a Pride parade in an issue some years back I defined transgenders as being made up of: "...men who want to be women, and women who want to be me." I did end up adding an “n” at the end, but, really, wouldn’t it have worked either way? Will our pets be on the New Earth? While some might questions whether pesky critters like mosquitos will be there, most Christians seem to believe we’ll find animals on the New Earth. After all, there were animals before the Fall, so why wouldn’t they be there when the world is perfect once more? But it is a matter of some debate as to whether animals there will be ressurected versions of the ones who died here – perhaps there will be cats, but might we find our very own Mr. Fluffy Wussles there? Douglas Wilson says yes, pointing to 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul speaks of the ressurection. In verses 35-44 the apostle talks of the dead rising and our flesh being like seeds sown, put in the ground to die, to then emerge with a body so much better than what we have now. But we aren’t the only ones to have “flesh/seed” – the birds, animals and fish seem to as well. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish (vs. 37-39). If our flesh is to be sown and then to “sprout” into new life again, it would seem that animal, bird and fish flesh is likewise seeds that will sprout, and thus some reason to think that our pets, Mr. Wussle included, might be seen again. Note also that while animals, birds, and fish are mentioned as seed/flesh to be resurrected, those pesky mosquitos are not!...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

March of the Penguins

Documentary 80 min / 2005 RATING: 7/10 Penguins are cute but tough as nails too, and March of the Penguins gives us the insider's look at both the grit and the comedy. These waddling, wacky creatures mate and reproduce in a clearing that, while miles and miles from most predators, is also miles and miles away from any source of food. So God has equipped the parents to be able to go for months without food as they wait for their egg to hatch. To give us the inside scoop the filmmakers spent a while year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle. Cautions Somewhere in this film there is a line about "millions of years" but it seems almost beyond belief that a person could watch this film about the trials and triumphs of penguin life and not see it as a testament to the wonder of God's creative hand. More important for parents considering whether to watch this with the family, not all the penguins survive the journey, including a couple of instances where we see a dead chick. So I wouldn't recommend this for younger, more sensitive viewers. Conclusion While I loved this film, the pace was sometimes a slow waddle (my dad owned a DVD player that sped films up to 1.25 times while keeping the sound at its normal timbre – this would be a prime candidate for such a device). That said, there is a reason it won an Oscar for best documentary. The filmmakers spent a whole year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle.  And that is a remarkable place to be! If you like March of the Penguins, there are a couple of other documentaries you may like too. Winged Migration tells the story of dozens of different bird species as they travel thousands of miles from North to South and back again. And if you found the ice and isolation of the Antarctic captivating you'll likely enjoy Imax: Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. ...

News

5 most overlooked article of 2020

Last week we shared our 10 most popular posts of 2020, all of which got thousands of reads. In contrast, the readership for each of our Top-5 "most overlooked" articles numbered only in the hundreds. Sometimes the reason an article is overlooked is obvious – they got stuck with a lousy picture, or the powers-that-be at Facebook wouldn't let us promote it to our audience. Other times, it's more of a mystery: a great article just fails to launch. On this list, we're giving the best of this bunch one last boost. Here, now, are the 5 most overlooked articles of 2020. #5 - The triangle curvature inclusion bill If we've let "compassion" redefine this, that, and the other thing too, why shouldn't the definition of "triangle" be changed too, in favor of something more inclusive? #4 - A conversation on authority Zach and Owen don't agree about what the Church should do in response to government lockdown orders. But they do agree that iron sharpens iron, so they want to talk it out. #3 - Five things Christians should know about Income Inequality  Fighting income inequality is not the same thing as fighting poverty. If you liked this, you might also appreciate another overlooked economics article: How free trade helps even poor countries. #2 - The cost of an old earth: Is it worth it? Short and succinct, Dr. John Byl explains why a belief in a millions-of-years-old earth can't be reconciled with the Bible. #1 - Our kids online...how to keep them safe This was more than just a review of an important documentary that every parent needs to see; it also includes tips and links to other very helpful resources....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Winston Churchill

by John Perry 158 pages / 2010 Though the man himself has been gone 50 + years now, the myth is enjoying a revival. Churchill has made recent appearance in the big screen productions Churchill and Darkest Hour, and has also shown up on the small screen in the British drama Crown. For a more accurate accounting we need to turn to print, and there can’t be a better reasonably-sized biography than John Perry’s Winston Churchill. Since it's part of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson's 16-book Christian Encounters biography series, I wondered if that meant Churchill himself was Christian. But, no, sadly it wasn't so. It turns out that while Churchill knew his Bible, and would sometimes speak of God – particularly in rousing speeches to the British public – he thought that, if there was a God, then God owed him heaven. As Perry makes clear, Churchill had a spiritual type of fatalism. Early on Churchill came to understand that no man is in charge of his own fate; the fact that one man lives through a battle and another dies has little to do with the men themselves. So when Churchill survived a number of dangerous encounters, he grew in his conviction that he had been destined for something great. Destined by Who? The answer to that question wasn't all that pressing for Churchill. Caution As a rule I don't recommend (or even review) books that take God's name in vain – why would I praise someone who is mocking God? This is especially true when it comes to fiction, however, a case can be made for exceptions when it comes to history. In detailing Churchill's agnostic attitude towards God (and his son Randolph's especially arrogant view) it would seem unavoidable that some of Churchill's blasphemous quips and comments would need to be shared. But while these quotes do seem necessary, this is an instance where less is more, so we can be grateful for the restraint with which Perry shares them. Conclusion Why, then, is Churchill being profiled in this Christian series of biographies? Because we can see God's hand on the man. He was destined – from birth God was preparing him to be the right man, for the right time. And He so arranged things that Churchill was in the right place too, as the war time prime minister. This was all beyond Churchill's arranging, but looking back, we can see how God laid out events, and how He can use whomever He will because, whether Christian or agnostic, all are a part of His plan. That's the real reason to read this biography – it is a treat to see how God has acted in history to preserve His Church. Churchill was a great man in ways, but he was also a petty one in others. He blew through taxpayer dollars to fund his own high living, and he was known to indulge in "alternative facts" in his writings. At a different time, he might have been run out of politics. That's the lesson here – the greatness of this great man can't be found in the man himself. Instead what's on display is God's gracious providence in providing for us the response we need to Hitler's Third Reich. Winston Churchill is a quick, eye-opening read that anyone, teens and up, would be interested in if they have the slightest interest in the subject. And while the paperback is running at $1,000 right now, the e-book can be had for just $5....

News

Saturday Selections – December 26, 2020

Do college kids know the difference between men and women? (4 min) It takes a lot of education to get things this wrong (and this is even from 4 years ago!). Physics and free will "Materialists have long insisted, because they kind of have to, that human actions and decisions are determined, not free." It's another example of how the real world doesn't fit with the atheists' theories. Co-parenting by contract and design? "Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. Disconnecting sex from childbearing gave us abortion and abandonment. Disconnecting childbearing from marriage gave us a generation of fatherless children. The idea that we can have children without sex gave us rented wombs and robbing them of either a mom or a dad. That children should be created out of contractual arrangements without the burden of mutual love is also a bad idea. Once again, the victims are children." A tribute to economist Walter Williams (1936-2020) In this tribute, Bill Muehlenberg compiles a number of "best of" quotes from the economist, including: "...for those of us who are Christians, I’m very sure that when God gave Moses the commandment Thou Shalt Not Steal, he did not mean …unless you get a majority vote in Congress.” Speak the truth in love Sometimes we need to be encouraged to speak truth in love rather than in exasperation. Other times, as in this article, the encouragement is to speak truth in love – if we love our neighbor, child, friend, we will actually speak the truth to them rather than leave them in their destructive sin. The great chicken war...or how tariffs hurt innocent consumers To protest the way that European countries' tariffs were hurting US chicken farmers, the US decided to hurt European truck manufacturers and hurt US truck buyers. Tariffs shelter a country's producers by making goods more expensive for that country's consumers. That's the logic of tariffs: favoring one group at the expense of another. If we don't think the government should make it their business to make our favorite goods and services more expensive, then we shouldn't ask them to do so even when it might be to our company's benefit (Matt. 7:12). ...

Assorted

Being salt and light

Matthew 5:13-16 means hiding and fitting in aren’t options ***** Two thousand years after Jesus warned us against losing our savor or hiding our light (Matthew 5:13-16), sociologists made an interesting discovery. They found that when a distinct, separate group of people is surrounded by a larger society – say, for example, immigrants newly arrived in Canada – their different values and beliefs will cause some conflict. To reduce this conflict with the surrounding culture, this small group will react in one of two predictable ways. They will either compromise their beliefs and become like the culture around them, or they will retreat within their own camp. They can then keep their beliefs and still avoid conflict since no one outside their camp will know what they believe. In other words, sociologists found out small groups tend to either lose their “saltiness” or hide their light "under a bowl." Israel and us This was true of Israel too. In Old Testament times the Israelites consistently lost their saltiness. Though they were a nation set apart, they wanted to be just like the nations all around them and wanted to worship those gods. The Lord would rescue them, sending them a Gideon or Elijah, but once the prophet of the day was dead it wasn’t long before the Israelites were back at it, trying to fit in with the nations around them. These passages might have us thinking Israelites were among the dumbest people who ever lived – they never seemed to learn from their mistakes! Then came the exile, and that changed things. The remnant that returned from exile had lived for years in a foreign land in the middle of a mixing bowl of other cultures, and yet they had held onto God through it all. Their saltiness had been preserved. But, to riff off of Martin Luther, Satan doesn’t care what side of the horse you slide off of, just so long as you do fall. Yes, the Israelites may have stayed loyal to the one true God, but they did so by creating walls to keep others out – more and more rules and requirements were added on top of the law of God. Instead of worshipping other gods, they became isolationists – they became Pharisees! Instead of losing their saltiness, they were now hiding their light under a bowl. Salt-free While it took the Israelites hundreds of years to switch from one sin to the other, Christians today often bounce from one to the next inside of a generation. If a young man has grown up in a church that knows the Bible but is insular and closed, he goes looking for something more open. He looks for a church that is less judgmental, more tolerant, and more loving…and if the minister’s sermons have more anecdotes than scriptural insights, so be it. In Canada, one of the biggest Protestant denominations is the United Church, despite the fact that leaders have gone so far as to deny the Lord’s resurrection. So why would any Christian be attracted to this church? Because their light is not under a bushel – they’re out in the community involved with issues like poverty, gender, and the refugee crisis. Their light is plain to see, even if their Christian distinctiveness, their saltiness, is lost. Blacked out light But what use is a church that doesn’t teach Christ is risen? The United Church has been corrupted by the culture around it, and if we don’t want to end up like them then our best course of action is clear – we must retreat from culture! This is the natural overreaction and the one that the older generation might have to most watch for. Christian schools, originally started to prepare our youth to interact with the world, can easily be turned into Christian shelters, whose new purpose is to hide our kids from the world. If someone was so inclined they could fill up all their time with church activities leaving no time for friends and neighbors outside our fellowship. A job in a godly company can be a blessing, but for the flee-from-culture-Christian it can also be another way to avoid interaction with non-Christians. Head too far in this direction and we can be left knowing the good news but not knowing anyone who needs to hear it – once again, our light will be hidden. In the world, not of it Christ knows us and our weaknesses. He understands it is in our nature to gravitate to being either salt or light. But it can’t be orthodoxy vs. outreach. He won’t settle for one or the other. Jesus wants prepared Christians to bravely venture out into the world to tell others about Him – He wants salt to be light. And He wants passionate Christians who are already interacting with our secular culture to learn and know and stand by what God says about baptism and homosexuality and predestination and spanking and creation – He wants light to be salt. Our tendency to fall one way or the other is a reason God has placed us in congregations – there salty souls and bright lights can encourage and equip one another, recognizing how vital it is to be both salt and light, and how wrong it is to contently be just one or the other. Then the younger sister who knows how very important it is to reach out to our surrounding community can, in humility, recognize that while she is right about the need to be a light, there is a lot about God that she doesn’t know and could learn from studied, salty congregation members. And an older man, who knows how very important it is to stand up for the truths about God evidenced in creation, infant baptism, and our confessions, can, in humility, recognize that there are others, maybe amongst the young people, who can teach him a thing or two about being a brighter light to the world around us. Being noticeable, and passing on what’s noteworthy: it is our calling and our privilege together. May God enable and encourage his Church to this glorious task in the year ahead. This editorial is based largely on Dick Keyes’ “Chameleon Christianity,” which is highly recommended. A version of it first appeared in the Dec. 2015 issue....

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Song

Drama / Musical 2014 / 116 minutes RATING: 9/10 The Song destroys all the expectations we have for Christian films. It has great acting, a great script, an even better soundtrack...and also infidelity, abortion, suicide, drugs, and more infidelity. It's far better than most any Christian film you've seen, but also much grittier. It is based on, but does not pretend to be, the story of King David and Solomon. The setting is Nashville, with Jed King an aspiring country singer who hasn't yet measured up to the status of his superstar father. But he also hasn't fallen into any of his excesses either.  When he meets Rose, the manager of a winery, Jed writes a special song for her that turns into his first major hit. From there we see him rise to spectacular heights. Like Solomon before him, he has it all. And like Solomon (and his superstar father), that's not enough – he falls to temptation, in his case involving the lead singer of his opening act. That doesn't explain how very different this film is from the typical Christian fare, so let's focus on two things that make it remarkable. The first is the outstanding pairing of story with biblical narration. All the "Solomonic texts"– Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon – are quoted regularly and impactfully. Jed is learning some hard lessons through the film, and he shares them, warning us of the ways of the adulterous women and the futility of having it all when it is all going to turn to dust in the end. Remarkable, too, is the music. It's another fantastic pairing this time of story and song: the musical performances are worth the price of admission right there! While praising it as highly as I can, I will add that this was a hard film to watch the first time, since, being familiar with both David and Solomon's story, my wife and I knew that at some point Jed's happy story was going to take a devastating, self-sabotaging turn. We actually ended up watching it in two nights, the first with all the fun romantic joking and giddiness of Jed convincing Rose to be his wife. We shut it off right before Jed was set to make his stupid devastating decisions (it wasn't hard to tell when that was going to happen). Then the next evening, we could start with that ugliness, ride it out, and then enjoy the end of the movie, where we got to see his life impacted by undeserved but gratefully received grace. CAUTIONS Even though we don't really see anything objectionable, the mature topic matter means this is not a film for children. Underscoring that point, it begins with a two-minute overview of the lowlights of David King's life. We see Jed's father singing on the Grand ol' Ole Opry and later catching his bandmate's wife swimming naked in a lake (the water obscures her), paralleling David seeing Bathsheba. While King David kills Uriah, in the film the husband, upon learning of his friend's and wife's betrayal, commits suicide. Thankfully this is all covered in a quick montage in the opening minutes. CONCLUSION Some films are gritty for the sake of being gritty. This is gritty for the sake of being true. But it is also funny, romantic, rousing, thought-provoking, and toe-tapping for the same reason: because that's what life is like too. I don't know if I gave The Song the pitch it deserves, so I'm linking to a few other reviews so you can get a second and third opinion. Plugged In – conservative Christian review Variety – a secular take If you want to dig into the film further, here's a list of some of the biblical references throughout the film. You can check out the unique trailer below, and rent the film online at Amazon and other online streaming services. ...

News

2020's Top 10 articles

It's not surprising that three of 2020's top articles addressed the coronavirus and governments' responses to it. But, in a blast from the past, C.S. Lewis also takes up a couple of spots. Other than that, the year's most popular articles are as different as different could be, united only in recognizing that God is working through it all. Without further adieu, here are Reformed Perspective's top articles for 2020, starting at…. #10 - The hidden meaning of "The Chronicles of Narnia" It's been recently discovered that C.S. Lewis, seemingly just for his own private entertainment, linked each of his famous Narnia books to one of the 7 planets as medieval cosmology understood them. #9 - Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club” sells transgenderism to its preteen/teen audience The streaming giant brought a much-loved pre-teen/teen girls' book series to the small screen but "updated" it with transgenderism. #8 - The Regulative Principle and church lockdowns Is live-streaming the equivalent of in-person worship of God? What does the Regulative Principle tell us about that? And if it is not the equivalent, how should that impact our interactions with our elected leaders, and the message we would want to communicate to them? #7 - C.S. Lewis's Apologetics: a Reformed assessment C.S. Lewis's second entry on our Top 10, this time we're examining his approach to apologetics from a Reformed and presuppositional perspective. #6 - 3 ways of confronting the problems of diminishing attention spans through the reading of the Great Books Like even this article title, the Great Books stretch us. If you want to give reading "the Great Books" a try, this article includes a listing of 50 of them to choose from (with links to download a half dozen for free). #5 - Solomon on smartphones and the pull of pornography King Solomon didn't know smartphones but had insights into the power and pull of sexual temptation, which he shares with young men in Proverbs 7. Older men, and young and older women, can also benefit from the wisdom shared here. #4 - Twice a Sunday needs to happen Chris deBoer encourages a more creative approach to getting people back in the pews and singing God's praises together: if the government restricts church attendance to 50%, then let's double our services! Or let's come out with some other, similarly creative, way to come together again, twice each Sunday. #3 - TikTok passes 2 billion downloads A social media platform that was already big in 2019 became enormous in 2020... and parents who wanted the basics were checking out this primer. #2 - Calvinism in the time of coronavirus Written at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, it reminded us that we can be comforted knowing that, no matter what craziness might be going on out in the world, our Lord remains in control! #1 - A great-grandma 100 times over...and counting Our top article of 2020 is a short but sweet story about God's abundant blessings – 100 times over! – to this grand great-grandma....

News

Saturday Selections – December 19, 2020

Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is not a Christmas song (1 min) Like many a pop song, the lyrics of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah are hard to decipher but a close listen shows this isn't the Christian song it might initially appear to be. The story behind Handel's Messiah  "Two-and-a-half hours of the world’s most magnificent music was composed in less than twenty-five days." Why (some) Reformed pastors won't use COVID to preach the gospel You don't have to agree with Tim Bayly's take 100% to think there's something here we all (not simply pastors) could benefit from considering. For the many in the world who are scared COVID might kill them, are we pointing them to their only hope in life and death? A creationist take on RNA vaccines (15-minute read) This is sure interesting but also involved, so to give it the attention it warrants, you're going to need to block out some time. Parents should focus on humility Rev. Tim Schouten – and C.S. Lewis – pass along a helpful warning against a parenting "tool" most of us have used at one time or another. ARPA Canada on governmental authority and Christian submission (30-minute read) Here are wise folk, working together, to think how best to honor God in the face of government lockdowns on churches and God's command to honor our authorities. It's a 4-part series, with each part well worth reading slowly. Part 1 - God's commission to the civil government and the Church Part 2 - Biblical freedom ≠ personal autonomy Part 3 - So what if we have legal rights? Aren't we called to submit to government? Part 4 - The freedom to do as we ought Modern child sacrifice (3 min) In the past babies were sacrificed to secure prosperity: they were burned on altars to get rain, or victory in war. Today we abort babies to secure prosperity too: they are torn limb from limb to secure a career, or freedom, or to pursue sex without consequences. While the visuals in this video are muted, this is not an all-ages video. It is well worth sharing on social media. ...

Magazine, Past Issue

Nov/Dec 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: A conversation on authority / Pro-lifers aren't helping people after they're born? / Jay Adams, father of modern biblical counseling, dies / Dutch make it easier to kill dementia patients / Helping our children listen well / Twice a Sunday needs to happen / The Regulative Principle and church lockdowns / Very best Christian fiction / The accompanist as prophet / Science's sliding scale of trust / The Healing Touch - a Christmas story / Surprising similarities: shrubs and whales, trees and snails / Giraffes: nature's gentle giants / Fantastic Christian films / Christians and same-sex attraction / and more... Click the cover below to view or right-click to download the PDF ...

