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News

Saturday Selections - September 12, 2020

Who has measured the heavens with His fingers? (2 minutes) This video unpacks what's contained in an area of space that you can cover with just the tip of your finger. God's universe is bigger than big! <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span><span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span><span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span> Why Bibles given to slaves omitted most of the Old Testament While the Bible teaches we should be in submission to God – slaves even – His Word is all about freedom too, which seems to be why slaves that were given the Bible were given an abridged version. You need to know what your kids are listening to (10-minute read) The lyrics of the mega-hit WAP celebrate promiscuous, loveless sex in a ruder, cruder form than anything Madonna ever managed... and it is the #1 song in the world right now. So what are your kids listening to? Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments? The Nazis performed research on imprisoned Jews, and today we do research using the remains of aborted children. The justification given for this experimentation, in both cases, is that the subjects weren't fully human. If that is a reason not to use cruelly-derived  Nazi research – which is universally condemned and unlikely to ever be otherwise – isn't there all the more reason to steer clear of the results of experimentation on aborted fetuses? After all, abortion is an evil still with us. This is an especially relevant question today considering that some of the COVID vaccines in the works are being developed with the remains of aborted children. "Respectable sins" of the Reformed world "Respectable sins" are the ones that we justify and might even defend...if we talked about them at all. Tim Challies lists several specific to the Reformed world, including suspicion, gossip, and slander. The OT chapter Jews don't read: Isaiah 53 (10 minutes) Christians think Isaiah 53 is about Christ. But what do Jews think? This is a wonderful video, with the interviewer, a Jewish "Ray Comfort," sharing the chapter with Jews, and then lovingly confronting them with their sins and need for the Saviour. ...

Marriage

Is the Proverbs 31 wife an unrealistic supermom?

In his article "On being a Titus 2 young woman" Rev. Bouwman made a statement that likely had some readers blinking in surprise. He said of the Proverbs 31 woman: "This woman is not the proverbial 'super-mom' but simply a God-fearing woman..." Not a super-mom? Simply a God-fearing woman? Really? That runs counter to the popular understanding of her as so pure, so selfless, so hard-working as to be a completely unrealistic example of what godly womanhood looks like. Sure, it'd be great to be like her, but then again it'd be great to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But is either goal attainable? So who has it right? Is this woman simply unreal, or "simply a God-fearing woman?" To find an answer it will be helpful to grab our Bibles, turn to Proverbs 31 and then look at the passage in a more modern light. We could ask, "What would the Proverbs 31 wife be up to if she was around today?" and update the many tasks she takes on. If we do that, then what we find is a wife: who has her husband's trust at home and in business matters too (vs. 11,16) who honors that trust (vs. 12) who knows how to use a sewing machine (vs. 13) who makes regular trips to Safeway and Costco (vs. 14) who rises each morning, and before her kids are even awake, making their lunches and getting breakfast ready (vs. 15) who has arms grown strong from scrubbing pots, cleaning floors and hauling her children in and out of car seats (vs. 17) who has her own Etsy store, selling good she makes in the evenings (vs. 18-19,24) who makes meals for those in need and, after her kids were all in school, began volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy clinic (vs. 20) who finds good clothing for her family, for every season, and who dresses herself attractively (vs. 21-22) whose her hard work makes it possible for her husband to have the time to be an elder or deacon (vs. 23) who is wise, and confident about the future because she recognizes God is in control; and she is able to share her wisdom with others over coffee (vs. 25-26) who manages her household and doesn't spend her afternoons watching the soaps (vs. 27) whose children and husband can't contain their pride in her (vs. 28-29) who is praised not for how she looks, but for the God-fearing woman she is (vs. 30-31) This is certainly a remarkable woman. But doesn't she sound familiar? Isn't this someone you know? While this woman is amazing, we shouldn't dismiss her as unrealistic. That would be a mistake for two reasons. First, because it would be ignoring the God-pleasing example He outlines here – this is an example given precisely for instruction. That Christian women will regularly fall short of this standard doesn't mean it can be ignored. It only means that they – like their husbands – need to regularly go to God in repentance, and ask Him to continue to mold them and shape them to better take on the good works He has laid out for them to do. And, second, dismissing the Proverbs 31 woman as unrealistic would be to overlook what God has given us in the many women we know who bear a striking resemblance to the woman of this passage. As we read in verse 10, their worth is far beyond jewels! So we should never overlook the enormity of the blessing God has given us in these women! Jon Dykstra is the father of three and the husband of one, who is worth far more than jewels....

Pro-life - Abortion

Should we ask God to forgive Canada for all the babies being aborted? No.

A few years back I was busy preparing for a cross-country series of pro-life presentations. My research had me digging through some articles on what Scripture says about who or what the preborn child is, what our responsibility to the preborn child is, and what the law’s relationship to the preborn child ought to be. In one of piece I came across the following Bible text from Deut. 21:1-3a, 7-9: If anyone is found slain…and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain man will take a heifer…. Then they shall answer and say, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, who you have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people…” So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD. The passage left me pondering: should we, as Reformed churches, be regularly praying for forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood, as it relates to abortion? We know that the carcasses of dead babies can be found in nearly every hospital in every major city in this country. Ought we to be in specific prayer on this issue? Or would that be a misapplication of the text? No forgiveness without repentance I turned the passage and the text over to Professor emeritus of Old Testament, Dr. Cornelis Van Dam. He wrote the following. "What is striking is that although the murder was unsolved, and no one could specifically be held accountable, God teaches that there is nevertheless corporate responsibility. The people as a whole needed to respond to it through their elders. The elders of the two closest cities have to make atonement on behalf of Israel and pray for forgiveness. By making atonement, the people through the elders show remorse over this murder and thus provide a basis for asking for forgiveness. " there are some major differences with our current situation. Canada is not in a special covenant relationship with God, with special rules for affecting atonement in the land. However, the country’s rulers are ultimately responsible to God, also with respect to the sixth commandment (Rom 13:1-5). But, as a nation, we have not received special covenant regulations for making atonement. Atonement has been made in Christ and it is the church that has been given the duty to proclaim that gospel. Hence your question, does the church also have the task to pray for forgiveness? "Abortions are not unsolved murders and we certainly have corporate responsibility as a democratic society for the murders of those children not yet born that take place in hospitals. Abortion has become a taboo topic. Those who govern are determined to let abortions continue. Can we pray for forgiveness when there is no repentance? The biblical answer is 'no.' We can pray that God withhold his wrath from our decadent society, bless the proclamation of the gospel so that many repent, and bless the work of those who want to honor God’s rights in the land. But simply to pray for forgiveness would go against the biblical principle that repentance is necessary for forgiveness to be possible. Think, for example, of Christ’s words: 'If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him' (Luke 17:3). God only forgives us if we are repentant (Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19) and his forgiving is to be a model for ours (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). If and when Canada repents of the sin of abortion, then the church should certainly pray that God also forgive that heinous crime. "The crime of abortion is extremely serious. Israel had to make atonement lest God’s wrath descend on the land. But Israel also had to repent in order for the sacrifices of atonement to be accepted. Without repentance, God rejected the sacrifices and – due to Israel’s continued sins – ultimately destroyed both the northern and southern kingdoms in accordance with the covenant curses. Even though Canada is not in a special covenant relationship with God, this country too faces God’s judgment and at some point it will happen unless there is repentance and the forgiveness that follows. After all, God holds all nations accountable, especially those who know or could know his will (cf., e.g., Luke 10:14)." But what of Jesus and Stephen’s prayers? Dr. Van Dam’s response was very helpful, but it did prompt one more question. If repentance must precede forgiveness, what should we make of Jesus’ plea on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?” (Luke 23:34) And what should we make of Stephen’s prayer as he was stoned to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Dr. Van Dam responded with the following: "In the light of what Scripture teaches, the late Dr. William Hendriksen, in his commentary on this passage, rightly paraphrased this prayer of our Savior thus: “Blot out their transgression completely. In thy sovereign grace cause them to repent truly, so that they can be and will be pardoned fully.” "In this way he interceded for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). Christ’s prayer was heard. Thousands of Jews believed in Christ after his death when they realized what they had done (Acts 2:37-41; 4:4; 6:7). At the same time, the nation as a whole stood condemned and the judgment pronounced on Jerusalem could not be averted (Luke 21:5-6). The city fell to the Romans in 70 AD with the resulting slaughter, enslavement, the sacking of the city, and the destruction of the temple. It was the end of the Jewish state. Stephen’s prayer can be understood in the same light as that of the Lord. It was a plea that those who were killing him would see and realize what they were actually doing and repent and so receive forgiveness." Conclusion As Christians then, we must be a shining light in this country darkened by the heinous crime of abortion. We must continue to work also to bring repentance to our decadent society so that, one day, our Father might forgive Canada our trespasses. As one pro-life apologist said to me, “May their sins of commission never be because of our sins of omission.” André Schutten is ARPA Canada's Director of Law & Policy. Dr. Van Dam is Professor emeritus of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary....

Family, Movie Reviews

The Defense of New Haven

Children's 2016 / 82 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is a wonderfully bizarre adventure: a steampunk Christian allegoric comedy adventure, with every character played by a child actor, even though the characters are adults. Our hero, Alec, is a one-armed man who gets recruited by a fully-bearded six-year-old to carry a secret message to the city's miniature-steamboat-driving defensive forces so that they'll be able to stop gasmask-wearing raiders. That is a sentence I never imagined writing, but this is a movie I would have never imagined seeing. And it is both as cheezy and as fantastic. The kids deliver their lines like you'd expect children to do, and you either have to be okay with that or you won't enjoy a moment of it. But for its preschool target audience, this won't be a hindrance. That audience will be entranced by the set: the city of New Haven is proportioned perfectly for its pint-sized inhabitants, complete with narrow cobblestone streets, treacherous back alleys, medieval-style buildings, and canals for the miniature steamboats. It is amazing! I can't really think of any cautions other than this isn't a movie for older kids, or at least the sort that roll their eyes. If an older brother or sister can enjoy things vicariously, then they'll find it a treat to watch their little siblings hoot and holler all the way through this one. And that'll be the fun for mom and dad too. You can check out the trailer below. And if you enjoyed this, you may like the producer's earlier all-children film, The Runner from Ravenshead. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Sexuality

Song of Songs: The Greatest Love Song

by Matthew H. VanLuik 210 pages / 2015 Way back in 1979, Victor Kiam coined a phrase in a Remington electric razor commercial: "I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company." This little quip came to mind when I decided to review Rev. VanLuik's commentary on the Song of Solomon. Here's my version: "I liked the book so much, I recommended it for my high school classroom." These will become textbooks in our Wisdom Literature course for either Grade 11 or 12, which means that every student in the high school would eventually use them… and, I am certain, benefit from them. What benefit will they receive? One of the greatest challenges today for both adolescents and adults in Christ’s kingdom is the world’s idolatrous focus on sex. As much as we need to tear down this idol, it’s just as important to work on the positive side of the issue – learning the responsibilities and rewards of Biblically guided intimacy. That is the goal of this book, a strongly Biblical, Christ-centered view of the Song of Songs that shows the ups and downs of love and marriage, both the day-to-day necessity to give of ourselves and the beauty of indeed being and becoming one flesh. The 16 chapters of this book take us from the couple’s initial attraction, through struggling with desire, through their wedding day and night, to marital conflict and reconciliation. At each stage, VanLuik also repeatedly demonstrates that one cannot have a truly fulfilling marriage without a living love for Christ, and stresses what is even more important, how the relationship portrayed in the Song parallels how the perfect love of Christ for His bride calls for His people’s passionate response (whether single or married). Of course, it is not only teens who could benefit from a clear Biblical view of sexuality courtship, love, and marriage. That means this is a great resource for parents, teachers, and preachers, and everyone who doesn't want to simply skip over the Song, but actually want to confront the foolishness of our sex-obsessed culture with the wisdom of God. Americans can find the print copy at Christianbooks.com and the Kindle version here. Canadians can find it on Amazon.ca here, or can order directly from the author via his email: ordersongofsongs@gmail.com....

News

Saturday Selections - September 5, 2020

Well-intentioned racism is racism still (5 minutes) Uncle Tom is a new documentary about how American black conservatives are ridiculed as being traitors to their race. Why? Because they don't think as the Left say they should think. Telling blacks how they should think is, of course, racist, but the irony is lost on the Left. What this deleted scene shows is that racism can come in all sorts of flavors, including a compassionate patronization. In biblical justice, there is a distinction between equality and equity "1 Kings 3:16-27 provides an excellent example of the biblical distinction between equality and equity. One woman wanted equality whereas the other woman wanted equity. King Solomon judged with equity, not equality, which meant that one of the women went home without a baby. Biblical justice is a matter of equity, not equality. Yes, there is a difference—and it’s not an insignificant one." Slavery was everywhere in the world. A white Christian man abolished it. "Every society on Earth in all of history had slavery. Every single one. The Europeans/ Americans had slavery. The Arabs had slavery, massive slavery. The word for black person in Arabic is “abeed” which means slave. That’s how common slavery was. Slavery in Asia, obviously. Slavery in Black Africa. Black Africans had Black Africans as slaves. Indigenous Native Americans had slaves. Every society in history had slavery. So the only question that is honest is not 'who had slavery?' It’s 'who abolished slavery?'" Was Jesus a socialist? The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared "Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind." And many a Christian seems to agree... "Transitioning" doesn't seem to improve mental health after all The study, as it was first reported, showed that transgender folk who get surgeries feel better about themselves. And this got a lot of media coverage. Now a closer look at the data shows no such mental health benefit. And that is not getting the same coverage. Darwin's impact on society in under 3 minutes Sometimes apologetics is simply about clarifying the difference between what God tells us is true, and what the world says is true. Here we see how, in contrast to God's grace and sacrificial love, Darwin offers only meaningless. ...

Science - General

A sixth sense? Yup, it's true!

We all know about the standard five senses – taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing – but did you know some of God's creatures have a little something extra? In some animals that extra amounts to "super senses": hummingbirds can see in the ultraviolet range (their eyes' 4 types of color receptors is one more than we have), and elephants can communicate over long distances by using tones that are so low our ears can't detect them. In other animals that extra something goes beyond the standard five senses. Bumblebees seem to be able to use the positive electrical charge their bodies generate while buzzing around to help them detect flowers' pollen which has a negative charge. Meanwhile, sea turtles are able to somehow navigate across the ocean using variations in the Earth’s magnetic field to guide them on their way. Exactly how they do it is unclear, but scientists are closing in on how birds do something similar, and remarkably, it may involve quantum mechanics. It's theory at this point and a really complicated one at that, but just the gist of it is amazing enough. Scientists are speculating that some birds can "see" the earth's magnetic fields and do so by using particles in their eyes that are in a "quantum entangled" state. We don't need to worry about what that exactly means; here's one key point: that state lasts for just 1/10,000th of a second. That these birds might be processing information derived from a state lasting such a short time is pretty cool, but there's another incredible wrinkle, as detailed by PBS Nova's Katherine J. Wu. Even in ideal laboratory conditions, which usually involve powerful vacuums or astoundingly icy temperatures, artificial quantum entanglement can unravel in just nanoseconds. And yet, in the wet, messy environment of a bird’s eye, entanglement holds. “It seems nature has found a way to make these quantum states live much longer than we’d expect, and much longer than we can do in the lab,” Gauger says. “No one thought that was possible.” A nanosecond is a billionth of a second (yes, I had to look it up). This might have us tempted to say that the birdbrains are beating the brainiacs, but as amazing as the bird's performance is, to give the credit where it is due we should be singing the praises of its Designer! Humans beings also have a sixth sense, and we’re not talking about ESP. Proprioception is your sense of bodily awareness – the ability to know where all the bits of your body are without looking or feeling them. That might not seem as cool as "seeing" magnetic fields, but just consider what it allows you to do. When you close your eyes and can still touch your nose, that's proprioception enabling you to do it. This is also why a quarterback can throw the ball accurately, even though his overhand motion doesn’t really allow him to see his throwing arm until the ball is released. And proprioception is why you can be balanced (even on one leg!) and how you can walk, without having to look down at your feet. This is one important sense! So if you’ve ever thanked God for the wonderful flowers you can smell, the amazing sunrise you can see, the funky music you can hear, the delicious pizza you can taste, or the amazing softness of a newborn's cheek that you can just barely feel, now you know there’s also a sixth sense to marvel at and thank Him for!...

Parenting

Spanking on trial: how to make a public defense

If spanking were to be put on public trial how would the jury rule? In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and more than 40 others the verdict has come down firmly against – they’ve all instituted spanking bans. In Canada we could say the jury is out – we’re allowed to spank children over two. But what’s worrisome is that spanking opponents keep pushing the issue: since 1997 various members of Parliament have tried to pass anti-spanking amendments eight times, the latest happening just this year. In the court of public opinion spanking should win any test it’s put to because, after all, it works. It is a God-ordained means of discipline, and it is no coincidence that it is also an effective means of discipline. The trial is rigged But spanking never gets a fair trial. Just consider these three issues it has to overcome… 1) Mistaken identity The act of a raging drunken father beating up his son bears little resemblance to a loving calm dad giving his son a spanking. Unfortunately, members of the jury don’t seem able to tell the difference between the two. Some of this confusion is understandable. Raging fathers will call what they do “spanking,” but of course abusers often lie so the jury should know better than to trust their testimony. Another source of confusion is that many of the abused also use the term “spanking” to describe what happened to them. This is a horrible case of mistaken identity that we need to clear up if spanking is to win its day in court. 2) Witnesses intimidation The very same people who will publicly attest to their love of God by wearing a cross, or who will speak up for the unborn by wearing a pro-life T-shirt, or speak out against gay marriage via social media, don’t dare advocate for spanking. Why? Because we’ve all heard stories about how various child protection services have taken people’s kids. How’s that for intimidation? Spankings best witnesses don’t want to take the stand – we know this is an important discipline tool, but few of us see it as important enough to risk losing our kids over. So those who do it right keep that such a closely guarded secret that even their neighbors don’t know. The end result is that when claims are made that spanking is the worst sort of abuse, the witnesses that could best correct this case of mistaken identity don’t want to – we’ve been intimidated into silence. 3) Offers of immunity are rejected A second group of parents is staying silent for a different reason. They’re not intimidated; they simply feel too guilty. These are parents who have given spankings in anger and out of frustration. To be clear, we’re not talking about child-beaters – though the parent’s motivations are all wrong their actions still look quite like godly spanking. Restraint is still used in both where the spanking is directed – to the child’s back end, where no damage will be done – and in how much is administered. This is not a parent losing it. But it is a parent punishing rather than disciplining, a parent meting out justice without love. Some in this group know all about loving discipline, and sin anyway. That leaves them feeling guilty and then, when the topic of spanking comes up, they’d really rather talk about something/anything else. But this is no way to address our guilt – wallowing in it silently is no solution. If you’ve spanked the wrong way, God wants you to repent, both to Him and to your child, and to turn from your sinful behavior. And, praise God, He offers forgiveness! Other parents simply don’t know how to spank properly, though they can sense there is something wrong about how they are going about it. There is a need for repentance here too, but also education – to turn away from our sinful ways we need to know how to act. Parents who don’t know better need to dedicate themselves to finding out what God has told us, and there are some excellent resources to be found (including three I recommend here). It’s a given that Christian parents who do spanking right are also parents who at some point have done spanking wrong. We shouldn’t minimize our sin, but we also shouldn’t minimize the grace given us when God and our children accept our repentance. To hold on to guilt then, and let it silence us, is to reject what the grace we’ve been offered. Spanking needs its imperfect practitioners to speak up on its behalf, because if we won’t, there is no one else. Keys to a public defense These three issues put spanking in a tough spot, with accusers aplenty but few defenders. So even as we can be cautious about how we go about it, we do need to become public defenders of spanking. Or rather, we need to become public defenders of spanking done biblically. Spanking isn’t the sort of topic that can be addressed with “I spank my kids” T-shirt slogans or “Spanking is not abuse” bumper stickers. The extent of the confusion is more than can be addressed via those short-form mediums. What’s needed are conversations. Conversations over backyard fences. Over coffee. And maybe even over social media. And, more than we might imagine, conversations at church: Christians, too, are being swayed into equating this biblically-mandated practice with abuse. So what might such a conversation involve? And what might it look like? What follows is a mock conversation (based on real ones) between a Christian, Daniel, and two liberal-thinking friends who don’t spank and don’t really know anyone who does. Daniel understands that his position will be very new to his friends so he’s prepared to be repetitious – he knows he may need to make the same point a few different ways. He also knows that on such a contentious issue things could get heated fast, so he wants to, whenever possible, make his point by asking questions rather than making assertions. Questions also help when faced with an insulting point – an insult can be defused by simply asking the insulter to clarify their insult. “You’ve said spanking is abuse because both involve hitting, so do you think lovemaking is rape because both involve intercourse?” Another important technique is to use analogies whenever possible. Jesus taught using parables in part because stories can help make hard to understand points much more clear. *** Leo: I was raised in an era where they still practiced corporal punishment in schools. So I got hit at school and then my heavy-handed dad would beat me when I got home. Why would anyone think spanking is a good idea? Ariel: I grew up in a home where spanking and screaming were the norm and I remember how, even at 6 I said, “I’m not going to do this to my kids.” I felt ashamed. I just wanted my parents to love me. Now I do discipline by the golden rule: I treat my children how I want to be treated. There’s no way I’d spank my kids. Daniel: We do spank. It is important for a child to be taught limits - be taught to listen and submit to authority - but it is just as important that they know they are loved. So whereas my daughter is regularly given spankings, they are conducted calmly. Her mom or dad is controlled, and not angry, and after the spanking comes hugs and a talk. So there is no confusion about whether mom or dad still loves her. Meanwhile, the substitute that I've most often seen substituted for spanking is screaming. I’ve seen parents who would never consider smacking their child's bottom think nothing of yelling at their toddler. Now that can be confusing – on the one hand Mommy will say she loves them, and on the other hand she regularly screams at them. As the Bible says, we must discipline, but in love (Prov. 13:24). I think that can be done with calm spanking. I don't understand how it can be done with screaming. Ariel: Don’t call it spanking. It’s hitting. If you're going to hit a tiny, defenseless human, own it. Don't use cutesy euphemisms. Abuse is abuse. Daniel: Wow, this got nasty fast – you’re really going to call me a child abuser? Are you comparing a father who in a controlled measured way smacks his child on the bottom with a father who in a drunken rage punches his son in the face? Ariel: There’s a difference, but it’s still the same kind of act – in both cases it’s hitting. Daniel: Do you believe that shoving someone out of the way of an oncoming train is the same kind of act as shoving them in front of one? In both cases there’s pushing. Ariel: That’s different because in the first case the intent is to help the person and in the second it’s to hurt them. Daniel: Exactly. The different purposes of the pushing make them completely different acts. I spank my kids so that they will learn right from wrong, learn self-control, and learn to respect authority. I want to help, not harm. And since my intent is so completely different from that of an abusive father, the very act itself bears no resemblance to abuse – instead of punches to the face I give smacks to the bottom, where it will sting but not harm. How much more different could it be? Leo: I wouldn’t call it child abuse, but I do think spanking sends mixed signals. If I tell my child that hitting is wrong, but when he does something wrong he gets hit/spanked it tells him that when he feels wronged he can hit. Daniel: It’s important for children to learn there are some things that mommy and daddy can do that he is not allowed to do. For example, if I tell my child she can't watch a program, but I say it is fine for me and mommy to watch, it is clear I am setting different standards for us than for her. And when it comes to spanking, a child is able to tell the difference between when she tries to solve something with her fists, and when daddy, calmly and in control, spanks her for hitting someone. But what you say about mixed signals does come into play when a parent isn't controlled or calm. Then what the parent is doing would seem very much like what the child does when she strikes out at another child for annoying her. Leo: I’m not accusing you, but the majority of people that I know do not spank when they are calm and controlled. Daniel: Therein lies the problem - when a child is spanked in anger, this is vengeance, not discipline. As one pastor put it, "Discipline is corrective and is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it....When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified." Or to put it another way, if you want to spank your kids right now, that is a good reason not to do so. Ariel I just don't see how it’s not hypocritical to say, “Don’t hit anyone” to our kids, but then spank them. I don't see how that is logical. Daniel: I will, on occasion, drink a glass of wine in front of my children. And when they ask for a taste I tell them no. It is not hypocritical to have different standards for children than for adults. Ariel: Here is a thought to consider, if other non-physical options exists why use spanking? Daniel: The reason I spank is because God tells us corporal punishment is a helpful way of disciplining our child. And it’s no coincidence that the method God prescribes turns out to be an effective and quick corrective. All discipline (time outs, stern warnings, lectures, etc.) is going to involve "emotional trauma." But with a spanking it can often be brief: willful disobedience happens, the corrective is explained and applied, the child says she is sorry, forgiveness is given, hugs and kisses are exchanged and play then continues. I want to add, spanking is not the only discipline we use - we talk, we explain, we send them to their room, etc. But when our daughters do something they know they are not allowed to do - when the disobedience is clear (it isn't a matter of confusions, misunderstanding, immaturity) then we spank.  Leo: Does spanking always work? What about when it doesn’t work? Daniel: You’re right, spanking doesn’t always have the immediate result we’re hoping for. And that’s often when one of our kids has been up late a few nights in a row and now they’ve gotten themselves so worked up they are completely out of control. Then, instead of a spanking, the best thing might be to send a child to their room, or cuddle with them, so they can have time to regain their composure. The goal is always the same – to teach and guide them, and sometimes it is better to offer mercy than justice. It can be tough being a parent and trying to figure this all out. But I’m very thankful God has offered so much guidance in his Word on disciplining children and offered up the very effective, though not fool-proof tool or spanking. To answer your question, when spanking doesn’t work we’ll try something else. It isn’t the only form of discipline we use. Leo: Isn't the intent if spanking to cause pain in order to gain compliance? I fully acknowledge that spanking is not child abuse done properly, but its intent is still to cause harm whereas with timeouts the intent is to cause discomfort as well as help them figure out what to do better next time – it gives them time to think through things and improve their problem-solving skills. Daniel: “Discomfort” is a good word. The intent of spanking is not to cause harm (and no harm is done - that is why it is done on the behind - discomfort is done, but no harm). The goal is teaching. I talk with my daughter after a spanking, we work through what she could have done differently and what she should do in the future. So like your child, she learns problem-solving skills, and also what is wrong and what is right. The goal is to teach. Leo: Couldn’t you do that all minus the spanking part? Daniel: Ah, but why would I? Spanking is an effective form of discipline, and I have found it more so than many others. Ariel: How do you know for sure that the effective part of the ritual isn't the talking through? Leo: Ariel beat me to it… Daniel: Ariel, I’ll answer your question, but I also want to turn it around and direct it back at you. If you’ve never tried spanking, or tried it once, or tried it in ways that were not careful, considered and controlled. I want to ask you, how do you know that spanking, properly done, and implemented consistently, isn't more effective than the approach you use now? As for which part is the more effective, the spanking or the talking, well, both are necessary. So are the hugs, so is the repentance and forgiveness. But spankings occur when my words are being ignored. As I've shared spanking is not the only form of discipline I use, so I am able to contrast and compare for what works best with each one of my kids. Leo: But when do you stop? What age? Daniel: It peters out as they get older for a few reasons. First, it’s because the goal of parenting is to "graduate" a self-discipline adult, so the reins are loosened more and more as they get older. But when they are young things are a good deal stricter. Some people try the reverse – little discipline early, and then find themselves trying to get strict later and regulate their rebellious teen's every waking moment. Won't work – this is when he should be taking on responsibility, not when he should be treated like a 3-year-old. Another reason spanking stops is because there are other more effective ways of causing older children “discomfort” – taking away their driving privileges, or smartphone. A third reason spanking isn’t needed as children get older is because they do learn empathy and are better able to understand the wrong they have done. There’s no need to discipline a penitent sinner. Ariel: I bet if you asked a 3-year-old why she got a spanking, she would say it was because daddy was mad at her. Spanking equals control and dominance, not love! Daniel: You would lose that bet with my daughter. My children understand what God tells us in Proverbs 3: “…the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” My kids know that discipline equals love, and a lack of discipline would equal a lack of love. Leo: I’ve got to run, but I’ve enjoyed the discussion. Ariel: I’m going too, and I have to say I’m happy to be done with this conversation.  Daniel: It doesn't look like I've convinced either of you to take up spanking I do hope I've given you reason to stop equating a spanking done in a controlled loving manner with the abuse that happens when an enraged parent beats up a child. I hope you’ll acknowledge that the two are so very different that they really shouldn’t be spoken of in the same breath. *** Spanking is being tried in the court of public opinion and the trial is rigged. That's why we need to speak up. We can speak cautiously, and wisdom might dictate that those with an empty roost should take the lead because they have the least to lose. But we all need to speak, whether over the back fence with a neighbor, or more publicly in a political setting. Spanking is being equated with abuse, but God says loving fathers will use this corporal punishment. So speak out, and spank in love. Let us be a light to our friends and neighbors on this issue showing how in this – as in all things – God’s ways are better than anything the world has to offer. Spanking does have some public defenders, including ARPACanada, who in 2013 released an excellent policy report about corporal punishment which they sent to every Member of Parliament. You can find it here.  ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Secret World of Arrietty