Drama

Alleged

Drama 93 minutes/ 2011 Rating: 7/10 The year is 1925, and Charlie Anderson's goal is to quit his job, leave his hometown of Dayton, Tennessee and work for legendary Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken. When a legal battle in the town's one-room courthouse garners attention from the national media, Charlie thinks he may have just the news story he needs to grab Mencken's attention. Mencken turns out to be willing to teach Charlie how to craft an article. But close-up tutelage lets Charlie see that his mentor won't let a little something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Mencken is more than willing to make up a story if it will sell papers. Is Charlie? Setting This is a charming romance/drama, and though it is a Christian production the acting is great – most roles have been filled with actors you're likely to recognize (Colm Meaney, Star Trek: The Next Generation; Fred Thompson, Law and Order; Ashley Johnson, Growing Pains; Brian Dennehy, Rambo, etc.). But there is another level on which Alleged can be appreciated. It is fun but also medicinal. What do I mean? Well, back in 1960 another film used a court case in 1925 Dayton, Tennessee as the setting for their film. And in the decades since then Inherit the Wind has been shown in public school classrooms across the US as a "based on true events" account of what happened back then. But whereas Alleged is mostly true, Inherit the Wind was mostly propaganda. Here's what really happened. In 1925 Tennessee passed the Butler Act which forbid Tennessee public schools from teaching students that Man descended from a lower form. Dayton's John Scopes was the first to be charged with violating the law and his trial garnered national attention when some big names "star" lawyers were enlisted: for the prosecution, the Scripture-quoting, mostly Bible-believing, 3-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan; and for the defense, Clarence Darrow, infamous for his defense of two indefensible child-killing clients. These big names got the attention of one more: Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken whose columns largely influenced how the trial was perceived by the nation. Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100 but because Mencken portrayed this as being a battle between Science and Christian ignorance, Scopes became a noble martyr, and evolutionists decisively won the publicity battle. Thirty-five years later Inherit the Wind built on Mencken's work, but made Christians look even worse. Townspeople were shown as a lynch mob ready to kill Scopes, their minister a rabid dog, and their defender – William Jennings Bryan ­– an ignorant, boring blowhard. But it is this blatant misrepresentation of the trial that most colors how America remembers the "Scopes Monkey Trial." So it was a joy and delight to see how this same trial portrayed accurately in Alleged. We learn that John Scopes, rather than being hated by the town, was helping it – the trial had been a publicity stunt from the beginning, with Scopes a willing participant. The hordes of reporters and visitors brought in by the trial were a welcome boost to a local economy that had been hit hard by the closure of the town mine. Cautions Some cautions to consider: Charlie is drunk as a skunk in one scene, though his fiancée’s disappointment makes this an object lesson in the folly of drunkenness. Also, one character shouts "Hallelujah!" in a seemingly insincere manner during a church service. And because the film teaches about the implication of Darwinian thought, there is a subplot that deals with eugenics. This may be a disturbing topic for a younger audience that doesn't yet need to know how horrible the world can be. Conclusion Because Inherit the Wind was shown to generations of American public school children it has had a lasting impact on the way the creation/evolution debate is conducted. It can be given much of the credit for why creationist arguments are most often mocked, rather than answered. Alleged is an enjoyable counter to Inherit the Wind. It is educational, informative, and also fun, romantic, generally light, and quite well acted. Highly recommend for older teens and adults. You can check out the trailer below, but I do want to add that the film is much better than the trailer makes it out to be. Americans can watch it for free right now at Tubitv.com. Those that want to delve even deeper into the real events should check out a lecture series by Dr. Gary North called "Monkey in the Middle." It's available on DVD, and hopefully shortly online. "Inherently Wind" is another lecture worth checking out (and it's free!) in which Dr. David Menton contrasts the real events with the "Inherit the Wind" portrayal of them.  ...

News, Theology

A conversation on authority

It was the type of conversation that, in other circumstances, the two friends might have had at a quiet pub, over a couple of beers. But with the pub closed, and travel restricted, Zach and Owen were making do: beers from the fridge, a couple of comfortable office chairs, and a Skype call to bridge the distance between them. Zach was the one who had suggested the chat. One of his go-to verses, Proverbs 27:17, spoke of how, like iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another, so he was grateful that Owen had been up for it. After some opening how’s-the-weather small talk, Owen got them right to the topic at hand: “Okay, Zach, how about you start us off by defining the two sides of the debate as you see them?” The two sides? “Sure, I can give that a go. There are all sorts of related issues, but I’m most concerned with the government-ordered church lockdowns. I think we’d agree that we don’t like them – the government shouldn’t be treating the church as “non-essential” or, as is happening in some places, closing churches while leaving bars and strip clubs open. But the real question is, how should we respond to that order? The two stands I’m hearing are: Churches should listen because we should submit to the government. Churches shouldn’t listen because the government doesn’t have the authority to close churches. “I think I fall in with the first group, and from what you’ve been posting on social media, you seem to be in the second.” “I do probably fall on a different side of this than you,” Owen agreed, “ but I’d define the two sides differently. I think a lot of people are framing it just the way you did, but defining the sides that way also defines away any possibility of common ground: either a person is for listening, or he’s against it. What if it wasn’t two entirely opposing sides, but instead was two different emphases? God calls his people to submit to authority. Not every order is an authoritative order. “Like you, I believe we are called to submission. And when I argue against church lockdowns, I’m not rejecting God’s call to submission – that’s not where we differ. What I’m arguing is that the order isn’t legitimate. If my son ignores what you order him to do, that isn’t a rejection of parental authority. He just doesn’t believe that your orders have parental authority for him. I think this is the same type of thing.” Two reasons to obey: submission and agreement Zach nodded slowly: “I appreciate that clarification. Your approach – seeking out the common ground – makes me want to take a step back and see where else we might agree.” “Sounds good. Why don’t you start us off with why we should submit?” Zach clicked on his mouse to pull up a document he’d written earlier: “The big reason has to be because in passages like Romans 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:11-20, Titus 3:1, and Deut. 5:16, God makes it a command. He’s telling us to submit to the authorities that He has put in place, so children should submit to parents; a wife to her husband; the congregation to the elders; slaves to their masters; and citizens should submit to their rulers.” “Right, and let me offer a second reason: agreement. This might seem to go without saying, but Christians who don’t believe we have to submit to a lockdown order might still want to suspend their church services if members comes down with COVID. I don’t think the government has the authority to issue that order, but I wouldn’t want my congregation to ignore it just for the sake of ignoring it. Listening might be the sensible thing to do.” One reason to disobey: obeying God rather than Man “Okay, Owen, we basically agree on those points, but now we’re back to when and why it would ever be right to defy a government order. I can start us off with one ‘reason to defy,’ but I’ll add I don’t think it applies to these lockdowns.” “Okay, go ahead Zach.” “In Acts 4-5, Peter and John are commanded by the authorities to stop talking about Jesus, and their response is, ‘we must obey God rather than Man.’ I guess this would be related to what you were saying about not every order being authoritative. All authority comes from God, so if some lower authority issues orders that conflict with God’s own orders, then we should listen to God, and can, in good conscience, ignore the orders from Man.” “Can you give me an example outside the Bible of that happening?” Zach smiled: “I’m not going to say the church lockdown but…” “Go on.” “Well, I’ve heard some people pointing to church closures in China. The government there is ordering some churches to close permanently, and when members defy those orders and continue meeting in secret, I think that’s a case of obeying God rather than Man. But I don’t think you can link that to what’s happening here in the West. China’s church closures are because the State there is deliberately attacking the Church. Our church closures are in response to a health crisis. And our closures are temporary – however long that temporary had been – or only partial, and we can still hear the preaching of the Word via technological means.” “Can you think of that kind of obeying-God-rather-than-man situation happening closer to home?” Owen asked. Zach considered the question for a few moments before shaking his head. “No. But it seems like you’ve got something.” “I do. It’s actually what’s happening on the home front that has me almost happy about these hard conversations that we’ve been forced to have right now. It’s stressful and it's been divisive, but the silver lining – one of the ways I can see God turning this to our good (Rom. 8:28) – is that these are conversations churches and Christians in the West need to have. In the past, submission was our unthinking default. And, I guess, it should still be our default now – I heard one pastor put it this way: when the Church does have to defy the government, our reputation for honoring and respecting the authorities should be such that the government’s response is ‘What? You guys?’ But trouble is coming, and we need to understand the limits of our governments’ authority if we’re going to be ready for it.” Zach leaned forward: “Okay, you’ve got my attention.” “The most recent example,” Owen continued, “of a government order that runs right up against God’s commands is the conversion therapy ban that’s been passed in different Canadian municipalities. The gist of it is that pastors and Christian counselors could get in legal trouble for pointing homosexuals and transsexuals to God and trying to help them turn away from their sinful lifestyles. This ban looks like it’ll pass federally too. The government would be telling us to leave these troubled individuals alone. But we’d have to defy that order because our Greater Authority has told us to love our neighbors. Another example might be the Canadian government’s ban on corporal punishment for children under two. God has specifically given us a tool for nurturing and disciplining our children, and the government has specifically said that we can’t use it for the first two years.” “You want to spank newborns?” Owen put both of his hands up, and though he was smiling, his voice took on an insistent edge: “I’m not saying that, and I don’t remember when we first spanked our kids. But I am certain that at, say, 18 months, they sure benefited from it. But now, following God’s instructions on this point, we would risk having the State take our kids. That’s scary!” “Okay, good point. And bad joke on my part. I don’t have kids yet, so I haven’t really thought through spanking, but I think I’m mostly on board with what you’re saying here. I’ve answered a few of your questions, so let me ask you one: do you think there are other reasons we can disobey the government?” Another reason: the authority isn’t actually in authority “I do,” Owen said, “I gave the example before that it isn’t insubordinate for my son to ignore orders from you. He has to listen to orders from his parents, but that doesn’t mean he has to listen to orders from any and every parent. It’d be the same sort of situation if the Premier of Alberta started ordering around folks in Newfoundland. They wouldn’t listen, not because they are rebelling, but simply because the Premier of Alberta has no authority over them. Sometimes an authority isn’t actually in a position of authority…no matter what they might be claiming.” Zach nodded: “Okay, I’m with you so far.” “So let me ask you a question: in what ways is a government’s authority limited?” “Well, with your Premier of Alberta example, you’re showing that their authority can be limited by geography – it doesn’t go beyond their boundaries.” “Anything else?” Owen asked. “Well, I guess their authority is also limited by things like constitutions and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I’ve been reading about how John Carpay’s Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is appealing to the Charter to argue that the Alberta government exceeded its authority in their latest round of COVID restrictions. In the US, some churches are appealing to their country’s constitution to argue governors don’t have the authority to shut down church services. But while they’re winning some of those cases, they’re losing others.” “Sure,” Owen agreed, “but for our purposes here, what’s relevant is that Man’s authority can be limited by Man himself. We can write up laws that restrict what the government can do. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the countries that put the tightest restrictions on their government are ones with a Christian heritage. We remember Samuel’s warning about kings (1 Sam 8:10-22).” Spheres vs. chain of command “But,” he continued, “there’s another sort of restriction on government authority that we haven’t talked about yet. A Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, called it Sphere Sovereignty, and it’s the idea that God gave authority, not just to government, but to the family, and to the Church too. When John MacArthur’s church started meeting regularly again, in defiance of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s closure orders, the church issued a statement that appealed to this divvied-up notion of authority. Let me read you something from that statement: Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained. However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders. When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority… (Matthew 16:18-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2).” “That’s a lot to take in,” Zach commented. “It is. But the gist of it is that the Grace Community Church was saying they weren’t actually defying the governor. They were arguing that whether the church opens or closes is under Church, and not State, authority.” “I think I get it,” Zach said. “They were saying that the authority that comes from God isn’t a chain of command with the State at the top and the Church and family somewhere underneath.” “Right. And while I think Grace Community is right, I’ll add that the Bible doesn’t make clear where exactly one sphere of authority ends and another begins. I think we’d both agree the State shouldn’t be dictating doctrine to a church, but do they have an interest in public health? And if so, would that give them the authority to close a church in pandemic circumstances? That’s what muddies things: these spheres of authority overlap. To give a different sort of example, it’s a family’s business to raise and educate their children, but if they were to abuse any of those children, then the State’s responsibility over justice would give them authority to intervene.” Charity Zach gave one last long draw on his beer before continuing. “I appreciate our conversation, but I’m not sure if it clarified or complicated things for me. So, let me put it to you plain: does a church have the authority to keep its doors open when the State orders them shut?” Owen gave a tug on his chin. “Would you be satisfied with an ‘I think so’?” “I guess I’ll have to be. But maybe I can finish us off with something I am sure about, and which I know we can both agree on?” When Owen gave a nod, Zach continued. “In all of this, we want to honor God, and if we’re less certain about how to do that in some ways, we know exactly how to do it in others. We know what God meant when He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to do unto others as we would want done to us. In our COVID/lockdown discussions, it means working at producing more light than heat by assuming the best of, and listening carefully and charitably to, brothers and sisters we might disagree with, just like we’re hoping to get the same back from them. That’s how we can have fruitful ‘sharpening’ discussions. ‘Doing unto others’ also means having patience with the authorities. Most don’t have God’s Word as their guide, so on the one hand, it’s no wonder they’re acting fearfully, and on the other, that might even be a reason for more, and not less charity towards them…even when they are overreaching.” To that, all Owen could add was a heartfelt, “Amen!”...

News

A great grandma 100 times over…and counting

In mid-October, 92-year-old Elizabeth Vreugdenhil got to meet her namesake Elizabeth Grim – this newborn was her 100th great-grandchild! Getting to hold her Canadian great-granddaughter was a challenge, though, with great-grandma just over the border in Washington State, and the US/Canadian border closed due to COVID restrictions. So if the baby couldn’t crossover into the US, and grandma couldn’t come into Canada, well, then, there was just one thing to do: meet halfway! Just like thousands of others whose families have been split apart by the border shutdown, Canadians and Americans brought their camping chairs along and set them up right along both sides of that borderline. Some umbrellas were also brought along, Grandma Vreugdenhil was comfortably seated, and then the sleeping baby was tucked into her arms for a wonderful photo session. Even the local paper, The Lynden Tribune, came to get some pictures that they later shared on their front page. Psalm 128 speaks of it being a blessing to see our children’s children, so what a blessing it is then to see your children’s children’s children…and one hundred times over! Blessings upon blessings upon blessings! Whether you know this grand lady or not, God’s people can share in her joy! Baby Elizabeth was responsible for evening things up among the great-grandchildren, making it exactly 50 girls, to match the 50 boys, but since then, the girls have taken the lead with great grandchild #101! There's also a near-perfect American/Canadian split, with the Canucks up just one, 51-50. Another fun statistic: Grandma Vreugdenhil has been averaging 5 new great-grandchildren a year since she was gifted with her first one just 20 years ago. And adding to the wonderful family history, baby Elizabeth was baptized in the very same dress that her great grandmother was baptized in 92 years ago. As her dad put it, that dress “has ’seen’ the sign and seal for over 100 years.” Photo by Bryan Grim....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Auschwitz Escape

by Joel C. Rosenberg 2014 / 461 pages Joel Rosenberg is a fantastic writer, a New York Times best-seller, but his political thrillers are based in large part on premillennial views that I don't share, and that does take away from some of the fun. But in The Auschwitz Escape he's having a go at historical fiction, so his end-times eschatology doesn't factor in, even as his mad story-telling skills still do. Jacob Weisz is a seventeen-year-old Jew in Germany in 1938. His parents are passive, hoping that if they just stay the course, eventually it will turn out alright. His uncle is a member of a Jewish resistance group that knows things will only get worse unless people start fighting to make it better. Jacob isn't as naive as his parents, but he does respect them. But when the Nazis come for his family, Jacob escapes and begins to fight alongside his uncle...for a time. As the title indicates, soon enough he gets caught and sent to Auschwitz. There he meets a Protestant pastor, imprisoned for helping Jews, and Jacob can't understand why the man was willing to risk his life when he could have stayed out of it and stayed safe. Jacob has a hard time trusting a man whose Christian motivations are so hard for him to understand. Rosenberg makes clear that while the two principal characters are fiction, their experiences were not – he researched the actual escapes, as well as the escapees' attempts to let the world know what was going on in these death camps. That research, along with his impressive writing chops, give the book its authentic feel. And speaking of authenticity, Rosenberg has inserted a gospel presentation in the book, but his is more subtle and more natural than what most other Christian writers manage. I really enjoyed it and am keeping it on my bookshelf because I can imagine reading it again in a few years. I'd recommend it for older teens and up....

News

Saturday Selections – December 12, 2020

John Piper and Tedashii on the need for Christians to make war Not everyone will love the musical genre, but it's a good match to the message that we should not be complacent about our sins. Endlessly twitterpated? What does real love look like? "A TV drama recently set off my baloney-meter. A character was talking about how he knew he was still in love with his wife by the way his stomach still did flip-flops when she walked in. Hmm. Call me a cynic, or maybe just deprived of that level of marriage, but stay with me..." The sexual revolution's next frontier In the hole created by parents relinquishing their God-given educational role, schools are being used to sexualize childhood. Why the scientific consensus can be unreliable If ten people, with no connections, in isolation from one another, agreed to the facts of a car accident, their consensus would give us good reason to trust what they are saying. But not all consensus is so trustworthy, because it is not so independently arrived. This article details, in Fidel Castro's Cuba, how the Communist Party got overwhelming support at the ballot box each "election" but that was a coerced consensus due to limited choices, and fear. When we hear of a consensus around evolution, it is more the second type of consensus than the first, with those who point out Darwin's deficiencies risking their livelihood to do so. This is an article that rewards the effort invested. How Christianity is the basis for rights, science, and civilization (10-min read) Tim Keller is a mixed bag, but here he gives a fantastic review/summary of Tom Holland's book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, making the case that it is God's Truth that stands as the foundation for so much of what even the secular culture celebrates as good and right in the world. Tim Challies on why his family didn't do sleepovers (6 min) While Challies doesn' think there is any sort of biblical command against sleepovers, he explains why his family decided against them. ...

Parenting, Pro-life - Adoption

Why Reformed churches should be full of adopted children

When it comes to adoption rates, our Reformed churches aren't unusual. While Canadian statistics are hard to come by, in the US it appears about 1% of families adopt an orphan. Our congregations may be a bit above that average, but not remarkably so. Why is that? There are practical considerations of course. Couples may not be able to afford the $20,000 (and more) it costs to complete an overseas adoption. They may worry about how adopted children will deal with sticking out in our church communities, where we may have a variety of hair colors, but some congregations are pretty limited in the variety of skin color. Other considerations could be mentioned, but the expense and the potential difficulties wouldn't explain our churches' tepid attitude to adoption. For example, Christian schooling is also costly, and it can be more than a little difficult, and yet we as churches have embraced it because we understand how God thinks about this issue. We've been taught off the pulpit and in home visits, and been encouraged by family and friends, to understand the importance of educating our children to know and love the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Deut. 6:7). We know this is what God calls us to do, so we're willing to pay what it costs, and to struggle through whatever difficulties we might face. So I don't believe it's the practical concerns that are holding us back when it comes to adoption. I wonder if it's simply that we don't talk about it. Why we are so quiet There's a reason you likely haven't heard your elders, or pastor, or parents, or friends talking about adoption. It's probably the same reason I haven't written much about it: it seems downright hypocritical for someone without adopted children to encourage others to adopt. Your elder can teach you about the importance of a godly education for your children – no hypocrisy there, because he's been a board member, three of his children are enrolled, and the fourth just graduated. But if he doesn't have adopted children, wouldn't it be strange if, during the course of a home visit, he asked you whether you've considered adoption? The reason we don't talk about adoption, the reason we don't teach and preach about it is because we don't do it. It seems wrong to preach what we don't practice. So we're quiet instead. What God thinks about adoption While silence saves us from hypocrisy, it also leaves us ignorant. It leaves us thinking adoption is only for those struggling with infertility. Silence has some still believing there are theological objections to adoption. Silence fosters our lukewarm approach to adoption. But God isn't lukewarm about adoption. We read that before Man even fell into sin, God already had a plan to use adoption to bring us back to Him: "In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will..." (Ephesians 1:5). Theological objections to adoption? What trouble we would be in if that were so! Who are we, if not the adopted sons and daughters of God? God doesn't just love adoption; He invented it! If not for it, we would have remained God's enemies. But instead, through the "Spirit of adoption" we can cry out to God and call Him, "Abba, Father." It is through adoption that we have become children of God (Romans 8:15-16). Imitators of God In Psalm 68 David describes God as "a father to the fatherless" (vs. 5) who "sets the lonely in families" (vs. 6). In James 1:27 we're told that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." Consider Ephesians 5:1-2: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. We are to be imitators of God because we are his children! Can we think of a better way to imitate our heavenly Father than to also be a father to the fatherless? Does that then mean we should all adopt? No, it does not; while all Christian parents are called to teach their children the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Deut. 6:7, Ephesians 6:4), there is no similarly universal command to adopt. God doesn't call all couples to it. And He doesn't equip us all for it. But a lot more of us may be equipped than we realize. We're adopting at a rate that is comparable to the world, and yet our churches should be full of adopted children. Why? Because they already are! We are all adopted – by the grace of God we have been made His sons and daughters – so we, so much more so than the world, should be eager to go and do likewise. Silent no more How can we fill our churches with adopted children? It begins with teaching and preaching God's thoughts on adoption and encouraging one another to have the conversation. While it might seem hypocritical for a pastor, or elder (or magazine editor) who has no adopted children to encourage others to adopt, it really isn't – there's no need for him to preach what he hasn't practiced. Instead, he can encourage others to do what he has done (or what he now recognizes he should have done), which is to seriously and prayerfully consider it. Bringing an orphan child into your home may be difficult, costly, even scary, but it is, above all, godly. Will you consider it? ***** John Piper on adoption: It may be difficult but... "The pain of adopting and rearing children is sure. It will come in one form or the other. Should that stop us from having children or adopting children? No. The self-centered world “cuts their losses” by having few or no children. (And there is way too much of that thinking in the church.) In one sense we may be very glad that such people don’t tend to have children or at least not many children. Because it means that breed of selfish person will die out more quickly since they don’t replace themselves. But on the other hand, we grieve, hoping that they will see that the grace of God is sufficient for every new day no matter how difficult, and that there is more true joy in walking with God through fire, than walking on beaches without him." - Piper, in an excerpt from his sermon, "Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory" which can be found online at www.DesiringGod.org....