Animated / Family 2012 / 94 minutes RATING: 8/10 This is a Japanese animated adaptation of the much loved English book series, The Borrowers. Arrietty is one of the Borrowers – the tiny people, just inches high, who live in our houses, in between the walls, under the floorboards, and in the ceilings. Now that she's 14, she's old enough to accompany her father on his "borrowing" expeditions. It's vital that these little people are never discovered, so even as they are creative sorts, turning leaves into umbrellas, sewing needles into swords, and clothespins into hairclips, they can't make their own goods. To create factories or farms would risk being discovered by the big people, the "beans." That possibility so scares the Borrowers that if a human ever sees them, then they will leave that house, never to return. But on Arrietty's first expedition, to get a single sugar cube, a young boy in the house discovers her. Shawn is a nice boy, newly arrived to the house because he is sick and needs care that his parents can't seem to provide. While he would never hurt Arrietty, or share the secret of her existence with others, the same isn't true of the housekeeper when she also discovers the tiny people, and hires an exterminator to help track them down. CAUTION The only caution relates to the "borrowing" that goes on. What do we call it when someone borrows without asking, and with no intention of ever giving it back? Stealing. In defense of these fictional thieves, they can't ask for permission because then they will be discovered, and they can't make these goods on their own for the same reason. Also, what they take is so negligible as to never be noticed. Still, this "borrowing" is a point parents should raise. In the Curious George TV shows it's noted that George is a monkey so he sometimes does things that we shouldn't. That seems a good warning about the Borrowers too. CONCLUSION While The Secret World of Arrietty was originally done in Japanese, Disney was so entranced by the film they took charge of the English release and did a wonderful job with the dubbing. It is a gorgeous film that many a parent will absolutely love too, especially if they read the Borrowers books in their childhood. And the slower pacing is perfect for any children who find other films too frantic or scary. Yes, there are some tense moments, but there is a lot of beauty and calm in-between as we explore the world as it looks through a set of tiny eyes. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Kitten Construction Company: Meet the House Kittens

by John Patrick Green 70 pages / 2018 The author of Hippopotamister is back with another charming treat for early readers. The story begins with "the city of Mewburg preparing for a big project..." They are building a new mansion for the mayor, and to get it started the city planner has to find the right architect. He has a few candidates to chose from, and the first up has a brilliant design. But there is a problem: the architect is a cute kitten! "Sorry," he tells little Marmalade, "I regret that you are just too adorable to be taken seriously." When Marmalade goes off to drown his sorrows in a saucer of warm milk, he meets another kitten dealing with the very same problem: no one is giving him a chance, because he's just so cute. The two decide that maybe they can team up. When they get hired on to help at a big construction project, they think that maybe their luck has turned. But they soon realize that they aren't being given actual work - just busy-work projects. That's when they decided that if no one else will take them seriously, they'll go out on their own. And that's how the Kitten Construction Company is born! The kittens get to show their talents when the official mayor's mansion falls to pieces, and they can then take the media and their mayor to see their own, gorgeous, and fully upright, version. That's when everyone has to acknowledge that cute isn't the opposite of capable. While most of the book's intended audience won't realize it, the author is kindly and gently poking fun at discrimination. He's making the lesson gentle, by making the source of discrimination "cuteness" rather than skin color or gender but what comes through is that treating people based on how they look rather than what they can do is ridiculous. He's also not hammering kids over the head with the lesson, feeling free to divert from the lesson to bring in some funny cat jokes. The sequel deals with a similar anti-discrimination theme when the kittens get the call to design and build a bridge. As everyone knows, cats don't like water, so they'll need some help with this job. And standing ready are...the Demo Doggos. Dogs? Marmalade isn't sure. Will that be, as the title asks, A Bridge Too Fur?...

News

Saturday Selections - August 29, 2020

50 Christians around the world sing Amazing Grace together This is something special, a glimpse of what it might sound like when "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" (Rev. 7:9) God's Church gathers to sing His praises. Spurgeon vs. Marx Karl Marx and Charles Spurgeon lived in the same city at the same time, engaged in "an epic battle for the souls of men in 19th century London." We must not become useful idiots for Erin O'Toole While the new leader of the Conservative Party, Erin O'Toole, is pro-choice he's said he'll allow pro-life members to bring forward bills. But as CHP leader Rod Taylor argues, that may not mean much. "In 2008, MP Ken Epp presented the Unborn Victims of Violence Bill, intended to protect pre-born babies from violent assaults perpetrated against their mothers. In 2010, MP Rod Bruinooge tabled his anti-coercion bill, Roxanne’s Law, meant to protect women from violent and abusive pressure to abort against their wills. In 2012, MP Stephen Woodworth presented Motion-312, his Personhood Motion, asking Parliament to establish a committee to explore when human life begins. Every one of these was defeated by a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Government. When former MP Mark Warawa (now deceased) attempted to pass Motion-408, protecting babies from sex-selective abortion, his motion was deemed “non-votable” by the hand-picked committee. When a party leader or Prime Minister is not in favour of a bill, the chances of it passing are slim indeed." O'Toole's motivation for allowing pro-life bills is to secure pro-lifers' votes; that's what he gets out of this relationship. But what are we actually getting from him? If the answer is nothing, or next to it, then we are simply "useful idiots" helping O'Toole achieve his ends. Christians involved in the Conservative Party need to consider if – and then how – their involvement can further God's ends. No Christianity? Then no human rights There is no foundation for human rights apart from us all being made in the image of God. Have you heard of QAnon? (15-minute read) QAnon is a wide-ranging conspiracy theory, built around posts by an anonymous Q figure, which his expanding group of followers then pass along. Some of these posts have a Christian veneer, attracting Christians who know that there are indeed lies being spread by the mainstream media, whether that be transgenderism, evolution, socialism, or the denial of the personhood of the unborn. But that the media lies is not some great insight, and that a shadowy figure says it too doesn't make him credible. One appeal of conspiracy theories is that they are right about there being a malevolent force working behind the scenes. But it's not simply the Russians, or the bankers, or the Deep State; the real hidden force is the Devil...and of course our own rebellious hearts. And while the Devil might like to stir up conflict, is his agenda primarily world-domination? Or to get everyone vaccinated? 5G implementation? Or would he be happier still to have people worried about maybes, supposedlys, and possiblys, even as we ignore the actual tasks God has given us to do? The more credible overarching conspiracy might well be a devilish desire to distract us with things outside our control, rather than contend with our own envy, impatience, gossiping, and other sins. Joe Carter also weighs in on QAnon here. Can a short white guy be a tall Chinese woman? "It shouldn't be hard to tell a 5'9" white guy he's not a 6'5" Chinese woman..." ...

Amazing stories from times past

Archbishop Ussher and being fully known

It is a very special thing to be known, to have someone look at you and understand you and love you simultaneously. My father lost his father at the tender age of six. He was just a tiny boy in stature but he loved his father with all his heart. His father, by the grace of God, had been able to help to implant the love of God in his young son. My father recounted to me that he had not really understood death when it did occur. He had read a Psalm, at his father's request, as his father lay dying. Then his father's bed was suddenly empty and a host of people came to visit his mother. He told me that he recalled the livingroom being filled with people, and that he (being such a short, little guy) had been engulfed in a sea of legs. Strangely enough, he thought he recognized his father's legs. He ran up to those legs, grabbed them and tried to hoist himself up. When he had done that previously, his father had always lifted him up. But a strange face stared down at him. It was not his father. He had been mistaken. It can possibly be rather dangerous to be mistaken in identifying someone or something. There was a news item a number of years ago about a man who bought a snake from a neighbor. He was told that it was a python. After paying one hundred dollars for the creature, which was a good size, he took it home to the other pythons he owned. As he walked towards his door carrying the snake, it somehow fell to the ground. He bent down to pick it up and it bit him. Because the man assumed that the animal was a python, he was not worried about the bite when it happened. After all, pythons are not poisonous. However, about thirty minutes later, as his hand became very swollen and painful, he was concerned enough to head for the hospital. It turned out that the snake was not a python after all, but a copperhead. Anti-venom was given and what potentially had been a life-threatening situation was averted. The fellow was extremely thankful that he had not hung the new snake acquisition around his neck. But an unfortunate unawareness of identity can sometimes have a happy ending. There is the story of a little girl in England who was evacuated to the Welsh countryside during the Blitz – Germany’s WWII bombing campaign against the United Kingdom. She was placed with a family for quite a while and was constantly hopeful that her parents would arrive to convey her home again. The girl's surname was Knight. Back home she had a neighbor by the name of Mr. Wright. This neighbor was killed during an air attack. When the news of the neighbor's death came out, the names of Knight and Wright were mixed up. The child was mistakenly told that her father had died. Many tears were shed before it came out that there had been an error of identity. **** Archbishop James Ussher, (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland, was a Calvinist. He lived in turbulent political times, times in which there was much tension between Catholics and Protestants. Much can be said about the man, but there is a story about him which deals with mistaken identity. The Archbishop was often about the country visiting his curates. He wanted to know how they were doing, whether or not they were well respected in their communities and if they were true shepherds of the flocks which had been entrusted to them. He did not want them to know, however, that he was checking up on them. So he became a master at disguising himself so that no one would recognize him. On various occasions, Archbishop Ussher dressed as a beggar and knocked on the doors of his clergy. One fine day, dressed as a vagrant, he knocked on the door of one particular curate. The man was out, and his wife answered the door. Seeing the rather unkempt figure of a man at her threshold, she took him in and offered him bread, porridge and water at the kitchen table. But she alongside this meal, she also served him a lengthy harangue. "For shame, old man, to go begging at your age!!" she began, "How can you be so lazy!" He did not answer, but regarded her thoughtfully above a spoonful of porridge. "Your sitting here is not the fruit," she went on, waving her finger at him, "of an honest, decent, industrial and hard-worked life." He still did not respond, but took a drink of the water she had placed by his plate. Thinking, perhaps, that she could aid in the education of this ill-looking specimen of a man, the wife questioned him. "Tell me, old man," she spoke a little gentler now, "how many commandments are there? Do you know the answer?" Ussher, pretending to be confused, stammered out, "Eleven." "Eleven?" He nodded. "Eleven," she repeated in a frustrated manner, and then went on, "I thought so. Not only are you lazy, but you are also unlearned and not knowledgeable in the ways of God." Ussher sat before her in silence, seemingly unresponsive. The wife walked over to the cupboard and took out a booklet. "Here, old man," she said, placing the booklet next to his food, "take this with you when you leave. Learn your catechism. And when you have learned it, you will find out that there are not eleven commandments, but ten. Ten, you hear? Put that in your bowl and eat it." Archbishop Ussher left that home and later made it known that the following Sunday he would preach in that very parish which he had just visited. When Sunday arrived the wife of the curate was among the congregants. She had no idea that the old beggar who had graced her kitchen table that week would be preaching. The text was announced. It was to be from John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another". "It would seem," Ussher began his sermon, "from this text that there are eleven commandments." At this point of time, the Archbishop was recognized by the curate's wife. What she thought and what she felt at that moment is not known, but shame might have enveloped her. **** The most important person to recognize and know is, of course, the Lord Jesus. There is the story of Mary Magdalene, weeping for Jesus, and not knowing him. John 20:14-16 relates the incident of her standing by the tomb. "When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Because she thought he was the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She[turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’ (which means Teacher).” We are fully known. This is what 1 Cor. 13:12 tells us. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” This is so good and so comforting. It is also good to realize that, because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is always with us, constantly near us, even though we may not always recognize Him or be aware of Him. Our eyes might be filled with tears, or blind with worry and fear. Yet it is good to remember that He is omnipresent – everywhere and in all places. He might appear differently than we think, dressed in ways that take on an appearance we might not expect. At this point of time we see only a bit of His glory, and that imperfectly. But we are in the process of becoming like Him and we shall know Him fully. 1 John 3:2 gives us assurance: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books including “Katherina, Katherina,” a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here....

Science - General

Why we’ll never run out of things to discover

A few years ago National Geographic published a provocatively titled article: “Opinion: Science is running out of things to discover.” Author John Horgan’s view is a rarity, but not entirely unique – it was already popping up in the late 19th century. In Steven Weinberg’s Dreams of a Final Theory, he shares this recollection from famed physicist Robert Millikan: “In 1894, I lived…with four other Columbia graduate students, one a medic and the other three working in sociology and political science, and I was ragged continuously by all of them for sticking to a 'finished', yes, a 'dead subject', like physics when the new 'live' field of the social sciences was just opening up. There was an idea at the time that it would be possible to finish off a whole field of science because we’d discovered all there was to learn there. This was a minority view then and is today, but there’s a reason some scientists held it and a reason some still do. The new discoveries still being made are evidence against it, but when Horgan's view is evaluated from an evolutionary perspective, it’s actually the logical conclusion to draw. After all, if the physical universe is all there is then no matter how vast, it is finite. And if it was brought about by chance, and without purpose, then just how sophisticated and complex can the universe really be? Shouldn’t we expect to figure it all out eventually? Deeper and deeper In contrast, Christians have every reason to expect the discoveries will never end. We know the universe was crafted with purpose, and designed to reflect the attributes of our infinite God (Ps. 19:1-4, Roman 1:19-20). We should assume that no matter how deep we dig into God’s creation there’ll always be more to uncover. And that is, in fact, what we find. In the last decade, there has been a flood of discoveries related to our own DNA. Back when Darwin first published his book On the Origin of the Species, the individual cell was a “black box” – its inner workings were undiscovered and thought to be simple structures. That assumption served Darwin’s theory because the more complex that Man proves to be, the more obvious it is that we couldn’t have come about by evolutionary happenstance. But since then we’ve discovered that even a single one of our cells has a level of complexity comparable to that of a city, with its own microscopic vehicles traveling on its own highways, carrying material from manufacturing plants, supplied by energy from its power plants. Even after DNA was discovered and we started to get a glimmering of how much more was going on in the cell than Darwin had thought, evolutionists repeated their mistake – they underestimated the cell’s complexity. Again, that was only natural: how complex should something produced by unguided processes really be? So it was, that prior to about 2012, evolutionary scientists were writing off the 98.5% of human DNA that didn’t produce proteins as being “junk DNA” because they had no apparent function. As evolution apologist Richard Dawkins put it in his 2009 book The Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for Evolution:   “it is a remarkable fact that the greater part 95% percent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well be not there for the difference it makes.” But just a few years later the ENCODE project discovered this “junk DNA” was active, getting transcribed into RNA, and may have a role in regulating protein production. There’s lots of maybes and perhaps still being tossed about, so there’s much more to discover, and in an area of the genome that was once thought to be unimportant. Still sticking with DNA, one of the more fascinating recent discoveries has been how the same section of our DNA can produce different proteins if read different ways. Or as Andrew Moore explained in Nov 12, 2019 Advanced Science News article “That ‘junk’ DNA…is full of information!”: “One of the intriguing things about DNA sequences is that a single sequence can ‘encode’ more than one piece of information depending on what is ‘reading’ it and in which direction – viral genomes are classic examples in which genes read in one direction to produce a given protein overlap with one or more genes read in the opposite direction…to produce different proteins. It’s a bit like making simple messages with reverse-pair words (a so-called emordnilap). For example: REEDSTOPSFLOW, which, by an imaginary reading device, could be divided into REED STOPS FLOW. Read backwards, it would give WOLF SPOTS DEER. Once again, the deeper we dig the more we find there is to learn! No end in sight What's true for our DNA is true everywhere else too – Millikan's roommates couldn't have been wronger about physics being a dead science. But endless and ever more intricate discoveries present a problem to an evolutionary theory that says the universe is finite and unplanned. If they were right, there should be an end to it. But no such end is in sight. In contrast, these constant discoveries are an inspiration to Christians. Knowing our Creator to be inexhaustibly great, God's people can look forward to not only a lifetime of discoveries, but to an eternity of them!...

Christian education

Should a student’s peer group be so important?

…or can skipping or failing a grade be a very good thing? **** Let me tell you the tale of four students. Danny The first, Danny, had decided to better himself and become more flexible in the job market, given the prevalent economic uncertainty. So he went to the website of the Open University and looked for a course package that would appeal to him. After due consideration, he decided on a subject, whereupon he proceeded with his enrolment. The course involved a number of challenging assignments, all accompanied by due dates, and length and formatting requirements. Danny was not fazed. Full of enthusiasm, he started on the course work. He industriously complied with all the required readings, studied the assignment requirements, and set to work. Long before the deadline he finished the first homework assignment sent it away. It was less than a week later that he received word back: he had failed his first assignment. Failed miserably. However, the kind lecturer gave many tips as to how to improve the work for resubmission. Disappointed, but not down, Danny set to work again. He carefully followed the lecturer’s suggestions and, with hope in his heart, resubmitted. The result, though slightly better, was still disappointment – Danny hadn’t passed, even on his second attempt. Danny was thoroughly disheartened. After honest and deep contemplation, he decided that he had overreached and that he needed to bite the bullet and quit. Perhaps he should have another look at the courses and take on something more realistic and in keeping with his current abilities… Shaun and Emily The family of little Shaun and Emily moved to a new district. The 7 and 9-year-old embarked on theadventure of a new school. They were kindly received, then tested on their abilities, and placed in a classroom with their peers. It was not long before both children became unhappy and unruly. Shaun could not care less whether he did his homework or not. Emily did not have any homework, because she finished everything in school time. She saidschool was boring. Meetings between the teachers and parents followed. It was agreed that Shaun struggled and required some remedial help. Emily needed no help at all; perhaps she could be given some extra work, expanding her challenges in that manner. The teachers would do their best, but with the large number of students in their care, it would be difficult. At the end of the year, Shaun was promoted to the next grade, even though his progress reports showed failure after failure. Emily was promoted as well, with straight A’s all over her list. Both children looked forward to the summer holidays and nagged their parents for a different school come the new year. The new school year commenced, and the children joined their peers. Shaun was looking at another year of discouragement and remedial treatment. Emily’s motivation was also at a low and she decided to do what was necessary to get by… When peers aren’t the main concern, then ability can be Peers were not a concern for Danny so when he noticed his course was above his ability; he could simply quit it. He could adjust and find something more suitable. Shaun and Emily were locked in a system from which there was no escape. Shaun was forced to endure the ignominy of failure after failure; Emily was exposed to what she called “kindergarten material” which she considered humiliatingly unchallenging. However, as the Principal pointed out, it was important to keep the children in their peer groups. It would not do to place them with those older or younger than they, as this would stunt their emotional development. Caleb Now meet Caleb (not his real name). He was brought to this little Christian school. Dad and Mum said that Caleb was a problem student in his current school and did not perform well at all. In fact, the larger part of the day he was forced to reside outside the classroom. On his report card the teacher had written about his reading skills that Caleb needed to guess more! Caleb did not want to guess, he wanted to read! This nine-year-old was by now on the level of a six-year-old student, even though there was nothing wrong with his cerebral capabilities. He did not like school anymore. “And then to think how he started so full of enthusiasm,” Mum remarked. The long and short of it was that the Principal and the parents agreed that Caleb would start according to ability with the little ones, moving between different groups fluidly to tap into his present abilities. Being more mature, he would succeed at a faster pace and consequently move through the ranks ever more closely to his peers, all the while tasting academic success. Caleb finished high school within a year of his peers and went on to do a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at university. As an adult he wrote on Facebook how that little Christian school and its teaching approach had been the saving of him in terms of developing his abilities. Caleb was not forced to sit in class with his peers and be confronted with repeat failure. He was not singled out for remedial (often sensed as humiliating) lessons. He was successful in class and was able to join his peers outside class when playing games (during PE lessons he did join his peers, by the way, and outshone most of them). Why have we made this the priority? In Matthew 23:4 the Lord Jesus accuses the Pharisees of putting heavy and grievous burdens on the people with rules and regulations that they themselves wouldn’t bear. This text had me wondering if, educationalists – with the best of intentions – have placed burdens upon children that they would not place upon themselves! (We can think also of the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12.) An adult who enters on a course of study will do so within his capabilities. Should there be an error of judgment, the course will be discontinued and, perhaps, a more suitable one entertained. School children, as a rule, are not given that choice in the traditional system. We’ve deemed it as the first priority that they mingle with peers, even when they are to concentrate on cerebral pursuits. And we’ve done so, knowing that intellectually mismatched children who are being set the same challenges can be a hindrance to each other in class time! The discouraged girls might skulk away, or a frustrated boy resort to bravado, while the capable students are irritated by unwanted distractions. The net result is a teacher with a classroom harboring behavioral challenges. When considering the eagerness of the little five-year-olds upon entering “the big school,” it is a shame upon the education system to erode this eagerness by providing systemic failure on the one hand and systemic boredom on the other. Success is achieved by enabling children to punch according to their weight, not above their weight, or below their weight. A good school will strive to place just the right expectation (burden) upon each child’s shoulders, in keeping with capability and maturity, regardless of age. I would submit that many schools, including several Christian schools, unwittingly create educationally disenchanted children with the misguided concept of peer group education, and procuring motivation-eroded people. “One may miss the mark by aiming too high as too low.” -Thomas Fuller (English clergyman, 1608-1661) Dr. Herm Zandman has been both a schoolteacher and truck driver, writing on both, including his book “Blood, Sweat, and Gears.” A version of this article first appeared in the July 25, 2020 issue of Una Sancta. Questions for discussion Dr. Zandman raises the issue of age-based grades and how among adults we based schooling on ability, rather than age. It’s a topic seldom discussed, so to foster that discussion here are a few questions intended for a group setting. Peers, and fitting in, are the reason most kids don’t want to skip or be held back a grade. But this grouping-by-year exists only in school and disappears soon afterward. So are there ways that we can diminish the importance of this artificial grouping? Would skipping a grade be less of a big deal if we did it more often? How could we foster a school environment in which a student, held back a grade, isn’t worried about what his friends will say? In our churches, homeschooling is often viewed as an abandonment of the local covenantal school (which needs as many supporters as it can get). But homeschooling seems to better be able to accommodate children based on their abilities, rather than age. So for the sake of the students who don’t fit into age-based grades, do we need to re-evaluate our attitude towards homeschooling? After all, do our schools exist for the children, or are we now having to send our children for the school’s sake? Parents are ultimately in charge of their child’s education so what are ways that parents can add to the weight their child bears, should that be needed? Is it a matter of extra-curriculars like music lessons and art classes, or a part-time job, or even starting their own “side hustle”? What other options are possible? What are the historic roots of the grade-by-grade schooling that we do? In times past children in one-room schoolhouses might be taught via their “readers.” They would move on to the next level – the next reader – when they were done the previous one. But now age-based grades are the near-universal approach, also in our Christian schools. Seeing as this approach can’t be found in the Bible, might it be worth a reassessment? Are there other possibilities? Is what happened with Caleb, as Dr. Zandman described it, an option that exists in our schools? ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Space Buddies

Children's film 2009 / 84 minutes RATING: 7/10 If the sequel is never as good as the original, then what kind of expectation should we have for this, the eighth in the Air Bud film series? They should be low...if you're an adult. But my 6-year-old was laughing out loud! In this adventure five puppies end up stowed away on an incredibly advanced spaceship – so sophisticated even a dog could fly it – but which is short on fuel. To get back home they have to refuel at a Russian space station where they befriend a Russian dog, Sputnik, and have to contend with a crazy cosmonaut. The pups are the offspring of Air Bud, the dog that started it all back in 1997 when he showed some surprising skills on the basketball court. In the four Air Bud films that followed the star was incredibly clever, tackling a different sport each time, but he was still a pet, not a person. However, the old dog learned a new trick in the Air Buddies spin offs – now everybody and their dog can talk. If you read any other reviews you'll find the critics groaning at the pups' stock personalities: the only girl, Rosebud, likes pink, Budderball never stops eating, Mudbud always gets dirty, B-dawg is a rapper, and Buddha is a peacenik. But the critics aren't six-years-old. Sure these are cardboard cutouts, but that simplicity makes them easy to tell apart, and easy to understand for the preschool-aged target audience. Cautions The only notable concern would be a handful of dog fart jokes, one of which you can see in the trailer below. Conclusion This is not a film mom and dad are going to love but they likely won't mind it either. And if you have kids aged 5-8 who find most movies frightening, what might make this a treat is that it has some tension – there is a bad guy – but it isn't too scary. And then five cute puppy stars only add to the fun! I've taken a peek at the other Buddies films, and this strikes me as the very best of the batch. That's why, even though our youngest really enjoyed it, I've concluded this one is enough for us. ...

News

Saturday Selections - August 22, 2020

Stirring up trouble on behalf of the unborn (20 seconds) This week a pro-life group flew a "Black Lives Matter" banner over the site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention showing a giant picture of an aborted black fetus. A spokesman explained that sharing "victim photography" has long been a way of fighting evil and, since newspapers and other media won't allow them to share the graphic image, this group took to the skies. Two takes on masks and whether Christians need to wear them Both articles are intense, gracious, and biblically-grounded. In the first ARPA Canada's André Schutten answers a dozen mask-related questions, tackling topics like sphere sovereignty, Romans 13, and a Christian way of disagreeing with the government. In the second, one Reformed pastor and elder, Joseph Bayly and Brian Bailey, address the anti-mask arguments by another Reformed pastor, Douglas Wilson. This one is a little like coming in halfways on a conversation so at the start it is a bit hard to figure out what's going on. But the insight offered is worth the effort required. Socialism is force “'Why not socialism?' It’s force, pure and simple. If it were voluntary, it wouldn’t be socialism. It would be capitalism." On the art of dying well One of the ways Christians can be a light to the world is by dying differently. While the world hopes for a quick death, our goal can be a holy death. Our kids seem less safe but appearances are deceiving... Our children are a blessing from the Lord, and so we treat them as such. But there is a reason for moderation, even in protecting them. Bubble-wrapping them before they head out the door brings with its own harms: that we will raise fearful children who jump at every noise, shy away from every shadow, and are so risk-averse that they don't dare ask out that special girl, or start that company, or apply for that position...or venture out of the house at all. While this article is from a time before COVID, what it highlights – that our parental fears may not be a proportionate match with reality – is particularly relevant right now. Captain Literally When people misuse the word "literally" this superhero is here to save the day! And if you liked Captain Literally, you may also appreciate Captain Irony and the whole Grammar League. ...

Amazing stories from times past

The Gift of Flight: Two brothers' determined quest

As stories go, this one sounds as if it comes from Through the Looking Glass: and what Alice found there, the classic story by Lewis Carroll where everything is backward. That is how this plot goes: amateur technologists succeed with a few dollars of their own money while big science, with a big budget, fails. And the improbable scenario continues. Even when the amateurs succeed, establishment science and the national media refuse to acknowledge that fact. They don’t want it to be true, so it isn’t. Then, when belatedly everyone knows that the amateurs have indeed achieved what they have long claimed, the government honors the scientist who failed! This isn’t a nihilist plot by Franz Kafka, this is history. And these events have much to tell us about the impact of vested interests on scientific research and public honors. Langley gets the government onboard In hindsight, it is obvious that the time was ripe for a breakthrough in heavier-than-air flight. During the mid-eighteenth century Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli had developed equations to describe the flow of fluids. Since air currents flow in the same fashion as fluids, similar equations apply. Thus it was as easy to study the flow of air over an object as it was to study the flow of water. In both instances, as the speed of flow increases, the pressure decreases. If a current moves over an object with a curved upper and a flat lower surface, then the flow above the object moves faster than the flow below. As a consequence, the pressure exerted on the upper surface is less than on the lower surface. With reduced pressure above, the object will move upward. Such theory, towards the end of the nineteenth century, provided the basis for the new science of aerodynamics. The object with the curved upper surface was an airfoil or wing, and this was the structure that would carry heavier-than-air flight into reality. Some scientists at the time insisted that such a phenomenon was impossible. There were others, however, like Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906), who were actively involved in aerodynamic research. Indeed, this American astronomer and physicist had published a treatise in 1891 entitled Experiments in Aerodynamics. Five years later he designed and successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered model airplane. The machine flew 0.8 km (0.5 mile) in one and a half minutes. Based on this success, he applied for, and received, a grant of $50,000 to scale up his model to pilot-carrying size. That grant represented a huge fortune. Obviously there were influential people in government and science who believed that heavier-than-air flight was possible. Enterprising brothers Some bachelor entrepreneurs in Ohio also knew that heavier-than-air flight was possible. They had observed buzzards, and other feathered flight success stories (birds), and they decided that it might be fun to try their hand at this project. Wilbur and Orville Wright (born 1867 and 1871 respectively) were the third and fourth sons of Bishop Milton Wright of the United Brethren Church. Their Christian commitment translated into a joyous and lively curiosity about nature. They refused, however, to pursue any research or work on Sunday. Glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896) in 1894, about to test one of his glider designs. Although bright, these men never actually graduated from high school. Nevertheless, they loved a mental challenge. Their main source of income during the late 1890s was as bicycle shop owners. Not only did they sell machines, they also manufactured them. This business was somewhat seasonal in nature which left time during the off-season for the brothers to pursue other interests. Moreover, the tools and know-how from bicycle manufacture would prove useful for developing another technology. The Wright brothers’ interest in heavier-than-air flight was piqued by the news in 1896 that German Otto Lilienthal had been killed in a crash of one of his gliders. Since 1891 this man had experimented with various glider designs and everyone recognized that he had significantly advanced the science of aerodynamics. Lilienthal was the first person to ride an airborne glider and by the time of his death he had about 2,500 flights to his credit. On to Kitty Hawk By the summer of 1899, the Wright brothers had researched the topic and they understood what problems needed to be solved for success to be achieved. Next, upon inquiry, they discovered that the coastal sand dunes near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, were a promising place to fly gliders. This identification was based on the unusually strong and steady winds which were typical of that area. Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk thus became the site of their early experiments. The Wrights set out, first of all, to find a glider design that was stable and reliable in the air. Others had made gliders before them, but none that were well controlled – balancing a “flyer” seemed easy but it really wasn’t. When the wings were arranged in a V pattern with the passenger at the lowest point, the system performed adequately in calm air but got knocked back and forth, oscillating in wind. Alternatively, when the center of gravity was located in front of the wings, there was constant up and down undulation. In view of these already identified problems, the Wrights determined to build a glider that would allow the operator to restore balance. They thus set out to design wings that could be manually warped – twisted slightly – when the pilot shifted his weight so he could make ongoing inflight adjustments, somewhat like birds do by twisting and tipping their wings. Their objective was to obtain from the wind, the forces needed to restore balance. When they tried out their design at Kitty Hawk in October 1900, they discovered that their device did not have enough lift to carry a man. These trials did however suggest that they were on the right track as far as balance and control were concerned. The brothers returned to Kitty Hawk during July of 1901. They now used a wing shape that Otto Lilienthal had developed, and also relied on his lift calculations to determine how big the wings should be. This design performed much worse than their previous year’s model. They rebuilt the glider and still it insisted on spinning. After further modifications, the balance was improved but the lifting capacity was still most disappointing. The Wrights realized that “the calculations upon which all flying-machines had been based were unreliable and that all were simply groping in the dark.” Even Samuel Langley’s data they concluded was “little better than guess-work.”  (All quotes are from “the Wright Brothers’ Aeroplane” by Orville and Wilbur Wright published in the Sept. 1908 edition of The Century Magazine.) World’s first wind tunnel The Wrights returned home to Ohio, determined to generate their own data. To this end, they devised the world’s first wind tunnel. This was a contraption six feet long that they set up in their bicycle shop. The brothers had taken up aeronautics “as a sport.” Now they reluctantly undertook real research. Soon they found the work so fascinating they were “drawn deeper and deeper into the project.” Using the wind tunnel, they made systematic measurements of standard surfaces, ...so varied in design as to bring out the underlying causes of differences noted in their pressures. Measurements were tabulated on nearly fifty of these at all angles from zero to 45 degrees, at intervals of 2.5 degrees. Based on these new data, they ran successful trials of a new glider during the fall of 1902. With a stable device, and with accurate data on lift, they were now ready to build a powered flyer. The two hurdles yet to overcome were propeller design and building a suitable lightweight engine. Early in 1903, they turned their attention to propeller design. It wasn’t as easy as they had expected. As they later reported: What at first seemed a simple problem became more complex the longer we studied it. With a machine moving forward, the air flying backward, the propellers turning sidewise, and nothing standing still, it seemed impossible to find a starting point from which to trace the simultaneous reactions. After much agonizing, they apparently sorted out the problems. The result of their calculations was highly satisfactory propellers. The last requirement was a small internal combustion engine. This they built in their bicycle shop. The cost of the entire flying machine was about $1000. It featured the propellers behind the wings, the rudder in front, and wings covered with “Pride of the West” muslin, a cotton fabric manufactured especially for ladies’ underwear. The fateful day Samuel Langley’s Aerodome was to be launched, catapult style, off the roof of a houseboat. But both his 1903 trial flights ended up in crashes. On October 7, 1903, Samuel Langley’s scaled up airplane design crashed. He asked for, and received, more government funds to try again, but on December 8 his device crashed again. Then on December 17 at Kitty Hawk, Orville Wright made the first successful powered flight. Five people witnessed the event. The fight lasted 12 seconds and extended only 120 feet. Later in the day, a flight of 852 feet was achieved. Heavier-than-air flight was now a reality and modern life would never be the same. The almost universal response of their fellow Americans was to deny that anything had happened. The media refused to take any notice of this achievement. By the fall of 1905 the Wrights were now airborne for one-half hour at a time. They practiced flying in Ohio, above a large field with public roads and a railroad nearby. Thousands of eyewitnesses testified to the reality of this success story. Reporters refused to believe firsthand accounts nor even to investigate for themselves. In January 1906, Scientific American insisted in print that the story of flight was a hoax since no newspapers had reported it. Finally, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered flight trials at Fort Myers. As a result, the brothers signed a contract to deliver airplanes to the US Army. However, public acclaim only came after Wilbur carried out a “public” flight in France on August 8, 1908. Now the age of flight had really dawned. Within less than a year, on July 25, 1909, Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly across the English Channel. Wright Air Force Base? The relationship of the Wrights with the American scientific establishment was never cordial. After a dispute with the Smithsonian Institute in 1928, the only model of the original flyer was sent to England for display. There it remained until 1948, the year Orville Wright died. His older brother had died many years earlier. Meanwhile, significant honors were accorded Langley rather than the Wrights. Langley Air Force Base was established in 1916 to honor this “American air pioneer.” From 1931 to 1995 the world’s most prestigious wind tunnel operated at the Langley base. This site is also famous for its NASA research laboratory located there. In addition, the nation’s first aircraft carrier was also named after Langley. The world nevertheless remains deeply indebted to these two Christian bachelors who used their God-given talents for the benefit of their fellow man. Their objective was not fame and fortune, but rather the joy of discovery of God’s creation. Thus just over one hundred years later, Christians can give special thanks for the testimony afforded by the lives of these interesting men. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.”...

Humor, Satire, Sexuality

Are you a transkindophobe?

Doctor Clive Gledhill looked down at his watch – 4:30. Only half an hour until the surgery shut and then he could head off home for the day to his family. He looked at the screen in front of him and saw that he had just two more patients booked in. Perhaps they might give him a more interesting end to the day than what had gone before. A few cases of stomach upset and flu – that was about it, so far as he could recall. “Yes, come in,” said the doctor as he heard a tap at the door. As it opened, he looked up to greet his patient, only to find himself startled. “You wanted interesting?” thought the doctor. “Well here is interesting.” The man entering the room was perhaps the oddest looking person the doctor had ever seen. The fabric that made up all his clothes – from his shirt all the way down to his socks – consisted of a series of irregular shaped brown patches, with white lines in between, rather like a mosaic. It seemed to be patterned like some sort of animal, though for the life of him the doctor couldn’t think what. He also had this same design tattooed onto his hands. Around his neck he wore a series of metal coils – the sort of thing worn by women in the Kayan and Ndebele tribes, which is wound around the neck in order to stretch it. His arms were hung long and loose in front of him, almost as if he were trying to reach down to the floor with them. But perhaps the oddest thing of all was what he was doing with his mouth. He was chewing, but not in the way people chew gum. Rather it was a slow and ponderous action, not too dissimilar to a ruminant chewing the cud. “Come, take a seat,” said Dr. Gledhill beckoning him to sit in the chair on the opposite side of his desk. “I prefer to stand,” said the patient, moving the words around his mouth slowly as he continued to ruminate. “As you wish,” replied the doctor. “Now tell me, how can I help you today?” The oddity shifted around somewhat apprehensively. He seemed nervous and reluctant to speak at first, but the patient manner of the doctor seemed to put him at ease. “Before I tell you of my condition, I would like an assurance from you. Tell me, doctor, do you consider yourself to be a tolerant man?” “Strange question,” thought Dr. Gledhill. Nevertheless he answered in the affirmative, adding that he considered himself to be a man of some high level of tolerance. “Good,” replied the man. “And do you think yourself to be completely open and non-judgmental.” “Well, I would say that I am fairly open,” replied the doctor. “I’ve practiced medicine for nearly thirty years now and I doubt whether there is much I haven’t seen. As for non-judgmental? I don’t suppose I am any more or any less judgmental than anyone else. We’ve all got our prejudices about something or other, but I suppose I try to be as impartial as possible. Can I ask to what these questions tend?” “Yes, you may,” answered the man. “Dr. Gledhill, I have now been to no less than five doctors about my condition. Yet not one of them has taken me seriously. In fact they have all more or less ridiculed me and sent me out of their surgery. I have been humiliated and left feeling emotionally wrecked by the treatment I have received by various members of your profession. Which is why, before continuing, I seek reassurance that you will not treat me with the same derision as I have received before.” “Okay,” said Doctor Gledhill pondering the request, “I promise that I’ll be as open-minded and fair as I am able. Now, what seems to be the problem?” The patient nodded approvingly at the doctor, before walking slowly around the room. As he spoke, every so often he would stand on tiptoes, straining as if he were trying to reach high up for something. “Ever since I was a young child I have felt different,” he said. “How do you mean different?” asked the doctor. “What I mean is that even when I was a small boy, I would look around at the other boys the same age as me, and I knew I just wasn’t like them. Ever since I was about six, I knew what I really was – and it wasn’t what people thought. And the problem has never changed. In fact it has just got worse and worse. For more than thirty years, I have lived a lie. I can hardly describe it to you, but the ‘me’ you see on the outside is completely and utterly different from the ‘me’ on the inside.” “Aha,” thought doctor Gledhill. “I think I know what is coming up.” “The effects on my life have been disastrous and I find myself almost friendless, doctor. My behavior is too much for most people, and I daren’t tell anyone why I am the way I am. That is why I am here. The real me has been trying to burst out for years, but until now I always thought too much of public opinion to actually do anything about it. But enough is enough and I must finally seek a solution.” Doctor Gledhill looked at the man for some moments, weighing up his response. “Look, I think I understand what you’re saying,” replied the doctor after some moments. “Ever since you can remember, you have felt more female than male and now you’ve come to me asking if I can put you forward for a sex change. I must say I’m surprised by the reaction you received from some of my colleagues in the medical profession. Sex changes are really quite common these days and there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. If you like, I can refer you to a consultant I know at the hospital who specializes in these procedures.” “Oh no, you don’t understand,” said the man looking a little put out. “I’m perfectly happy with being male. I have no desire to become female and I did not come here seeking a sex change.” “Well, I’m terribly sorry if I have misunderstood you,” replied the doctor, surprised by the response. “It’s just that everything you told me sounded remarkably similar to other cases I have dealt with where the patient was seeking to change their sex. So then would you mind correcting my error?” “Yes of course,” replied the man. “Can’t you tell by looking at me? I’m not looking for a sex change. I’m happy with my gender and wouldn’t dream of trying to changing it. What I’m looking for is a species change.” Dr. Gledhill’s head jerked back sharply as if he had just received an electric shock. Had he heard the man right? He’d said he was looking for a species change, hadn’t he? Surely not. Better check. “Look, I’m sorry if I have misheard you, but did I hear you say you were looking for a species change?” “Yes, you did,” replied the man. “And what species are you looking to become?“ asked Dr. Gledhill warily. “Why surely that is obvious.” replied the man somewhat disdainfully. “Ever since I saw pictures of the Maasai Mara as small boy, I have wanted nothing else than to be a giraffe.” Dr. Gledhill quickly attempted to gather his thoughts. Surely this must be some sort of joke. Perhaps one of his colleagues was playing a hoax on him. Yet since the man looked in earnest and gave not the slightest hint of any prank being played, he decided that his best course of action would be to try and talk the man round to a normal way of thinking. “Look I understand that you may have issues and problems that perhaps need addressing,” said the doctor in a soothing tone. “But you do know that you can’t just become a giraffe, don’t you?” “And why not?” came a rather stern reply. “Well…” stumbled the doctor searching for the right words, “well…because you are human. You were born a human and that is what you are. You can’t change that.” “But you were happy to refer me for a sex change?” “That is entirely different,” answered Dr. Gledhill. “There is a world of difference between changing one’s sex and changing one’s kind.” “Oh there is, is there?” said the man cynically. “I’d love to know what that difference is exactly. Apparently my kind is fixed but my gender isn’t. Tell me doctor, you’re not a creationist by any chance, are you?” It took a lot to offend Dr. Clive Gledhill, but this comment hit a raw nerve. He most definitely was not a creationist and he was not about to let his patient off without letting him know this in the sharpest possible terms. “No I’m not a creationist, thank you very much,” he replied tartly. “I absolutely affirm the Darwinian theory of natural selection. But what of it?” “Then you believe in the mutability of species, you deny the fixity of kinds, and you affirm that we both evolved from apes all the way back to some kind of bacteria?” “Yes I do,” replied the doctor. “Well then since you affirm these things to be true,” replied the man, “why do you deny the possibility that I can change from a human to a giraffe.” “Why a giraffe? How about an ape, since they are our nearest cousins,” said the doctor sarcastically. “I was never very good at climbing trees – it makes me giddy – so I dread to think what swinging through them would do,” replied the man with total seriousness. “But you have avoided my question. Look, since you affirm that the gender of a person is not so fixed that it can’t be changed, an opinion which must surely be based on an evolutionary understanding of the world, and since you believe in the morphing of atoms into creatures and of kinds into other kinds, why would you then claim that humanness is so fixed that it cannot be changed?” “Well,” said the doctor, thinking as quickly as he could. “I’m not sure whether such a thing is even possible, but even if it were, would it be desirable? And even if it were both possible and desirable, we certainly do not have the capability of performing species change operations at present.” “Then might I suggest that the scientific establishment begin researching into this capability,” said the man indignantly. “They claim that they can make a man out of a woman or a woman out of a man by cutting bits off here and there and by the injection of various hormones. But if they are as serious about the mutability of species and kinds as they say they are, maybe they need to put their money where their mouths are – else I shall think that they neither understand nor fully believe the logic of their own convictions.” “And might I suggest that you go and see a psychiatrist and perhaps talk over your issues with them?” replied a clearly irritated Dr. Gledhill. “It doesn’t surprise me,” replied the man walking towards the door. “All of the previous doctors I have seen have told me pretty much the same thing. They all affirmed their belief in evolution, yet when push came to shove, they have backed off from the implication of their beliefs, which is that nothing is fixed and so everything is open to change – including a medically-induced species change. I see that you are no more open to change than any of them were.” And with that he walked through the door leaving Dr. Clive Gledhill somewhat shell-shocked at the conversation he had just had. After some moments he managed to pull himself together. “Species change indeed,” he muttered to himself. “Let’s hope my final patient just has an upset stomach.” Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything ...

Apologetics 101

6 responses to 1 very angry atheist

British scientist Richard Dawkins may be the world’s most famous atheist. And he has garnered his fame from, and used his fame for attacks on God and his people. To that end he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and, five years later, hired Sean Faircloth to be the Foundation’s Director of Strategy and Policy. Like his mentor, Faircloth is aggressively anti-Christian in his perspective. In 2012 he authored a book (with a foreword by Dawkins) called Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All—and What We Can Do About It. The anti-Christian agenda Faircloth proposes is both monstrous and unsurprising. There is nothing original in the book, and that is why it is worth a closer examination – the vision Faircloth shares is one we have heard in bits and pieces for some time now. There are lessons to be learned from responding to his points. 1. Don’t assume the attack has any basis To lay some groundwork for his agenda, Faircloth tries to discredit the Bible by claiming it was written during a time in history “when guys could simply hit or rape any women who dared to talk back.” He then continues: “Don’t believe that was the case? The Bible tells us such acts are A-OK.” Of course, the Bible nowhere says it’s “A-OK” for men to rape and hit women. Faircloth just made that up. He then proceeds to attack Christians themselves, insisting that the Christian mindset leads its adherents to steal things, and to hurt other people. According to Faircloth, Christians are prone to anti-social behavior because their religion causes them to reason in the following manner: You can hurt others – and terribly so – and be forgiven for that sin simply by asking a supernatural being for forgiveness. With the “forgiven” card, it’s so much easier to say to oneself, “I will grab this food now. I will grab this money now. I will grab and grab and grab.” Concern yourself with long-term consequences later. You can always be forgiven—and then you live forever! A convenient belief system indeed. If you missed hearing that preached off the pulpit you aren’t alone. Notably, Faircloth does not cite any sources to support his claim that Christians think that way. It’s very important to remember that when a critic attacks the Bible we shouldn’t simply assume their attack has credibility. As Faircloth’s attack illustrates, sometimes the critic is so desperate to slam Christianity that he’s willing to make things up. 2. Turn the tables Faircloth claims that in recent years religion has acquired special legal privileges that are harmful to American society. Allowing churches and other religious organizations to hire people who share their beliefs and lifestyles is one of these special privileges that he wants to eliminate. When he argues this point he does so in a particularly twisted way. In his view, …religions enjoy legal privileges that corrode our most basic American values. In most states, religious groups can say in one of their child-care centers: “You’re a Jew? You’re fired.” Similarly, in one of their charitable organizations, they can say to the administrative assistant or janitor: “You’re gay? You’re fired” True, religious groups that run child-care centers or charitable organizations often only hire people from within their own group. It is a basic principle of freedom of association and freedom of religion that religious organizations select employees based on their own principles. Christian schools want to hire Christian teachers, for example. They don’t say, “You’re a Jew? You’re fired,” as Faircloth puts it. There are Jewish organizations that hire exclusively Jewish employees. Why would a Jewish school hire a Christian teacher? Should it be forced by the government to hire non-Jewish teachers? In Faircloth’s world there may be situations where it would. His solution is for the government to prohibit such “discrimination.” As a result, the employee qualifications for Christian organizations would be determined by the government. Allowing religious organizations to hire only people who share their beliefs is, in Faircloth’s words, a legal privilege that corrodes “our most basic American values.” But turnabout is fair play. If Faircloth thinks it discrimination to have a religious test for Christian schools, then what about his own employer, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science? Surely, in the name of tolerance, they should then be required to hire their share of Christians and maybe a creationist or two? We don’t need to be mind readers to know how Faircloth would respond to our suggestion. He would find a reason of some sort, very quickly, to explain that discrimination isn’t wrong in every circumstance, and, in fact, is sometimes the only reasonable course. 3. Highlight the conflict Faircloth is also very upset that Christian pharmacists are not compelled by the government to provide abortifacient drugs for women who want them. As he puts it, in the US: ...fundamentalist pharmacists in several states get special permission from state legislatures to ignore their professional duties and to even deny rape victims emergency contraception. In his view, Christian pharmacists should be compelled, against their conscience, by the state to provide such “emergency contraception.” This is justified because “Pharmacists work in the health-care profession, not in a church.” While little could be said to change Faircloth’s mind, we can, with a few pointed questions, highlight the severity of what he proposes. Will he let Christians who won’t violate their conscience have jobs? He wants us out of pharmacology, but what of the many other businesses where Christians’ conscience claims run up against other’s wishes? Would he want us out of the bakery business, wedding catering and photography, and bed and breakfast inns? What of Christian doctors and nurses who don’t want to be involved in euthanasia? And printers and T-shirt makers who want to refuse some jobs? Should they all be shown the door? Would the country be better or worse off if Christians were run out of these positions? We may not be able to change someone like Faircloth’s mind, but we can at least highlight his hatred, making it plain for even the most clueless to see. 4. Use the science Faircloth is further outraged by the fact that US foreign aid given to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) cannot be used to provide abortions or to advocate for or counsel abortion. Faircloth calls this prohibition on counseling abortion a “gag rule” and says it prevents women from receiving needed medical advice. In his view: Neither Congress nor the president should deny women accurate medical information. To impose a gag rule is to mandate a particular religious bias and to promote religious propaganda based on the views of specially privileged religious groups – and to use tax dollars to do so. Faircloth says the US government’s position is being based on “religious propaganda” and in one sense it is. The only reason the US has this overseas pro-life position is because of Christian voter’s influence. But God’s truth isn’t limited to the Bible. When we examine life’s beginning then we find the science backing up the biblical position: we find that the only real beginning we can talk about is conception. That’s when a new human life – genetically distinct from both parents – is started. It is smaller life, and with fewer abilities than adults, yes, but no less valuable because, as even an angry atheist knows, we don’t measure people’s worth by their size or ability. 5. Turn the tables again Christian schools constitute another problem for Faircloth. He objects to the Biblical Christian view that males and females have somewhat different roles. He claims such a perspective makes women subservient, and then asks, Why should even one child be taught that women should be subservient? Children make no adult choice to attend a sexist school. It violates their human rights to impose such views on them. Here we can, once again, turn the tables on this attack. God does call on a woman to submit to her husband (though not men in general) but is that the same thing as being subservient? Faircloth has to submit to the decisions of his employer, Richard Dawkins – would he equate submission with subservience in his case too? Does his submission to his boss mean he is less than his boss? I think Faircloth would agree, submission is very different from subservience. But let’s take this further. Christians know that whether male and female, we are all made in God’s Image. We know why women are equal. But on what basis would an atheist make that case? In a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest understanding, why would he view the generally weaker and smaller gender as being of equal worth? 6. Whence comes morality? Among other things, Faircloth is also against the corporal punishment of children in Christian schools. Interestingly, Faircloth acknowledges that all law is based on morality. As he puts it, You’ve heard the phrase “you can’t legislate morality.” In fact, the only thing you can legislate is morality. Legislative decisions embody the moral choices of a society. At last Faircloth gets something right. He understands that the policies he supports amount to an imposition of his morality on society through law. Yet he objects to Christian schools imposing their morality on students. But on what basis does an atheist speak of morality? Christians know that the moral code has its origins in the very character of God. Atheists dispute this but disputing is easy; coming up with a godless basis for an objective, applies-to-everyone moral code is difficult. Sometimes an appeal is made to consensus, as if morals are simply what we as a society agree is moral. But by that reasoning racism is only recently wrong, and a convincing PR campaign could make any evil good. When an atheist makes use of words such as “morality” and “right” and “wrong” we should demand from them the basis of their own supposedly superior moral code. Conclusion Sean Faircloth’s attacks on God’s people are unfair and unremarkable and far from unusual. We should expect to seem more like this in the years ahead. That’s why, for the glory of God and for the encouragement of his people, we should equip ourselves to offer a ready response....