Movie Reviews, Sexuality, Watch for free

In His Image: Delighting in God's Plan for Gender and Sexuality

Documentary 2020 / 104 minutes Rating: 8/10 One of the most serious challenges that the Christian church is currently facing is in the area of gender and sexuality. When the church holds fast to the Biblical teaching that God created us male and female, that God is the one who defines our gender, and that marriage is a sacred, lifelong bond between one man and one woman, then we are placing ourselves distinctly outside of the mainstream of our society. What's more, the challenge to the Bible's teaching on gender and sexuality comes not only from outside of the church, but also from within. Because of the importance of this issue, it is essential that Christians be prepared. First of all, we must understand what God's Word teaches about sexuality and human relationships, in order to personally stand firm on that solid foundation and not be led astray by the latest cultural trends. Secondly, we must be prepared to lovingly stand up for that teaching, in the face of often virulent opposition. Finally, we must be ready to serve, help, and love those who are struggling in this area. In a world in which abuse and disorder have affected the lives of so many, the church needs to be ready and willing to serve as a beacon of hope, a place where the healing truth of the gospel can be found. The church is where that life-giving and hope-giving message must not only be proclaimed, but also lived out! A resource that can help In His Image: Delighting in God's Plan for Gender and Sexuality is a valuable resource for Christians who need to be equipped to understand and apply the truth of Scripture in their personal lives, in their relationships, and in their interaction with our culture. This documentary was released in 2020 by the American Family Association, and is available online as well as in a DVD set, for use as a group study resource. As a full length film, this is not a shallow treatment of the issues, and it would be a worthwhile resource for several weeks' worth of small group study and discussion. The documentary features a number of personal stories, including that of Walt Heyer, who lived for eight years as a woman before having his "sex change" reversed. A number of pastors and theologians also contributed to the film, including Kevin deYoung, Sean McDowell, and James R. White. It starts with the Bible In His Image begins with a discussion of that foundational Biblical teaching, that every human being is created in the image of God. Beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve in God's image, the documentary bases everything that follows on the teaching of Scripture, emphasizing the sufficiency and the authority of God's Word. From those very important starting points, the film goes on to address other means of addressing the issues. As Robert Gagnon, Professor of New Testament Theology at Houston Baptist University, emphasizes, we begin with Scripture, we make use of philosophical reasoning and scientific evidence, and finally, we turn to personal experience. Sadly, the tendency in our culture is for personal experience to take precedence over everything else. In His Image, while using a number of personal stories that really make an impact, gets things right by focusing first and foremost on the Word of God as the ultimate source of wisdom. I highly recommend In His Image as a very powerful and useful resource that will help to strengthen Christians in their commitment to God's Word in the face of ever-increasing pressure to conform our thinking with that of the world. The message of Scripture is proclaimed boldly and without compromise. But importantly, this is done in a way that emphasizes the Good News of Jesus Christ, and how we can show genuine love for our neighbour by proclaiming, and living, that truth. You can watch the trailer for In His Image below, and see the film for free at InHisImage.movie. Rev. Jim Witteveen blogs at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

Parenting

Helping our children listen well

Idol-making hearts plug up ears ***** It will not come as a shock that in Christian schools too, students will be inattentive. Teachers, coaches, pastors, volunteers, and community instructors notice and experience that some students are quick to interrupt and slow to listen and pay attention. As the instruction begins, it does not take long before a student has turned to their neighbor to have their own private conversation. One such conversation quickly becomes two, and before you know it, the instructor has to call a whole group of students back to attention Now, as teachers learn through experience, you often “get what you put up with.” So teachers have the responsibility to be clear with their classroom expectations and have the fortitude to follow through with consequences that have been clearly outlined before instruction has even taken place. Teachers need to demonstrate patience and the like, but they also need to consistently apply discipline to ensure that every student has the most conducive environment to learn in. In other words, teachers need to make sure that one segment of the student population does not “get away with” dragging the whole learning environment down. That’s what the teacher can do. But what of the student? I’d like to draw your attention to an issue that would be helpful to discuss around our dinner tables and with our children individually. And not so much as a once-off topic of discussion, but more as an ongoing conversation, similar to the common reminder that we all grew up with from mom and dad: “Did you remember to say thank-you?” This issue at its root, when you dig down into the human heart, has to do with idolatry manifesting itself as disrespectful behavior towards adults. It has to do with what heart attitude our children bring to the classroom, gym, workshop, catechism room, and the like. Allow me to explain. Listen my son… In the book of Proverbs, Solomon repeatedly reminds his son to listen, such as in chapter 4:1: “Listen, my son, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding” (see also Prov. 1:8, 4:10, etc.). He urges listening because He knows that God uses parents, and other authority figures, in the lives of children to point them to know Christ. Children learn God’s ways through their parents, and through the other Christian adults that He places into their lives. Solomon is also aware that children (and adults too!) have little idol factories going on in their hearts. Their inclination is to be king on their own little thrones and prone to thinking that their short life experiences teach them enough to make up their own mind on how things should go. I am my own boss; I choose when I get to speak and I’ll choose when I wish to be quiet and listen. I serve myself and my own needs…rather than God and the authority figures God has placed in my life. Now, maybe that seems to be going too deep. Our children are not likely to say, “Oh yes, my speaking out of turn or interrupting my adult instructor… yep, that’s clearly idolatry. I should stop setting up myself as the little god in my life.” Nevertheless, the Bible is clear; that’s what’s happening. And that’s where we, as parents, need to go when our children demonstrate a lack of respect for their adult instructors. Otherwise, we just end up putting a Band-Aid on the “sore.” Going to the “heart of the matter” is the only way to bring lasting change. Big impact, for good or ill I would also add this thought: as our children get older, they end up in learning situations that go beyond the regular school classroom. In our communities we “leverage” adults who are not qualified teachers. These include coaches, bakers, artists, woodworkers, driving instructors, 4H leaders, horticulturalists, runners, bosses…you name it. When you add up the number of adults that are instructing our youth from middle school onwards, the list is actually quite long. How much more reason to train our children that interrupting adult instructors by blurting, having our own private conversations, rolling the eyes, a disparaging look, a bored countenance, etc., is not only unacceptable as a child of the Lord but it also becomes very wearisome on those that are doing the teaching, who, in many cases, are giving their time as a gift to the school. Any experienced teacher will tell you that having students that lack the self-control to actively listen to 5-10 minutes of instruction can really drag down the learning environment and also leads to distracting the attention of others. Getting the conversations started So, is this issue something new? No, not really. Wherever you have a group of excited students together, the inclination and temptation to be distracted is always there. At the same time, I think this issue probably sits in our parental “blind spot” at times and I do think it needs our attention. Regular conversation and a checking in with our children can make a big difference for all the instructors that show up in our children’s lives. We can ask them a question like: “How was your focus and attention in class today?” “What strategies are you using to eliminate distractions?” “Are you standing or sitting away from friends that you know will lead you to disrupt the class”? “Do you take the time to apologize to your teacher when you are disciplined for disrupting classroom instruction (or for any other misbehavior for that matter)?” “Do you show respect to the adults (and peers) in your life with your words, body language, and written communications?” This is worth making a regular topic of conversation at home, and not so that our kids can be “good kids.” What we really want is to help them learn to think Christianly about their attitude towards authority, and in particular, how they listen to instruction....

Music

Music from the eyes

Jamie Soles on what turned him into a songwriter ***** Growing up, my oldest brother Dave had a record player in the room he shared with my other brother Stephen. Dave was gone a lot of the time, so I spent many hours in that room, playing record after record, or, if I really liked it, the same one over and over. I think I learned every word of Randy Stonehill’s Welcome To Paradise and Equator, Larry Norman’s In Another Land, Phil Keaggy’s What A Day, Love Broke Thru, and Ph’lip Side, all the Keith Green ones and Don Francisco ones, and several others. These got many a play from me when I was 12-15 years old. This music was life-shaping for me. I wanted to do what they were doing; to make music that would bless people, that would glorify God, and honor Jesus, and sound cool at the same time. My guitar-playing skills developed a lot in those days, as I learned how to listen to the music, and to hear what was in it. I learned how to identify chords when I heard them in the music, and started to develop the ability to understand what chords went with what chords, and how to anticipate what might be coming next. I found that I could play along (roughly) with Randy Stonehill or Don Francisco, but was sensible enough to put my guitar away when listening to Phil Keaggy, who I could tell was a long way above my pay grade. As I acquired my skills on guitar, it also became apparent to me that I was going to need to learn how to write songs if I was ever going to make it in the music business. But I had no idea where to begin. When I would try to think of lyrics, everything I came up with sounded too stupid to sing out loud. I learned somewhere that songwriters were supposed to sing from the heart, from what was inside them. Turn the stuff inside you into a song. This, I could see already at that age, was bad counsel. For I knew the Bible well enough to remember what it said about the heart; that it was “deceitful above all things and desperately sick and wicked, and who could understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). And I am supposed to write songs from there? It did not add up, but I did not know what to do about it. I tried to write a song for two years, from my 13th year to my 15th year, and everything I wrote seemed foolish even to me, and how much more foolish it would seem if I sang such schlock for anyone? I kept silent and tried again. And again. I could not seem to think about what I should write about. All the songs on the radio seemed to be love songs; maybe that is what I should write about! But I was a backwoods, backwards farm boy with no shower at hand, and I had no experience in that field. During the summer of 1981, I went to work as a Junior Counselor at Camp Sagitawa on Moberly Lake. I was there to be the second man in a cabin full of boys, week after week, all summer. But I was one of the main music people because I was quite good at guitar by then. So I spent that summer with my guitar in one hand, and Christian teaching about the glory of God in the other. One day I was admiring the beauty of creation there at camp, and I decided to try and write a song about that. Lo and behold, it worked! I wrote a sensible song! I sang it for people that night at the campfire, and everybody loved it. I was so inspired; I sat down and wrote another, and another. I spent the rest of that summer writing songs because I had discovered the key: Do not write what is in your heart. Write what is in your eyes. The Disney version of life is not correct. You are not going to find good things, things of which you can make sense, in your heart. For me, it was when I looked outside myself, when I looked at God and his creation, that my tongue was unlocked to sing his praises in a way that blessed people. This is the way the world works. It is not about you, not about your thoughts, not about your feelings. But it is about Jesus, and about what he has done. Sing that. You can hear Jamie Soles' music on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, YouTube Music, SolMusic.ca, and many other places.   A new way to support Christian music I was with a fellow musician the other day, and we were lamenting our current predicament as musicians. “We are deeply invested in doing good work and creating a product people will love. But the market has changed. Our music is worth nothing anymore, financially speaking.” This is truly the case, as you can probably attest in your own home; have you bought a CD this year? These days music is delivered to the masses via streaming services, which pay artists very little (even though my music is being streamed upwards of 200,000 times this year). Then COVID and the panic it has engendered greatly curtailed my ability to get out and do concerts. I have done two concerts this year, instead of the 30+ I had planned. So, out with the old business model, and here is the new: please consider becoming a patron to my art, a regular monthly supporter. If, in the old days, you might have purchased one CD a year from me, you might use that as a guideline, and support me at $2.00 a month on Patreon. You would not be buying my music for cheap, since it is already virtually free on streaming services. You would be supporting Jamie Soles, the artist, at whatever amount you are willing to give on a monthly basis. A side benefit would be free access to all my music, but the real benefit is knowing that I am still making music for the world. You can find out more by clicking here: patreon.com/join/2034697. And if you still like CDs, well, you can still get those at my website: SolMusic.ca. Blessings to you, my friend! – Jamie Soles...

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New

by Marty Machowski 224 pages / 2015 I am always on the lookout for good books for our Church library, local Christian school and for our grandchildren, and just yesterday received my copy of Marty Machowski’s The ology. I am very impressed! It is a systematic theology for children that I would say is geared to ages 5 to 8 as a read-aloud but it can be used by older children in personal study. Chapters are very short, averaging 2 minutes, plus reading a few texts.  Each beautifully illustrated story is accompanied with two or three texts written out, and references for four or five others to be looked up. These text references certainly add to the book. A parent guide at the beginning suggests ways to use it with different age groups, and a short glossary at the end, as well as discussion questions for each chapter, all make this an easy, enjoyable book to use. I think The Ology is a "must have" for any family with children. Most parents are faithful in teaching the Bible stories but can have a harder time with the "theology" part and this will be a good aid for them. You can click here for a 12-page preview....

News

Saturday Selections - December 5, 2020

Living clouds (5 min) How do they do it? Thousands of starlings, flying at speeds of 50 miles per hour, moving in such precision together that they look like living clouds! We can't control COVID (or much of anything else) "How quickly we went from the 'we acknowledge we can’t control this' of the UCSF panel of experts to the 'we absolutely can and will control this' of elected officials. The shift from 'most of us are going to get sick but let’s care for and protect the vulnerable' to 'everyone must avoid getting sick at all costs' is a significant one. Now, if anyone contracts COVID, it’s not because it’s a novel virus we don’t understand, but because someone failed. Practical atheists want control. When control is lost, someone is to blame." A less controversial way to reduce gun deaths? Guns are used to kill, but also to save lives too, so any time a government tries to impliment any form of gun control, it is controversial. But is there a way to reduce gun deaths that would be far less controversial? Blessed are the unoffendable This is an article that will greatly help a great deal of us. 5 biggest little ways to improve your marriage This post is based on a 1992 book, very popular in Christians circles, called The 5 Love Languages, which proposed that there are 5 different ways that people like to be loved and like to express love. While this isn't an idea that should be put on par with biblical revelation, it does have a common-sense appeal: we all know that some folks really like gifts no matter how small, and others who respond to touch, and some who best appreciate words of encouragement. And the Golden Rule, as spelled out in Matthew 7:12, is a biblical grounding for the general underlying principle that just as we would like people to show affection for us in the way we best like to receive it, we should offer the same consideration in how we express love. Thomas Sowell on the difference between conservatives and liberals (4 minutes) While Sowell is not making a specifically Christian argument here, his definition of the conservative understanding – that Man is intrinsically flawed – lines up with what the Bible says about our fallen nature. He also speaks to the very biblical notion (Prov 27:14) that good intentions are not enough, and that utopia is an impossible ideal (so long as we on this side of heaven). That last point might be misunderstood as being apathetic, or an uncaring response to evil, as if he is saying "We can't do anything, so why bother!" But his point is, we can do many things, but we can't do everything, so choices need to be made. And possible good achieved is better than impossible good intended. (To clarify the conservative and liberal labels used here don't reference Canada's political parties, though the Liberal Party does largely align with Liberal values as Thomas Sowell defines them.) ...

News

29-year-old mom gives birth to 27-year-old baby

It’s a headline that seems better suited to National Enquirer, but it gets crazier still. The 29-year-old mother, Tina Gibson, doesn’t have just one baby almost as old as her, but two! The story starts back in 2016, when Tina’s father told her about a news story he’d seen on snowflake adoption – adopting, and implanting an abandoned embryo that has been left in cold storage since being conceived. After months of investigation and prayer, Tina and her husband Ben went forward – Tina was implanted with an embryo that had been frozen since 1992. Then, in November 2017, the Gibsons were able to welcome their daughter Emma Wren to the world. Now, three years later, Tina and Ben have another little girl to take care of, Emma’s biological sister, Molly. She had been frozen at the same time as Emma, and was born in late October, 27 years later. While secular news has covered this as an amusing, sweet story, LifeSiteNews.com shared the damage done to children when they are frozen: 25% don’t survive the unfreezing process, and those that do have a higher risk of genetic abnormalities. For these reasons and more, we should not freeze children. But some parents have inflicted this on their children, to the point that there are hundreds of thousands of frozen babies. That’s a tragedy. But just like God’s adoption of us, “snowflake adoption” is a rescue plan. So what a joy it is that Tina and Ben can reflect our Heavenly Father in bringing these two little girls into their family!...

News

Equality found in the Bible, not on the football field

After COVID quarantines eliminated their other kickers, the Vanderbilt Commodores football team turned to Sarah Fuller. The starting goalkeeper for the university’s women’s soccer team, Fuller was already used to kicking a ball pretty far. But when she came on the field in the second half of the Nov. 28 competition against the Missouri Tigers, the coach didn’t ask her to blast it. Instead, the designed play was for her to hit a squib – a low bouncing kick that is hard to return. And that’s what happened: she booted it 30-yards, and the receiver fell on it for a return of zero yards. That was Fuller’s only action, with the punting handled by a teammate, and Vanderbilt never getting close enough for her to attempt a field goal. While a handful of women have kicked for other lower-level college teams, Fuller became the first woman to officially take the field in a major conference football game. That is an understandable reason for interest, but from the play-by-play announcers on up to major media networks, this was treated as a cause for celebration. One of the game’s announcers described it this way, as Fuller was lining up the kick: History is on the field in Columbia, Missouri, as Sarah Fuller is about to put her right foot into a football, speaking volumes to women around the world. Fuller’s appearance won her the SEC “special teams co-player of the week” honors. That she had just the one kick – solid but not amazing – meant this wasn’t about athletic prowess. An ESPN headline framed it as: “Vanderbilt kicker breaks barriers…” But what sort of barrier was it that the Vanderbilt kicker broke? This was treated as if it was a blow for women’s equality. However, if anything, it was the opposite. Why? Well, there are two very different grounds for women's and men’s equality. The first is the declaration in Genesis 1:27 that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” It is in this sense that male and female (as well as every ethnic group, the unborn and children and adults too) are the same – we are all made in the Image of God. But for a culture that rejects God, another grounding for equality is needed, and another “sameness” needs to be found. The best the world has been able to do is an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-too basis of equality. It’s on this basis that Fuller is being celebrated: because she showed that just like men, women can play football too. But that an exceptional woman athlete can fill in, in a non-contact appearance, for a COVID-devastated, winless football team in a meaningless game that they lost 41-0 doesn’t prove women can do football just like the boys. Under ordinary circumstances, Fuller would never have taken the field. It’s here that things take a nasty turn: if we stick with the world’s anything-you-can-co-I-can-do-too basis for equality, then if women can’t play football that would mean they aren’t men’s equals.  While biblical headship is often blamed for chauvinism, this abilities-focused basis for equality is the true culprit. As hard as the world tries to obscure them, the physical differences between men and women are obvious to all. So if our worth is determined by what we can do, then a man who sees he can lift twice what a woman can will come to a chauvinist conclusion. And this issue is bigger than women’s rights, impacting both the unborn and aged too. That the unborn can’t do much yet is why they can be killed. That the elderly and the disabled can’t do all that we can do is why euthanasia is offered to them. They are deemed as being worth less because they can do less. To counter that argument, we don’t need to show how much the unborn, or the elderly, or the disabled can do. We don’t need to show that women can play football too. And we don’t need to point to jobs and tasks that women are able to do better than men. To fight chauvinism, and abortion, and euthanasia, we need to acquaint people with the true basis for our worth and our equality: our Maker, who made us all in His very Image....