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Pro-life kids!

by Bethany Bomberger 48 pages / 2019 What I most liked about this book is that my kids just picked it up and started reading it. This is the sort of book they really ought to read – it is educational, teaching them about the unborn, about what they can do to stand up for these babies, and about how the unborn are being dehumanized by those that want to kill them – but educational doesn't always mean enjoyable. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find out this one hit both marks. Illustrator Ed Koehler’s bright colors got them to open it in the first place, and then author Bethany Bomberger’s rhyming text kept their attention. One example: Sadly there are those who don’t understand That life has a purpose whether planned or unplanned Throughout history many believed a lie. “You’re not a person! No way!” they cried Today many people think that lie is still true That babies in wombs aren’t people too…. After describing the problem, the book concludes with a rallying cry for all the readers to be …pro-life kids ‘til injustice ends! We are pro-life kids. It’s life we defend! I’d highly recommend this for every school or church library!...

Animated

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family 27 min / 2009 Rating: 8/10 How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend! But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"? Or is there? This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary. But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through. So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more? There is a sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, about the title character heading off to search for the "big bad mouse" that so terrified his father. But it loses the charm of the original because now it is a father who lies to his child, rather than, as in the original, a mouse lying to predators. While we can justify lying to predators it is quite another thing for a parent to lie to their child. Also, the moody music, and the uncertainty about who we should be cheering for (the Gruffalo child, all on his lonesome searching through the woods, or the mouse that he is, basically, hunting?) make this one a good bit scarier than the original. That's why our family is going to give it a miss. ...

News

Saturday Selections - August 15, 2020

Thomas Sowell on the benefit of the 10th Commandment While Thomas Sowell doesn't mention the Bible, the point he makes here is a biblical one. Correcting "income inequality" requires us to do as the 10th Commandment forbids - it makes a virtue out of looking over the back fence and making plans for what our neighbor has. It's only when we forget about redistributing his wealth that we are free to mind our own business, and use and invest and grow what God has entrusted to us for our own good, and the good of 4 principles for talking to your kids about sex (3-minute read) Talk positively, talk often, talk freely, and talk soon... Netherlands contemplating assisted suicide for any over 75 who are "tired of living" While there probably isn't enough time to pass the bill before the next election, it is significant that there is now a push for euthanasia of the healthy. And once it is allowable for those over 75 what reason would there be to refuse it to those under 75? What reason is there for any limits once we ignore that life is created by God, and is not ours take? Morally speaking, not all COVID vaccines will be alike Some of the perspective offered in the article is specifically Roman Catholic, but the problem it points out – that some vaccines are being developed using cells from aborted children – should concern us all. 3 questions to ask before we fill up the family schedule again The summer break, along with COVID craziness, have cut into family busyness: we aren't running from soccer practice to piano recital to playdate pickups like many a family is when the school season is on us. So before all the busyness arrives once again Lauren Miller has 3 questions for us to consider before we add an activity on to our weekly schedule. Even cell death is amazingly designed! (10-minute read) Over the course of 7-10 years, every cell in your body gets replaced. That's amazing, but it also presents a problem: what to do with all the dead cells that are being replaced? Well, it turns out, your body has an amazing recycling system! While this is a somewhat technical read, even just skimming it over will give you a deeper appreciation for God's brilliance. Upcoming documentary on the Red Sea crossing This looks like it will be really interesting. The team behind this film has made three others about Israel's time in Egypt, and in an interesting wrinkle, a secular expert they consulted in the first film, who thought the Bible a great archeological text, in this film thinks the Red Sea crossing must have happened somewhere shallow because he assumes it must have occurred via natural (even if unusual) circumstances. He rules out miracles because he has ruled out God...even as he knows the Bible to be validated by archeology time and again, and believes, therefore, that Israel's crossing did happen. But what happens when we go searching where only a miracle could have permitted the crossing? The trailer seems to show there is evidence of chariots on the seafloor.  ...

Current Issue, Magazine

July/August 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: Keeping our kids safe online / Angry? But I'm not the type...right? / More birds than believers in church / The hidden meaning of the Chronicles of Narnia / A parable for children on COVID / Are bans on conversion therapy actually bans on religious conversion in drag? / Two atheists walk into a bar... / Movie and book reviews / An excerpt from "Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms - Study Resource" / Beware Netflix's "Baby Sitters Club" / Even heroes carved in marble will have feet of clay / Reformed college causes wonderful fuss / and more... Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF ...

Science - General

We’ve all got rhythm – internal clocks in plants, animals, and people too

To my husband, the idea that all humans are able accurately to measure time without recourse to clocks, seems laughable. For if this is so, why is it that I am so consistently late? To that question there may never be an answer. It is nevertheless a well-documented fact that some people can estimate time with an error of less than 1% even after 3 or more days. Clocks here, there, and everywhere This phenomenon, the ability to measure time, is extremely widespread among living creatures. The only exceptions appear to be bacteria, mosses, embryos, and creatures that live in constantly dark environments. A variety of functions in plants and animals such as enzyme activity vary in intensity with time of day. These cycles appear to be the source for biological clocks. In humans, for example, 20 functions have been shown to vary with time of day. These include wakefulness and body temperature. Processes in plants or animals which show a regular pattern of increase and decrease every 24 hours, are called circadian rhythms. The term comes from the Latin circa (about) and diem (day). To be a true circadian rhythm a process must take about 24 hours to complete. Moreover, the force driving the process must originate inside the organism. That is, the process must continue for several days at least, even when conditions are constant. In many plant species, for example, flowers are already beginning to open before dawn. It is almost as if they “know” the sun is about to rise. Even in constant darkness these flowers still open at the correct time. It is an interesting feature of biological clocks that they cannot be reprogrammed to cycles shorter or longer than approximately 24 hours. Studies on humans and test animals in space have shown that they do not adjust well to external cycles which deviate too much from 24 hours. While the length of a rhythm cannot be altered, the rhythm can be shifted. Organisms can adapt to new time zones but the adjustment may take some time. When the pattern of living has been reversed in humans, as for night work, rhythms such as body temperature may take as much as 9-10 days before inversion is complete. No wonder we experience jet lag! Even algae have it! In nature, the variety of organisms able to give off a glow of light include some bacteria, some fungi, and some marine crustaceans. The only photosynthetic organisms able to emit light, however, are tiny one-celled marine algae called dinoflagellates. In these organisms the capacity to glow follows a circadian rhythm. They give off light when they are jostled at night. When there is wave action the glow from concentrations can be seen for miles. In one such species the brightest luminescence occurs about 6 hours after night fall, and the dimmest flashes occur 12 hours later. Even in the laboratory where there is no change in the surrounding darkness to indicate passage of night and day, luminescence during the night phase may be as much as 14 times brighter than during the day phase. Biological clocks which measure tidal rhythms (12.8 hours) and lunar cycles (29.5 days) also occur. Certain diatoms (algae with glass walls) emerge onto tidal flats at low tide. They retreat down into the sand just before the tidal waters return – otherwise they would be washed away. This rhythm continues in the laboratory under constant conditions. How are these organisms able to anticipate the changing tides? Most famous of the organisms which measure lunar rhythms is the palolo worm of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It reproduces only twice a year, during the neap tides of the last quarter moon in October and November. Quite the mystery Although ability to discern tidal and lunar rhythms clearly enhances many organisms’ ability to survive, the same cannot be said for many circadian rhythms. It is a curious fact that many circadian rhythms lack obvious selective value. That is, the possession of these rhythms does not seem to enable the organism to survive better. If these capabilities came about by natural selection, as evolution theory demands, then they should confer those possessing the ability with some kind of advantage over those lacking it. Even more frustrating for the evolutionist is the question of the mechanism driving these rhythms. Experts assume the driving force must be physical rather than chemical, as temperature changes do not affect the clock. Temperature changes do affect chemical reactions, so these cannot be involved. What evolutionists would like to find is a driving force which is the same in all organisms. Conclusions about common ancestry would then be easy to draw. The evidence however seems to point away from such a common mechanism. It seems the different organisms keep time in different ways. Not only that, but different rhythms within one organisms, seem to run independently of each other. Such apparent independence of origin bodes ill for evolutionary theory. This article is a classic from Creation Science Dialogue, Volume 8, Number 2, 1981. For a fun sequel published last year, see “Celebrating Rhythm!” from Creation Science Dialogue, Volume 44, Number 3, 2017....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Henry says good-bye

When you are sad by Jocelyn Flenders edited by Edward T. Welch 32 pages / 2019 This book is part of an excellent series put out by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) called "Good News for Little Hearts." Each title addresses an area of counseling that might be of use to "little hearts" and in this one the issue is grieving the loss of a loved one. Of course, they don't tackle it head-on – that would be abrupt, and too distressing for the very children the book is intended to help. So instead of a person, we have Henry, a little hedgehog, and instead of the loss of a relative, he is trying to deal with the death of his pet ladybug Lila. Sad and angry, and he doesn't want to be around his other friends, whose pets are all still alive. But what his parents model is how to take our grief to God. Henry's dad shares relevant Bible passages, pointing his son to the God who has promised to one day dry every tear. It is a wonderful book, and brilliantly illustrated. It would probably be most useful if read before there was a need, but even after the death of a pet, or of a loved relative, the book's Scripture citations, and instructions for parents found in the back, will be incredibly helpful. Overall I would recommend it to parents of children 5-10. ...

Apologetics 101

Ready to reason: is apologetics even necessary?

A surge of pious agreement overcame me the first time I heard someone confidently assert that: "The word of God no more needs defense than does a lion in a cage. Just let the lion loose, and it will take care of itself!" There seemed something very right about that sentiment. It almost appeared irreverent to disagree with it. Well, something about that assertion is indeed right. God is certainly not in need of anything - much less the puny efforts of any particular man or woman to defend His word. He is the Creator of heaven and earth, almighty in power, and sovereign in controlling all things. The Apostle Paul, when reasoning with the Athenian philosophers, made that very point: he declared that God is not worshiped with men's hands "as though He needed any thing, seeing that He gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:24). If God were ever to hunger, for instance, He would not need to tell us since the fullness of all creation is His (Ps. 50:12)! He depends upon nothing outside Himself, and everything outside of Him depends upon Him for its existence, qualities, abilities, accomplishments, and blessings. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). So it is obvious that God does not need our inadequate reasoning and our feeble attempts to defend His word. Nevertheless, the pious-sounding remark with which we began is still mistaken. It suggests that we should not concern ourselves with efforts at apologetics because God will directly take care of such matters Himself. Need? No. Require? Yes. The remark is just as mistaken as saying that God does not need us as evangelists (He could even make the stones to cry out, couldn't He?) – and therefore efforts at evangelistic witness are unimportant. Or, a person might misguidedly think that, because God has the power and ability to provide his family with food and clothing without "help from us," he does not need to go to work tomorrow. Thinking like this is unbiblical. It confuses what God Himself needs from us and what God requires of us. It assumes that God ordains ends, but not means to those ends (or at least not the instrumentality of created means). There is no need for God to use our evangelistic witness, our daily work for a paycheck, or our defense of the faith – but He chooses to do so, and He calls us to apply ourselves to them. The Bible directs us to work, although God could provide for our families in other ways. The Bible directs us to evangelize, even though God could use other means to call sinners to Himself. And the Bible also directs us to defend the faith – not because God would be helpless without us, but because this is one of His ordained means of glorifying Himself and vindicating His truth. Christ speaks to the church as a whole through Jude, commanding us to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). False and heretical teaching was threatening the church and its grasp of gospel truth. Jude very well knew that God was in sovereign control, and indeed that God would in time directly deal with wicked teachers, consigning them to everlasting condemnation. Still Jude also urged his readers themselves to contend with the error of false teaching, not sitting back and expecting that God would simply take care of it Himself. Paul wrote to Titus that overseers (pastors and elders) in the church are required to be especially adept at refuting those who oppose the truth of God (Titus 1:9). However this is not merely the assigned task of ordained men. All believers are commanded to engage in it as well. Addressing himself to all members of the congregation, Peter penned the following command: "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks from you a reason for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). It is God Himself, speaking through Peter's inspired words, who calls upon us as believers -- each and every one of us -- to be prepared to defend the faith in the face of challenges and questions which come from unbelievers -- any one of them. The necessity of apologetics is not a divine necessity: God can surely do His work without us. The necessity of apologetics is a moral necessity: God has chosen to do His work through us and called us to it. Apologetics is the special talent of some believers, and the interested hobby of others. But it is the God-ordained responsibility of all believers. What 1 Peter 3:15 isn't We should look at 1 Peter 3:15 again and notice a few things that it does not say. 1) Not a call to arrogance It does not say that believers are supposed to take the initiative and start arrogant arguments with unbelievers, telling them that we have all the answers. We do not have to go out looking for a fight. We certainly should not sport or encourage a "I'll prove it to you" spirit, an attitude which relishes refutation. The text indicates that we offer a reasoned defense in answer to those who ask for such from us, whether they do so as an opening challenge to the integrity of God's word or as the natural response to our evangelistic witness. The text also indicates that the spirit in which we offer our apologetic answer is one of "gentleness and respect." It is not pugnacious and defensive. It is not a spirit of intellectual one-up-manship. The task of apologetics begins with humility. After all, the fear of the Lord is the starting point of all knowledge (Prov. 1:7). Moreover, apologetics is pursued in service to the Lord, and "the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach" (2 Tim. 2:24). Apologetics is not a place for vain flexing of our intellectual muscles. 2) No guarantee of persuasion Another thing that 1 Peter 3:15 does not say is that believers are responsible to persuade anybody who challenges or questions their faith. We can offer sound reasons to the unbeliever, but we cannot make him or her subjectively believe those reasons. We can refute the poor argumentation of the unbeliever, but still not persuade them. We can close the mouth of the critic, but only God can open the heart. It is not in our ability, and not our responsibility, to regenerate the dead heart and give sight to the blind eyes of unbelievers. That is God's gracious work. It is God who must enlighten the eyes of one's understanding (Eph. 1:18). "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot know them because they are Spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Until God in His sovereign grace changes the sinner from within, he will not see the kingdom of God or submit to the King. Jesus taught this to Nicodemus, reminding him that "the wind blows where it will... So is every one who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). Our task is to present a faithful and sound witness and defense. The task of persuasion is God's. That is why apologists should not evaluate their success or adjust their message on the basis of whether the unbeliever finally comes to agree with them or not. 3. Not based on a supposed "neutrality" Yet another thing that 1 Peter 3:15 does not say is that defending the faith has a different ultimate authority than does the task of expounding the faith. It is a common mistake among evangelicals to imagine that the authority of God and His word is the basis for their theology and preaching, but the authority for defending this faith must be something other than God and His word -- or else we would be begging the question raised by unbelievers. Accordingly, believers will sometimes be misled into thinking that whatever they take as the ultimate standard in apologetical thinking must be neutral and agreed upon by believer and unbeliever alike; and from here they go on to make the second mistake of thinking that something like "reason" is such a commonly understood and accepted standard. These ideas are quite obviously out of accord with Biblical teaching, however. Does apologetics have a different epistemological authority than expounding theology? Our theology is founded upon the authority of Christ, speaking by His Spirit in the words of Scripture. 1 Peter 3:15 teaches us that the precondition of presenting a defense of the faith (apologetics) is also that we "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts." It would be a mistake to imagine that Peter is speaking of the "heart" here as though it our center of emotions over against the mind with which we think. In Biblical terminology the "heart" is the location of our reasoning (Rom. 1:21), meditation (Ps. 19:14), understanding (Prov. 8:5), thinking (Deut. 7:17; 8:5) and believing (Rom. 10:10). It is just here – in the center of our thinking and reasoning – that Christ is to be consecrated as Lord, when we engage in apologetical discussion with inquiring unbelievers. Thus theology and apologetics have the same epistemological authority – the same Lord over all. Reason and reasoning Believers who aim to defend their faith make a serious mistake when they imagine, then, that something like "reason" should displace Christ as the ultimate authority (Lord) in their thinking and argumentation. They also fall into very sloppy and confused thinking due to misunderstanding over the word "reason." Christians are often befuddled about "reason," not knowing whether it is something to embrace or to eschew. This is usually because they do not pinpoint the precise way in which the word is being used. It may very well be the most ambiguous and obscure word in the field of philosophy. On the one hand, reason can be thought of as a tool – man's intellectual or mental capacity. Taken in this sense, reason is a gift of God to man, indeed part of the divine image. When God bids His people "Come let us reason together" (Isa. 1:18), we see that we, like Him, are capable of rational thought and communication. God has given us our mental abilities to serve and glorify Him. It is part of the greatest commandment of the law that we should "love the Lord thy God... with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:37). Reason not ultimate On the other hand, reason can be thought of as an ultimate and independent authority or standard by which man judges all claims to truth, even God's. In this sense, reason is a law unto itself, as though man's mind were self-sufficient, not in need of divine revelation. This attitude commonly leads people to think that they are in a position to think independently, to govern their own lives, and to judge the credibility of God's Word based on their own insight and authority; more dramatically, this attitude deified Reason as the goddess of the French Revolution. "Professing themselves to he wise, they became fools," as Paul said (Romans 1:22). This view of reason does not recognize that God is the source and precondition of man's intellectual abilities – that reason does not make sense apart from the perspective of God's revelation. It does not recognize the sovereign and transcendent character of God's thought: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are. . . My thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Reason as God's gift Should Christians endorse the use of reason? Two equal but opposite mistakes are possible in answering that question. Believers can recognize the appropriateness of using reason, taken as their intellectual faculty, but then slide into endorsing reason as intellectual autonomy. Believers can recognize the inappropriateness of reason as intellectual autonomy, but then mistakenly think this entails rejecting reason as an intellectual faculty. The first group honors God's gift to man of reasoning ability, but dishonors God through its rationalism. The second group honors God's ultimate authority and the need for obedience in all aspects of man's life, but it dishonors God through anti-intellectual pietism. Paul counterbalances both of these errors in Colossians 2. He writes that "all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ" (Col. 2: 3). Accordingly we must "beware lest anyone rob you through philosophy, even vain deceit, which is after the tradition of men, after the elementary principles of the world, and not after Christ" (Col 2:8). This exhortation is not a diatribe against the use of reason or the study of philosophy. Paul makes it clear that believers have the advantage of the best reasoning and philosophy because Christ is the source of all knowledge – all knowledge, not simply religious matters or sentiment. Moreover, if there are many philosophies which are not "after Christ," there is also that philosophy which is. Anti-intellectualism throws the baby out with the bath. It destroys true wisdom in the name of resisting foolishness. On the other hand, it is equally plain from Colossians 2 that Paul does not endorse reasoning and philosophy which refuse to honor the ultimate authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that wisdom and knowledge must be found. Any alleged wisdom which follows the traditions of men and elementary principles of the world – rather than Christ – is to be rejected as dangerous and deceitful. The Bible teaches us, therefore, that "reason" is not to be taken as some neutral authority in man's thinking. It is rather the intellectual capacity with which God created man, a tool to be used in serving and glorifying the ultimate authority of God Himself. Sharpening the tool Reason properly understood (reasoning) is to be endorsed by believers in Christ. In particular it is to be employed in defending the Christian faith. This is one of the things which Peter communicates to us when he wrote that we should always be "ready to give a defense to anyone who asks from you a reason for the hope within you" (1 Peter 3:15). A word of explanation and defense is to be offered to those who challenge the truth of our Christian faith. We are not to obscure the glory and veracity of God by answering unbelievers with appeals to "blind faith" or thoughtless commitment. We are to "cast down reasonings and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5), realizing all along that we cannot do so unless we ourselves "bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter uses the expression "always ready." This is significant for those who wish to honor the Biblical necessity of engaging in apologetics. What the Lord asks of us is that we be prepared to offer an answer in defense of our faith, whenever anybody asks us for a reason. We are to be "ready" to do this – indeed, "always ready." And that means that it is imperative that we reflect on the questions that unbelievers are likely to ask and challenges which are commonly laid down to Christianity. We should study and prepare to give reasons for our faith when the faithless ask. Christians need to sharpen the tool of their reasoning ability so as to glorify God and vindicate the claims of the gospel. We should all give our best efforts in the service of our Savior, who termed Himself "the Truth" (John 14:6). Every believer wants to see the truth of Christ believed and honored by others. And that is why we, need to be "ready to reason" with unbelievers. This study and those which follow are intended to help us become better prepared for that necessary task. Endnotes 1) Apologetics is the term commonly applied to the defense of the Christian faith against the intellectual opposition and objections of unbelievers. 2) Epistemology refers to one's theory of knowledge (its nature, sources, limits). When we ask "How do you know that to be true? (or how could you justify that claim?)," we are asking an epistemological question. 3) Whatever originates beyond man's temporal experience or exceeds that finite experience is said to "transcend" man. This article was first published in the December 1990 issue of Penpoint (Vol. VI:12) and is reprinted with permission of Covenant Media Foundation, which hosts and sells many Dr. Greg Bahnsen resources on their website www.cmfnow.com....

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Boxcar Children

Animated / Children's 2013 / 81 minutes Rating: 7/10 The Boxcar Children is the first title in a popular and still expanding children's series of books. And just like the book, the film is about four children - three brothers and one sister - who have lost their parents, and have been told they will have to live with their grandfather. But Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny don't know their grandfather at all, and imagine that, because he never came to visit, he must be a cruel man. So they run away. The first part of the story is about how they get by, day to day, all on their own. It's when they find an old, long abandoned, railway boxcar that things start looking up for them. Then the older brother can go into town to do odd jobs, and the other three can start setting up the boxcar as a real home for them. This is a children's story so, of course, it has a happy ending. And I don't think I give away too much to say it involves their cruel grandfather not being cruel at all. CAUTIONS The only cautions would concern language: in one instance a character says "holy mollie" and in another someone utters "oh my gosh" but that is the extent of it. CONCLUSION While there are a few moments of tension – especially early on when they are being chased by a couple who wants to put the children to work in their bakery – this is a pretty gentle movie. The plot is also simple, and I say that not as a criticism, but only to note this is more of a children's film than something the whole family will enjoy. Mom and dad won't mind too much, but I don't expect teens will enjoy sitting through it. But if you children who have been reading the Boxcar Children series, then this will be a treat. The first book in the series, The Boxcar Children, was published in 1924, but the series really started gaining in popularity in 1942, when it was reissued. The author, Gertrude Chandler Warner, went on to write a total of 19 stories about the four siblings (and I've been told that these 19 are much better than the more than 100+ that have followed). There's no Christian content in the book or the film but as you might expect from a story written almost 100 years ago, there's nothing all that objectionable either. So it is a good safe film that kids will love, and parents won't mind. And now there is a sequel, The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island, which we review here. ...