Assorted

The Healing Touch

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8) *** Chapter 1 It was a warm day, and Meggy adjusted her close-fitting cap with a sigh. Its whiteness covered thick, dark braids wound tightly across a high-held head, and enfolded the sides of a well-sculpted face. Meggy felt like itching her scalp but knew that a few steps behind them Hawys, who always walked to church with father and herself, would comment on it. Capitulating to the older woman's unspoken influence, she refrained, and merely adjusted her waistcoast with a shrug of her small shoulders. "Do not move about so much, child. It is the Lord's Day after all." Hawys' correction came swiftly. Father glanced at Meggy with a sidelong look, and smiled an apologetic smile. He was not one for arguments although she was sure he sympathized. They both knew Hawys did not mean ill and besides that, they were staying in her house, living partly on her charity. "I can hear the Sanctus Bell." Hawys, picking up both speed and her long, dark blue skirt, swept past them. Meggy automatically increased her steps as well. "Come, Father," she whispered, as she tried to pull him along, "it will not do to irritate Hawys." Undisturbed, he calmly answered, "Surely the bell ringer has only just begun and we have time to spare." Not multiplying his measured paces, he ambled on, all the while tranquilly regarding their surroundings. Meggy was unsure. Should she stay with father, or should she shadow Hawys? In the end it was the sense of father's words that convinced her. St. Mary's Church was but some ten minutes or so from where they were, and surely the sexton would not shut the doors against them? "Have you perhaps knowledge that the Archbishop himself is attending today? Is that why you and Hawys are in such a hurry, Child?" Father was teasing her. Slowing down, she affectionately squeezed his arm. "It would be wonderful," he continued, "to hear actual instruction from the pulpit. But I confess that I have not much hope for it." Meggy did not answer. Her eyes were still fixed on Hawys who, glancing back over her shoulder every now and then, was gaining great ground. "We might walk a trifle faster, Father," she suggested, but he seemed not to hear. "Your mother, although a mite argumentative, was fond of a good sermon, Meggy," he went on, "and I vow that in the long run she would not be in favor of us continuing to attend St. Mary's." Meggy could see the flint and ironstone makings of the church building coming up ahead. It was a beautiful structure and she loved it. The graveyard at the rear where mother was buried was very peaceful. Betimes she walked there and marveled at the monuments and admired the many stained glass windows that laughed at her from the grey church walls. There was one special window she favored – one with green diamond-shaped panes between its lead outlines. She often stared at that window during services. Sometimes she felt as if staring at something beautiful might reflect into her own heart and consequently make it beautiful. Is that how one was saved? "Meggy, Child, we are here." Indeed, they were. To her relief, Meggy saw that there were many folks still entering the rounded-off-at-the-top double oak doors. After quickly looking up at the top of the tower, as she always did before entering the church, she espied the signal beacon, part of an ancient series of signal beacons.  "Look Father, the beacon." She sped up her steps even as she spoke but Father pulled her back. "Easy, Child. The building will not run away." He was forever chaffing her. "Know you that the church was probably built in the 1200s, and rebuilt in 1494?" She nodded. Yes, she did know that. "Well, Meggy, now the year is 1672, and that makes this building some four hundred years old. All that time it has stood there and it will very likely outlive us." "Yes, Father." Meggy lifted her skirts and crossed over the church threshold. Her father followed close behind. The foyer was cool and quite empty. Meggy immediately walked through and on into the church proper. Standing in its wide doorway with the entrance behind her, she searched for the familiar figure of Hawys who was wont to sit in the back on the right. About to enter, a voice made her turn. It was a voice addressing Father. "Good to see you, James Burnet." It was a low, male voice. She did not recognize it immediately. But as she turned and moved back into the foyer, she saw that it belonged to Timothy Newham, a haberdasher, who lived close to Whitehall. She had never before seen him in their church or, for that matter, at a conventicle. In all probability he was not a religious man. "Hello, Timothy." Father answered the haberdasher's greeting courteously. "I had been hoping that you would come by my shop this past week, James." Father shrugged. Meggy walked back to stand by his side. There was something sad about that shrug and she sensed he needed her. "You owe me some money, James Burnet, and I am here to obtain it." "My dear fellow," the reply came softly and courteously, "perhaps you could come by my shop later this week. It seems unfitting to discuss this matter here in church." "I have waited all of a month already, James, and have seen neither hide nor hair of you." Meggy could feel the eyes of fellow churchgoers pry into her back. She put her arm through father's. "Let's go on into the sanctuary, Father," she whispered. "Is this your daughter?" "Yes, I am," Meggy answered for him, "and I beg you, Sir, do not make a scene here in the Lord's house, for that is not proper." "Is it proper then to withhold five pounds owing me? Five pounds that have been loaned out for more than three months even though the understanding was that it would be paid back in two months time?" Meggy took note of the fact that father's breathing was becoming uneven and rapid. And she minded the times of late that he had been tired. "I have followed you to church, James Burnet," Timothy Newham went on, "and I will follow you inside the church sanctuary if need be, and demand in front of all these people that you give me my money. Perhaps shame will make you pay me back." At the last words, he raised his voice threateningly and it seemed to Meggy that it reverberated off the foyer's high ceiling. "Come, Father," she repeated gently, "maybe we should go home and we will sort it all out when we get there." "There is nothing to sort out," Timothy Newham insisted, "Your father owes me five pounds, a tidy sum when you are a poor man such as I am, and I'll wager that he has that amount hidden some place here or there in his shop." "Not so, Sir," Meggy replied, "and I would ask you to do us the kindness of leaving. Please call at our home at the noon hour tomorrow and we shall receive you properly. You have our word on it." Timothy gazed at her thoughtfully, gazed long and hard. It made her uncomfortable. He was an older man, and it did not seem fitting. "Very well then," he eventually retorted, "tomorrow it is at about twelve of the hour." He swung about and disappeared through the heavy oak door before a reply could be made. Chapter 2 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) It had been only four years since Cromwell, the Lord Protector, had died. During his time greater religious freedom had come about for the Protestants. However, then “the Restoration” had planted a new ruler on the English throne, a ruler who did not know Cromwell. He was of the house of Stuart and his name was Charles II. Although only a youthful thirty years of age, he was well versed in the vices of the world and his skill in these vices had spilled over into the country. Countries are labeled - labeled as republics, monarchies, dictatorships or otherwise. But should they be labeled thus? He who sits in the heavens laughs, and holds nations in derision. He has all things under His control and what He desires comes to pass. England breathed laboriously while Charles II ruled and was in great need of a physician. ***** James Burnet and his daughter stood in the church foyer for a few moments after Timothy Newham had left. Then, as if by common consent, they turned and departed the church building. No words were spoken on the way home. The streets lay silent for the church bells had stopped ringing. Meggy clung hard to her father's arm. James stopped walking every twenty steps or so and reflected on the fact that he had not been able to do as much work lately as he was wont to do. By his side, Meggy wished for the hundredth time that she had been born a boy and that her mother was still alive instead of lying in the burial ground back of the church. How they would both help father. She knew that they would. James Burnet was a pewterer. Although only a trifler in the trade, there was much call for the items he fashioned, items such as inkwells, mugs, badges, and candlesticks. He was not a wealthy man but small pewter utensils were popular and he sold of his wares to traveling tinsmiths who hawked them in the countryside. The Burnet family had been able to manage. James had taught his daughter much as she was growing into a young woman. Even now as they passed through the silent streets, Meggy could hear his instruction. "Pewter into which no water has come, becomes more white and like to silver, and less flexible," and "Nine parts or more of tin with one of regulus of antimony compose pewter," and "Pewter is called etain in French." The Worshipful Company of Pewterers in Oat Lane near the London Wall, stipulated that marriage to a member of the pewter guild conferred upon a woman the rights and privileges of the business. Mother, when she was married to father, had been put in charge of the financial side of the business and she had received the payments for all the work father had done. Her receipt to buyers had always been valid. One should not speak ill of the dead, but James' wife, although a hard worker, had clearly not enjoyed the trade and had made her husband's life rather miserable because of it. But she had been capable, and Meggy sorely missed the independence their little family had enjoyed. The Great Fire of London of 1666 The Great Fire of London had come in 1666 hot on the heels of the bubonic plague, which had hit in 1665. Destroying 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St. Paul's Cathedral, the Fire had also burned both Margaret Burnet and her home. The Pewterers' Hall on Oat Lane had been destroyed as well, but it was being rebuilt. James Burnet had not had the money to rebuild his home. For a short while Charles II was blamed for these disasters. Some said his wicked lifestyle had brought about God's punishment on the city; others whispered that the king himself might have instigated the fire to punish the people of London for executing his father. Although James Burnet had been able to salvage some of his tools, the truth was that he and his daughter were left homeless. Hawys, a distant relative on mother's side, had kindly offered them living quarters. Her son Roger, a great big hulk of a lad, had from the beginning of their moving in, shown great interest in helping his relations. It had become a tacit agreement of sorts that he was working an apprenticeship. But nothing had been verbally agreed upon or signed. James, who was of a very cheerful and carefree disposition, had been glad of the young man's help. Irrationally, seventeen-year-old Meggy had not much liking for Roger and avoided him. Five years her senior, he displayed affection for father and her father returned it. Perhaps she was jealous. If father were to marry Hawys, the trade would eventually revert to her and later, to Roger. And it was a fact that Father was not well. He had of late been fatigued, unable to work much. Also, Meggy had noted that her father had a small, red swelling in his neck. Was he afflicted with a disease? She shrugged her small shoulders again. She did not like to think of such things, but the fears that crept into her mind and the raising of her small shoulders did not push the thoughts away. ***** Hawys asked no questions when she came home from church but simply laid out the Sunday meal on the kitchen table. Being discreet was a virtue, Meggy mulled, as she helped put the plates and ale on the board, admitting to herself that they were blessed to have such a relative. Although always adamant that they be in church on time, on the whole Hawys was a sweet-tempered woman and a good housekeeper. Father was determined that Meggy obey her in all matters. And rightly so, for did not the household run smoothly under her guidance and were they not clean and well fed? Hawys truly seemed to care for Father and for herself. Was she not even now fixing potions for his ailments, making sure he ate enough and did she not mend his clothes? Chapter 3 It was Lent. Now is the healing time decreed, for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record, the wrong that we have done the Lord. So rang an old Latin rhyme and Meggy had heard father recite it often. Truthfully, Meggy was not aware that she had ever wronged the Lord. After all, she was quite careful to do all that was right. She obeyed father, loved him and worked hard at the chores Hawys gave her each day. So what was a healing time? She went to sleep thinking about it. But she had forgotten the words upon opening her eyes the next morning because the early air was filled with the sound of her father's coughing. Turning over uneasily, she listened as the grating noise crept under her bed and agitated the coverlet. Next to the bed, on a chair, she eyed her stay. She only wore it each Sunday and it had been mother's. Disliking its stiffness against her body underneath her gown, Meggy was glad it was Monday so that she could safely tuck the corset away into her dresser drawer. Hawys' spinning wheel was tucked into a nooked corner The coughing stopped and, breathing easier, Meggy turned onto her back. Her truckle bed stood at the foot of Hawys' fine feather bed. Hawys always rose at the crack of dawn and Meggy could now hear her rather shrill and drawn-out singing in the kitchen. Father slept with Roger in a side-room off the kitchen. He maintained that the kitchen was too cluttered and busy for him although Hawys was sure that sleeping on a cot in the kitchen would be a great deal warmer for him than the side-room. The kitchen was a room full of pewter, kettles, and skillets, with Hawys' spinning wheel round and annular in a nooked corner. The older woman had been trying to teach Meggy the intricacies and wonders of spinning, but the girl's hands stubbornly refused to convert fibers into yarn. Stretching her fingers, Meggy sighed and sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the small bed. It might be a very fine day indeed were it not for the dismal fact that Timothy Newham was coming to see father. Sighing again, she stood up slowly and walked over to the washbasin atop the dresser next to the larger bed. Scrubbing her face hard to wash out the sleep, she pulled on a week dress overtop of her white shift. ***** "Good morning, Meggy," Hawys stopped singing to greet the girl's entry into the kitchen. A large wooden spoon in her hand, she stood stirring the porridge in a kettle hanging over the hearth. She followed her salutation with "How silently you enter this day, Child." "I am not a child," Meggy responded petulantly. "I know. I know," Hawys replied soothingly, "but I do want to braid your hair, big as you are, so come along and stand by the table after you fetch the comb from the side drawer. Meggy obeyed. She fetched the comb and stood quietly by the table as she watched the smoke from the fire on the hearth channel up the chimney. By and by Hawys came over and began to plait Meggy's hair. "You are truly silent," Hawys said once more as she put the finishing touch on the second braid, "and now that your hair is done, I would have you wash the front steps before breakfast." "Think you truly, Hawys," Meggy answered as she stood twirling the left braid with her right hand, "that Father might be ill and that he might... that he might perhaps have the scrofula?" "He has of late complained of a sore throat," Hawys answered. "But he could simply just have a sore throat for a while and then it will be gone. That has often been the case with me and with Roger. And I know that you have given him a tonic, and such complaints are common, are they not?" "As well, there is a small red swelling in his neck," Hawys said softly, hands on her aproned hips as she contemplated Meggy, "but that also is not uncommon. Indeed it could simply be a sting or some such thing. You as well as I know...." Her discourse was interrupted by her son Roger who burst into the kitchen from the side door. Tall and gangly, he was red in the face from some sort of excitement. "I can obtain a part-time position at the Palace of Whitehall," he broke in on his mother's words. "They are in need of gentleman ushers, seeing that Lent is here and that the king will begin audiences to touch the ill." "And what about your work for my father," Meggy demanded, letting her braid fall down, even as she emphasized the word my. "Oh, but I can do both," the young man answered, surprised at her vehemence, "for this work at the palace is only during the healing ceremonies this Lent. I simply help usher the poor into the king's presence and sprinkle rose water in the aisle to offset the stench these people carry. There are a number of young men who will do so. There will be a lot of people attending the ceremonies - from as far away as Russia, it is said. Besides that the work will pay." Meggy was not listening any longer. Her thoughts had wandered back to her father. "Father needs help all the time, Roger! You cannot be coming and going to ceremonies at the palace. You should constantly be with father and make sure he does not overwork." Roger looked surprised. His loose-fitting shirt was open at the neck and his collarbone protruded. "What ails you, Meggy? I am always helping him." "We were speaking of the scrofula," Hawys helped him out, "for Master Burnet has a red spot in his neck...." Again she was interrupted. "A red spot that could easily be the bite of an insect." Meggy's voice was shrill now and both Roger and Hawys eyed her uneasily. "An insect bite is quite likely," Meggy repeated loudly, "and is it not so, Roger, that you ought to be in the workshop with him right now, at this very moment." There was a lull in the conversation. Then Roger spoke on. His voice was calm and meant to put Meggy's fears at rest. "It is true that scrofula is called the Evil by many. It is a swollen and ulcerous condition and most pitiful to the eye. I have seen many people with it. Even now the ill are gathering in the streets awaiting the time when they will be allowed into the palace. But it is also said, and I know it to be true, that the scrofula, as well as other ills like it, often disappear of their own accord." "Well, father does not have it." Meggy stamped her foot on Roger's words as she spoke and then turned, walking past him out of the side door to her task of scrubbing the front steps. ***** During the next half hour, braids swinging back and forth as she scoured the stone steps, Meggy reflected again that Hawys and Roger were both actually very kind and that she had been rude. It was Roger who irritated Meggy. He was always so sure of himself, both in his demeanor and in his words and there was no doubt that father respected his opinion. She also had to admit, as the suds flew about the steps, that Roger was a fine help to father and seemed to be learning the trade. Perhaps, she pondered on as she swabbed and brushed, she truly was jealous. But jealousy was, as preacher Baxter had often pointed out in his sermons, a foothold for the devil to come into one's heart. Meggy and her father, as well as Hawys and Roger, divided their worship time between attending the Church of England and patronizing conventicles, even though conventicles were forbidden by law. Only five people, the law said, were allowed to meet together outside of the state church. Any larger number gathering for another church service was deemed illegal. Sometimes conventicles were held in the house of someone they knew, and at other times they were held in open fields. Meggy paused, wringing out the scrub cloth with her hands. Even though she admired St. Mary's Church, she also liked meeting out in open spaces, hearing pastors fervently extol God's goodness, and singing in the fields with only the sky for a ceiling. Watching the water drip down the steps, she wished that worries would run away as easily as the water, for there seemed to be so many of them. The worst of them was the fear that Father might have the scrofula, but hard on its heels was the fretting, the worry that had the name of Timothy Newham, the haberdasher, attached to its label. ***** After brealfast, Meggy was called into her father's workshop. "I owe Timothy Newham," he began, stopping rather abruptly and averting his face from her anxious gaze, before continuing, "I owe Timothy Newham," he started again, "some money, Meggy. I'm sorry, but there's the truth of it." He bent his head in such a way that she could clearly see the small red swelling in his neck. "What are we to do, Father?" "Well," her father answered softly, thoughtfully turning over a little pewter salt-shaker in his hands, "Hawys has graciously offered to pay the sum I owe and I would like you to deliver it to him. I would rather he did not come here, Meggy." "You want me to deliver the money to Timothy, Father?" "Yes, Child." "But how are we ever to repay Hawys, Father?" "I am going to marry her, Megs." Father only called her Megs when he was very moved and she intuitively felt she ought not to say anything which could trigger more emotions in him. "Hawys is good to us, is she not?" she managed, "But five pounds is but a little to build a marriage on surely?" He nodded and emboldened she went on, "Do you love her, Father? Do you love her like you did mother?" Actually Meggy was not sure whether or not her father had loved her mother. There had been many arguments between them. And the truth of it was that she had never yet heard him arguing with Hawys. But how had it come about that father owed Timothy Newham money? Timothy was a haberdasher and dealt in thread, tape, ribbons and other such things as a milliner also uses. His wares were in demand. She had been by his shop on occasion, sent by Hawys for something or other, and she had seen that the counter and the shelves in the haberdashery were crowded untidily with many things – things such as drinking horns, knives, scissors, combs, chess men, knee spurs and even girdles. Her mind had been turned topsy-turvy with the disorder in his store. There were so many items lying about that one's eyes became confused. "Why do you owe him money, Father?" "He had bought some tin in Cornwall, Megs, and he sold it to me for what seemed like a decent price at the time and I just have not been able to repay what he lent me for it." "Oh." Roger walked into the shop right into Meggy's “oh.” After looking at them for a moment, he began oiling the pewterer's wheel. The conversation fell silent. Father handed Meggy a small linen bag. "Go, Child," he concluded their discussion and then, turning to Roger, "I have some items for you to carry to Lion's Inn." Chapter 4 It was a fine morning and Meggy enjoyed walking. Timothy Newham's haberdashery was a good stretching of the legs away but she was young and relished the long stroll using the time to both look about and to think. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Timothy's, on the other hand, was to be a haberdasher. Haberdasher – she repeated the word in her mind. It was a strange word but it was Timothy Newham's calling. And what was a calling? Calling was using one's voice but it was also something else – actually two other things. “There is a general calling,” father's voice plainly rang in her head, “for everyone. And that is a calling to conversion and holiness. Are you being called, Meggy? Are you God's child?” Father had asked her this question several times and always she had nodded in response, answering, “Yes, to be sure, Father.” But father must not have been satisfied with her sincerity, because he touched on the subject again and again. Was she converted? Was she holy? Even now as she walked the road, she pondered on the question. Truly, she did all things required of her, did she not? And did this not make her holy? She heard father's words again. “All those who come to church and sit in pews, Meggy, are not necessarily converted. To sit in a church does not mean you have been touched by the Spirit of God, Child.” Meggy lifted her skirts to avoid the blackish droppings of a horse straight on her path. Although she stayed close to the buildings, the filth of the streets was difficult to avoid. She was a little nervous too about the rats that scurried through the muck and grime. Of a certainty, father had told her often enough, the accumulation of waste had helped cause the Plague. If everyone would scrub their steps, as Hawys made her clean their steps most mornings, surely the problem would be less. She lifted her skirts again. It was hard work to live and maintain a family in London. She fell back to contemplating. “There is also a particular calling,” father's voice continued on in her head, “for every person, Meggy. And that calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of his daily living. It might be the work a person does for a living. For me that would be the work or calling of pewterer.” “And what do you think the particular calling is for me, Father?” she had countered, leaning cozily against him as they had sat talking in front of the hearth. He had stroked her hair as he replied, “It might be that of cooking, cleaning, listening to someone's troubles, or smiling.” “Smiling?” she had interrupted sitting up straight, almost laughing at the silliness of the suggestion. “Shall I stand at a booth, Father, selling smiles for ha'pennies to passersby? How could that be?” Father had laughed as well. “You see, Daughter,” he had explained, “you are good at smiling. Quite good, truth be told and God has given you smiles to bestow as a gift to others. Pastor Baxter, whom you have often heard at the conventicles,” he went on, “says there is a difference between washing dishes, scrubbing steps and preaching God's Word; but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. Do you understand this, Meggy?” She had nodded. ***** "Hello, Meggy." All the while thinking and walking, she had almost bumped into Timothy, the haberdasher, who was standing in front of his shop window. Timothy's particular vocation, Meggy pondered on for a moment, was being a haberdasher. Of course he was also called to holiness, called to be a child of God? But he never.... "Are you dream-walking, girl?" Timothy spoke in jest as he looked approvingly at the blossoming young girl standing in front of him. Indeed, Meggy was pleasing to the eye. Red-cheeked, shining black braids bounching on her shoulders, clear, bright blue eyes warmly embracing her surroundings, she was a picture of health and self-assertion. Yet, at the same time, there was a shyness about her that appealed to the much older man. "I've brought you your money, Sir," she responded hesitantly after staring at him for a moment, reaching into the deep pocket of her skirt. Pulling up the small linen bag with the five pounds, she added, "Here is the money which father owes you." "Well, I was ready to walk to your house, but will not deny that I am happy you came here. It saves me both time and effort. Will you not come in for a minute while I make sure that all is accounted for?" He opened the door to his shop and extended an arm downward in welcome. Although she did not want to enter, she considered that the matter ought to be settled. Passing in front of him, she entered the haberdashery. Again, as before, the cluttered mayhem of his store overwhelmed her sense of orderliness. "Please sit for a moment," Timothy said, following her into his shop and, wiping the dust off a wooden stool. He indicated that she should make use of it. Lifting her skirts once more, she obliged. "It's a bit messy, I own," he continued, "and I warrant, it could use the touch of a decent woman." He eyed her for a moment before emptying the money into his right hand. Counting it, under his breath, he quickly ascertained that the coins added up to the right sum. "Do you want a receipt?" he went on to ask, "and might I also inquire if you left your father in good health this morning? "He's a bit poorly," she responded, before calling to mind that surely Timothy did not really care about her father's health, for if he had she would not be here now with the linen bag containing the money that he had demanded so crudely in the church foyer yesterday. "Yet he is well enough," she hastily appended. "I've just had a consignment of lace come in," Timothy volunteered the information slowly, regarding the girl as she sat on the stool, "and I'm thinking that a bit of lace would look fetching on your dress, Meggy." He spoke familiarly and it made her uncomfortable so that she gazed down at her hands without responding to his words. "Well then, you must be worried about your father," he went on, "for I call to mind that it is as you say, he did look a bit unwell the last few times I saw him. "He is well enough, Sir," Meggy defended, albeit in a flat tone, eyeing both the floor and the nearby door, hoping that the receipt would be forthcoming soon. "I expect that you've heard that the king will be coming to Whitehall later this week." "Yes, I have." "Indeed, he's come for the healing ceremony during this Lent. I am glad that you have heard of it." Timothy's eyes rested so long on Meggy that she nodded and he spoke on. "I'm surprised you're not more animated by this. The practice of healing by a reigning monarch such as King Charles II assuredly is common knowledge and I've no doubt you'll be wanting to take your father." "No, Sir." But Meggy's voice was unsure and Timothy was quick to latch onto it. He went on capturing her imagination with his words. "The practice of the 'healing touch' was first recorded centuries ago by the historian William of Malmesbury, who related the story of a barren wife. This wife, whose back was covered with ulcers, dreamt she was commanded to go to King Edward for a cure. So she traveled to court. The king, who much desired to help the poor woman, touched her back with water and her ulcers began to heal within a week's time. Not only that, but upon returning home, she was delivered of twins within that same year." Timothy stopped his narrative and considered Meggy's face. During the short discourse, he noted that she had become fascinated hanging onto his every word. Pleased and flattered, he continued, his voice lowered as if confiding a secret. "There have been other tales as well, including one in which King Edward carried a beggar on his back. The beggar was a cripple. The king carried him into St. Peter's church at Westminster after which the beggar was cured." "Is this true?" Meggy asked, eyes round, "I have always been taught that only God can effect a change in disease, so is it not false to say that earthly kings are able to effect cures?" Toffee-nosed, Timothy smiled down at her. "These ceremonies are extremely religious in nature. God gives kings this gift of healing as proof positive that they are chosen by Him to rule. So you need not worry about doing something that is wrong. Now if you are worried about your father's health...." He left the sentence unfinished and seeing her face become eager with hope, he continued in a scholarly tone, "Well then, I would advise you to look into going to Whitehall tomorrow." "Whitehall? Me?" "You speak, Meggy, as if you could not go there. But you could, you know. There are many who will go there." "But Father is not ... and I'm sure he wouldn't go. Besides I don't even know how I could get in." She stopped and shook her head before going on. "And I don't even know if what you are saying, Timothy Newham, is true. It could all be false and you could be telling me a tale." "There were years, it is true, that kings did not touch anyone. And that is probably why you, being some years younger than I am, are not as familiar with it as I am. During the time of Oliver Cromwell the practice was not in vogue at all. But now that a true king rules England once again, the touching ceremony has come back as indeed it should. Parish registers are kept and miracles have been recorded. My uncle is one as who keeps such registers. That is how I know." "I do not know if I ought to believe you or not." Meggy's voice was unsure. "Well," Timothy responded, looking with pleasure at the roses appearing on Meggy's cheeks in her agitation, "all I can tell you is that I can let you have a ticket so that you can enter Whitehall to listen to the ceremonies that will take place tomorrow. If you like what you hear, perhaps the day thereafter...? " He left the sentence dangling. "How is it that you can get such a ticket?" "I told you that my uncle, Robert Newham, is a registrar and he is one who gives out tickets and he has permitted me to sell them to such as are in need of healing." "Tickets?" Meggy responded, "and pray tell how much do these said tickets cost? And the truth of it is that I myself am not in need of healing." "It would not cost you anything, for I will gladly give you such a ticket." "You would?" "It makes me glad to see a daughter care so much for her father as you do for yours, Meggy." "He is not really ill, you know," Meggy responded rather feebly, "but it would do no harm...." She stopped before she added softly, "He would not go though. I know he would not." "Perhaps," Timothy suggested softly, "you might attend with me tomorrow, might attend the first ceremony at Whitehall to see for yourself what happens. Then, I am sure you would be persuaded of the reality of the cures effected by the king's touch. And being persuaded, you could easily convince your father to go the second day." "He is not convinced easily," Meggy responded, all the time seeing the swelling in her father's neck grow. "But you could go with me," Timothy let the words dangle like a carrot in front of her, before he went on "and see for yourself what happens." Meggy did not respond. "It is not an evil thing, Meggy. Gentlemen Ushers prepare the banqueting hall over which the king will preside. These ushers usually spray a perfume of sorts so that the stench of the ill will not overcome either him or bystanders. Next the Yeomen of the Guard bring in the sick, one by one, and they stand in the aisle before the king's place of sitting. It is after this that the king enters and sits down on a chair of state. His personal confessor, the Clerk of the Closet, will be standing at his side. The Prayer Book is placed on a cushion close by. You see, Meggy, it is all very religious and honors God." The girl said nothing, but her eyes were brimful of curiosity and wonder. "The Clerk's assistant," Timothy went on, "has gold medals or 'touch-pieces' hanging on ribbons on his arm. There are also two royal surgeons nearby waiting to escort the sick from the aisle right up to his majesty so that he can touch them. He strokes their necks, you see, in a loving way as they kneel in front of him, prior to their being healed." He stopped his oration and Meggy was torn. The words sounded so very good, so very real and so very loving. "I will go," she suddenly spoke decisively, "I will go with you, Timothy Newham, if you will be so good as to take me so that I can see and hear this firsthand. But I must hide this from Father and Hawys for surely they would think it nonsense. They are not overfond of the king, as you must know, but they do think that prayer...." She stopped and looked at the cluttered counter. So indeed was her heart cluttered, for there were so many things in there that she could not quite see straight. There was something askew with what Timothy was saying, but she could not manage to put her finger on it. “Whether you are well or sick, Meggy,” she could hear father say, “tis the Great God Who brings your state about. He is the One Who prevents sickness or brings it.” She nodded to herself. Yes, here was a bit of uncluttering. Again she heard her father say “Sometimes we are made ill, or someone we know is made ill, to test our faith and patience, Meggy.” "Well, Meggy," Timothy's voice interrupted her thoughts, "if you are of a mind to go with me to Whitehall you must be here at about one of the clock tomorrow. And perhaps the next day you can persuade your father to come with you. Be here promptly and I will be glad to be of service to you and your father. What can it hurt, after all, just to go and have a look?" This was true. Just looking and listening. Where could be the harm in that? She slowly slid down from the stool and stood directly in front of Timothy. He could possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to give her opportunity to help make father better. "I will be here at one of the clock tomorrow," she returned, walking past him out of the shop, not noting that the corners of Timothy's mouth had turned up, exposing square, yellow teeth in a half-smile - a triumphant smile. Chapter 5 Meggy had to tell an untruth at the evening meal in order to be able to leave the house the next afternoon. Allyson, the chandler's daughter, she mentioned to Hawys, her mouth full of pottage, had asked her help in making soap because her mother was ill with the ague. Roger stared at her in a strange way, a sad way almost. It made her feel rather awkward and she swallowed her mouthful with difficulty, because it seemed as if Roger knew that she was lying and that he was disappointed in her. But father smiled a broad smile and commented that this was most kind of her and of course she should go and help her friend. ***** Bells marked the one o'clock just as Meggy rounded the corner of the haberdasher's street the next day. Timothy, who was just closing the door of his shop, saw her coming. A smug look appeared on his face. Turning, he offered her his arm. She stopped short, confused by the gesture. "Come, come," he said, "you are young and must be escorted. I promise I shall take good care of you." When she still made no motion to take his arm, he scratched his head with his left hand. She marked the dirty fingernails on it. Then he remarked that he had forgotten something of import in his shop which she might find appealing. Stepping back, he unlocked the door of his store. "What have you forgotten?" she asked. "Oh, something you might find interesting," he replied, "Come in and I'll show you." A tad uncomfortable, but curiosity overcoming her sense of acceptable behavior, Meggy crossed over the threshhold once more stepping towards the counter. Timothy closed the door behind them. The click of the latch and the rather musty smell of the place straight away awoke her to the impropriety of the situation. Timothy moved a few paces into the shop. Then he sidled back and stood in front of the door. Particles of dust settled down on the counter. Suddenly extremely anxious, she stood stock still, wishing with all her heart that she had stayed outside. Timothy inched a bit closer. "You know," he mouthed, "you're a very pretty young lady." Meggy stepped sideways. Even though he was still some four feet away, she could smell his sour breath. "So what I forgot to collect was a reward for helping you get into Whitehall," he went on in a rough whisper, "and that reward is just one little kiss." "No!" she whimpered. Her voice had lost its ability to speak loudly, her heart pounded and her hands had turned clammy with fear. She continued pathetically, "Open the door and let me out. I don't want you to...." She did not finish for he had moved forward, had put his hands around her waist and was pulling her towards himself. It was at this point that her voice regained its strength and a high-pitched piercing sound shook the objects on the counter. It flew through the cracks in the wall out into the street. Straightaway the hinges of the door almost flew off their frame as it was flung open. Roger's lanky frame stood tall and forceful in the opening and Meggy had never been so happy to see him. "What's going on here?" he yelled, shoving Timothy into the counter, knocking bows, ribbons, pins, needles and lace onto the ground. The girl immediately slipped past the men, and ran down the street. Her cap was askew and her cheeks were crimson. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. All she knew was that she had to get away. What had she been thinking? What had she done!? Passersby stared. She neither noted nor cared. Finally, out of breath and underneath the overhang of some roofs, she stopped. What a ninny she had been! And what should she do now? She trembled with the horror at the thought of what might have happened. A few minutes later Roger caught up with her. "Meggy!! It's all right. Timothy Newham won't be bothering you again." Without looking up, she began to cry. Roger's arms folded around her and her head leaned heavily against his bony shoulder. "He's a beast," she sobbed, "He's horrible. He ...." "I know," Roger soothed, "but you ought not to have gone in there, Meggy. It's a good thing I was due to go to Whitehall and happened to pass the shop. To tell you the truth, I followed you. Both Mother and I were worried. We knew that Allyson's mother was not ill. So we wondered...." She pulled away, her tear-stained face angry. "But I went to Timothy Newham for father, Roger. He was going to take me to the ceremony. I thought that if the king was giving out the 'healing touch' about which Timothy seemed to know so much, then I ought to find out as much as I could about it. I thought that father ought to... ought to have a chance to... and Timothy said he had tickets." Roger's face became grim. "Surely you didn't believe that chicanery. Timothy Newham is a deceitful man, Meggy. As well, he and the king are both lechers. The king wants to be popular with the people. He wants them to like him. They call him the 'Merry Monarch' but he wants to hide the fact that he is... is....." Roger almost choked on his words, incredulous that she would fall for the jiggery-pokery of such a fraudulent royal ceremony. "But you," Meggy countered, wiping her face with the back of her hand as she spoke, "would work at Whitehall at this ceremony and would thereby help people enter deceit, if what you say is true." "Yes," Roger conceded, "to make some money to help your father and yourself and, of course, my mother. But maybe you are right and I ought not to have such a job." He stood for a moment, gazing down at her, and then repeating, "Yes, I ought not to have taken the job. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I think I will take you to the palace so that you can see for yourself what it is about." "You would take me there?" "Not so that you could take your father there, but so that you can see that you ought not to trust in men, Meggy." She was silent and hung her head. Taking pity on her, Roger went on a little less vehement. "You have heard good preachers often enough, Megs. Remember, their message. We, all of us, are diseased and full of infirmities. This is not such a strange thing here in this world. If your father is indeed ill, and God forbid that it is so, we will use such means as He provides for healing. But God does not use the wiles of such men as Charles II to heal folks. The ill vagabonds that flock to him, wretched creatures such as I see in the streets, only come because Charles provides them with a coin, a 'touch piece.' That is what they call such a coin. Most sell this coin as soon as they leave the palace and use it to buy food or who knows what. Some perhaps really and truly believe that Charles is sent by God to heal them. But would God use black to make white? I think not! Oh, Megs, wake up and trust God!" Roger had unconsciously used her father's pet name for her and she blushed. He continued with a last admonition. "And do you really think that your father would go with you to such a ceremony as would belie his faith?" Chapter 6 There were many beggars lined up by the gate at Whitehall. A host of them had swellings and lesions in their necks. Meggy tried not to stare and pressed close to Roger as they walked past them. Surely Father, she thought, was not as badly off as these people. Actually, he was not like them at all. She came close to rubbing shoulders with one ill wretch who had yellowish fluid oozing down the side of his legs. Her stomach turned. "Come, Meggy," Roger said, "don't stop and don't look so scared." "I'm not scared," she answered in a small voice, even as she eyed an emaciated woman with an ulcerated mass just above her shoulders. Next to the woman, a young boy lay convulsed on the ground, his mother desperately trying to pick him up. A blind man stood behind them. "Come on, Meggy," Roger repeated, "walk quicker." The disfigured disabled her feet. Was the king, she wondered, really such a wonder-worker as to be able to perform miracles? Such a wonder-worker as to heal these unfortunates? Did he have such a closeness to God as to cure these desolates and woebegones? Was father a such a one? "We are nearing the Banqueting Hall," Roger said, "and that is the place where the king will come to touch. One by one these poor creatures will be brought before him. They will kneel before the king and he will stroke their necks." Meggy shuddered. She knew not whether it was the thought of the king actually touching the misery around her that caused her to shudder, or whether it was the thought that it seemed blasphemous on the king's part to think that he had power over illness. They had reached the entrance to the palace and Roger pulled her off to the side. The queue, of which they were not a part, lay both behind and next to them. It was filled with crutches, bandages and disfigured persons. All of them were holding certificates verifying that they would be allowed into the king's banqueting hall. A man hobbled by to the right of them. He was disfigured in an appalling way. Growths of a most horrible kind hung from his neck, dripping both greenish pus and blood. In his dirty hands he clutched a crumpled ticket of admission. The ticket had been, if what Timothy had told her was true, signed and sealed by a minister or church warden declaring that he had never before been “touched” by the king. Despite her revulsion, Meggy ached for the man. He appeared so very ill. Yet there was hope in the very manner he put his feet down, put them down steadily towards the entrance of the palace. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes of him. It was almost his turn to be admitted. A Yeoman of the King's guard, one who conducted all the ill to a line attended by the surgeon, was also watching him and Meggy read loathing on the guard's face for this particular man. But the man himself noted nothing. His whole being was simply fixed on entering the banqueting hall. "Hey, you! Let me see your certificate." The Yeoman's voice was loud enough so that Meggy could hear each word. Startled, the deformed man handed over his paper to the guard who, after scanning it, threw it to the ground. "It's forged," he announced in a gruff voice, "and I can tell because of the blood on it. You think that you can enter by smearing blood on a piece of paper and not be caught?! You were a fool to think it! Away with you!" Meggy heard a sob catch the man's throat as he watched his paper flutter to the earth. His face ruckled and his eyes, sunken in their sockets, produced tears. What a poor wretch he was!! And it suddenly came to her that she was such a wretch too. And it came to her also that surely this was not the way it should be and not the way it was. Had she not but recently heard pastor Baxter say that you could not let yourself in at the gate of heaven, and that you could not pay your own way into the banqueting hall of Jesus? She had not really understood the words at the time but she understood them now. Pastor Baxter's voice rang clearly in her head as she continued to behold the spurned man. And she beheld herself. “Take heed to yourself,” she heard pastor Baxter say, “for you have a depraved nature. You have sinful inclinations, Meggy! You are verily ugly in nature. And think you that you can come into heaven by your own strength?” Meggy sighed a deep sigh. She recalled her jealousy; she knew that this very day she had lied to her father and to Hawys; and she remembered that her curiosity had almost caused her bodily harm but less than one hour back. Indeed, she was a wretch! Of a certainty, at this very moment she had lost her desire to enter Whitehall and kneel before Charles II. But she did have a deep desire to worship. Indeed, her heart was bowed low within her. It all depended, she thought, whom the king was. To be sure, was it not so that no one needed a certificate to come into the true King's presence. All that was needed was the blood of the Lamb of God. "Therefore, ... we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus ..." Was that not what pastor Baxter had spoken on the last time she heard him at a conventicle? Roger poked at her arm. "Meggy, what are you staring at? Have you seen enough, girl?" She smiled at him. It was a tremulous smile. It was a contented smile. It was the smile God had bestowed on her as a particular calling. "I have Roger.”...