News

Saturday Selections - August 8, 2020

Our Kids Online: Porn, Predators & How to Keep Them Safe A new documentary making the rounds is an eye-opener and can be rented for $5 US at the link above. Read our review here. What do you believe? The value of knowing...in words "You say one picture is worth a thousand words? Well, let’s see about that. You give me one thousand words and I’ll give you the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm; and the Hippocratic Oath; and a sonnet by Shakespeare; and the Preamble to the Constitution; and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address; and I’ll still have enough words left over for just about all of the Boy Scout oath. And I wouldn’t trade you those things for any picture on earth." Why science and atheism don't mix "Science proceeds on the basis of the assumption that the universe is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to the human mind. No science can be done without the scientist believing this, so it is important to ask for grounds for this belief. Atheism gives us none, since it posits a mindless, unguided origin of the universe’s life and consciousness." While John Lennox is not a six-day creationist he does solid work here pointing out this gaping hole in atheistic evolutionary thinking. Two fantastic responses to racism Black conservatives are frequent targets of racism. These two Christians show how to respond with grace and power. The most frightening text in the Bible? Michael Kelly weighs in on Matthew 7:21-23, and the Church's role in addressing self-deception. When they say "Assisted Suicide is compassionate" (6 min) Why is suicide wrong? For the same reason that murder is: because we are taking the life of an image-bearer of God, and that is His, and not ours to take. This video overlooks this Christian foundation, and lists four practical problems that often result when a nation accepts Assisted Suicide. The four points are fantastic, and the video important viewing. But when we miss out on the Christian foundation, then any arguments we build won't have a firm footing. If it is only practical problems that prevent us from supporting Assisted Suicide, then that is where the debate will be had, and the other side will offer practical solutions. So, for example, if "sometimes a terminal diagnosis is wrong" there is an easy solution to that: a second opinion (or even a third, and fourth). Practical problem solved! Why won't such a practical solution actually work? Because once we think life something that is ours to take, then we won't value it enough to protect it this adamantly. The core problem is not a practical one, but whether we are going to treat life as given by God. When we understand that is the core issue, then we can point out the practical problems that result from seeing life as anything short of sacred. But those practical arguments will only stand if they rest on a foundation of Rock (Ps. 78:35). This post has been edit to correct a wrong link for the Michael Kelly article, which in its original mistaken form, took readers to what seems to be a cult's page. So, yeah, not the intended destination. Our thanks to the reader who caught this mistake - it is now fixed!...

In a Nutshell

Tidbits - August 2020

What would King Solomon do? A policeman arrested two men and confiscated a pair of loaded dice. In court, each man accused the other of owning the dice. “Constable,” said the magistrate, “did you take these dice without a warrant?” The policeman nodded sheepishly. “You had no right to,” said the magistrate. “Give them back immediately.” One culprit stuck out his hand to retrieve the dice. The magistrate promptly sentenced him to three months and freed the other. SOURCE: Based on a joke from "The Bedside Book of Laughter, with jokes selected from Reader’s Digest" Why parents have to be teachers Our grandparents never had to be taught that homosexuality was wrong, or that there are just two genders. Now those two points are cultural battlegrounds. But are we, as parents, actively engaged in this fight? Two telling quotes, below, illustrate why we need to teach our children what God has said on these subjects, and more, and not simply assume they understand. “One generation believes something. The next assumes it. And the third will forget and deny it.” – D.A. Carson “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.” – commonly attributed to John Wesley Penguins are super cool! Did you know Emperor Penguins can hold their breath for as long as 18 minutes, and fast for up to 115 days waiting for their eggs to hatch? The devil in stocking feet A friend recently shared an expression his grandfather used to say: in a compromising Christian school “the devil walks around in stocking feet” while in the public school “he walks around in wooden shoes.” His point? The public school's dismissal of God is a heresy easy to spot, but a compromised Christian school might cover over their errors with out-of-context Bible verses, making them hard to discern. That had this gentleman more worried about children being sent to that sort of "Christian" school than to the obviously unchristian public school. Thankfully, many of us have option #3: an uncompromisingly Christian school. Pops top profs “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” – George Herbert C.S. Lewis on being far too easily pleased “If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. "You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. “The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and to nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – “The Weight of Glory” in the Weight of Glory An original sin Three-year-old Linda watched excitedly as her visiting aunt unpacked her suitcase. The little girl was waiting eagerly for the present she knew was coming. At long last two bouncy balls were produced, one green, the other yellow. “One is for you, and one for your brother Timmy,” her aunt explained. “Which would you like?” Quick as a wink Linda replied, “I want Timmy’s” SOURCE: Based on a joke from "The Bedside Book of Laughter, with jokes selected from Reader’s Digest"...

Sexuality

The ethical issue of transsexuality

Editor’s note: though this is 25 years old, it is just as relevant today as when it was written. A correspondent recently requested that I share some Biblical insight on the issue of transsexualism, an increasing and bizarre phenomenon of our sex-crazed and sex-confused age. Only recent medical technology has made it possible for a male to undergo surgery which will change "him" anatomically into a female (and vice versa). Does the ancient law of God help us draw any ethical evaluation of such a thing? The correspondent asked whether such surgery changes a person's standing in terms of God's commandments. (Is "he/she" free to marry? Should "he/she" be encouraged in the newly assumed sexual role?) Should a post-operative transsexual be counseled from Scripture to restore "his/her" former status? How should the church be involved? In reply, I pointed out that although my book, Homosexuality: A Biblical View (Baker Book House, 1978), does not directly address the issue of transsexualism, it does offer us by implication an ethical evaluation of such a thing. Scripture clearly teaches us that it is an abomination in God's eyes to pursue or even to desire sexual relations with a person of one's own gender. Such a desire is in effect a desire to be a member of the opposite sex (who would, as such, properly qualify as a sex partner for one's own gender). Thus the condemnation of homosexuality would reasonably apply to transsexual desires and behavior as well (as they pertain, at least, to sexual conduct and interests). But Scripture speaks more directly to the ethical issue of transsexuality as well. We can see this by first taking note of the fact that a male does not truly become a female by means of any surgical procedure now practiced. Part of one's sexual identity as a male or female is one's biological part and function in bringing about children. "Male and female created He them.... and God said unto them, 'Be fruitful and multiply'" (Gen. 1:27-28). This is only part of one's sexual identity, to be sure. And sadly, for some individuals this aspect of their bodily identity does not function in a healthy or normal fashion (e.g., impotent males, barren females). Moreover, one may have the normal function and choose to keep it from coming to issue (e.g., abstinence, vasectomy, tubal ligation). Nevertheless, speaking as to the nature of the gender classification, to be a male (ideally or according to divine intention) entails the ability to impregnate, and to be a female (ideally) entails the ability to bear a child. Those who undergo sex-change operations do not fundamentally "change" their sexuality since they do not acquire impregnating or child-bearing abilities, as the case may be (this having nothing to do with a voluntary choice not to do so). What are we to think of someone who has undergone a surgical change of anatomy, then? At best, the person who has a sex-change operation is involved in an elaborate and extreme game of "dressing up" as the other gender (acquiring bodily parts which facilitate an outward costume). Here we have a bizarre biological masquerade. Now then, when transsexualism is seen in this perspective, the Bible all of a sudden speaks directly and obviously to it as an ethical issue. Deuteronomy 22:5 declares: "A woman shall not wear what pertains to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever does these things is an abomination unto Jehovah your God." If true in the lesser case (items of clothing), how much more in the greater (items of biology)! The condemnation of cross-dressing covers crossing over sexually as well. A person who has undergone a sex-change operation but the later comes to Christian conversion needs to repent of this (as any other) sin and do the works appropriate to repentance. This would involve "getting back" to where they belong sexually (thus seeking a reversal operation), hating all desires to be other than what God has made them sexually, and seeking to live in a godly fashion as the male/female they were created to be. The church must counsel and support the converted transsexual in these things, as it helps all other kinds of sinners. This article was first published in the June, 1995 issue of Penpoint (Vol. VI:6) and is reprinted with permission of Covenant Media Foundation, which hosts and sells many other Dr. Bahnsen resources on their website www.cmfnow.com....

Assorted

Was Saint Francis a Sissy?

One hundred and fifty thousand children had been on the brink of starving to death, but thanks to the kind gift of a very generous billionaire, every child now had enough food to keep him alive. That gift had arrived in the form of one big check. The horror was now over. It was finished. It was just a matter of distributing the food using the few relief workers we had. Without them to get the food to the children, there would have been many more deaths. Some days later, a frantic worker burst into the camp and cried, “Some of the relief workers have stopped distributing food. Masses of children are dying!” Why would the workers stop when there was plenty of food? It didn’t make sense. The distraught man said, “It’s because one of them held up a sign that said, ‘Feed the starving children. Where necessary, use food.’ That has caused some of the workers to simply befriend the starving children without giving them food. It’s insane!” **** I’m sure you have heard of Saint Francis of Assisi. The first time I ever heard him was back in 1965. It was during the surf movie The Endless Summer. Four surfers who were chasing the sun discovered the perfect wave, at a place in South Africa called “Cape Saint Francis.” The sight of the perfect wave excited me beyond words. The next time I heard of him was when I heard that he said: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Where necessary, use words.” That statement upset me beyond words, because it was a philosophy that I knew sounded deeply spiritual... to those who were spiritually shallow. It made as much sense as “Feed starving children. Where necessary, use food.” On July 16, 1228 Francis of Assisi was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. That’s a long time ago, so it’s a little late for questions, but if I could I would like to find out why anyone would say such a strange thing? Was it because he was fearful to use actual words to preach the truth of the Gospel? Or was it because he thought that people would see that he had good works and hear the message of salvation without a preacher, something contrary to Scripture’s: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Whatever the case, 800 years since Francis we have many who profess faith in Jesus, and are no doubt using this popular philosophy to justify being speechless. To them salvation truly is an “unspeakable” gift. Recently someone told me about a conference where 100,000 Christians gathered to worship God. When I asked if they were exhorted to go out and preach the Gospel to every creature, it was no surprise to me that they weren’t. Instead, they were exhorted to live a life of worship. Again, that sounds spiritual, but you can’t worship God without obedience to His Word, and His Word commands us to preach the Gospel to every creature. I regularly meet those who think they can obey the Great Commission without using words. When they hear the Gospel preached they are usually offended and say things like, “I appreciate what you are saying, but I don’t like the way you are saying it.” With a little probing, they are the relationship folks, who think preaching the Gospel means building relationships with the lost, and never mentioning words like “sin,” “Hell,” and “Judgment Day.” They think that real love is to withhold the Bread of life from those that are starving to death. Remember that Jesus said, “Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). According to the dictionary, a “sissy” is “a timid or cowardly person.” From what I understand of Saint Francis, he was no sissy. He was a loving man who was not afraid to use words when he preached. He wasn’t frightened to preach repentance to a sinful world. However, there have been times when I could have been called that name. I have felt the grip of fear and have wanted to drop words such as sin, Hell, repentance and Judgment Day when I have preached to sinners. I don’t want to come across as being unloving or judgmental, but I fear God more than I fear man. So when God’s Word tells me to use words, I use words, despite the consequences. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s sobering warning to his hearers: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20: 26-27). Perhaps he spoke about being free from their blood because he was familiar with God Himself warning Ezekiel of his responsibility to warn his generation: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 3:18). When someone thinks that they can feed starving children and not use food, that’s their business. But when their philosophy spreads throughout the camp, it becomes an unspeakable tragedy. If we become passive about the Great Commission because we are more concerned about ourselves than the eternal well-being of others, we may be able to hide our motives from man, but not from God. He warns, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12). There’s an interesting irony to this story. After a little research I came across a quote about the famous saying. It is from someone who had been a Franciscan monk for 28 years—and had earned an M.A. in Franciscan studies. He contacted some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world to try and verify the saying. He said, “It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.” So if it wasn’t Saint Francis who said not to use words, who was it? Who is it that would like to see the truth of the Gospel hindered from being preached to every creature? That doesn’t need to be answered. The time is short. The laborers are few. Please, cast off your fears and equip yourself to preach the Gospel with words. They are necessary. “Was Saint Francis a Sissy?” is Copyright 2020 by Ray Comfort, LivingWaters.com, and is reprinted here with permission....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Noah: A wordless picture book

by Mark Ludy 60 pages / 2014 Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on. The danger with such an account is that for some it might come to replace the original biblical version. As children pore over this picture book's pages repeatedly, they could easily forget that even as it is reasonable to believe Noah might have made use of the strength of a dinosaur or two, the Bible doesn't actually say he did. But what such a book can also do is help us re-evaluate some other non-biblical assumptions we might have inadvertently adopted. Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter colored black, while Noah himself is looking more Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandanavian sort of white. That might bring questions for the many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow. Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They weren't primitive so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they also aren't living in caves either. Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads. We shouldn't let this book overshadow the biblical account, but when we put Ludy's Noah in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid. I'll offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, (and maybe they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book!). So who is this for? We probably all think of picture books as being for children, but I really think everyone will love it, from ages 3 on up to 103! You can take an extended peek below. https://cdn.plough.com/-/media/files/plough/lookinside/n/noahenlookinside.pdf...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle

Animated / Children 81 Minutes / 2015 Rating: 7/10 We might wonder why it hadn't happened sooner. The third film begins with the unflappable man in the yellow hat finally getting tired of the trouble George keeps getting himself in. He wants everyone's favorite monkey to learn a new word: "caution." But when an opportunity comes up for George to head up into space on a rescue mission, caution goes out the window. Off he goes up, up, up into space, and then, when the space capsule has an equipment malfunction, down, down, down he falls, crash-landing in the jungles of Africa. While the man in the yellow hat thinks "jungles are no place for a monkey," George has a great time meeting all sorts of animals and making friends of them all. Those friendships will serve him well when George and his best friend join forces and have to make their way through the forest's most treacherous areas. CAUTIONS There is a brief scene in the museum where, in the background, we see a display touting the evolution of man. It's a line up with a model of a modern man on one side, a large monkey-like creature on the other, and a few caveman-like creatures in-between. My children didn't understand what it was all about, but George does bring it to notice by jumping into the line-up, falling in behind a large monkey creature. The whole thing lasts just a few seconds. Another more notable caution is a scene in which the man in the yellow hat takes the role of "dumb dad." This is a pretty common theme in film and on TV, with the kid (or, in this case, monkey) portrayed as wiser than his parents who just don't get it. But unlike some films, in which this disrespectful (and running right up against the fifth commandment) attitude is a key element in the whole movie, this is just one scene. I brought it to my kids' attention because this is a mild example of something they'll see again and again, which made for a good teaching moment. CONCLUSION This is quite a good film, but not a great one, striking me as being more like an extended episode of the TV series than a feature film. But if your family loves George then they are sure to love this too. It's a rollicking, silly, goofy adventure – very much the typical Curious George fare. ...

News

Saturday Selections - August 1, 2020

Why this valedictorian regrets finishing on top (6 minutes) It took him a whole year to learn this lesson, and he's happy to share it. Free episode from Tim Challies' new documentary EPIC (25 min) In his 10-episode documentary EPIC, Christian blogger extraordinaire Tim Challies takes us around the world to investigate Church history by looking at a variety of key historical objects. In this first, free episode, we head to Israel to see what may (or may not) be Jesus' tomb, and go to Italy to see some ancient anti-Christian graffiti. NBA player wanted his jersey to highlight the national debt Now that the NBA has resumed play, we're seeing jerseys that, instead of the player's name, feature one of several approved "social justice" messages. A message that didn't make the cut was Spencer Dinwiddie's request for "trillion" which, coupled with his jersey number 26, would have been the current US national debt. 8 lessons from a friend whose life (and death) preached Christ A young pastor who was never famous passed away this past month. Part of his legacy was teaching a small group of men how to be godly men. "No Justice, No Peace"? Do two wrongs now make a right? (10-minute read) A 70-something-year-old waving a "No Justice, No Peace" sign at a BLM protest probably doesn't understand the threat implicit in that slogan. But the rioters do. Intent on burning down the system, they are acting as if two wrongs can make a right. But as Hendrik van der Breggen explains, that simply isn't so. Pornography is harmless. What would you say? (4 minutes) This is a great video laying out some practical problems that result from pornography use. But where the video falls short is that, even as it is produced by Christians, it fails to address pornography as the spiritual issue it is. The real problem with pornography is that it breaks the 7th Commandment (do not commit adultery). Sinning does bring with it practical problems, but if that was all there was to it, then we could address those problems with practical solutions. For example, if porn use makes someone lonely, only using it with someone else. Practical problem solved! What we need to do, then, is to stack these practical objections on top of a solid Christian foundation. Then our argument might sound something like this: Pornography isn't harmless; it's a sin against God. As a sin, it is destructive, causing – as this video describes – loneliness and sexual disfunction. ...

Apologetics 101

Four things you can do when someone challenges your faith

Have you ever felt “the big chill”? It’s the term I use for the cold shiver that runs up your spine when you’re confronted with what seems at first glance to be a persuasive challenge to your Christian convictions, that terrible suspicion that begins to settle in your bones that the challenger has a point. And it seems convincing. And it shakes you. I have those moments, too, and they’re not fun. Over the years, though, I’ve learned a simple, practical system to deal with the “chill” and I want to pass it on to you. It’s not especially clever or novel – thoughtful people have been using it for ages. But it works well to sort things out and help you get to the truth of the matter. A) Don't panic First, don’t panic. Don’t let the problem overwhelm you before you’ve had a chance to carefully assess it. There are almost always answers to these issues that are within reach if you pause, take a deep breath, then apply some thought to the matter. B) Clarify the claim Next, take a moment to reconnoiter. Get the lay of the land, so to speak. What exactly are you facing? What is the substance beyond the rhetoric that may be making the challenge look more compelling than it is? That takes two steps. Here’s step one. Clarify the claim. Ask, “What’s the big idea?” What is the point the challenge is meant to persuade you of? That there is no God? That Jesus never existed? That the Bible is not reliable? That Christianity is false? Whatever it is, get a clear fix on that point since it’s the bridge to the next step. C) Add in "because..." Step two is to add the word “because” after the big idea. “There is no God because…” or “The Bible is not reliable because…” etc. The point here is to now get a fix on the reasons that allegedly support the big idea. Make a list of them. Don’t rush this step. Sometimes it takes a little work to sift through the rhetoric to uncover the specifics. Don’t be surprised if, when you look closer, there’s nothing there but noise. It happens. No real reasons, just bluster. These two steps – clarifying the claim, then listing the reasons for it – allow you to quickly summarize the whole challenge – the basic point and the rationale behind it. If there’s more than one claim, then take each challenge individually. This is important: Deal with one point at a time. D) Do an assessment Finally, with the full argument in view do an assessment. Simply ask if the reasons offered legitimately support the big idea. An easy way to do this is to link the reasons with the basic claim by using the word “therefore.” This step of assessment can be difficult (if the argument is a technical one) or it can be incredibly simple. Let’s look at some examples. Take the claims, “Christians are hypocrites,” or, “Religion causes violence and suffering in the world,” or, “Belief in God is a crutch.” Each is meant to implicitly undermine our confidence in Christianity (i.e., “Christianity is false because Christians are hypocrites”). And these challenges seem all the more forceful since – on my take at least – these statements are each true in some measure. Even so, do they justify the (implied) big idea that Christianity is false? Let’s see. Consider our assessment: Many Christians are hypocrites, therefore Christianity is false. Religion causes violence, therefore Jesus’ view of the world must be wrong. Belief in God satisfies an emotional need, therefore God doesn’t exist. Hmmm. None of these work, do they? When stated clearly, these challenges all turn out to be conclusions that simply do not follow from the evidence. These charges – even when true (and many are not true, but that’s a different problem) – may tell us something about anthropology or sociology or even psychology, but they tell us nothing at all about God or Jesus or Christianity. The reasons do not support the big idea. There’s nothing to fear here. Conclusion So there it is. When you feel the big chill – when you’re shaken by a conversation, or an article, or a presentation that challenges your core convictions – don’t panic. Instead, use the system. First isolate the claims. Second, list the reasons. Third, do the assessment. You’ll be amazed at how effective this simple tool can be. Greg Koukl is the author of Tactics, an apologetics primer, and is the founder and president of Stand to Reason, an organization that seeks to equip Christians to be knowledgeable, wise, and godly ambassadors of Christ. This article is reprinted with permission and first appeared in the magazine in 2017....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

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

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

Gender roles, News, Sexuality

Netflix’s "The Baby-Sitters Club" sells transgenderism to its preteen/teen audience

From 1986 to 2000, the more than 200 Baby-Sitters Club titles sold more than 175 million copies to a target audience of teen and pre-teen girls. While God is absent from the series, the books were popular in many Christian households largely because of what else was absent: sex, vulgar language, and violence. Still, dating, death, and divorce were recurring topics, and always addressed from an entirely secular perspective. That’s why this was not a series to overindulge in; it was mostly inoffensive but also mostly empty calories. In contrast, the Netflix version is poison. The kids are as sweet as ever but now the adults include several gay couplings. There is passing mention made about adult topics like The Handmaid's Tale, a menstruation sculptor, painting nude models. and the dating site Tinder. Then, in the fourth episode, Dawn teaches her friend Mary Anne that just like Mary Anne is right-handed and it would be weird to be forced to act left-handed, some boys know they are girls…and it would be just as weird to try to make them act like boys. Mary Anne takes this to heart, and when a doctor and nurse refer to the boy she is babysitting as a he, she asks them to stop this “misgendering” because he wants to be known as a girl. These exchanges are troubling because of just how compelling they are. Dawn comes off as super cool – she dresses sharp, and talks with confidence. Mary Anne, in her confrontation with the nurse and doctor, is polite but firm – she displays the sort of courage we would love our kids to exhibit too. So this defense of transgenderism is…winsome. It’s only when we consider what Mary Anne is politely and courageous arguing for that we understand just how wicked this is: Mary Anne is encouraging the boy, Bailey, to embrace his delusion, she’s pushing him down a path to sterilizing drugs and surgeries that will cut off healthy body parts. Hers is a “love” that leads to disfigurement (Prov. 12:10b). But that’s not how the show’s target teen audience is going to see it. The Baby-Sitters Club is only the latest children’s book series to get an LGBT makeover. PBS’s 2020 season of Clifford the Big Red Dog now has a recurring homosexual couple, and back in 2019, their Arthur series featured a homosexual “wedding.” Sesame Street will feature the cross-dressing Billy Porter wearing his tuxedo dress in an upcoming episode. Amazon’s Pete the Cat and Bug Diaries – both animated features aimed at the very youngest viewers – feature characters with two mommies or two daddies. And on both TV and in the comics, homosexuality has also become a part of the Riverdale/Archie Andrews universe. Parents already know the TV doesn’t make for a good babysitter. But whereas in the past it was more an utter waste of time, now it’s eager to teach our children that wrong is right. If you have teenagers it might be worth reading Genesis 1:27, or Mark 10:6, then watching the clip below, and discussing the techniques Netflix is using to obscure and deny God’s Truth about sex and gender. When Bailey comes down with a fever, Mary Anne rushes her to the hospital, where two doctors misgender her. Mary Anne firmly corrects them. Misgendering is traumatic. This is one of the baseline ways cisgender people can show up for the trans people in their life pic.twitter.com/EyrenC5QDK — Netflix (@netflix) July 23, 2020 ...

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.

by Kirsten A. Jenson 2017 / 40 pages Talking with our kids about pornography on the Internet is not a conversation any parent wants to have. But we need to do it. So when I saw this book online I ordered a copy, thinking it might make things easier. And it did. Once I put it to use. Amazon delivered it quickly, as is their custom, but then it sat on the shelf for probably half a year. I don't know why it took me so long, but this last week, I looked up from my computer one summer vacation morning to find all of my young charges in my office together reading. I love the company...at least when they are quiet. But this time around they were twitching and tapping and whistling and chatting, making my work impossible. It was either time to chase them back down the stairs or...time to read a book together. So, I finally got to it. Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is best suited for children from 4 to 7. In my case, my audience consisted of one in that range and two above it, but it worked because the older two were just listening in. I had tried the original version intended for 8 and up (with the same title, but lacking the "Jr.") with my oldest, and found it really helpful, but on the long side. We'd gotten interrupted 15 minutes in, and only about a quarter into the book and we've never gotten back to it since. While I do intend to read it with her at some point, this picture book version of the same message was a good substitute for now. The book, after all, is just meant as a prompt for the discussion parents need to have with their kids. So as we read along, we all did a lot of talking. The book could probably be covered in just 5 minutes, but the discussion took at least another 15. First, we learned about how there are pictures all over, on our walls, on billboards, and on screens too. Some are good pictures, like pictures of puppies or family pictures or fun videos. "But some pictures," the author informs us, "are not good. They are bad for you." The definition given of a bad picture is very clear, and very G-rated: "Bad pictures show the parts of the body that we cover with a swimsuit. These parts are meant to be kept private." In response to this page, one daughter brought up a billboard, where the "lady wasn't wearing many clothes." We discussed how it was good to bring that up with mom or dad, and that we'd want her and her sisters to wear more clothes than that. It also gave me an opportunity to go over the book's helpful definition of bad pictures and how this example both kind of fit but kind of didn't. I'd recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures jr. for any parent, but note that if you don't already read to your kids regularly, don't launch into this one as one of your first. There was a reason I took so long to get to it: it is a weird topic. But what made it a lot less weird was that we do regularly read together, and talk about what we're reading. So if you don't already read with your kids, it's a habit worth starting now...as you wait for your Amazon delivery of Good Pictures to arrive. I give this a big two thumbs up for being a great tool to help parents with an absolutely vital conversation....

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Antboy

Family / Superhero 2013 / 77 minutes RATING: 7/10 Pelle is a 12-year-old boy who goes entirely unnoticed at his school...except when he ruins a couple of bullies' fun with a well-thrown apple. Then their attention turns to him, and he has to dash down street after street before ducking into the yard of old Mrs. Gæmelkrå. The bullies are too scared to follow, but why? Well, it turns out some mysterious stuff has been going on at the Gæmelkrå house, involving some interesting insect experimentation. When one of those experiments – a tiny Hercules ant – bites Pelle he takes a Peter Parker-like turn and gains the proportionate strength of an ant. But before Pelle can become the hero Antboy, he needs a little help from a friend or two. Wilhelm, a comic-book fanatic, is the first to spot Pelle's new abilities and offers to help as both costumer and coach. It's once they settle on an outfit that Antboy is then born! Of course, you can't have a superhero movie without a supervillain, and it's the scariness of Antboy's nemesis, the adult "Flea," rather than any of the comic book type violence, that would make this film too much for young children. Common to superhero movies, there is also a damsel in distress. Pelle's 6th Grade crush, Amanda, gets kidnapped by the Flea and has to wait patiently for rescue. While I like the courage of Pelle – guys have to learn to be brave – as a dad of daughters, I'm not so wild about how Amanda is so very superficial and helpless (she's no Proverbs 31 sort!). Her twin Ida (they don't look alike but are in the same grade) is a very different type of girl, and while not the ideal role model either, she is a significant upgrade, working with Antboy at one point, to rescue Amanda. CAUTIONS One caution would concern a brief instance of potty humor: the ant-powered Pelle makes use of a school urinal only to discover that, like the ant, he can now secrete acid. There is no immodesty but we do see a stream of acidic pee, which does a number on the urinal. He later uses this "power" to break open a lock on a door. There is also one instance of the use of "damn" (by the bad guy). CONCLUSION This is a movie about a quiet boy who sees his superpowers as a chance to be popular but realizes that friendship is quite a different and better thing. Antboy was filmed in Danish, but its English dubbing is such that kids might not even notice (even as parents most certainly will). It owns its cheesiness, making it silly fun for families that can deal with the peril and tension.  Overall I would recommend it for 10, or maybe even 11 and up. There are two sequels, but neither measures up to the original. You can watch the trailer below, and watch the film itself for free here. ...

News

Saturday Selections - July 25, 2020

Don't agree with me? I know why! It must be because you want people to die!  When the economy was shuttered it was presented as being about lives vs. money, and anyone who had a problem with the closure must have wanted people to die. Or maybe there was more to it. What follows is a humorous appeal for everyone to tone it down and use reasons rather than empty rhetoric. The Left continues to eat its own The bisexual, pro-choice Bari Weiss, and homosexual Andrew Sullivan (one of the most vocal voices in favor of gay "marriage") both recently felt the need to resign from the Left-leaning New York Times. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood – the world's largest abortion network – is scrubbing the name of its founder, Margaret Sanger from their New York clinic. It's shades of 2 Chronicles 20. Defund the police? I do not think that word means what you think it means The battle in our culture is in some ways a battle over the dictionary, and what words actually mean. As Calgary's Chief Constable Mark Neufeld recently noted, "everyone has a different idea of what defunding police means. 'For some, this is about diverting money, for some this is about dismantling police and for others, it’s about disarming police...'" Counting the cost of COVID ARPA Canada's Levi Minderhoud has written a thought-provoking series on the Canadian government's response to COVID-19. You can find the four parts here: A Christian introduction Comparing to past crises Evaluating Canada's current deficit Forecasting our financial future John MacArthur on defying church closure requirements, and Keith Mathison on submitting to mask-wearing mandates  When do we submit to the government, and when do we have to defy it? To find out we need to go to the Bible, and that's what these two Reformed leaders do. While on first read they might seem to be totally opposing each other, it's important to understand they are talking about two different situations: church closures and the wearing of masks. Environmentalist: Sorry for the hysteria! (10-minute read) Michael Shellenberger was named one of TIME magazine's 2008 "Heroes of the Environment," and is now issuing an apology on behalf of environmentalists as a whole, for their tendency to hype the dangers of climate change. He's not Christian and a logical question to ask is, why should we believe this environmentalist over the ones prophesying doom and gloom? He's more credible because his perspective gets one thing right that the other environmentalists regularly don't: he is measuring proposals first and foremost for what they would do for people. He recognizes that Man is special, and that has him evaluating how best to preserve the environment in a very different way than those who view Man as being a curse on the planet. Should we bake the cake? An Ontario videographer is in trouble for being unwilling to video a same-sex "marriage." Why she declined is unclear, but, from a Christian perspective, are there good reasons to decline to participate in a gay "marriage"? Yes, as the video below notes (one warning: there are a couple of brief visual depictions of Jesus). John Piper also weighs in here. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The hidden meaning of "The Chronicles of Narnia"

What if there was a secret cipher that unlocked a meaning behind C. S. Lewis’ beloved Chronicles of Narnia? What if Lewis used a concealed template to map out each book in the series, with a specific contextual aim that can be completely missed unless you know exactly what to look for? That is the intriguing premise of Michael Ward’s much-praised book Planet Narnia. As an unofficial Lewis aficionado, my wife recently read through Ward’s book, pausing between chapters to relay what she had learned to me. The material in Planet Narnia provided for many a night of excitement, discovery, and discussion. Even as someone who has digested most of this book’s thesis second-hand, I find myself convinced by Ward’s paradigm-shattering work. Understanding the key to Lewis’s true and foundational intent for The Chronicles of Narnia unlocks the secret to numerous mysteries about the books: Why does Father Christmas make an appearance in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Why is there a bacchanal (i.e. a party very heavy on the wine) in Prince Caspian? Why is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the only book with dragons in it? Why does Aslan never actually enter Narnia in The Silver Chair? What’s the point of the emphasis on twins, doubles, and symmetry in The Horse and His Boy? Why is The Magician’s Nephewmore comical than any of the other stories? Why is The Last Battle the only book with an adult protagonist? So, what is the key that unlocks these (and many other) questions? Simply this: the seven Narnia books are heavily – indeed, primarily – influenced by the concept of the Seven Heavens. In medieval cosmology, there were seven planets, each with its own personality and characteristics. In Lewis’ view, these planets embody spiritual symbols of permanent value. As Ward explains, the seven planets determine, “the basic plot of each story, countless points of ornamental detail, and, most significantly (from the theological point of view), the presentation of the Christotypical figure of Aslan.” The planet Lewis assigned to each book, as laid out by Ward, is as follows: Jove (Jupiter): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Mars: Prince Caspian Sol (the Sun): The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Luna (the Moon): The Silver Chair Mercury: The Horse and his Boy Venus: The Magician’s Nephew Saturn: The Last Battle Of course, it takes Ward an entire book to lay out the evidence and make his case. And a convincing case it is. Riddles in the dark Without reading the book, though, one might (rightly) ask, “If the Seven Heavens was so integral to the creation of The Chronicles of Narnia, why has no one noticed before?” Ward addresses this specific question. One reason, he says, is this: “…many readers were content to accept that the apparent lack of was evidence of hasty writing, not a sign of an unidentified inner meaning. Since Tolkien dismissed the as a mishmash it is hardly surprising that many critics have done the same.” Another reason is this: …those critics who were looking for a third level …may not have been as open to the subject of astrology as work really requires, for, as I have pointed out, astrology, a subject disdained by academics, tends to be given a doubly wide berth by Christian academics. Since most Lewis scholars have been Christian or well-disposed to the Christian tradition, there was an in-built improbability that researchers would fully understand his most successful work… The apparent connection between Lewis’ beloved fantasy series and astrological elements is a concept that many Christians might find troubling. Heavens declare the glory of God This connection, Ward explains, need not trouble Lewis’ Christian readership: It must be emphasized that the pre-Copernican model of the cosmos was a Christian model for all its acceptance of astrological influence. As Lewis points out in  English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, astrology and astronomy were not really distinguishable until the Copernican revolution and no Christian theologian before that time denied the general theory of planetary influences or the significance of constellation. Furthermore, as Lewis himself said in The Discarded Image, “Orthodox theologians could accept the theory that the planets had an effect on events and on psychology, and, much more, on plants and minerals. It was not against this that the Church fought. She fought against three of its offshoots.” Lewis goes on to describe the three offshoots of medieval astrology that the church rightly opposed: Astrologically grounded predictions (i.e., horoscopes). Astrological determinism. (i.e., the idea that the planets affected one’s personality to the point of overriding his or her human responsibility and free will. A modern equivalent of this determinism might be using your Myers–Briggs personality type as an excuse for your faults – i.e., “I can’t help criticizing you all the time; it’s just who I am.”) Any practice that would “imply or encourage the worship of planets.” Lewis’ inclusion of the Seven Heavens avoided all three of these heretical dangers. Ward explains: “…the Church was content to sanction what we would now call ‘astrology.’ After all, the Bible appeared to support the belief that there were seven planets and that they possessed influences. . . . The author of the Book of Job as translated in the King James Version mentions the ‘sweet influences of Pleiades’ (Job 38:31)…. And throughout the Bible the stars are seen as ‘signs’ – most notably at Bethlehem, signifying the birth of Christ – and sometimes as a celestial court or angelic choir. Christ himself is shown in the Book of Revelation (1:16, 20; 2:1) holding the seven stars – that is, the seven wandering stars, the planets – in his right hand, a vision that Austin Farrer, Lewis’s close friend and an expert in apocalyptic imagery, understood to be a portrayal of Christ’s lordship over time, ‘for it is after these seven that the weekdays are named.’ Saturn gives Saturday its name, the Sun Sunday’s, the Moon Monday’s, and so on.” As such, Lewis’ use of medieval cosmology falls well outside the scope of what modern-day Christians would condemn as astrology. Widespread praise Another factor promoting the legitimacy of Ward’s work is the praise it has received from all across the political and theological spectrum. Below is just a sampling of the endorsements Planet Narnia has received: “My own was gradually but utterly demolished as I read this thoughtful, scholarly, and vividly-written book.” – Alan Jacobs, Professor of English, Wheaton College and author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis “Planet Narnia is…utterly convincing and compelling.” – N. T. Wright “I cannot contain my admiration. No other book on Lewis has ever shown such comprehensive knowledge of his works and such depth of insight.” – Walter Hooper, Literary Adviser to the Estate of C.S. Lewis “Planet Narnia…is one of the best books I have ever read.” – Douglas Wilson, author of What I Learned in Narnia Further up, further in Historically, I have dismissed The Chronicles of Narnia as being based more on themes and ideas rather than well-defined story arcs. Michael Ward’s insights have shown that I was both right and wrong. Rather than a sloppy mismatch, the Narnia tales comprise a carefully and meticulously crafted set of stories, much more rich in structure and meaning than I ever gave them credit. Planet Narnia has been instrumental in giving me a fresh perspective and a fresh interest in the world of Narnia. I have only scratched the surface and if you want to learn more, I recommend checking out Ward’s work through his website PlanetNarnia.com, or books Planet Narnia, or The Narnia Code (which is Ward’s shorter, simpler version of Planet Narnia, designed for consumption by the general public). Ward has laid the groundwork to help us, in the words of Reepicheep in The Last Battle, “Come further up, come further in” to what Lewis has accomplished. There is also a documentary about Michael Ward’s discovery, called “The Narnia Code,” which is reviewed here. This article first appeared on Cap Stewart’s blog where he loves “to write about the arts and theology.” It is reprinted here with permission....

News, Theology

More birds than believers in church

This past Sunday I had the privilege of leading worship in my home congregation just outside of Hamilton, Ontario. I arrived about ten minutes before the service began. Everyone was already in church … all three of them! One elder, one brother taking care of sound and video, and one sister playing the piano. No more fellow believers joined us in the church building, although with a congregation of some 450 members, many were joining us from their homes via a livestream connection. Alas, we have been living with this reality for about ten Sundays in a row here in Ontario. It is much the same in many other – but not all – places. To curb the spread of COVID-19, governments around the world have restricted large public gatherings. In Ontario (at the time of writing), no more than five are permitted to gather publicly. That is why there were only four of us in church. But what about the birds? As I entered the building, one brother cheerfully quipped, “You have competition this morning. The birds are back.” You see, at present our congregation worships in a gymnasium. Resourceful feathered creatures somehow discovered a little gap somewhere up there in the roof. Are you also thinking of Psalm 84 in the Book of Praise? The sparrow finds a home to rest The swallow builds herself a nest By the volume of sound coming from that avian choir in the rafters, I would hazard an uneducated guess that there were more birds than believers in church this past Sunday. In Article 27 of the Belgic Confession, we affirm that the church is “a holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers.” When more birds than believers have assembled in a church building on Sunday, we have reason to grieve. Caught between commands? At least three divine commandments intersect in this circumstance. 4th Commandment As part of the fourth commandment, we confess that we must “diligently attend the church of God to hear God’s Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian offerings to the poor” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38). So long as you have a good Internet connection and your local congregation has livestreaming equipment, you can still see the preacher and hear the preaching quite well. Similarly, the minister can still lead us in public prayer, and by sending an e-transfer we can still give Christian alms. All of this is not nothing. But so much is missing as well. In places where the restrictions are more severe, it is well nigh impossible to administer the sacraments. We sing psalms and hymns in our homes, but it does not even come close to the uplifting experience of singing together with hundreds of fellow believers in a building that is acoustically alive. In short, did we “attend the church of God”? Well, sort of but not really. Psalm 122 rings in our ears and weighs down our hearts: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord,” not stay in our own houses. 5th Commandment At the same time, in the fifth commandment, the Lord requires us to respect and obey our governing officials. Consider the words of Romans 13:1-2 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Those words are both blunt and inspired. This command still applies when governing authorities are unjust or unwise. The apostle Peter wrote, “Be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust” (1 Pet 2:18). But there is a limit to this, as well, for the same apostle said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Do we have to break the fifth commandment and contravene the restrictions on public gatherings in order to keep the fourth commandment and assemble in church to worship God? 6th Commandment Answering that question is already complex, but now add the sixth commandment. This command not only prohibits murder but also calls us to “protect from harm as much as we can” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 40). What now? If we fulfill the fourth commandment and attend the church of God, do we (potentially) break the sixth commandment by putting fellow believers, and by extension others with whom they may have contact, in harm’s way? We feel caught between the commands. Our consciences are hung up on the horns of a three-way dilemma. What is a sincere Christian to do? Some historical perspective As the Preacher teaches us, nothing is new under the sun (Eccl 1:10). Serious pandemics have afflicted the world before. For the sake of public health, governments have shut down church buildings before. For example, between 1576 and 1578, during the plague of Milan, fifteen percent of that city’s population died. At the peak of the infection curve, the city closed all “non-essential shops” and put into effect a “general quarantine,” which also meant that public worship services were not permitted.1 Sound familiar? The archbishop, a certain Carlo Borromeo, co-operated with local officials and organized the publication of booklets containing penitential Bible passages, prayers, and songs. These were then distributed, free of charge, to the citizens. At set times, when the church bell rang, everyone was to come to the doors and windows of their homes. Together the city recited prayers and sang songs. The cobbled streets of Milan, rather than the marbled nave of its cathedral, resounded with congregational singing. Can you imagine? Similarly, in the fall of 1918 the so-called Spanish flu ravaged Philadelphia. On October 3, the city officials closed all schools. On October 4, they closed all saloons, theaters, and churches as well. For the balance of the month, everyone lived through a complete lockdown, other than doing what was necessary to feed their families and care for the sick, the dying, and the dead. By the end of the month, though, the infection rate subsided and things opened up again. As a sure sign of a different era, “the first step in removing the ban allowed churches and synagogues to open,” although, at least in the case of the churches, “…without Sunday school.”2 History is interesting and instructive. We are certainly not the first generation to live through times like these. Still, history is not authoritative. The question remains: in the sight of our God, what are sincere Christians to do? Do not subdivide the commands Difficult circumstances can either push us apart or pull us together. Let us earnestly pray that it would be the latter. It is hard, though, to keep our minds simultaneously focussed on all the commands involved. One believer quickly zeroes in on the fourth commandment: God calls us to assemble for worship, therefore, we must assemble for worship. The heart of the next child of God, though, is gripped by the truth of the fifth commandment. God warns that if we resist the authorities he has put in place, we will incur judgment. Surely we need to take that seriously, don’t we? Then, yet another brother or sister in the Lord feels the burden of the sixth commandment, being concerned that he or she might seriously endanger someone else’s health. Asymptomatic transmission is a reality, after all. Different people emphasize different commands, and if they do it too aggressively, they may inadvertently push us apart from each other. We will need to have patience with each other and be mindful of each other’s consciences. Beyond that, though, be assured that there is no three-way dilemma in the Word of our God. Just as surely as Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), it cannot be sub-divided either. The whole law is fulfilled in one key word: love (Matt. 22:37-40; Gal. 5:14; Lord’s Day 2). Intertwined love for God and our neighbour will provide the unifying departure point for us all. Walk forward in love “I love the Lord” (Ps 116) and “I love your saints” (Ps 16) are the twin-engines of holy desire that propel us out of bed, into our cars, and on toward our church buildings twice a Sunday. Right? But that plush recliner in my family room is more comfortable than the oak pew in church, isn’t it? And an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning is rather nice, too, isn’t it? The Lord can, and will, use the COVID-19 pandemic to refine our love-filled loyalty to him and burn away all dross of custom, superstition, or hypocrisy in our obedience of the fourth commandment. If our souls are yearning to be back in the courts of our God with our fellow believers (Ps 63), then our God is fulfilling his promise to take evil and turn it to our benefit. Next, holding the fourth and sixth commandments together is already familiar territory for us. I long to attend the church of God, but if I’m seriously sick with an infectious disease I’ll have to stay home or take other significant precautions so that I don’t harm others. In such a case I am not breaking the fourth commandment in order to keep the sixth. Why not? Because in God’s law love for him and love for the neighbour do not compete; instead, they complement. For example, in the OT when some of his own people had serious diseases, God himself quarantined them “outside the camp,” thereby also keeping them away from public worship (Lev. 13, 14). To be sure, these laws were more than a public health matter. They also involved other, deeper, spiritual lessons. But as a loving Father, our God also ensured that public worship gatherings would not become seedbeds for the spread of serious sickness. Under certain circumstances, then, loving both God and our neighbour means we may need to stay away from public worship. These biblical principles also apply as we deal with COVID-19. On the one hand, excessive fear of viruses should not stop us from assembling for worship. The Holy Spirit teaches us that the wise man will not be immobilized by unwarranted fear of lions on the road or, by extension, of viruses in the pews (Prov. 26:13). On the other hand, love for the neighbour and for our heavenly Father who upholds our neighbour’s health will compel us to exercise all due caution. In short, love and wisdom pave a path that holds the fourth and sixth commandments in harmony. Fulfilling the fifth commandment in these present circumstances is more challenging but not impossible. In the final words of his Institutes, John Calvin reminds us that government officials may well have to correct some of their fellow officials when they act unjustly or unwisely (Institutes 4.20.31). Faced with the double affliction of both plague and persecution, Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, also recommended working through the “lower magistrates” in order to redirect “higher magistrates,” who may fail to uphold what is right and wise in the eyes of God. This approach fits well with Romans 13. In verses 1–2, we read how the Lord instituted “governing authorities,” not authority. The plural noun is significant. Not one single person in authority embodies all the wisdom required to rule, especially in challenging circumstances like COVID-19. If some governing officials are acting unwisely or unfairly toward the church, even if their intentions are noble, then believers can work with and through other officials in order to promote the necessary corrective re-balancing. In this way, we honour all the authorities in their God-given calling and in doing so, honour God himself. Again, love for the neighbour and love for God cohere rather than conflict. Thankfully, in some areas, we even have members of our Reformed congregation serving as government officials in town councils, provincial, and federal parliaments. Without denying the value of other efforts and initiatives, let us earnestly support and spur on these fellow believers, as well as any other elected representatives who will lend a sympathetic ear. The goal will be that, under the Lord’s blessing, as soon as it is safe to increase the size of public gatherings, the church will be the first in line to benefit, not the last. This approach also holds together the fourth and fifth and sixth commandments. May our God swiftly bring the day when the believers again far outnumber the birds in church. And may our chorus of congregational praise soon drown out their beautiful little chirps with a mighty sound that shakes the ground (Psalm 150, Book of Praise)! Endnotes 1) Chiu, Remi. “Singing on the Street and in the Home in Times of Pestilence: Lessons from the 1576–78 Plague of Milan,” in Domestic Devotions in Early Modern Italy, ed. Corry, Maya (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 28. 2) Stetler, Christina M. “The 1918 Spanish Influenza: Three Months of Horror in Philadelphia.” Pennsylvania History 84, no. 4 (2017): 477.  Dr. Jason Van Vliet is Principal and Professor of Dogmatics at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. This article first appeared in Clarion and is reprinted here with permission.  ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Our Kids Online...how to keep them safe

Documentary 88 minutes / 2020 RATING: 8/10 Our Kids Online begins with a wake-up call: kids aren’t just seeing graphic, dehumanizing pornography online, many are now imitating these acts, and even filming themselves at it. That got my attention. It also got me wanting to turn the documentary off right there. It’s too much, too dark, and I’d really rather not hear about it. The producers must have anticipated that feeling because right then, flashing across the screen, they shared the famous challenge, commonly attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As one of the filmmakers noted, “Just hoping our kids won’t be exposed is not an option….It’s not a case of if they see it; it’s a case of when.” So it was time to man up, keep watching, and trust that the promise in the documentary’s title – that I was going to learn how to keep my kids safe – would be born out. And by film’s end, I was glad I stuck with it. A parental perspective Filmmakers Rob and Zareen Cope are a couple of New Zealander parents who didn’t want to tackle this topic either. But then their kids started pressuring them for more access to the Internet. And because they wanted to keep them safe, the Copes started investigating what the online dangers were, and what could be done about them. That quickly left them feeling overwhelmed. Then they started doing what documentarians do: as Zareen explains it: “We got in touch with some of the world’s leading experts in this field and we hit the road.” As we, the viewers, follow along, we get to listen in on some pretty insightful, sometimes devastating, and always eye-opening conversations. Porn is different today Many parents don’t know what pornography is today: it isn’t just some Playboy-type pictures. As Russ Tuttle, from the Stop Trafficking Project, explains, one six-year-old kid’s very first exposure to porn was a video, and on it a woman was being hurt. Choking, and much worse, are becoming a “normalized” types of sexual violence presented in countless videos. That’s what six-year-olds can stumble across now. The Copes sum up another big difference as The Big 3 A’s of accessibility, anonymity, and affordability. Whereas pornography in the past was limited to magazines sold in corner stores, the advent of the iPhone in 2007 means that kids now have 24/7 access on their phones and also tablets and even gaming consoles, from the privacy of their own bedroom, and for free. Pornography has always been a problem, but it’s these 3As that have made it the epidemic that it is today. Another problem actually involves how wonderful and helpful the Internet can be. As Rob Cope puts it: “We’ve taught an entire generation to just jump online when one has a question. It’s brilliant. But what happens when their curiosity about bugs fully blooms into the curiosity about sex, and they type in ‘sex’ into Google?” Consider also that it isn’t just what our kids might stumble across, but who – the thousands of sexual predators online. In one of the film’s scariest moments, a mom created two Instagram accounts, one in which she posed as a 15-year-old, and the second as an 11-year-old. Within an hour seven adult males had contacted her. This scene drove home the point that parents need to know where our children are when they are online. And for parents who don’t feel comfortable monitoring their children’s every online move, Russ Tuttle has this response: “Let’s even say you feel like you’re invading their privacy. If you don’t ‘invade their privacy’ I promise you a predator will. You choose.” We should plan for our kids being curious about sex As another of the experts notes note, it is a myth that good kids won’t go looking for porn. Good kids are curious too. And then there is the added peer pressure we all remember of wanting to know what others know. The result? One statistic outlines the extent of the problem: public school officials in New Zealand have discovered that their country’s 800,000 students are making more than 300,000 porn-related searches at school each month! This is shocking, but the point is repeatedly made that this should also be expected. Parents who think that just because they have “good kids” they’ll be immune from pornography have forgotten what it was like to be a kid. Rob Cope notes: “Boy’s testosterone levels skyrocket between 900% and 1,000% from the ages of 10 to 14 right when…professionals around the globe are seeing a massive increase in assault. It’s the worst possible time to give them unfiltered access to the Internet. And it is the exact time that we do.“ Todd Olson, of the pornography addition recovery network Lifestar, presents the problem another way: “The prefrontal cortex is our brake system….The last part of our brain to develop is our prefrontal cortex so mom and dad are their prefrontal cortex: no you can’t do that.” Pornography is a far bigger problem than what parents faced when we were kids, and our children desperately need our help. Protection So what can parents do? The Copes list “four main ways to keep our kids safer online” and it is worth noting they say safer rather than safe. Not only do we want to do what we can to protect them from exposure, we need to equip them with what to do when it inevitably happens. The Copes encourage parents to: Educate ourselves, to be able to address these threats head on Educate our kids, to be able to deal with exposure Put filters and monitoring apps into effect Be aware of what our children are doing online To put it another way, we need to be “learning, talking, updating technology, and staying involved.” 1. Educating ourselves One suggestion they offer for how parents can get educated is the website ProtectYoungMinds.org. Others that could be listed include the Christian organization CovenantEyes.com which, in addition to their monitoring software, offer a fantastic blog, and many free, very helpful e-books. And a specifically Reformed resource (though not free) can be found at SetFreeCourse.com. 2. Educating our kids Some parents might find it disturbing to think about talking to our kids at 5, or 6, or 7 about pornography. That’s what I was thinking – I mean, can’t we just let kids be kids? But as I saw my kids hanging out with children in the neighborhood who had their own phones it became clear I had to get them prepped. As Protect Young Minds' Kristen Jenson put it: “There were a lot of people who were like, ‘What, talk to a seven-year-old about pornography?!?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, 7-year-olds are on the Internet, right? I mean, they are on their devices….Then we have to warn them. Just like you warn a child about running out into the street.’….It’s important to talk to children earlier about sex so that you can give your version. You can teach them your ideals, your values about sex…. Sooner is safer. When you begin a conversation with a young child you are not ruining their innocence. You are simply giving them information that they need to be safe in the world that they live in.” The film recommends a number of books that parents can read with their children to get this conversation going. I’m only familiar with the ones by Jenson – Good Pictures Bad Pictures jr. and Good Pictures Bad Pictures – which I’ve used with my kids and recommend as well. Those two books teach a pretty simple, yet vital, concept. Todd Olson, co-founder of the LifeStar Network, sums up the lesson this way: “We’ve all been trained as kids, what if I catch on fire? Stop, drop and roll. We know that, from just being trained on that. What’s the stop drop and roll when you see pornography on the screen? Turn off the monitor, run and get mom, dad, and just leave this place, and they’ll come and help fix it.” 3. Filters and monitoring apps The two filters they recommend are Safe Surfer and Circle, both of which are designed for ease of use – even non-techy parents should be able to manage them. For monitoring older children’s devices they suggest Bark and Covenant Eyes. 4. Tracking our children Kids might push back against mom and dad tracking where they go online, but as Todd Olson says, “This is not a trust issue; this is a put your seat belt on issue.” It’s simply what parents and kids need to do to be safe. Talking with other parents We can get monitoring devices and filters for our own homes, but our kids are going to venture outside those doors. What can we do then? Zareen Cope shared that for her younger kids, they would talk to the other parents before arranging play dates. “…we check in with the parents to find out what filtering and rules they have in place around devices and internet usage. It felt really weird at first but…as parents it’s our responsibility to protect our kids regardless of how uncomfortable that may feel. What was awesome was that once we explained…about what we had learned other parents were really receptive to our request to have devices put elsewhere while the play dates took place. A lot of them, like us at the start, had no idea about all these dangers. We know a lot of parents that are now keeping devices out of bedrooms, in a communal area during meal times and while charging.” How about older teens? Their friends also have phones, and they themselves are growing in ability and knowledge, so if they want to get around any protections you’ve put in place, they probably can. That’s why it is important to keep talking with them. We need to communicate that we are in this together, and that, rather than hide what they are doing from mom and dad, they can turn to us for help. As Solomon describes in Eccl 4:9-12, it is a wonderful thing to have backup: Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Cautions This is not a Christian film – the Copes describe themselves as non-religious – so that limits Our Kids Online to being a practical, rather than spiritual examination of pornography’s dangers. That also means that the solutions they offer are only of the practical sort – they never deal with pornography as a sin issue, or as the devilish attack that it is. Still, they get a lot right intuitively, with a key insight being that it is families, rather than schools, that are the key to kids being able to resist pornography’s pull. But they also get a lot wrong. For example, Rob Cope makes light of looking through Playboys. While it isn’t overtly stated, the Copes also don’t have a problem with premarital sex, though they are very worried about the violent sort they have learned is happening these days. They’ve spotted a problem with what pornography is doing to sex. But they don’t understand the solution to bad notions about sex is a better understanding of God's intent for it: to give pleasure certainly, but in doing so, to bind husband and wife closer together, and to craft new life out of that union. It never really comes out in the film that the reason pornography is so fleeting, so unsatisfactory, is because pornography makes it about pleasure alone, and as such, misses out on the other two purposes. The final caution is related to the topic matter. The Copes have done a good job of making a documentary about pornography as visually tame as you could ever hope for. But the verbal descriptions are – unfortunately, and also necessarily – shocking. This is not a film you would watch with your kids. Conclusion Sometimes in our Reformed circles parents will sometimes leave sex-ed to the school system. But what even the secular Copes understand is that schools can’t fill this role; we need to protect our children. Steven Shields, cofounder of Unashamed Unafraid, spells out the alternative: “So if you’re not going to teach you child about sex, or about sexuality, or about how to treat the opposite gender… they will be educated. You just won’t be in charge of it.” What if you’ve gotten a late start to it? Maybe you’re worried your kids are already looking at pornography and you're scared to even face the possibility. Then it’s even more important to get to it. As Russ Tuttle shares: “Parents tell me this all the time ‘My kid’s now 14, 15, 16. I wish I had stated earlier. If I make changes now it‘s going be World War III.’ Yeah, you’re probably right. But historically, World War I was worth fighting. And World War II was worth fighting. But they weren’t fought as wars, they were fought as battles. One battle at a time.” Our Kids Online is an eye-opening call-to-arms and I highly recommend it. But Christians need to build on what’s offered here, telling our children not simply what is wrong with pornography’s portrayal of sex, but spelling out for them what God’s good design for sex entails. Parents need to step up. May God so enable us! You can watch the trailer below, and rent it for $5 US here. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