News

The Regulative Principle and church lockdowns

Returning to gathered worship is of vital importance *** “All of Manitoba moves to CRITICAL (RED) on #restartMB pandemic response system” So declares a press statement from the Government of Manitoba. With those twelve words, Christians in Manitoba are once again being plunged into the murky realm of “virtual worship.” For several months in early 2020 a full lockdown was mandated in the province and churches there were forbidden to open their doors. Now, once again, “religious and cultural gatherings must close or be provided virtually only,” states the government release. The dark, cold months of winter promise only a long, exhausting lockdown for our fellow believers in that province. British Columbia even more recently followed suit, with their provincial health officer declaring:  “In-person religious gatherings and worship services are suspended under the order.” By every indication, the rest of the country may not be far behind. The COVID-19 crisis has created a tension between principles. We know we are called to love our neighbor and submit to the government on the one hand, but on the other, we know that we are also called to gather together for worship, and called to provide spiritual, physical, and mental care for our neighbor. I can’t think of a recent issue affecting the Church that has brought such polarized responses from within the Reformed community, and within individual congregations themselves. Christians raise their children on stories of the brave martyrs who gave their lives to worship the one true God. Were the State to say, “you may not hold services because of your religious beliefs,” Christians would be unanimous in agreeing that we should disobey such a regulation – it would be unjust and unbiblical. Were the State to raise up a golden calf and call on us to bow down, we would be similarly clear and decisive. How then should we live in a time of pandemic? What is the relationship between the Church and the State in a time of pandemic? The answer doesn’t seem to be as simple today. Questions we need answered Theological issues and questions raised only in church history class have now become everyday considerations. Manitoba’s “Critical Red” stage is forcing churches to close. British Columbia has now enacted policies curbing social interaction outside of households and suspended in-person worship services. Each provincial government, and even every municipal government, has different regulations: mask bylaws, maximum church gathering limits, bans on singing in church, restrictions on the sacraments, restrictions on the life of the church and its work through catechism classes, youth groups, men’s and women’s societies, Bible studies, ministries to the poor, to the elderly and more. Never in my lifetime has the hand of the State reached so far into the life of the Church. The Regulative Principle of Worship In the face of the COVID-19 lockdowns, many have chosen to hold corporate worship via some sort of online live-streaming video. In most provinces, this means a skeleton crew is present in the church. This might include the pastor, a sound and video technician, and either someone playing music or a recording to facilitate singing. The rest of the congregation is at home, either alone, or with their family watching this service. So what should we think of this form of worship service? To best answer that question we should look back at what, historically, we have understood worship to be. Along with some other Protestant denominations, Reformed churches have held to some form of the “Regulative Principle of Worship.” That principle extends from an interpretation of the second commandment and it stipulates that only those things prescribed in God’s Word are to be part of worship. The Bible explicitly calls Christians to worship and to gather physically for worship services (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Colossians 3:16; Acts 2:1; Acts 4:31; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 11:18–34). Worship is to include singing, the reading of the Word of God, sacraments, the preaching of the gospel, and corporate prayers. The principle also stipulates that things not prescribed are not permitted. This is distinct from the way many other denominations worship, both Catholic and many mainline Protestant churches. For them, anything that has not been forbidden in Scripture may be permissible, particularly as it relates to church tradition. This Regulative Principle extends from the following statements of faith: Belgic Confession: “… we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever. Therefore, we admit only of that which tends to nourish and preserve concord and unity, and to keep all men in obedience to God” (Art. 32). Heidelberg Catechism: “Q: What does God require in the second commandment? A: That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded us in his Word.” (Q&A 96) Westminster Confession: “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (21.1). The Reformed understanding of Scripture has historically been opposed to worship services that include an aspect of “performance.” In response to the Reformation and the “priesthood of all believers,” Reformed denominations have tended to resist musical presentations, choirs, bands, and more. The focus has always been on facilitating worship for the corporate body. The congregation is there to partake, to engage in all the acts of worship, not just to sit by and observe. In fact, Reformed liturgy is commonly laid out in the form of a conversation between God and His people. God gives a blessing, the people respond with singing, God’s Word is read, the people respond in prayer, the offering is taken, and so on. Two possible responses So, if we consider the Regulative Principle, how should we evaluate COVID-caused online worship? The response from Reformed churches, so far, seems to fall into two camps: those who see virtual worship services as an acceptable replacement for corporate worship, and those who do not. Response 1: Virtual worship is valid corporate worship One could argue that live-streaming is better than nothing. Due to the emergency lockdown, it is simply not possible to hold corporate worship, and the believers cannot gather together, and yet via live-streaming we are praying and hearing the Word of God preached. We can gather as families and sing at the same time as the many other families in our congregation. We can give our offerings via email transfer. Many Reformed churches have provided church telephone and live-stream accessibility options for decades. Those beloved members who are subject to disability or the impact of old age can still join us in hearing the Word preached, and partake in aspects of the service they would otherwise have no access to. These technologies are a blessing that the church hasn’t had before, and we should be thankful. Response 2: Live-streams are not the same as corporate worship While this technology is a blessing to those who are unable to attend church, as well as a means to provide excellent content online, there are reasons why joining church via live-stream was never considered the same as attending in person. Those reasons remain even in the midst of a pandemic. Worshiping in this manner allows believers to avoid the sometimes-messy reality of church family: the coming together of people of all ages and types, in a shared bond of faith in Christ. It also removes the accountability of membership. And it raises all sorts of questions. What message does virtual worship give our church members about the value of being present in person? Couldn’t members join from a vacation spot in the future, or from home if they don’t want to drive in to church? Can someone be part of the worship service by watching it three hours later? Or is it only in watching simultaneously? What if there’s a 30-second lag, and each individual device buffers differently as there is? We’re certainly not all singing together in unison! Can someone in Europe join our services weekly by live-stream? If so, can they become a member of the church? The Regulative Principle that teaches us puppet shows are not a substitute for opening the Word also teaches us that virtual services are no substitute for corporate worship. The in-person (embodied) nature of worship The passage at the heart of many of the COVID-19 related discussions is Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Being “together” is the essential element of the author’s directive here. Stirring one another up to love and good works and encouraging one another is an aspect of being together. The physical gathering of the church together is connected to the doctrine of the resurrection. Around the time I first drafted this article in April, the Ezra Institute released an excellent article that raised this point that I want to quote here: It is an unscriptural theology of creation and incarnation that believes the body of Christ can exist and function equally well in an abstract digital world, reducing the Lord’s Table to relative unimportance, and the preached Word to a “talk” just as effectively delivered digitally via pre-recorded video or live feed. Such an idea is a modern form of Docetism, the heretical belief that Christ merely took on the appearance of humanity, and that his human form was an illusion. If these things were even partially true, Jesus’ suffering, death, and bodily resurrection would be unnecessary and meaningless, and person-to-person contact where believers are gathered in Christ’s name would become optional for Christians. I fear that, in readily accepting the validity of virtual worship, we are releasing hold on a central tenet of the Christian faith. The idea of eternal disembodied spirits living forever is not unique. The Romans, Greeks, Chinese, Arabs, Midianites, Cushites – in fact almost every people group throughout history – have shared this belief. The Egyptians built their massive pyramids thousands of years ago based on this belief. What is stunningly radical about the Christian faith is the embodied, physical resurrection of Christ from the tomb. This is the wonder, and the counter-cultural nature of our faith. We worship our risen Lord each Sunday morning! We do not worship a disembodied soul. Crucially then, we are not called to worship as disembodied congregations – no, we worship Him in body and in spirit! And we will for eternity. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 12-14 Practically, this has implications for the liturgy and sacraments of worship. The direct result of misunderstanding this biblical truth by choosing to not be physically present means we cannot partake in the Lord’s supper, baptism, offering of tithes, the ordination of elders and deacons and more. Disembodied “virtual worship” must not be viewed as a valid replacement for in-person corporate worship. Implications for political action There are more questions for us to consider. If we cannot return to church for months, what happens to the congregation in the meantime? Can the church remain intact after a long period apart? How does the church leadership maintain the faithfulness of the body if corporate worship is banned? The central concern I am trying to raise is this: in becoming comfortable with the technological means, have we been giving too much leeway to the State to dictate what may or may not be done in worship? Through the months of lockdown, here in Ontario, we became used to live-stream services. We watched our pastor on a flat screen, and he couldn’t see back. Indeed, the statistics show that many churches became so comfortable they have never returned from virtual services even when restrictions eased – their buildings remain closed and empty. If instead, we believe that total lockdown means the end of corporate worship, how would that change our response? If we recognize that corporate worship cannot be done virtually, there will be a higher urgency to our interaction with the State. Could we then continue complying without concern? I believe that if total lockdowns return our way, as they are in Manitoba and BC, then political action in response to our government is necessary. The time has come for us to engage with our governments. We need to act to show that we will not sit by when it comes to the restriction of embodied worship of our risen, embodied Saviour. If we view our gathering together as essential to corporate worship, then it is not a matter of convenience where technology can substitute at any time. Corporate worship is essential. We can’t expect our secular governments to understand that – we are the ones who must tell them. And, like the widow of Luke 18:1-8, we must do so insistently. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)...

News

Saturday Selections - November 28, 2020

Lockdowns: if it saves one life? (3 min) It's not simply lives vs. money. Some lives are being endangered by the lockdowns to the extent that, worldwide, 150 million people could be thrown into extreme poverty this year. It's not as extreme in the West, but there are crucial surgeries and diagnostic doctor visits being postponed, as well as an increase in mental health issues caused by the business closures and enforced isolation. There are no solutions, only trade-offs, so we need to count the actual cost. Free book: Randy Alcorn's Pro-choice or Pro-life This short, fantastic e-book ably dismantles 15 pro-choice arguments. The only flaw: this is largely a secular presentation. The end result is that even as author Randy Alcorn can show the pro-choice position to be unreasonable, contradictory, or inconsistent, readers aren't confronted with the clear contrast that exists between the pro-choice position and the Christian position...or at least not until chapter 15. The book remains valuable because the arguments can be improved simply by stacking them on the foundation of God's Truth. So, for example, that the unborn aren't all that different than the newborn is a good point, but unless it is rooted in the biblical truth that all of us are made in God's Image, that argument could be turned around and used as a reason to "abort" newborns...as has been done! It is by arguing as Christians – by stacking our arguments on God's Word and His Truth – that we can be sure we have a solid foundation. Happily married? A 10-step relationship assessment While the article doesn't contain anything we haven't heard before, this 10-item list is a good encouragement to invest energy and effort into our spouse and marriage. A creationist take on global warming (30-minute read) It's a long piece, matching its importance. There's no such thing as "safe sex" for kids The lie about government sex-ed is the presumption that sex outside of marriage can be safe. It leaves kids open to heartbreak and disease, and is an act of rebellion against a holy, righteous God. Quite the lie indeed, to call that safe. A call to divine obedience over civil obedience (10-minute read) This is a strong stand against the latest state-imposed limitations on worship services. In that it is a strong stand, it is controversial too: most everyone could find at least a point or two of disagreement. My own disagreement is with a concession that author Aaron Rock didn't explicitly make. He notes how churches aren't getting treated as well as schools. That is a good point: a government that treats worship as less important than school has gotten things backwards. But if and when churches are treated no different than schools, movie theaters, bars, and businesses, that shouldn't satisfy us. To our government, congregational worship is just another service provided, or another entertainment option. While it's understandable that they think so, that doesn't make them any less wrong. Shuttering God's Church is a big deal in a way that shuttering Ciniplex Odean just isn't. We don't want the worship of God to be given equal treatment; we want the government to understand that shutting a church should be the last thing they'd consider doing. The Marxist Trojan Horse (15 minutes) Larry Alex Taunton on "the Marxist Agenda in America...and how it relates to Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and White Privilege." This is a longer video, at 15 minutes, but worth the time invested. ...

Marriage

Men and the Marriage Dance

Maybe I have been looking in all the wrong places, but in my ten years of being a Christian, I seem to have heard an awful lot more on the subject of wives being in subjection to their husbands than I have on the subject of husbands loving their wives. In the interests of redressing the balance, I wish to focus on the other side of the marriage bond. Love before submission One of the first things to notice about Paul’s teaching on marriage is that although he mentions wives before husbands in both the Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 passages, the onus is clearly on the men to act first. Husbands are told to: ...love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Elsewhere in Scripture we are explicitly told the order of Christ/church relations: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). So if the husband/wife relationship is to look anything like the Christ/church relationship, it is very much the responsibility of the husband to first ensure he is loving his wife before he starts worrying about whether his wife is submitting to him. Sacrificial headship In Ephesians 5:22-24 we read a passage that many a man loves for all the wrong reasons.  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Some husbands, while properly recognizing that this passage is about headship, conveniently ignore the fact that it is about sacrificial headship. Their thinking goes something like this: “Christ commands his church, right? And his church is meant to be in subjection, right? That’s what Paul says, isn’t it? So if the marriage relationship is meant to be like the relationship between Christ and his church, then clearly I get to decide everything and you must obediently follow.” There are two big problems with this type of blockhead masculinity. The first is that although Christ commands His church and His church is called upon to submit to Him, He commands her as a sinless, spotless head. Which means that all of his commands are made in love, righteousness, and truth, and that nothing he has commanded to his church is dictatorial, and that nothing he asks his bride to do is necessarily grievous. Sure, the church disobeys and acts like these things are grievous, but that is because the church is stuffed with sinners, not because her Husband is in the wrong. The second big problem with this way of thinking, is that even Christ – though He had every right to just command and expect submission – had to die sacrificially in order to win His bride. His headship is not one of mere headship – I command and you obey – but rather a headship that is born of giving Himself, at great personal cost, for the bride that He loves. Any husband who just commands and expects submission is therefore wronging his wife in expecting her to obey whilst he himself fails to obey the command directed to him. He is failing to understand the import of Paul’s command, which is not to just assume headship, but to assume it in a self-denying and sacrificial way. Four different dances I tend to think that what Paul has in mind is something akin to a dance. Now in any really good male/female dance that I’ve ever seen, the man leads and the woman follows. Yet the man does so in a way which is firm and masculine, rather than authoritarian, and the woman follows in a way that is neither overbearing on the one hand nor a pushover on the other, but rather firm in a feminine way. But let’s just play around with this analogy and see what happens when we add various factors into it. Picture the scene: a husband and wife are about to begin a dance upon a high stage with no barriers surrounding it, set to a Strauss waltz. 1) The modern couple Now into this scene steps the modern couple. The way they do this “marriage dance” looks, shall we say, a little different to what Paul had in mind. Instead of a graceful scene of husband and wife dancing in unison, with the man gently but firmly leading his wife while she gracefully and willingly accompanies him, many modern marriages look like the two spouses just doing their own thing on separate corners of the stage. Maybe he’s making one last attempt over here to perfect his breakdance technique before middle-age sets in, while she’s over there doing her twerking thing. The two of them are utterly independent of each other, and it is no surprise when they split, citing irreconcilable differences. And poor Strauss carries on in the background, treated in much the same way as that beautiful gold ring on the end of the pig’s snout. 2) The feminist dance Then there is the feminist dance. You know, where the powerhouse woman tries to lead the man around and he either willingly submits and the dance ends up looking plain silly, or he resists and they end up pushing each other over the edge. 3) The apathetics Or there is dance of the “apathetics.” This is where the performers are so floppy and without backbone, especially the man, that you wonder whether they are actually trying to dance or to do a distinctly underwhelming impression of two octopi skulking across the sea bed. 4) The cro-magnon But what of the over-bearing, authoritarian, she-ought-to-submit-to-me-because-that’s-what-Paul-says dance couple? What does their dance look like? It looks like a man dragging his wife rather than leading her, and then when he starts veering too far toward the edge of the stage and his wife tries to pull him back from the brink, he gets mad, accuses her of not being submissive, and carries on doing his thing until they both fall over the edge. Such a guy thinks he’s doing what God commands, yet is in far more danger of disobeying Paul than his wife is. The dance done right So what will the kind of dance envisaged by Paul really look like? As with a beautiful waltz to a bit of Strauss, it will look like the man leading his bride gracefully but firmly around the stage, with his wife gladly following his lead. It will look like him making sure he does nothing to grieve her or put either her or the both of them in jeopardy. So he will not only be aware of his steps, but will be aware of her steps too, and of both their steps together. If he happens to wander too near the edge and his wife gently pulls him back, he will not accuse her of being unsubmissive, but rather will accept the reproof and adjust his ways accordingly. In practical terms, there is no thought in this type of dance of a man commanding his wife regardless of her feelings and opinions, and her being expected to just submit to everything he says. Rather the thought is that the kind of man Paul is thinking of will always take his wife’s desires and opinions into account. If there is disagreement about a decision that needs to be taken, yes it is ultimately the man who is called upon to make that decision and the wife who is called upon to submit. But if the man has not first spoken to his wife, sought her opinion, taken it into account, considered whether maybe she is right and he wrong and that perhaps he needs to die to self before making the decision – unless he has gone through those steps – he is not leading his wife in the dance the way Paul says he ought. Conclusion Now, this piece doesn’t address difficulties and problems, such as, “what if a woman is married to a husband who is a blockhead. How far should she go in obeying him?” That’s really not an easy question. Suffice it to say that when Paul teaches headship in Colossians 3, his command for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” suggests that this is by no means an open check, and that there are limits to her submission, as when Abigail didn’t just go along with her fool of a husband, Nabal. However, difficult as these questions are, a good place to start in addressing such issues would be for more and clearer teaching on the role of men. This is the surest way of warding off problems and creating the beautiful marriage dance envisaged by Jesus Christ, the true sacrificial head. “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here. This first appeared in the January 2016 issue which you can download here.  ...

News

Dutch make it easier to kill patients with advanced dementia

Like many countries around the world, the Netherlands has been imposing shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19, a virus that is particularly dangerous to the elderly. Thus, it is ironic that the Dutch have simultaneously issued new euthanasia guidelines making it much easier to kill the elderly. Last year, Dutch doctor Marinou Arends was prosecuted for giving euthanasia to a 74-year-old woman in 2016. The patient’s Alzheimers had become so advanced that she no longer recognized her own face in the mirror. One of the aspects of the case that attracted the most criticism was the fact that Arends began by secretly adding a sedative to the woman’s coffee. Thus, the woman had no idea she was about to be put to death. However, she awakened when the lethal drugs were added to her IV and began to struggle. Her husband and daughter restrained her so Arends could finish. The Dutch media nicknamed the case “the coffee euthanization.” Arends was found “not guilty” of breaking the euthanasia law and we are now seeing the impact of that verdict. The Dutch committee that oversees the practice of euthanasia has issued new guidelines for dementia patients in line with the verdict. And it is basically anything goes – the committee has given explicit permission to doctors to secretly administer sedatives ahead of a lethal injection if they believe the patient may become restless or aggressive. A person can write a legal declaration requesting euthanasia should they develop advanced dementia in the future. Under the old guidelines, even if a patient had a legal declaration, a doctor had to get a final verbal affirmation that the patient still wished to die. Arends had failed to obtain this from the patient she euthanized, and that is part of the reason why she was prosecuted. The committee’s new guidelines allow doctors to skip the verbal affirmation if a dementia patient is no longer able to give it. The new guidelines also give doctors more room to interpret a legal declaration. In the Arends case, the patient had written that she wanted to die “when I am still somewhat mentally competent and I decide the time is right.” Arends had not honored this part of the legal declaration because the patient was no longer mentally competent when she was put to death. Because Arends was acquitted, doctors will now be permitted to ignore these types of stipulations. Under Dutch law, even if a patient has a legal declaration requesting euthanasia, a doctor must determine the patient is “suffering unbearably with no prospect of improvement” before administering a lethal injection. In its new guidelines, the oversight committee indicates it will never question any doctor’s determination that a dementia patient is suffering unbearably. Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the committees that oversee euthanasia, explained the new standard in an interview with Dutch media: “The doctor does not have to worry about us as oversight committee and the court should stay at arm’s length on the question of unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement. This is a medical-professional judgment by the doctor. The court and the oversight committee cannot stand in the place of the doctor. The question is: has this doctor acted reasonably in this situation?” Up to now, euthanasia for dementia patients had been extremely rare in the Netherlands, and it was very controversial. Even some euthanasia supporters were opposed because advanced dementia patients are unable to give consent. In 2018, ethicist Berna van Baarsen resigned from her position on the oversight committee over this issue. “That’s my boundary, based on ten years of reflection and reading dossiers,” she said at the time. The new guidelines brush aside those concerns. Euthanasia for advanced dementia is likely to become much more common now that it is much easier to obtain. Perhaps euthanasia supporters like van Baarsen will stop and ask, “Where does this end?” ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Lost and Found

Animated / Family 24 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 This short film made my girls cry and that's okay. It is a classic boy meets penguin tale, a tale of loneliness felt, and friendship found, and a beautiful tale throughout. This is what made my girls cry – the beauty of it – and that gave mom and dad an opportunity to explain to these two little misses that crying is not always linked to sadness, and that beauty can indeed by tear-inducing and then it is something, strangely enough, to be enjoyed. This lesson wasn't entirely lost on them and also not entirely understood but it was a good first exposure to this curious truth. The story itself is simple. Lost penguin arrives on boy's doorstep. Boy briefly tries to get others to help penguin, but then decides to do it himself. He builds boat and rows to the Antarctic, where he then drops off the penguin and heads back home, only to realize that the penguin wasn't lost after all, but had shown up at his house because he was lonely. Boy returns to the Antarctic, penguin hops in boat, and the two head together for what looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The only caution would be that a storm scene may be a bit scary for the under 6 set. Our whole family loved it. I would recommend it for anyone 6 to 106. You can stream it – rent or buy – from Amazon (or ask your public library to pick up a DVD copy). ...

In a Nutshell

Tidbits – November 2020

Famous phrases from the Bible The influence of God’s Word on our culture is such that even those who have never cracked open a Bible aren’t likely to name their kids Jezebel, Judas, or Cain. There are, however, some common phrases that even believers might not know have biblical origins. A drop in the bucket – Isaiah 40:15 says, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.” The writing is on the wall – In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar sees “the fingers of a human hand” appear and write a message on his wall which he then gets Daniel to interpret…and it isn’t good news for the king who is killed that very night. Rise and shine – This morning wake-up call, common to mothers the world over, may come from the call for God’s people to “Arise, shine” in Isaiah 60:1. Seeing eye to eye ­­– Isaiah 52:8, in some translations, about watchmen on the city walls being in agreement. Go the extra mile – Jesus urges us to this in Matthew 5:41 Reading between the lines – This doesn’t come from any specific chapter or verse, but from a translating practice done to some Latin Bibles, where another language would be written directly above the Latin text. Asked and answered It’s a question we’ve all heard: how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?  But does anyone know the answer? It turns out some researchers at Cornell University discovered that if you provide woodchucks with chunks of 2 by 4s, then they can chuck wood…even if they normally choose not to. "Chucking” of a sort does occur when they dig out their burrows, though this involves dirt, not wood. Naturalist Richard Thomas estimated that a woodchuck burrow is about 35 cubic meters. Making a bit of a leap of logic he then presumed, if they can throw that much dirt, then they should be able to throw just as much wood, right? And a pile of wood with that volume would weigh, around 700 pounds. So there you have it! SOURCE Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe, pages 445-446 J.C. Ryle on backsliding “It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose this is the worst. A stranded ship, a broken wing, a garden overrun with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins - all these are sad sights; but a backslider is a sadder sight still. “That true grace shall never be extinguished, a true union with Christ never broken off, I feel no doubt. But I do believe that a man may fall away so far that he will lose sight of his own grace, and despair of his own salvation. And if this is not hell, it is certainly the next thing to it! A wounded conscience, a mind sick of itself, a memory full of self-reproach, and a heart pierced through with the Lord’s arrows, a spirit broken with a load of inward accusations, all this is a taste of hell. It is hell on earth. Truly that saying of the wise man is solemn and weighty: ‘The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways’ (Prov.14:14). “Now, what is the cause of most backsliding? I believe, as a general rule, one of the chief causes is the neglect of private prayer. Of course, the secret history of falls will not be known until the last day. I can only give my opinion as a minister of Christ and a student of the heart. That opinion is, I repeat distinctly, that backsliding generally first begins with the neglect of prayer. “Bibles read without prayer, sermons heard without prayer, marriages contracted without prayer, journeys undertaken without prayer, residences chosen without prayer, friendships formed without prayer, the daily act of prayer itself hurried over or gone through without heart, these are the kinds of downward steps whereby many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches a point where God allows him to have a tremendous fall.” English is a weird language If you’ve ever wondered why English is thought to be one of the harder languages to learn, contronyms are a clue: these are words that mean their own opposite. These examples should have us commiserating with our immigrant parents or grandparents who had to somehow make sense of them all: Apology: repenting from an action or defending it Bolt: to keep from moving or to run away Clip: to attach something on or to cut it off Dust: to remove fine particulate matter or to add it. Fast: describing something stuck firmly or moving quickly Literally: factually or metaphorically Left: still here or already gone Resign: only a contronym in writing, where it means either to quit or to sign up again Transparent: being invisible or being obvious Weather: to be worn away by or to stand up to, the elements Advanced math "There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one." – G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday Did they or didn't they? The best quotes aren't always by the people they are supposed to be by. Sometimes they are altered, improved, and essentially abbreviated versions of something they really did say. Other times, it might be something they said, but no one can find a source to prove it. Regardless some are really worth repeating. Here's a collection of great quotes credited to the person who is popularly, but probably incorrectly, credited with saying them. “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once and He volunteered.” - RC Sproul "Love is a game two can play and both can win." - Eva Gabor “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefront besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” - Martin Luther “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.” - G.K. Chesterton “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.” - Winston Churchill “Telephone” with a twist In the game “telephone” one friend whispers a sentence to a friend, and the message gets passed along the line quietly one by one. By the time it gets to the end of the line the message, through repeated “mishears” has been altered, sometimes to an unrecognizable extent, and to the great amusement of all. In a version of the game called “Predicament and Remedies” the first person shares some kind of “predicament” and their neighbor passes along, not that predicament, but a one sentence, fairly detailed, remedy for it. The person who hears the remedy then has to pass along a one-sentence, detailed predicament that remedy might solve, and so on and so on. So, for example, if we start with “My scuba airhose is leaking” the next in line might whisper “Wrap duct tape around the hose” to which the next in line might say “my vacumn hose has a hole it it.” The trick here is to leave some room for ambiguity, but not too much. “Buy a new one” wouldn’t be a good fix for any remedy because it is too general and a match for too many things, but something like “learn how to read upside down” would be great fun. The more creative the predicament or rememdy, the funnier the result. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The legacy of 25 Scripture verses on Parliament Hill

by Lynette Bloedow 68 pages / 2020 Perched atop my “to be read” pile, this caught the eye of a visitor who sat down, started reading, and soon after gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up. I hadn’t read it yet, but had already concluded a booklet about bible verses on the walls and windows of Parliament would have limited appeal. But I was wrong; even my American guest found it fascinating. Having read it now, I agree. In full-color spreads the book explores Parliament’s Peace Tower, built over the years 1916-1922 after a fire destroyed most of Parliament's "Centre Block" in 1916. Architect John A. Pearson covered the tower with all sorts of symbolism and lots of bible verses, including citations from Canada’s national psalm, Ps. 72, and references to the armor of God from Ephesians 6. I was surprised to learn there’s also a quotation from Pilgrim’s Progress. Author Lynette Bloedow includes page after page of gorgeous pictures, with the most beautiful showcasing the building's stain glass windows, each of which has a story behind it. The overall message evident in the tower's symbolism is that, not so long ago, Canada’s leaders had a much better understanding that they ruled only because God put them in their positions. The Peace Tower is currently undergoing renovations that might take as long as 10 years, so you can’t go and see any of this for yourself. But even if you could, this is a tour unlike anything you’d get, because much of the tower’s “biblical legacy” has been forgotten, not listed on government websites, and not mentioned by guides. The purpose of this booklet is to reacquaint the next generation with the lost truth that our "Ruler Supreme" remains God, and it is only in Him that Canadians, as individuals, and as a country, can find their hope. Legacy of 25 Scripture Verses would make for a great coffee table book in any Canadian household, and would be a good gift book for adult children. To learn more, take a peek inside, and place your order, go to ChristianRootsCanada.org....

News

Saturday Selections - November 21, 2020

Can God make a square circle? (5 minutes) Apologist Tim Barnett offers his own great answer in the video below, and if you want a unique alternate take, click on the link above for Rob Slane's answer. Live not by lies: the least we must do When it comes to cultural conversations where God's views are hated (think: abortion, gender, homosexuality, origins, etc), if we don't have the courage to shout the Truth,  can we at least refuse to speak any lies...no matter the pressure? 7 books to help you understand the times Tim Challies weighs in with some fantastic recommendations to better understand all the crazy that's going on. Jay Adams, pioneer of Nouthetic Counseling, dies at 91" "Adams was following in the footsteps of Cornelius Van Til.  Van Til argued that Reformed principles, drawn from Scripture, must be consistently applied in apologetics.  Jay Adams took that approach and applied it to pastoral theology." America's first, brief, socialist experiment went badly As Americans prepare to celebrate their Thanksgiving Day, let's remember that the Plymouth Pilgrims had a number of very bad years at the start of their settlement, and things only improved when they returned to the biblical idea of property rights. Matthew's begats... This is a fun little ditty by Andrew Peterson that your kids may just manage to memorize. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

The Accompanist as Prophet?

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Bredenhof’s new book “Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship.”  ***** If we have accompaniment, the accompanist has an important role in our worship service. ….We want our accompanists to aim to please the LORD along with the entire congregation. There has to be a pursuit of excellence in the craft of accompaniment. When this is done, we should be thankful and encourage our accompanists. Regrettably, in our tradition there has sometimes been inordinate language when it comes to accompanists, and especially organists. Sometimes the organist has been described as a “prophet” and his playing as “prophesying from the organ bench.” It seems that this rhetoric traces back to the famous Dutch organist Jan Zwart. According to Deddens, Zwart spoke of “prophesying during the worship service, before and after the sermon, in a language the people can understand.” Reformed theologian Klaas Schilder took over this language in describing Zwart posthumously: “His life’s work was to prophesy from the organ bench, and when we say that we give true expression to what motivated this man.” Deddens appreciated this rhetoric and took it over as well. Prophesy is about words The major problem with this description of the accompanist is that it does not stand up to biblical scrutiny. In the Bible, prophecy is almost always about words. A prophet without words is unheard of. There are instances where prophets performed prophetic acts, but these were exceptional, and even these acts never occurred in isolation from their words. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, prophecy is verbal. When Lord’s Day 12 of the Catechism says we are anointed to be prophets who confess the name of Christ, it is referring to a verbal activity. During and after the Reformation, preaching was sometimes called “prophesying” – because it had to do with words. The idea of a musical instrument being a means of prophecy is unheard of, biblically and historically. While certainly appreciating the work of accompanists (more on that in a moment), let us also be modest about what they are doing. If one wants to employ the language of the three-fold office of all believers to describe accompanists, then it would be better to refer to them in priestly terms. With their accompaniment, they are offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving with the rest of the congregation. That is something which can be done both with and without words.  Proper honor for accompanists If an accompanist takes his or her work seriously, there can be quite a bit of preparation involved with each service. Moreover, a serious accompanist might even be a professional musician with years of training. A lot of time and money may have been invested in honing their musical craft. This ought to be honored and recognized. That can be done in different ways, of course. One way would be for the pastor regularly to pray for the accompanist(s) in his congregation. Another would be for there to be occasional acknowledgement of the accompanist in the church bulletin or perhaps at a congregational meeting. Still another way would be to ask the accompanist to help the congregation in understanding music in worship. Accompanists have the musical understanding and skills that many of us do not, and asking them to share their insights also shows respect for them and their craft. Let them teach us. It is also appropriate to show our gratitude to our accompanists with an honorarium. This recognizes the time, energy, and financial commitment they have made to pursue excellence in accompanying our singing. Churches that do not offer an honorarium to their accompanists can sometimes struggle to find accompaniment, especially if there are other churches nearby which do offer honorariums. Now someone might object and say, “A lot of us do volunteer work in the church and we don’t get paid for it. So why should the accompanist get paid?” There are two things to say in response. First, the accompanist is not being “paid” for their labors. He or she is not an employee of the church, at least not typically. The accompanist is a volunteer, offering his or her services for the glory of God. Second, unlike most other volunteer work in the church, the accompanist has spent a lot of his or her time, energy, and money on learning to play well. Continuing to play well also requires investments, including the purchase of sheet music. Accompaniment is different than the other volunteer work done in the church. A modest honorarium recognizes this.  Dr. Wes Bredenhof's "Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship" is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. ...

Economics, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Love Gov: Breaking up with government is hard to do

Here's something new: an economic argument for small government presented as a comedic drama. And Love Gov is a romance too, sort of. Alexis was thinking of quitting college to start her own business, but then she meets the strangely charming Scott Govinsky (known as "Gov" to his friends). To compliment her ideas, ambitions, and drive, Gov is so very caring and supportive. And eager to help. And he never seems to runs out of advice. Perfect material for a boyfriend? Alexis thinks so...at first. The problem is, Gov's advice isn't nearly as helpful as it seems. If you haven't figured it out yet, Alexis' boyfriend Gov is a stand-in for our government, which wants to mind our business because it cares for us so deeply. But as much as the politicians and burecrats might mean well, that doesn't mean they are doing well...which is what Love Gov tries to show. CAUTIONS The series' producer, the Independent Institute, is not a Christian organization. So, even as they are for limited government, they might be for less moral restraint too, as evidenced by the little boy at the very beginning (who has only the briefest of roles) wearing a shirt with a transgender rainbow on it. A more notable quibble: because Love Gov is humorous, some of its serious points are made in an over-the-top manner, which could prompt the cynically-inclined to discount those points entirely. So it's important to pitch this to friends properly: introduce it to them as the light-hearted discussion-starter it is, and don't present it as any sort of weighty "final word" on the issues it raises. CONCLUSION The overall argument being pitched is for smaller government. While the group pitching it isn't Christian, there's a lot here for Christians to love, since we should also support limited, and thus smaller, government. Why? Because God has given different responsibilities to different types of "government." The "governments" we're talking about here are not of the municipal, provincial, or federal sort but rather family government, Church government, and yes, State government too. We can throw in self-government as well. These types of government are all appointed by God to take on different roles, and while who should have exactly what role can sometimes be difficult to discern, one type of government can only gain more power and influence at the expense of the others. Which type of government is the most expansionist? The State. Its influence in our family life, the education of our children, regulation of business, management of healthcare, direction of the economy – that reach is already enormous. And just as the State's expansion into education came by shrinking the parental role, so too its expansion into other areas comes at the expense of other levels of "government." That's why Christians should want a limited government; because we know that God didn't intend for us and the other types of government to abandon our roles and responsibilities to the State. Another reason for a limited government? When the State takes on jobs God never intended for it they will tend to mess things up. Good intentions simply aren't enough (Prov. 27:14); a good dose of humility about what the State can do, and shouldn't even try to do is also vital. Episode 1: An education in debt (6 minutes) Alexis wants to quit school to start up a business and start paying off her student debt. Then she meets Gov, who encourages her to stay in school "because there's nothing more important  than your education." What about that student debt? Gov assures her, "You are going to have a lifetime to pay off debt...a lifetime!" The Bible likens debt to slavery (Prov. 22:7) – it limits your ability and freedom to do what you otherwise might want to do. Episode 2: Protection from jobs (5 minutes) After Alexis graduates college she decides to pursue her small business idea. Gov is, once again, happy to help, though this time coming to the "aid" of employee Libby. Regulations are brought in with the intent of protecting workers. But regulations also make it harder and more expensive to hire workers: One estimate concerning Canada's tech industry had a 1% increase in regulations leading to a 5% decrease in business startups. The tradeoffs that come with government "protections" are often overlooked. Episode 3: A rememdy for healthcare choices (6 minutes) Alexis is looking for a new healthcare insurance plan, and Gov knows best. Meanwhile, Libby argues that choices and options and free market competition could produce healthcare for less. In his documentary Wait Til It's Free, Reformed filmmaker Colin Gunn makes that same argument. Episode 4: House poor (6 minutes)  Alexis goes house-hunting and mortgage-hunting too, only to discover that Gov has been spending her money, putting her tens of thousands in debt. In Canada accumulated provincial and national debts averages out to $40,000 CAN per citizens while in the US just the national debt works out to more than double that at $80,000 US per citizen. Episode 5: Keeping a close eye on privacy (5 minutes) While Alexis and Gov aren't together anymore, he's still keeping tabs on her – breaking up with "the Gov" proves very hard to do. This series came out soon after Edward Snowden revealed that the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on its own citizens, though generally in aggregate – it viewed all the captured data as a whole, not tying it to specific people. But Snowden also shared that should the government want to look at your specific data it could do that too after getting a judge's approval...which was always given....

News

Jay Adams, father of modern biblical counseling movement, dies

Dr. Jay Edward Adams (1929-2020) died on Nov. 14 at the age of 91. For those who don’t already know his name, Adams could be described as the “Martin Luther of biblical counseling” for the reformation he started in that movement. In 1963, as a new instructor at Westminster Theological Seminary, one of his assigned courses involved a component on pastoral counseling. With only limited counseling experience himself, he ended up teaching the unit using the notes left him by the previous instructor. But as Donn Arms writes: He found no theological substance in what he had been handed and determined to study and do better before he would have to teach the course again the next year. As he studied, however, he found nothing to help him. He pored over everything he could find written from a Christian perspective and found only Freudian and Rogerian dogma. What Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, B.F. Skinner and other secular psychologists were doing was based on their ideas of what Man's nature amounted to. But their ideas about who we are, and what we are really like, didn’t line up with the fallen, yet accountable image-bearer of God that we are described as in Scripture. What Adams discovered is that while some Christians were trying to integrate these secular theories with the Bible, what they were doing was little more than sprinkling biblical texts on top of deeply unbiblical ideas. One example was the self-love movement – still big today but even more so in the 70s and 80s – that proposed one of Man’s biggest problems was low self-esteem. Christian counselors took hold of this idea, and then “baptized” it with Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). After integrating the two they concluded Jesus wants us to focus on loving ourselves, because how else can we love our neighbor as ourselves? In his book The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, Adams pointed out that this turned Jesus’ command on its head, from being outward-focused to now focusing on the self. The problem, he argued was that even when Christian counselors were consulting God’s Word, it was only after they’d relied on secular counseling theories to set the course. So Adams called Christians pastors and counselors back to the Bible because it is there we find out who we are, and what our biggest problem is, and what God has done for us to fix that problem. Adams had his Christian critics, including those who critiqued his insights by testing them against God’s Word. But, significantly, it was because of Adams’ pioneering, reforming work that such a group – Christians testing counseling ideas against God’s Word – even existed. He had a leading role in the creation of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (BiblicalCounseling.com), the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF.org), and the Institute for Nouthetic Studies (Nouthetic.org). God used Adams as the spark to start this particular reformation, and like Luther before him, Adams’ key insights were then tested, refined, and built upon by the next generation. Counselors like Ed Welch, Heath Lambert, Wayne Mack, Paul Tripp, and David Powlison all stand on Adams' shoulders. ***** While the Church has lost a giant, God has so arranged things that in recent years most of Adams' 100+ books have been put back in print. We can still benefit from this man's godly wisdom via his written output, available at Amazon and INSbookstore.com. While his best-known book is his first, Competent to Counsel, his three most accessible have to be Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class, Together for Good, and The Case of the “Hopeless Marriage.” At roughly 150 pages each, they are short, and what makes them so intriguing is they are counseling textbooks disguised as novels. Adams wrote these as fiction so he could use protagonist/pastor/counselor Greg Dawson to “show rather than tell” what biblical counseling is all about. The one to start with would be Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class, where the pastor meets students from a Christian university who are taking an essentially secular psychology course. Their conversations give Adams the opportunity to compare and contrast his approach with that of Christian counselors' “baptized” secular counseling. In addition to these three, Adams has a wonderful devotional, Day by Day Along the Way. Among his 100+ titles, he also tackles aging (which my father-in-law appreciated), eschatology, and even how to listen to a sermon. My personal favorite is his commentary on Proverbs, which, is just recently back in print. Pictures are courtesy of Donn Arms...

Assorted, Culture Clashes

MODERATION: Where beer and psalm-singing go hand in hand

In his book God Gave Wine, Kenneth Gentry outlines the three positions Christians have has concerning alcohol consumption: PROHIBITION: it’s bad and the Scriptures forbid it. ABSTENTION: it’s bad and the Scriptures allow it. MODERATION: it’s good when used with self-control. The first position is wrong and clearly so – prohibition simply doesn’t stand up to scriptural scrutiny. But what about the second? When a man destroys himself and his family via the bottle it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if he’d never touched a drop. We also know many of our young people regularly drink to excess. So, yes, the Bible allows alcohol consumption, but wouldn’t it be more sensible – wiser even – to simply abstain? Isn’t that the better course of action? We can make a compelling case for abstention. But not a biblical one. As Gentry notes, Christ drank, served, and even made wine. God also repeatedly describes alcohol as something that can be put to good use (Deut. 14:26, Psalm 104:15, Eccl 9:7, etc.). It can be abused, but so can every good thing – it makes no more sense to condemn all alcohol because it can lead to drunkenness than it would to condemn all food because it can lead to gluttony. Abstention undermines moderation This is important. If we get this wrong – if we treat alcohol consumption as shameful – then we are running right up against the true biblical position of moderation. And running up against the Bible is never a good idea. In this case the unhappy result may well be that we’ll contribute to the very drunkenness we are trying to curtail because abstention undermines the teaching of moderation. How so? Well consider this example. I know of a church that wanted to address the very muted way its young men were singing. So the pastor invited the young men down to the church for a psalm-singing kegger – everyone would be given some singing instruction and a tall glass of amber brew. How would you react if such a proposal came your way? I know how I reacted – that is not the sort of thing that ought be done in a church! But why did I think that? Clearly I wasn’t objecting to the psalm-singing. And I knew that a glass of frothy goodness would be an excellent aid in helping young men learn to sing with vigor. So on what basis could I object? It was my closet “absentionism” coming out. I know God speaks of moderate drinking as a good thing, and yet deep down I feel I know better, so when an opportunity comes up for young men to see how a drink can be enjoyed responsibly – when an opportunity comes for them share a cold one with their minister – I want to pass up that opportunity. But could there be a more God-glorifying way to enjoy a glass? Now we all know bush parties happen. We know many of our young people gather at homes or apartments where this is no parental supervision so that they can drink to excess. In that context it might seem reasonable to sound a general warning against all alcohol consumption. But blanket condemnations don’t foster maturity. What our young people really need is instruction in moderate use. They need to learn how to drink to God’s glory. So long as we parents lean in any sort of “just don’t drink” abstention direction are we properly motivated to teach our children how to drink? If we think that it’s more pious to abstain than partake, are we going to teach our children about moderation? When we forbid what God allows, then our children will still learn how to drink, but from peers who don’t care a whit about moderation. Conclusion Of course, Christians don’t have to drink. In God Gave Wine, Gentry rebuts both prohibition and abstention, but he himself has always been a teetotaler, drinking no more than a half dozen glasses of wine a year (and now a medical condition precludes even that). No one needs to drink…and some most definitely should not. But we need to accept what God says and acknowledge that moderate use is not only not shameful but a blessing from God. When we sit around the campfire with a s’more in one hand and a glass of red in the other, and friends all around, it is a wonderful thing. We can drink to God’s glory! Let’s teach our children how....