God made me unique

Helping children see value in every person by Joni Eareckson Tada and friends 32 pages / 2019 Everyone is unique, but some of us are more unique than others. So how do we teach our children to embrace and include others who might act differently, or who might have different needs than their own? This little picture book could be helpful for parents and teachers by making the unusual less surprising. The book is set in a classroom right before a new student with special needs is going to join them. The class is already made up of students who have disabilities and challenges, and by showing some of the many ways we can be different from one another – a child in leg braces, one in a motorized wheelchair, another who is deaf, and one who wears headphones because she doesn’t like loud noises – our own children can get used to the idea that unique isn’t that unusual after all. But this title’s most important point, made repeatedly, is that we are all made in God’s image. Bright colors and rhyming text make this attractive for reading aloud with a class. I don’t know if it is the sort of book children will read repeatedly on their own, so that might make it more of a church and school purchase, where it can be borrowed, rather than something every parent will want to get....

News

Saturday Selections – July 18, 2010

Andrew Peterson's Is He Worthy (5 minutes) When the words and music are perfectly paired... Learn how to defend the unborn (15-minute read) Apologist Greg Koukl shows us how to get the abortion debate down to just one question: What is the unborn? This is an incredibly valuable article that'll equip you to speak up for the unborn. One other question should also be asked: Where does our worth come from? While the biblical answer can be found in places like Gen. 1:26-27 and Gen. 9:6, the world doesn't have an adequate answer. Tim Bayly (and John Piper) on calling sodomy by any other name... With there now being a movement of Christians self-describing themselves as gay (though celibate) it is worth questioning the particular word choice of gay vs. sodomite. We don't use the latter because it seems overly harsh. But when we use the former it leads to people naming and claiming it as integral to their identity. In this article Pastor Tim Bayly explains why he started using the term sodomy. "The word sodomy …still carries the stigma of shamefulness. Those who love people with same-sex attraction should want to preserve the stigma of shameful practices which destroy them — just as we should try to preserve the stigma of stealing and perjury and kidnapping, and fornication, and adultery. It is a gracious thing when a culture puts signs in front of destructive behaviors that read: Don’t go there; it is shameful." Best example of evolution happening is evolution in a death spiral (10-min read) If you ask for the very best evidence of evolution in action today, the example that's most likely to be raised is Richard Lenski's decades-long experiment with E. coli in which the bacterium was said to have evolved a new ability. But as Michael Behe explains, this example of evolution doesn't start to explain how gains in complexity could occur, as this new function was accompanied by a general loss of fitness. Sexual difficulties in marriage (15-minute read) "What did God create sex for? ....Many couples say, 'Okay, sex is not with someone of your same gender: Check. Sex is not with someone who is not your spouse: Check. Sex is not pornography: Check. Okay, I seem to have gotten all this right, so why is this so hard? Why do we continue to struggle? Why does this continue to be a significant place of tension in our relationship?'” This is written specifically to biblical counselors, but the insights are useful to all. The astonishing walking, self-planting seed (5 minutes) That we can orate, salivate, masticate, matriculate and replicate is a wonder that we really understate. But when a plant can ambulate? Then, once again, we recognize the hand of the Ultimate! ...

Amazing stories from times past

The Son of the Clothmaker - a slice of the English Reformation

During the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), Maurice Abbot, a clothmaker in Guildford, Surrey, England, and his wife Alice, became committed Protestants. And during their lifetime it wasn’t always easy to be so. Edward, the boy king, tubercular and frail, had the distinction of being the first English king who was raised Protestant. Zealous for the Reformed cause, if he had lived longer, the Church of England might well have become more explicitly Protestant. But God took him at the tender age of sixteen. After Edward's death it became difficult for Maurice and Alice to confess their faith publicly because Edward’s half sister, “Bloody” Mary Tudor, came to power. She vigorously tried to overturn the Reformation, and during her five-year reign, over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake. But times of persecution vanished when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne in 1558. The Abbots rejoiced in her coronation. They breathed a sigh of relief as they resided peaceably in a cottage nestled beneath some trees in close proximity to the Wey River, openly able to practice their faith. Quite the fish story Then, in the year 1562, Alice Abbot was heavily pregnant. Uncomfortable and unable sleep one night, Alice eventually fell into an uneasy slumber and into a strange dream. She dreamt that if she but ate a jackfish, (a fish of the pike family), the baby she carried would become a great person and rise to a situation of prominence. A peculiar dream indeed! Maurice Abbot worked diligently at his trade but when all was said and done, clothworking was not a profitable business. The finishing of woven woolen cloth, was hard labor and paid very little. Alice related her unusual fish dream to Maurice and he shrugged. A few weeks later, due to give birth any day, she fetched a pail of water from the nearby Wey River. Sweating with exertion, she lifted the pail out of the water, and was amazed to see a jackfish splash about in the bucket. Having had a craving for jackfish ever since her dream, she went home, cooked the fish and ate it. Maurice shrugged again. But the narrative became known about town. Folks enjoy a good story. As it is with good stories, this one circulated outside the perimeters of the town of Guildford. After the baptism of the child, a few wealthy persons called on Maurice and Alice, offering to be patrons of the newborn baby who had been named George. Considering their low-born and rather impoverished condition, as well as the fact that they had little hope of sending their children to school, the couple thankfully accepted the provision. Now whether or not George's fortune would have prospered were it not for the jackfish tale is a matter of providential dispute. At any rate, George, as well as his older brother Robert, attended the free Royal Grammar School in Guildford and were taught reading, writing and Latin grammar. The school was free in name only; pupils consisted of those who could afford to pay the fees. Because they were healthy, good-natured and of quick minds, the patrons sent the boys on to higher education. To make a long story short, George eventually graduated from Oxford. The school was a Puritan stronghold at that time, with teachers who admired Calvin and Augustine. Grounded in Reformed theology, George felt called to become a minister. Regarded as an excellent preacher, his sermons drew large, listening crowds. Archbishop George! The years flew by and in 1611, George the clothmaker's son, rose to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. A bit of a gargantuan step - from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Lambeth Palace on the banks of the Thames. His father and mother had died by this time. Dying within ten days of one another, they had been married for fifty-eight years. Perhaps it can be argued that their passing was an even more gargantuan step than that of their son George - from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Everlasting Joy on the banks of the River of Life. Prior to becoming archbishop, George had been selected by King James 1 of England, together with other scholars, to translate the Bible. Calvinistic in theology, favoring the Puritans for their simplicity in worship, George Abbot remained within the Church of England. He never married and was a solitary man. Some considered him of a gloomy nature, unsmiling and rather somber; others counted him true to his principles and kind. Having attained to the highest church office in England, that of archbishop, George now lived in Lambeth Palace in London. Wealthy, respected and honored, he became a personal adviser to King James I. James had been brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland and often heeded the archbishop's advice. But this “Reformed” advice did not make George popular with those who had Roman Catholic leanings and at times put him out of favor with the king as well. For example, in 1618 James I published “the declaration of sports.” It was a declaration that allowed for Sabbath amusements. The archbishop regarded this declaration a clear temptation to break one of the Ten Commandment. James I had ordered this decree to be read out loud from the pulpit in all of England's churches. George willfully disobeyed his earthly king's order. He forbade the reading of the proclamation in his parish church. James I, rather fond of George, ignored his resistance, but it was not an easy time for the archbishop. A year later, in 1619, George founded a hospital. Resolved within himself to devote some of his wealth to benefit others, he remembered with fondness and nostalgia the town of Guildford where he had been born and bred. He meant to create work opportunities for his home town and he desired to support the elderly people living there. The health center was named Abbot's Hospital, or the Hospital of the Holy Trinity. Handsome inside, portraits of Abbot himself, of Wycliffe, of Foxe and of other Reformers, hung in the dining room. Doctor’s orders Over the years the effects of being harassed by those who disliked him, physically wore George down. Being a large and rather sedentary man, his doctor advised him to get more exercise. Consequently, he often walked about for recreation. Hunting was in vogue and even an archbishop was able to partake in that sport. As a matter of fact, the gay, hallooing troop of huntsmen rarely left the courtyard without an ecclesiastical person present among them. One night in July of 1621 found the archbishop in his library among all his books. However, he was not reading but cleaning his fowling piece. His crossbow, as well, lay nearby on the heavy oak library table. One of his servants inquired whether or not he was planning on going hunting. "Yes," he answered, "Lord Zouche has invited me to Bramhill House in Hampshire to hunt in his park there. It would be discourteous of me to refuse and the exercise will almost certainly do me some good." The next morning his servant saw him off. A groom rode at his side. An arrow deflected However, in the providence of God, a sad mishap occurred at Bramhill. While hunting with his crossbow at Lord Zouche's estate, the archbishop aimed and shot a barbed arrow at a deer. One of the gamekeepers, eagerly but carelessly beating the bush so that an animal might jump out for the hunters, suddenly appeared in the path of the party. The arrow which George Abbot had just discharged, went awry. Deflecting off a tree limb, it hit the gamekeeper. The man, whose name was Peter Hawkins and who had been warned more than once to keep out of harm's way, was wounded. The arrow had lodged in an artery in his left arm. Within one hour the man had bled to death. Horrified, the archbishop was thrown into deep despair. Walking up and down the apartment he had been given, he refused to speak to visitors, constantly repeating: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." There was nothing anyone could do or say to comfort him. Although the death was deemed an accidental homicide by all who had been present, George Abbot required the king's dispensation and pardon before he could resume his duties. Some of those who hated his Protestant policies sought his removal from office, insisting that a commission of inquiry be convened to examine what had happened in the accident. And such was the devastation, grief and guilt that George felt that he withdrew from public life during the inquiry. He refused to preach, ordain, baptize, or pray publicly in a service, depressed and sick at heart. Many of his friends began to avoid him, a number claiming that one who had killed another man should not hold the highest church office in England. Throughout the remainder of his life, George observed a monthly fast every Tuesday, the weekday on which the accident had taken place. He also settled an annuity of twenty pounds on Mrs. Hawkings, the gamekeeper's wife, an amount which soon brought her another husband. Although eventually, George Abbot received a full royal pardon, the incident was not forgotten. In the ensuing years, he also increasingly disagreed with the king's more liberal policies. Consequently, his influence at court dwindled. Although he still crowned Charles 1 in 1626, his became a minor role. More and more thwarted in leading the church, he was forced into early retirement although he remained as archbishop until his death. A twittering mob There is a story told of his last years. He was traveling by coach to his home, when a group of noisy women surrounded his carriage, harassing him with shouts and insults. Upon his entreating them to leave, they shouted: "Ye had best shoot an arrow at us then." George Abbot, the clothmaker's son and Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1633 at age 71. He was buried at the Guildford Church. Throughout his life he acted according to his God-given conscience and was not afraid of opposing kings when Biblical principles were at stake. A conscience is a gift from God and George Abbot had a strong one. Often suffering from depression, one of his major misdeeds seemed to haunt him right to the grave. Yet do all believers not have major misdeeds? For who has not had a hand in killing the Vinekeeper's Son? And who can plead the excuse of accidental homicide? George Abbot was a clothmaker's son, but he was actually more than that. Alongside him, believers do well to remember that all who believe in Jesus Christ as their only Savior are, like George, Soulmaker's sons.  "…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen. 2:7...

Assorted

Call me Billy

I met a man the other day Who thought he was a goat He shaped his hair to look like horns And bleated from his throat Confused, but caught with sympathy With truth I plied the man But he with darkened eyes aghast Just bid me "Baa!" and ran With grief at his misguided state I followed him with care But coming round a corner, stopped At what my eyes saw there A crowd had gathered round this wretch And placed him on their stage They cheered his choice with loud acclaim And led him to their cage I cried aloud, "Don't do it, man!" To keep him from their chains They turned on me in frothy rage And blamed me for his pains I cried again, "You need the Truth!" But he in fear refused He bleated feebly, fearing that His thoughts could be confused The crowd rose up and echoed him With voices loud and bold With angry eyes they charged at me With tongues and whips to scold I fled, I hesitate to say And sorrowful admit For they together threatened to A greater crime commit But as I left that tragedy I chanced a look behind And saw that each had hidden close Some error like his kind The tragic truth was now laid bare: They had no love for him But used his case just to affirm Each one's beloved whim...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

In Grandma’s Attic         

by Arleta Richardson 144 pages / 1974 When Arleta was a little girl she would visit her grandma, where she’d play up in the attic. There Arleta would find old treasures that she’d bring to her grandma, who would share stories about them, and about when she was young. The first story is about how Mabel (Grandma) and her friend Sarah-Jane got into trouble with hoop skirts. They wanted to wear the wiry hoops to make all their friends jealous of them, but they were not old enough yet. Then Sarah Jane finds out that her cousin, who can wear hoop skirts, has two old ones that she is going to give up.  Sarah-Jane’s mom says that they can wear them for play, but Sarah-Jane thinks it is a good opportunity to make a big entrance at church. And that Mabel can wear one of the hoop skirts too! The one thing that they don’t know is how to sit down with hoops. When they walk down the aisle and sit in the front seat, the hoopskirts spring up, which made their dresses fling up onto their faces! That is super funny! This was embarrassing for the girls but they also learned a lesson, how pride can go before the fall. All of the stories are funny and also teach the reader the lessons that the mischievous girls gained while growing up. This book is great for readers who are comfortable with reading chapter books. And if you like these stories there are three more books in the series....

Movie Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution, Watch for free

Secrets of the Cell with Michael Behe

When Darwin first published On the Origin of the Species, the science of his time saw the cell as an uncomplicated organism. That’s quite the contrast with what we’ve learned in the 150 years since: the deeper we delve into life on the smallest scale, the more we find there is yet to discover. Even the simplest cells are more intricate than the most complex automated factories. In the five short videos that follow, Dr. Michael Behe shares "secrets of the cell" to show us how evolution's random mutation and time simply can't account for the magnificent design we find even on the cellular level. And in each episode, he uses helpful analogies and computer animations to introduce key Intelligent Design concepts. Behe is one of the principal figures behind the Intelligent Design (ID) Movement, which argues that Nature gives evidence of being intelligently designed. Creationists would agree, but the two groups part ways on who gets the credit. ID proponents refuse to name their Intelligent Designer, leaving room in their tent for Muslims, Moonies, Christians, and even agnostics (some of whom might believe in thousands of years, and others who hold to millions of years). Meanwhile, creationists give glory specifically to God for how fearfully and wonderfully we have been made. Thus these ID videos, on their own, don't bring us to the Truth. However, they do a fantastic job of exposing the evolutionary lie. Episode 1: Someone Must Have the Answer! (4 minutes) In the opening episode, Dr. Michael Behe introduces us to "the unseen world of organic micro-machines" contained inside the "most fundamental unit of life," the cell. He also shares how he first came to question the explanatory power of Darwin's Theory: "My own view of the cell took a turn years ago. I was in a lab at the National Institutes of Health doing postdoctoral research; I was discussing the origin of life with a fellow postdoc. As she and I thought about the cell, we wondered, how could its complex membrane, proteins, metabolism, genetic code, how could all that have formed by the accumulation of undirected changes? So we were both sort of stunned by the notion. But then we just laughed it off. We figured that even if we didn't know the answer, somebody must know..." But that isn't what he found. Episode 2: The Complexity of Life (5 minutes) One of the key evidences of Intelligent Design is how some biological "machines" could not have evolved via any sort of step-by-step process – they need all the steps already in place to function. This is what Behe calls "irreducible complexity" and he gives as one example, the flagellum – a type of "outboard motor" that some single-cell bacterium use to move about. " has a number of parts a driveshaft, a universal joint, a rotor, bushings, stator, even a clutch and braking system. The motor of the flagellum has been clocked at a hundred thousand revolutions per minute and...removing even one component of this elegant machine destroys its function..." So how could such an irreducibly complex machine have been "developed blindly, in stages"? Episode 3: The Power of Evolution (6 minutes) Behe begins with how bugs are amazing, and far more intricate than anything Man can engineer. In fact, there is a whole field of science called biomimetics, or biomimicry devoted to improving human designs by studying bug and animal mechanisms that are "both precise and purposeful." Did you know that one bug even comes complete with gears?!?  Behe talks about mutation and natural selection, and because these are key elements of Darwin's Theory, Christians sometimes make the mistake of thinking we must oppose and deny their impact. But the way to figure out the truth isn't simply to hold to a position 180-degrees from that of mainstream science – evolutionists can't be trusted to be that reliably wrong. The key difference between evolution and creation is not in whether mutation and natural selection happen, but rather in what they can accomplish. Evolutionists say mutation and natural selection can, together, create wholly new species, accidentally. We argue that the changes possible are of a more minor sort, and the potential for them is largely built-in, or the changes come about as a result of mutations causing information loss, which would be better called devolution. Episode 4: Effects of Mutation (7 minutes)  Richard Lenski's 30-year long E coli bacteria experiment is one of the most popular, and seemingly best examples of evolution observably happening. Mutations had helped the offspring grow faster, and grow bigger than their ancestors. But what sort of mutations were these? It turned out that they involved broken genes. Thus this was, once again, devolution and did nothing to explain the growth in complexity that would be needed to take us from the simple first molecules to the awesome creature that is Man. But how does breaking genes help a cell grow faster? Behe notes that just as jettisoning key car parts - maybe the doors, most of the seats, the hood, and cigarette lighter – might allow it to run further on a tank of gas, so, too, some broken genes can increase a cell's ability to reproduce in a given environment...but only at the expense of the complexity it might need to deal with other circumstances. As Behe puts it, such "...helpful mutations are not a DNA upgrade." Episode 5: The X Factor in Life (8 minutes) In this conclusion, Behe invites us to follow where the evidence takes us. Conclusion For more Michael Behe, be sure to check out his full-length free documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of the Molecular Machines, which is both an account of the man, and also a history of the Intelligent Design Movement. The film, and our review, can be found here....

News

Saturday Selections - July 11, 2020

Miracles happen... John Barros has been walking back and forth outside an Orlando abortion clinic, reaching out to the mothers, long enough to wear a mark in the concrete. In this video Barros shares how God used him to reach a Spanish-speaking couple, even though he was speaking English. The devil's favorite punctuation mark Where God puts an exclamation mark, the Devil puts a question mark: "Did God really say...?" REAL Women endorse two/reject two in Conservative Party leadership race Canada's Conservative Party leadership race is using a preferential ballot. What that means is that if your top choice is eliminated after the first round of counting, then your vote will shifted to your second choice, and so on. What this also means is that there is no strategic reason not to vote for the best candidate, even if they might not seem to have a good chance of winning. Make him your top choice, and if he does indeed lose, then your vote will shift to your second choice and still be counted. Why then are some Christians considering voting for the pro-choice Erin O'Toole? Because he is more likely to beat Trudeau than either of the pro-life candidates, Leslyn Lewis or Derek Sloan? That prompts a question: why is it even important to beat Trudeau? He might be bad for business and the economy, but is that the real problem with Trudeau? Canada's national psalm, Ps. 72, from where we get our motto "From sea to sea," provides a job description of sorts for a ruler. He is to: ...deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. What makes Trudeau evil is not his handling of the economy but his support for the slaughter of "the afflicted who have no one to help." So what improvement is it to replace him with another who supports this same evil? Another reason given to support O'Toole is because he has promised to let all voices be heard. But is he going to award prominent positions to boldly pro-life MPs? Is he going to welcome the media storm that'll result each time they do speak up for the unborn? Or is he going to relegate loud pro-life Conservatives to the backbenches where, as one of 337 other MPs, they will seldom be heard? It doesn't take a prophet to know that any pro-life MP who is given prominence in an O'Toole government will be under intense pressure to act as if the death of 100,000 unborn children a year isn't worth making a fuss over. And certainly not worth losing a cabinet position over! What a blessing it is, then, that we have two pro-life candidates to choose from in Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis. What parenting style works best? A secular study defined 4 broad parenting styles as Disengaged - neither demanding nor responsive Permissive - responsive but not demanding Authoritarian - demanding but unresponsive Authoritative - demanding and responsive It is this fourth approach that most clearly matches up with God's call on parents in verses like: a) Ps. 127:3 - "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward." b) Prov. 29:15 - "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." c) Col. 3:21 - "Fathers do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." It not surprising then, that it is this fourth approach that most lines up with what even the world recognizes as the best results. God loves us, and His commandments are a help and protection for us when we listen...and in parenting too. "95 million-year-old" octopus's ink used for self-portrait Here's a fun story. The "preservation of an octopus as a fossil is about as unlikely as finding a fossil sneeze" and yet one such fossil is so well preserved that ink from the octopus's ink sac was used to draw a portrait of the animal. The ultimate Rube Goldberg Machine...aka the 3-minute-long basketball shot! A fun one to watch with the kids that might serve as inspiration too! ...

Sexuality

Are bans on conversion therapy actually bans on religious conversion...in drag?