News

Saturday Selections - November 14, 2020

Flash mob singing Handel's Messiah (5-min) We're going back ten years to one of the first flash mob performances, with a chorus of 100 surprising Christmas shoppers with the Hallelujah Chorus. Tim Keller, John Piper, & Donald Trump (10-minute read) With the voting done (even if the counting isn't) this isn't so much about Donald Trump as it is about Tim Keller, social justice, and conservative churches' theological drift. The representative paragraph below is on one way the world suppresses truth (Romans 1:18-23): by pretending simple things are complicated. "When my eldest son, Michael, was a student at Yale Law School a few years ago, he says that Yale inculcated a specific progressive strategy for the deconstruction of otherwise simple moral issues like, say, abortion or the oxymoronic notion of “gay marriage.” They even had a term for it: “complexify.” In other words, obscure the issue at hand with data, highly selective science, and emotion to such a degree that your opponent no longer feels competent to adjudicate the issue." A year of living safely Andy Wilson reviews a book being much discussed, The Price of Panic, about the mostly uncounted costs – in money and lives – that resulted, not from COVID, but from governmental responses to it. What about when the life of the mother is in danger?  Being pro-life doesn't mean valuing babies' lives over mothers' lives. It means recognizing that there are two people. The unscientific roots of conversion therapy bans "There are many and varied reasons why same-sex attracted people want to move away from homosexuality. There is evidence that they can do so, often incurring significant benefits with no serious evidence of harm." Jeff Durbin confronts the Woke Church Jeff Durbin wants to wake up the Woke Church. And in this clip he uses strong language to confront them...but it is language that reflects and mirrors language that the Bible itself uses in a similar fashion, for a similar purpose. It is language that might confront churches, and members, that while not Woke, are starting to drift with the cultural current. This, then, will be a slap to the face, and a call to start fighting, to God's glory. The clip below is just 6 minutes, but you can see the full presentation on what Durbin calls "Van Tillian kill shots" by clicking on the title above. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Man in the Iron Mask

Drama 1939 / 112 minutes Rating: 6/10 Based loosely on the Alexander Dumas story of the same name, it takes place 20 years after Dumas' more famous The Three Musketeers novel. The opening is the French palace, where the Queen has just given birth to son Louis. The King now has an heir so his court and the whole country are caught up in celebration. However, back in the Queen's chambers the doctor and nursemaid are still at work because, so it turns out, the Queen was carrying twins. When the younger prince Philippe is delivered, the news is kept secret, for he presents a problem: so long as Philippe lives he is sure to become a tool that unscrupulous sorts will use against his older brother. The King and his closest advisors all agree, this boy will be the cause of civil war. So what's to be done? Baby Philippe is packed off with the King's most trusted friend and the greatest of the musketeers, D'Artagnan, to raise as his own son. The boy is never to know who his true father is. Fast forward twenty years and the older Louis has been king since he was five. Indulged since that young age he has grown to become a wicked tyrant, so much so that he thinks nothing of arresting his father's closest friends, including D'Artagnan. When Philippe gets arrested too, the king discovers their startling resemblance. Knowing no reason for it – the birth of his brother has been kept a secret from him too – he decides to use Philippe as a body double. He's learned his unhappy subjects are planning to assassinate him, and he sees in Philippes's appearance an opportunity to redirect the danger to this other! However, there are now two in the palace playing the part of the King, and that is one too many. As the title shares, there's an iron mask involved at one point, but I'll stop here lest I give away too much. Cautions The twists and turns caused by one actor playing two roles confused our youngest. But hitting the pause button to get her back up to speed was all it took to help her. There is some swordplay, but of a near G-rated sort. At one point a man is whipped, just off-screen. We see the whip hit him, not directly, but in the shadows on the wall, and our sensitive girls wanted to know if the whipping was actually happening...and we could assure them it was not. Another consideration is that the King has both a wife-to-be and a girlfriend on the side. His lasciviousness is never shown on screen – the most anyone does in this film is get kissed on the forehead – but parents will have to explain how her presence tells us what kind of flawed character the King is. Conclusion I don't think anyone in our family would give this two thumbs up, though I think we'd probably all give it one – all of us found bits of the film we quite enjoyed. My wife likes to learn about historical settings, and appreciates being exposed to a famous story she hadn't heard before. The kids were intrigued by the whole identical twin angle with one actor playing both parts. All of us loved the sword fights. But I'll also add, my girls were a bit freaked out by the scenes with the man in the iron mask, and my wife was really disgusted by the evil Louis. So this isn't the sort of black and white film you should pitch to people who aren't used to black and white films. However, for those of us raised on such fare, this is a solid outing. While there doesn't seem to be a movie trailer available online, the clip before will give you a feel for the film's quite tame, cartoon-like violence. And you can watch it for free by clicking here (though it might have commercials). ...

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....

Parenting

Raising children who despise themselves

It seems like such a simple thing. You ask your child to do something and in response, he quietly keeps playing with his toy. If the day is laid back and the request seems inconsequential, the negative response might be ignored. But, you decide to press on, so you ask again, this time a little more firmly, and then one more time. Your four-year-old grudgingly, slowly does as he was told. You breathe a sigh of relief, no harm done, at least he obeyed. But actually this little boy has taken a step down the road to self-hatred. Solomon warns that those who disregard discipline despise themselves. What appears to be just an inconsequential delay is actually helping a child to despise himself. Look at Proverbs 15:31-32 Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. In contrast, your role as a parent is to raise children who embrace obedience in the same way that Jesus did (Ephesians 4:13). When this boy embraces correction, he not only does well in the moment but he is learning to value the company of people who love wisdom. But when he rejects discipline he is on a path that leads to self-loathing. To reject discipline is to invest in one’s own judgment, not a good idea. He is headed toward the awful fate of the young man in Proverbs 5:1-14, who had come to the point of ruin because he rejected correction. The goal of obedience is to do exactly what is directed, right away, with a pleasant, willing attitude. Anything less is self-accommodation on the part of both the parent and the child and is leading the child to despise himself! So what appears to be a harmless exchange of little consequence is really the beginning of a child learning to not trust God and despise himself. Solomon is not mincing words in Proverbs 15. He is making an urgent plea to remember this warning the next time your child refuses to obey exactly, quickly and with a pleasant, willing spirit. Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....

News

Twice a Sunday needs to happen!

With the battle raging, we may not neglect coming together “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” – Hebrews 10:24-25 **** Churches face many challenges, and some are more significant than COVID’s potential impact on our physical health. There is a spiritual battle going on and the devil has no qualms with using any and all means available to try and deceive and attack the Body of Christ. And he can even use COVID. The devil has, long ago, learned that the Church can actually grow via the spilt blood of martyrs. So, rather than stir up passions via persecution, he will sometimes try the very opposite tactic, lulling the church into complacency and apathy. Beyond temporary During the initial uncertainty of COVID, many churches were mandated by the government to stop gathering together. After a few weeks, permissions were granted to have maybe five or six people in the building, and that made it possible for congregations to watch their pastors lead a service via livestream. Other congregations were encouraged to watch other church services online. Then, as restrictions were loosened, a group of fifty, or groups of fifty in different cohorts, could gather in the building for worship – some had restrictions on singing, others could sing with full voice! While these temporary restrictions to formal gatherings for worship might have been an acceptable measure while COVID was novel, now, months into it, we must ask, how long we can practice these temporary measures? Is it time to start making plans for the longer-term so that we can ably equip the saints for the battles we must wage? Worship services are essential One of the greatest training grounds for preparing saints for spiritual warfare is the formal worship services held on a weekly basis. In the Church Order of many continental Reformed churches we express the importance of formal worship services: “The consistory shall call the congregation together for worship twice on the LORD’s Day. The consistory shall ensure that, as a rule, once every Sunday the doctrine of God’s Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is proclaimed” (Church Order of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Article 52). The reason why at least one service focuses on the doctrine of God’s Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is to ensure that the congregation knows core doctrines well. Such knowledge equips the saints for the battles raging. In Canada, many of our church members were managing to worship in their buildings with about half the congregation once per Sunday. While this is better than not meeting, it does not meet the normative standard set out by the Church Order, to meet twice per Sunday. Worship with the communion of saints is special. Church attendance promotes fellowship and encouragement (cf. Act. 2:42; Heb. 10:24, 25). As the Psalmist says, “we used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Psalm 55:14). The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word (1 Cor. 2:4, 13; 1 Thess. 1:5) for the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). This weapon of offense, this Word, is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 teaches us that the “word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…” The Word, accompanied by the power of the Spirit, is effective for changing lives. The preaching of that word is crucial for the saints, as they seek to maintain their engagement with each other and with the world around them. Formal worship services are centred around the preaching of the Word. But of course, formal worship is more than just a listening exercise; indeed, if that is all we needed to consider, then virtual worship would be virtually the same as corporate worship. We can hear great speeches, sermons, and elucidations on God’s Word anytime online. But Christians are not just concerned about an academic learning, but about developing and nurturing both their vertical relationship with God (the greatest commandment), and also the horizontal relationships (the second commandment to love one another). A worship service includes hearing the promises of God’s blessing, singing praises to God with the saints, active listening to the living preaching of God’s Word to a specific congregation of the Lord, etc. A worship service truly addresses both aspects of our walk of faith in a congregationally specific manner Where there is a will, there is a way It is time to refocus our efforts to worshipping together twice per Sunday. The principled position articulated in the Church Order needs to be reignited before apathy sets in, if it hasn’t already. It is apathy that the devil uses to infiltrate a laziness in the church. He sows the seeds of doubt through apathy when we start to wonder: do we really need to go to church twice? Why can’t we just stay home this morning? I think we’ll take a nap this afternoon and catch the service via livestream, etc. We must not let the devil get a foothold in the churches of Christ. We need to get back to corporate worship again! If we take the threat of the devil seriously, we will do all that we can to combat his attacks by any biblical means available. Practically speaking, this means that the consistory could call each half of the congregation to worship twice per Sunday. Yes, that means four services in the building. Some churches would need to have the elders lead one or two of the services per Sunday. It might be wise to have the same half meet together consistently for a period of time. This would allow that half of the congregation to get to know each other better and to increasingly function as a body of believers, encouraging each other to love and good works. However it happens, the normative practice of gathering in worship twice on Sunday needs to be restored as soon as possible. People have started feeling guilty coming to church twice because the one time was not technically their turn. Others have stopped feeling guilty altogether when they choose to skip going to church, or even skip watching the service online. Because we love the Lord and His saints, we need to reinstate the call to worship twice every Lord’s Day. In so doing, the Holy Spirit will continue to work mightily in the lives of God’s people so that we are increasingly equipped to fight the good fight of faith and to live according to God’s commands to love him with our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbour as ourself. Since originally writing this article, further worship restrictions have been implemented in many regions. Brothers and sisters, let us do all that we can to gather together as often and willingly as possible. Formal worship is essential to the life of the local congregation – let us ensure we do what we can to keep the congregation alive and active before it may need to go on life support....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Reckoning: remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary 96 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well. But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.” The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved: “My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?” CAUTION While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children. CONCLUSION I would highly recommend this film to any who come from a Dutch background. This is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close. You can watch the trailer below, and rent and stream it from Vision Video here or here at Amazon.com. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Flags out front

A Contrarian's Daydream by Douglas Wilson 196 pages / 2017 In Flags out Front, Douglas Wilson has crafted something that is as inspirational as it is fictional. What if a Christian public figure took a stand on principle and, no matter what pressure came, just would not back down? What might happen if, instead of wilting under that pressure, or trying to avoid it, a Christian leader embraced it, and fought back fearlessly? In Flags out Front we get to find out. Tim Collins is a "mild-mannered president of a dwindling southern" Bible college who never meant to cause a fuss. But he arrives on campus one day to find a prankster has swapped a couple of the flags at the campus entrance. Now instead of the American flag flying above all, there is the Christian flag waving from on high, with the Stars and Stripes just below. Collins doesn't know quite what to think. But, upon reflection, he concludes the change is a good one and leaves it. Then the phone calls start coming. He gets calls from conservative, patriotic sorts, wondering why the American flag is not in its central place. He hears from the other side too, from those who'd be happy enough to burn the flag, but don't want to see it waving below a Christian flag. Protests to the right, threats from the left, and Collins quietly stand his ground. He's willing to do it, even if it means standing alone...but alone is one thing he's not going to be. Quiet, meek, Dr. Collins, becomes the rallying point for Christians of all sorts...including some clever college students who know how to make some noise. This is how it should be, and, maybe could be – who knows what God would do with a fearless few? Actually, we already know: it wasn't so long ago that we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the firestorm God started with one monk and his mallet. Flags out Front is a funny, clever, comedic, feel-good novel that most anyone would enjoy, particularly if you want to be inspired as to how Christians can do politics differently. I've foisted this off on a number of friends and family (and read about half of it out loud to my wife) and the response has been enthusiastic all around....

News

Saturday Selections - Nov 7, 2020

What cobras can teach us about incentives Prov. 27:14  teaches that good intentions are not enough. And yet many a government policy is implemented, not because it has been shown to be effective – not because of evidence – but simply because the policy's drafters mean well. But, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with such good intentions. Operation Manna - a story for Remembrance Day In the winter of 1944-1945, the northern Netherlands were facing starvation. And they were still occupied by the Nazis so the Allies couldn't reach them with relief supplies. In episode of the History.icu podcast we get to hear how "manna" of a sort was delivered from the skies. "Born this way" is old science During her US Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Amy Coney Barrett used the term "sexual preference" instead of "sexual orientation" and in what seemed a response (it happened the very next day) Merriam Webster changed their definition for that term to now describe it as an offensive term. Why the fuss? Well, as Senator Mazie Hirono declared at the confirmation hearing, “Sexual preference is an offensive and outdated term…used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice—it is not.” Except that newer science says preference is probably the better word choice after all. How an affair really begins "One of the great misconceptions about affairs is that they begin with sex. Affairs do not begin with sex.... Instead, it is a culminating decision in a long list of terrible, self-centered decisions." A sensible and compassionate anti-COVID strategy What's most striking about this article is its calm tone. But calm doesn't mean insignifigant, as it highlight the importance of correcting a lockdown strategy that the UN estimates might lead to 130 million more deaths by starvation this year. Biblical vs. Christian counseling: What’s the difference? (3 minutes) Dr. Heath Lambert provides a brief, general overview of the difference between Biblical counseling and Christian counseling. ...

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....

Drama, Movie Reviews

Desperate Journey

Black and White / War / Drama 107 minutes / 1942 RATING: 7/10 Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn are two members of an Allied bombing crew assigned a near-impossible mission over Nazi Germany. When their plane is shot down, they set out to make it home again....and to do as much damage to the Nazis as they can along the way. Their desperate journey has plenty of explosions, fisticuffs, arial shootouts, guns blazing, and, at one point, Errol Flynn diving through a window to tackle two Nazi guards at once. There are laughs too, especially when the crew has the chutzpah to steal a ride on Nazi leader Hermann Göring's private train car. Desperate Journey is jingoistic, and at times not so realistic (ie. the real Nazis were smarter than movie Nazis) but it has an authenticity to it that comes of being made during World War II. This film was part of the war effort, made to encourage those back home that not only were we in the right, but that Australians, Brits, Americans and more could come together as a team to outsmart and beat back the Nazis. CAUTION As the crew is chased across Germany it isn't surprising that there are casualties along the way. And while there is no real gore, those losses make this a film that children could find too dramatic and emotional for them to deal with. So this might be best for 12 and up. CONCLUSION I watched this with a group ranging in age from 40 to just shy of 80, and all eight of us enjoyed it. If you have any sort of appreciation for World War II films made during World War II, this is one of the especially fun ones. Only downside? It only seems to be available on DVD right now, with no streaming options. ...

News

Dutch mayor threatens church’s rented space over “conversion therapy”

Many churches around the world rent a space for their weekly worship services. But are rented spaces going to become a new front in persecution of Christians? A disturbing recent event in the Netherlands suggests this is where we are heading. In September, the Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, proposed having a “serious conversation” with the landlord of the local Hillsong Church congregation based on unsubstantiated claims that the church engaged in “gay conversion therapy.” Mayor Halsema had not discussed the issue with the church’s leadership directly and she also did not initially indicate any interest in doing so. Gay conversion therapy is currently not illegal in the Netherlands. Thus, Mayor Halsema was proposing using her office to strip a church of its rented building for something that – if they did it – would be entirely legal. Hillsong Church, which originated in Australia, is best known for holding rock-concert style services and for attracting celebrity members like Justin Bieber. Within the Christian world, Hillsong’s theology is not regarded as particularly orthodox. However, it appears that any association with Christianity is grounds for suspicion. The Mayor’s comments came during a city council meeting September 17 to discuss recent incidents of violence against LGBTQ residents of Amsterdam. The role of churches in promoting the “inequality” of gays came up in the course of the meeting. Mayor Halsema said: “If there are any signs that churches are preaching or offering gay healing, we get in touch to let them know that we don't like it. We state that we have no powers, but that does not prevent us from having a serious conversation, for example with the landlord of Hillsong.” Hillsong Church NL rents its worship space from a large theatre. The theatre is also currently hosting a musical called Anne about the life of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who kept a diary of her life in hiding from the Nazis and subsequently died in the Holocaust. Mayor Halsema stated in the council meeting that it would be a “tragic irony” if the same stage where Anne is performed was also used to promote intolerance. Mayor Halsema’s comments sparked a backlash though, unfortunately, most of it was focused on the fact that Hillsong does not engage in gay conversion therapy. That is not really the point; Mayor Halsema’s tactics should be the primary concern. Hillsong Church NL’s leadership sent an open letter to the Mayor which did note “This is an attack on freedom of religion and freedom of speech” but most of the letter was devoted to refuting the allegation: “We are troubled that this false accusation has been disseminated by various media outlets and that the good name of our church, our leadership and the thousands of members of our congregation has been maligned” In response to the outcry, Mayor Halsema finally had a phone call with Hillsong Church NL’s leadership. They reassured her that they do not engage in gay conversion therapy. However, she did not apologize for her initial comments. Moreover, she says that during the phone call “we agreed the church would enter into dialogue with representatives of the rainbow community to remove any possible concern in this area.” In other words, even though Hillsong has done nothing wrong, they need to make atonement. She also wrote, “The city council has put representatives of the rainbow community in touch with the landlord.” Thus, the threat of losing their weekly worship space has not fully passed. Hillsong Church NL is a large congregation with significant resources. They were able to rally popular support to stand up to Mayor Halsema. But how would smaller, less famous congregations fare if they were the ones to be targeted? That question should be deeply troubling to all churches, particularly those that rent a building....

News

Calvin U's student president is openly gay

For over 100 years, Reformed Christian parents have scrimped and saved for their children to study at Calvin College (now Calvin University), praying that these students' post secondary learning would happen in an environment with Christian teachers and classmates. Many students, of course, paid their own way, including my own Uncle John VanHemert, who left Holland Marsh in Ontario to study for the ministry at this Christian Reformed (CRC) institution back in the 1960s. But much has changed at Calvin. In October, Claire Murashima announced, via an op-ed in the Calvin Chimes student newspaper, that she is the school's first openly gay student body president. "It's beyond time that the LGBTQ community is represented in the highest student leadership position at Calvin," wrote Murashima. She went on to suggest that, "Calvin's hetero-normative and relationship-focused culture can leave us feeling excluded… Not seeing anyone who loves like us makes us feel like we don't fully belong at Calvin." Miss Murashima's words are not aligned with the university's official policy. Calvin University has adopted a stance on homosexuality which states that while homosexual attraction is not in itself sinful, sexual relations have "their proper place in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman." The Bible clearly calls homosexuality sin, in both the Old and New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul identifies homosexuals along with fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, revilers and extortioners as those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. In the letter of Jude verse 7, the writer reminds us that, "Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." It’s worth asking then, why we would call anyone a "gay Christian"? To do so is to identify them with an adjective that describes their sinful condition. All Christians are sinful, and each of us is subject to different temptations to sin but we wouldn’t call someone a “murdering Christian,” or a “thieving Christian,” or a “fornicating Christian,” would we? In earlier generations, Calvin College took a leading role in advocating for evolution (remember Dr. Howard Van Till?) and for women in office. That infamous pedigree was referenced in the comment section for Miss Murashima’s article. One reader wrote, "Thank you Claire for your courage and leadership! It gives me hope that your example will help change the CRC official position on homosexuality. When I was at Calvin, we fought for women in leadership - which was just as heated, biblically justified, and now seems ridiculous. Hoping that Calvin and the CRC will stop being judgmental gatekeepers and instead embrace all people with open arms." How very sad it is that an institution like Calvin University, closely identified with a Reformed theologian and a Reformed church federation, has become a place of danger for Christian students....

News

Saturday Selections - October 31, 2020

Robot hummingbird spies on half-billion butterflies (3 min) How do you get the inside scoop on 500 million wintering Monarch Butterflies? Send in a very small spy. How to have more fun with your kids: 10 suggestions There'll be something in this list that any parent will enjoy doing with their kids. Making progress: Intelligent Design paper passes peer review  Mainstream science has rejected, for decades, that God's creation gives evidence of having been designed. This rejection was not due to any lack of evidence, but due instead to Science's a priori commitment to materialism, the belief that matter is all there is and that, therefore, a non-material Creator must not be. However, Materialism can't be proven, and is actually disproven any time scientists use the non-material rules of logic to drawn their conclusions. So it is a step forward that now – finally – an Intelligent Design paper has made it past peer review and been published in a major journal. Poll: 30% of US women under 25 now identifying as other than heterosexual? Any shocking poll should be taken with a grain of salt. And yet this is far from unbelievable. Do not repay racism with racism "God doesn’t instruct us to repay evil for evil or racism for racism. God doesn’t instruct black people to assume the worst of white people because some white people assume the worst of black people...." Why Atheism can't account for morality (5 minutes) Jeff Durbin breaks down the 3 explanations atheism gives for morality. Generally speaking they are: 1) preference 2) societal convention 3) the desire to survive and flourish ...