An ongoing concern for international religious freedom advocates is the existence of laws banning conversion from one religion to another. For example, it is illegal to convert a Muslim to Christianity in Pakistan, to convert a Buddhist to Christianity in Myanmar, and to convert a Hindu to Christianity in some states in India. In Canada, with its Christian roots, we understand that while faith includes outward observance, Christianity is ultimately a matter of the heart, a matter of Whom we love and trust. From that springs the understanding that the civil government cannot compel belief by force or law, and it is fruitless to try. At least, that is how it used to be. As nationalism rises, religious freedom falls Meghan Fischer, writing of this phenomenon in the Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs, explains the international consensus that there is (or ought to be) a right to change one’s religious beliefs. There is also an internationally recognized right “to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion.”1 But Fischer suggests that there are growing nationalist impulses in Southeast Asia such that “conversions away from the majority religion… are a threat to the country.” Laws banning religious conversion are then selectively enforced only to ban conversion from the majority religion to a minority religion. Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief from 2010 to 2016, notes that violations of the right to convert have “become a human rights problem of great concern.” He explains that religious freedom is abused …in the interest of promoting national identity or protecting societal homogeneity, or under other pretexts such as maintaining political and national security… In addition, the rights of converts or those trying non-coercively to convert others are sometimes questioned in principle.2 Such bans on religious conversion result in stories such as this one, Three Christians were arrested in the village of Vadi in on December 16th after fellow villagers accused them of practising illegal medicine. They spent 11 days in jail before being released on bail. Pastor Mukam Kiraad, along with two members of his church… were shocked to learn they were charged with medical malpractice after praying for physical healing. Canada’s version? This story of Christian prayer resulting in criminal charges reminded me of the conversion therapy bans that have been proposed or passed in Canada at all three levels of civil government. And I wondered: Are bans on conversion therapy a species of religious conversion bans? In order to answer this question, we need to investigate and understand: what the majority religion in Canada is what true conversion is and how it is brought about in Christianity; and what conversion therapy bans in Canada are actually proposing to do. When we put these three things together, we can answer our question. 1. Canada’s established religion While Canadians follow many gods (theistic or material like money, sex, or sports), there is one dominant religion. And it isn’t Christianity or Islam. To understand what it is, we can look to the opening chapter of Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book Love Thy Body, where she explains the “radically fragmented, fractured, dualistic view of the human being” that has developed in Western culture. She calls it personhood theory. Personhood theory says the true “you” – the actual person – is not the body you have but what you feel you are, your sense of self. If you feel you are mostly female but have a male body, the important part of you is that inside sense of who you are. The body is secondary, and so it can be mutilated and chemically altered to conform to the “real” you. This type of thinking slips into Christianity too, where some well-meaning Christians have embraced the idea that your soul might be female while your body is male, for example. This is a dualistic understanding of the human person that, instead of viewing our mind and our body as an integrated whole, sees them as two separable pieces. It declares: you are your mind; you are not your body. It’s also a deeply religious view, isn’t it? You can’t prove in a science lab that the “soul” or your “internal sense of self” is actually female when the biological body is genetically and anatomically male. You have to accept it on faith. And yet the idea that the human person – who you really are – is something wholly different from the human body is taken as an article of faith by the legal, political, academic, journalistic, and (increasingly) economic leaders of our Western culture. Take, for example, the argument that the pre-born child is “human” but not “a person.” That’s a religious claim. It takes blind faith to agree (as most pro-choice advocates do) that the pre-born child is a complete and a unique living human being, but not a person deserving rights. A Christian would respond that the pre-born child is a person because they are human – an observable, provable, biological fact – and therefore should be afforded the same protection in law as any other human. Or consider the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the A.B. v. C.D. case: the court assumed and adopted the language at the beginning of the hearing that a biological female was, in fact, a boy, despite this being contested by the father of the child. Philosopher Robert P. George, in a long-form article titled “Gnostic Liberalism,” explains that this separation and elevation of the mind or the soul over the body is actually the outworking of the millennia-old heresy of Gnosticism, back in new clothes. It sees the soul as a “ghost in a machine.” George says that in this new version of the Gnostic religion, “the body serves at the pleasure of the conscious self, to which it is subject.” Your religious view on the nature of the body and the soul has implications for all kinds of social, legal and moral issues, like transgenderism and sex-changes. The Christian view, says Robert George, is that “respect for the person demands respect for the body, which rules out mutilation and other direct attacks on human health… Changing sexes is a metaphysical impossibility because it is a biological impossibility.” Pearcey agrees, writing, “Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity – that the human being is an embodied soul.” Robert George concludes that this Gnostic view of the human being (he also describes it as “expressive individualism”) is now the dominant orthodoxy among Western cultural elites. It... ...provides the metaphysical foundation of the social practices against which Orthodox Jews and faithful Christians… contend today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, sexual liberation, the redefinition of marriage, and gender ideology. There should be no doubt in our minds: Canada has a dominant religion. That religion has various names, but biblical Christianity is not one of them. Neo-Gnosticism, secular humanism, expressive individualism, or moral therapeutic deism; all describe the dominant religion, a belief system with a destructive view of mankind that stands in sharp contrast to the beautiful truth of the biblical view of man: human beings created as either male or female – body and soul, an integrated whole – in the image of God. Now let’s explore the concept of true conversion and then apply it to this dominant religion. 2. The true conversion of man In a word, conversion is change. Theologian Steven Lawson explains, In the biblical sense, conversion means a turning—a spiritual turning away from sin in repentance and to Christ in faith. It is a dramatic turning away from one path in order to pursue an entirely new one. …The entire person—mind, affections, and will—is radically, completely, and fully changed in conversion. The true repentance or conversion of man, explains the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 88-90), “is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.”3 The dying of the old nature “is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin, and more and more to hate it and flee from it”4 and the coming to life of the new nature “is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”5 So, for those who convert to Christianity from Hinduism or Islam or atheism (and there are plenty of biographies describing these conversions), there is a radical break – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, volitionally – from the ideas and practices of the previous religious system to love and embrace and follow Jesus Christ as Lord in every aspect of life. This pattern of conversion is also true for those who convert to Christianity from the mainstream religion of Canada: the secular humanist and Gnostic religion. A convert will come to reject the ideas, practices, and affections of the false religion and embrace instead the person and work of Christ Jesus. They will change. Now, total change might not be immediate and will involve struggles of various kinds. Fellow Christians must love and walk alongside a new convert, encouraging them day by day to engage the struggle and embrace their newfound freedom in Christ. And the change will result in changes of lifestyle, of identity, of affections, turning away from the Gnostic religion’s view of humankind and embracing the Christian understanding. What is also important to know is how conversion is brought about. It is not forced; it cannot be. The Canons of Dort (at ch. 3/4, art. 16) puts it beautifully: this divine grace of regeneration does not act upon men as if they were blocks and stones and does not take away the will and its properties, or violently coerce it, but makes the will spiritually alive, heals it, corrects it, pleasantly and at the same time powerfully bends it (Psalm 51:12; Philippians 2:13). Conversion is a wonderful work of God, by His Spirit, begun usually through the sharing of the gospel “which God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul” (Canons of Dort, ch. 3/4, art. 17). The gospel is spread by word and example, not by sword. When the Church fulfils her calling to go and make disciples of all nations, preaching the gospel to all people, the Spirit is at work changing hearts. 3. What conversion therapy bans in Canada do Across the country, in various provinces and municipalities, and in Parliament as well, conversion therapy bans have been proposed (and most have passed), outlawing so-called “conversion therapy.” As ARPA Canada explains in our policy report on conversion therapy, the devil is in the details: how one defines conversion therapy determines how bad such a ban would be. And it also determines whether it might rise to the level of a religious conversion ban. Kristopher Wells, an outspoken activist on conversion therapy, defines conversion therapy this way: Conversion “therapy” (also known as “reparative therapy,” “reintegrative therapy,” or “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts”) is any form of treatment, including individual talk therapy, behavioural or aversion therapy, group therapy treatments, spiritual prayer, exorcism, and/or medical or drug-induced treatments, which attempt to actively change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Notice what this very influential activist has done. He intentionally and deceptively combines prayer and talk therapy with long-discredited and generally unacceptable practices like aversion therapy (think electric shock therapy). And yet his definition has been used in modified forms in both the City of Calgary’s recently passed bylaw and in Bill C-8, the federal government’s proposed criminal ban on conversion therapy. ARPA Canada’s ongoing concern with both laws is that the definitions of conversion therapy are incredibly broad and misleading. At the Calgary City Council deliberations over their bylaw, multiple lawyers, pastors, and citizens (same-sex attracted and otherwise) expressed grave concern that the bill would prohibit the advertising, teaching, or application of parts of the gospel: the Christian understanding of man, including sexual ethics, sense of self, the effect of sin on human nature, and so on. Yet the bylaw passed with no real opposition within city council. When asked, some defenders of these bans, like federal Justice Minister David Lametti, explain that anyone who has “non-judgemental” or “open-ended” conversations about identity would not be captured by such prohibitions. But who judges what is “non-judgmental” or “open-ended”? Another troubling aspect is that many conversion therapy bans only prohibit “conversion” in one direction: they ban reducing homosexual activity or desire and reducing gender dysphoria. That is the explicit language of Bill C-8. This raises huge practical questions: if a teenager is consuming an inordinate amount of pornography, can they be told to “reduce” this behavior only if involves heterosexual pornography? A plain reading of the proposed law would prohibit an experienced counselor from helping a child struggling with gender dysphoria to be comfortable with their body. And there are enough documented cases of school teachers encouraging children to “explore” or question their sexual identity. Why should that be permitted, but not vice versa? These one-directional prohibitions are steeped in the neo-Gnostic religion. So, are bans on conversion therapy banning religious conversion? Conversion therapy bans do not outright ban religious conversion from neo-Gnosticism to Christianity in the same way that converting someone from Hinduism to Christianity is banned in parts of India. But these conversion therapy bans definitely impede the ability of the Christian community (whether pastors or counselors or even parents or friends) to persistently teach the Christian sexual ethic and to explain how the good news of the gospel applies to all of life. Banning advertising or defining businesses to include churches in the context of conversion therapy bans are examples of the civil government limiting the reach of the gospel to people within the LGBTQ+ community. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). If bylaws and criminal prohibitions make the Christian community think twice about sharing the gospel with someone who currently embraces the Gnostic religion, then conversion therapy bans seem to be a sub-species of religious conversion bans. This said, it is helpful for us, as Christians, to remember the approach we take to conversion. Nancy Pearcey says it well: As we work through controversial moral issues, it is crucial to bear in mind the main goal. It is not first of all to persuade people to change their behaviour. It is to tear down barriers to becoming Christian. No matter who we are addressing, or what moral issue the person is struggling with, their first need is to hear the gospel and experience the love of God. (Love Thy Body, p. 260) When we start with that, and pray and trust the Spirit to do his work, we should be confident that God will convert those whom he wills, no matter what the Gnostics plan to ban. Endnotes 1 Meghan G. Fischer’s “Anti-Conversion Laws and the International Response” in the Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs, Volume 6, Issue 1 2 United Nations, General Assembly, Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance: Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/67/303 (13 August 2012), at para. 15, available from undocs.org/en/A/67/303 3 Rom 6:1-11; 1 Cor 5:7; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5-10 4 Ps 51:3, 4, 17; Joel 2:12, 13; Rom 8:12, 13; 2 Cor 7:10 5 Ps 51:8, 12; Is 57:15; Rom 5:1; 14:17; Rom 6:10, 11; Gal 2:20 André Schutten is the Director of Law and Policy for ARPA Canada....

News

Even heroes carved in marble will have feet of clay

This afternoon I was driving my son home from his work at a garden center. His job is ½ hour away from where we live but we have been more than willing to make the drive twice every day as many of the jobs high school students normally fill during our hot Ontario summers are not easy to come by in this post-COVID world. As we sped past farmland filled with newly planted crops we listened to CBC as the host fielded calls from Ontario listeners.  The topic under discussion was the question of whether or not we should change the names of cities and streets if the current names had been adopted from those in history who might have had a shady record when it came to slavery. The callers were passionate in their feedback, ranging from deep affront that our current society would disregard the past and in effect try to erase it, to emotional pleas from parents who, because of the color of their skin, found the memorializing of these names to be hurtful in the extreme and impossible to explain to their children.  The host did her best, but it was clear she was not sufficient for navigating such tempestuous waters. The callers’ responses led, in turn, to a compelling discussion between my son and me. Searching for a hero What was most remarkable in the entire radio discussion was how disappointed everyone was to "discover" that their heroes were flawed; to learn that the men and women of the past had sticky records, with bad decisions and reprehensible viewpoints dotting their lives. My son noticed that there seemed to be more than disappointment in the voices of the callers, many were just plain outraged. Why? Why are we shocked when the sins of our heroes materialize and besmirch what we believed were impeccable records? Why are we almost personally offended when we unearth brokenness in the lives of past men and women? Could it be that we are angry because we have placed our trust in cracked vessels, and now these men and women are failing the faith we have put in them?  It appears that many of us are in an ongoing search for a truly great hero, for one who will not disappoint. Perhaps the callers on the radio show were simply expressing a longing deep within every human heart. That we would find one who will not let us down. One who will not only measure up to every impossible standard that we set for others, (never for ourselves because we, of course, need grace), but one who will far surpass those expectations. The good news is that there is a hero who shines through the mists of history, One who is truly faultless.  And the true beauty of this One lies in the fact that our expectations of Him will never be enough; He is utterly and incandescently lovely, and our hearts will never be disappointed when they rest in Him.  Every time we think He cannot possibly be as heroic as our hearts long for, He will prove Himself to be more so. The answer to the question of when to tear down statues or when to stand behind street names is complex, requiring both wisdom and determination. To his credit, the biblical Gideon tore down the high places his family members had built, being willing to shoulder their outrage rather than disobey God.  And yet, to his fault, he later made an ephod in an effort to memorialize the triumph over Midian with the result that all Israel worshipped it – causing them to give honor to something detestable instead of what was true. Grateful There are not always easy answers when we try to unravel what to do with the tangle of sin threaded through the lives of the various characters that line history’s wall. But just as we have been thankful for the work that was provided for our son this summer, we can be even more thankful for the work that was accomplished by another Son thousands of summers ago. A work that covers the snarl of sin that is present not only in the lives of others but is also found starkly in our own broken hearts.  And the work of that Son will never disappoint, for He will never fail. His name is Jesus Christ....

Apologetics 101

Two atheists walk into a bar...

If there is no God, can there be morality? I’m not asking whether atheists are moral people and do moral things. They do, but by what unimpeachable and ultimate standard? An atheist might say that certain laws are good for the advancement of the species. But let’s not forget that as an evolved species (according to atheism), we got here “red in tooth and claw.” We evolved upward through violent means. We ascended the evolutionary ladder on the weaker evolutionary elements going back to the first signs of organic life that struggled to survive. Why has that process suddenly become immoral? Famed atheist Richard Dawkins wrote in his book The Selfish Gene, “We — and that means all living things — are survival machines programmed to propagate the digital database that did the programming.” According to Dawkins, the goal of genes is to survive so they can be passed on to the next generation. The Selfish Gene has been described as “a disturbingly persuasive essay arguing that living things are little more than corporal vessels impelled to heed the primal dictates of selfish genes hellbent on their own replication and propagation.” These “selfish genes” don’t have a moral compass. They are like the Terminator. Their only goal is to survive and replicate and pity the poor organism that stands in their way. Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson contend that: “We need something to spur us against our usual selfish dispositions. Nature, therefore, has made us (via the rules) believe in a disinterested moral code, according to which we ought to help our fellow….  thics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.” Notice the equivocation: “as we understand it.” They don’t know this. Furthermore, even if our genes evolved to do this (and there is no empirical evidence that they have), it does not mean that we are obligated to do what they have “fobbed off on us.” Evolution is not about cooperation. It’s about the survival of the fittest. A few years ago, a group of atheists ran an ad campaign with this banner: “Relax: hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life.” Who defines what gives someone joy and on what basis? The Declaration of Independence mentions “the pursuit of happiness.” One person’s happiness could be another person’s dread. How do we know? The Declaration of Independence gives us a hint by stating that we are endowed by a “Creator with certain inalienable rights.” There are moral boundaries to life, liberty, and happiness. We are not at liberty to do what we want to do because it makes us happy. Two atheists walk into a bar. . . . First Atheist: I noticed your banner that I should enjoy life because there’s no hell. Do you mean that after death there won’t be a God to judge me for what I do or don’t do while I am alive? Second Atheist: Yes. In fact, there won’t be anyone or anything to judge you and me. There’s no karma or transmigration of the soul. As the song says, “All we are is dust in the wind.” Furthermore, God is a fictional character that humans created a long time ago to give meaning to life before there was science. When something in the world could not be explained, humans attributed the unknown to supernatural entities like gods and devils, spirits and sprites. Since the advent of science, we know that only matter matters. If it can’t be seen under a microscope or its properties can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. Invisible beings like gods, ghosts, and goblins can’t exist in a world that is now defined by the physical sciences. First Atheist: So, if I can’t see it or examine it, it does not exist. If a claimed entity does not have any physical properties, it does not exist. Second Atheist: Yes. Science has come a long way to remove all religious superstitions of the past. They’re still with us, but our organization is working overtime to eliminate every vestige of religion and the supernatural from our world. First Atheist: I’m so relieved. All my life I was taught that there was a divine being who brought the world into existence, expressed His character in a specific moral code, and one day would judge me based on how I measured up to that moral code. So, you’re saying that no such entity exists and I’m free to enjoy life on my terms. I want to be sure about this. There’s a lot riding on your belief system. Second Atheist: Yes. As our banners say, “Relax: hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life.” First Atheist: I’m so glad you said that. Your banner caught my attention and makes my life worth living. I have a purpose for living in the now. Any guilt I had is gone. Now give me all your money and the keys to your car. I also want the PIN numbers to all your accounts. If you don’t do what I say, I’m going to blow your brains out. Second Atheist: We are free to enjoy life as long as our enjoyment does not infringe upon the rights of others. First Atheist: Who says? On what basis is this true and obligatory? Second Atheist: It’s common decency. First Atheist: Who gets to determine what’s decent? Second Atheist: It’s wrong to steal and murder. First Atheist: No. At this moment in time, it’s unlawful to steal and murder. Laws are social conventions that are a holdover from our superstitious religious past. Survival of the fittest is the true basis of non-religious evolutionary origins. Laws are constantly changing. That shows that there are no eternal moral absolutes. As atheists, we can’t prove that moral absolutes exist since no one has ever seen a moral absolute or has been able to study one. They’re like the phantasms we dismiss as being unreal. Second Atheist: But there all kinds of moral absolutes that can be studied. First Atheist: Show me one. You said that only the physical is real. God is not a material entity that can be studied by the standards of science, so He cannot exist. That’s what we atheists claim. Show me the physical laws against murder and stealing. Of course, you can’t because they don’t exist given our materialist assumptions. Second atheist: Reason tells us that murder and stealing are wrong. First Atheist: That’s the best you can come up with? Reason? I think it’s very reasonable to take your stuff because I’ll enjoy all of its benefits. Your sign tells everyone to enjoy themselves. This is how I want to enjoy myself. Anyway, whose version of reason should I follow? Yours? It seems reasonable to me to take your stuff since you aren’t really being consistent with your belief system. You’re holding on to the remnants of religion and the fictional worldview that it spawned. Every so-called tyrant (atheism can’t say if anything is tyrannical) believed he was being ultimately reasonable. Adolf Hitler didn’t believe he was being irrational. Neither did Lenin or Stalin, and they killed (not murdered) millions for what they claimed were very rational reasons. The French fought a revolution for the absoluteness of reason. Guess what? They took people’s stuff and killed people in the name of reason and called it “virtue.” Second Atheist: But civilization depends on laws and morality. First Atheist: A consistent atheist cannot account for meaning, morality, or rationality. If there is no judgment after death, then there is no difference between Adolf Hitler who killed 6 million Jews or Sir Nicholas Winton who organized the rescue of more than 600 Jewish children from the Nazi death camps. At death, given atheist assumptions, they are equal, nothing more than dust in the wind. Mao Zeong and Josef Stalin would argue that they were working for a world that they believed would bring the most joy for themselves and those like them. . . . Now that I think about it, I don’t like this atheism thing. If I can rob and kill you with no eternal consequences, then other people can do the same to me. Your banner is stupid. You need to think through your belief system before you end up like atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. “In 1995 she was kidnapped, murdered, and her body mutilated, along with her son Jon Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair, by former American Atheist office manager David Roland Waters.” Waters must have said to himself, “Relax: Hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life.” This article first appeared on the website of American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry and is reprinted here with permission. Endnotes “Revolutionary Evolutionist,” Wired Magazine (July 1, 1995). Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson, “Evolution and Ethics,” New Scientist, 208 (October 17, 1985), 51. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Winnie the Pooh

Animated / Children / Family 63 min, 2011 Rating: 8/10 Our favorite silly little bear starts his newest adventure in bed, waking up only at the insistence of the narrator. Winnie-the-Pooh "has a Very Important Thing to Do" today, so he simply must get up! Just what that important thing is, the narrator does not specify, so Pooh decides his first priority is going to be to take care of his tummy. And that requires some "huny." When he discovers he is all out, this bear of very little brain comes up with a sensible enough plan - he goes in search of "friends out there with honey to spare." Once out of his little house Pooh proceeds to have a series of adventures. The first involves Tigger and a balloon, and the second, a fearsome beast (or as fearsome as a Pooh cartoon can be) named the Backson. The longest adventure of all is a search for Eeyore's tail... or for some substitute that could serve in that role. This is a gentle family-friendly gem. Disney has produced a score of Pooh films but this is the first since 1977's The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh to fully capture the charm of the books. Adventures remains the best of all the Pooh films, with this a very close second. Some reviewers were critical about its length, or rather, lack of length. Winnie the Pooh is listed as being an hour long, which is only about half as long as a regular feature film (and when you subtract the credits, it would be more accurate to say this is just over 50 minutes). It's a legitimate beef. I know I would feel a little put out if I spent ten bucks per head for my family and we were marching out of the theatre before I even finished my popcorn. But on DVD this length is more palatable, especially when its intended audience, and their limited attention spans, are considered. There are only two cautions to note. The first concerns language. After the film ends, and ten minutes of credits run, there is one final, very short scene in which the word "gosh" is used twice. I'm not a fan of this "substitute expletive" but this is not God's name, and thus is not taking his name in vain. The only other caution is about Pooh himself. In this rendition, Pooh is a little more self-absorbed and selfish than usual. As an example, when the group sets out to trap the Backson, Pooh is content to let his little friend Piglet do all the work while he supervises. Pooh's shallowness (including his obsession with honey) is the central "conflict" in the story, and one that parents should point out to their children - the "hero" of this little story is not being a good friend right here. Of course, Pooh does get his priorities figured out by the end of the film. When faced with the choice of finally getting some honey, or bringing Eeyore his missing tail, Pooh chooses friend over food. The story concludes with Christopher Robin congratulating Pooh for the "Very Important Thing" he did today: "Instead of thinking of your tummy you thought of your friend." ...

In a Nutshell

Tidbits – July 2020

Translation that busts a gut “During my time of study in Amsterdam several decades ago, I personally experienced this challenge of translation. One day I walked downstairs and happened to meet the landlady. She looked at me quizzically, as if to ask what I was doing. “I’m taking a break from my studies,” I tried to say in Dutch. Unfortunately, “taking a break” does not translate well, so I changed the word for “break” to paus. And, apparently, I didn’t pronounce it well. What I actually said to my Dutch friend was, “The pope has a hernia.” A big fan of the pontiff, she was very concerned.” – R.C. Sproul (in What’s in the Bible) A Christian take on art and riots too… When it comes to all the various subjects taught in our Christian schools, there are a few where the question is more often asked, “How do Christians teach this subject any differently than non-Christians?” While Math might be at the top of that list, Art is another that might follow somewhere soon after. But as Rev. Carl Vermuelen noted in the June issue of Una Sancta, there is not only a distinctly Christian way to teach art, but a pressing need to do so. He points readers to Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book, Saving Leonardo, where the Pearcey describes how, as the West moved away from its Christian roots, its art changed too. Before, no matter how artists might have differed, all agreed that we had purpose and life had meaning, and that truth was discoverable. But, “By the time of the impressionists, people no longer hoped to achieve the expression of an ideal universal order … or universal knowledge.” She documents the development of these ideas through impressionism, Picasso’s cubism and geometric abstractionism, as well as through the pantheism of Van Gogh, and Kadinsky’s art infused with spiritualism. The ideas of these artists and others in their thought world developed further into secular materialism, as well as pantheism and postmodernism. The vicious attacks on Western civilization we see today are the direct result of these ideas. Many of the artists she discusses as she describes this revolutionary change in society (Mondriaan, Kandinsky, Monet, Van Gogh, Warhol, Picasso), are included in the list of recommended artists to be studied in the arts curriculum at our . That means the art teachers have a wonderful opportunity to show the children from the earliest grades the big narrative that has been shaping our society. What artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and the Fauvres thought and expressed in their art is what we are seeing in action on the streets today. This is what our children need to understand. Then we won’t want them to paint like Picasso, but we will want them to understand why Picasso painted like he did. In this way, we will help them make sense of the George Floyd riots, the burning police cars and the looting. A dad joke QUESTION: What two body parts are able to both run and smell? ANSWER: Your nose and your feet! Kevin DeYoung (and John Frame) on birth control… “You don’t have to be a fertility maximalist to recognize that children are always lauded as a blessing in the Bible. Maybe on another occasion, I’ll write about the triumph of birth control in the 20th century and how it happened with little theological reflection from the church, but for now let me at least nudge you in the direction of John Frame: ‘It seems to me that birth control is permissible in many situations, but it bears a high burden of proof. It can be a responsible choice, but is probably overused.’” SOURCE: It's Time for a New Culture War Strategy  Did he see the transgender debate coming? “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” – G.K. Chesterton, in the Illustrated London News Mainstream and social media's flaws These three quotes are all from a time before the Internet but seem applicable to Twitter and Facebook too. “Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge.” –  Edward Knoll, sharing what has been called “Knoll’s Law of Media Accuracy.” His point was that when we see a story we know about we’ll be able to spot the faults in the reporting. But when it a story is about an event we don’t know anything about, we’ll often forget the errors in the previous account, and take this one as if it is fully reliable. “If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” – commonly attributed to Mark Twain, though he seemingly didn’t say it, which is a lesson in itself. "You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well.... you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know." – Michael Crichton on the "Gell-Mann Amnesia effect" as named after his friend Creating their own commandments It is no coincidence that a society that ignores all God’s commandments will create their own, easier to obey, moral code. They might take God’s name in vain, violate the Sabbath, covet their rich neighbor’s good, teach kids how to fornicate, and even proclaim the murder of the unborn a right, but because they use paper, rather than plastic, straws they can still feel righteous. As one quote, purportedly from a Winifred Egan, put it: “What an irony that a society confronted with plastic bags filled with the remains of aborted babies should be more concerned about the problem of recycling the plastic.”...

News

Saturday Selections - July 4, 2020

Reformed College ad causes a wonderful fuss When a Reformed college put out the recruitment ad below – starring their small town's newly built washrooms – the town's mayor felt the need to issue an official statement. He wanted everyone to know the ad, touting that there are two distinct genders, didn't represent their little town. But as local pastor Douglas Wilson noted: That bathroom, for those of you who do not live here in Moscow, is brand, spanking new. It was built on Mayor’s Lambert’s watch. He was the one who built that brand new segregated bathroom, that brand new “girls go this way, boys go that way” bathroom, that brand new Hate Space. He is the one who built that standing affront to Moscow’s world-famous inclusive values. And then, when the ad spot shows a young man going into the side ASSIGNED TO HIM BY THE CITY OF MOSCOW, and a young lady going into the side ASSIGNED TO HER BY THE CITY OF MOSCOW, our mayor calls US out for our lack of inclusiveness. All we did was indicate — in that endearing little way we have — our agreement with the mayor in having built what he built. We are sorry that he feels bad about what he did now, but there it is. In today's culture wars Christians too often act as if we're actually worried God might lose this thing. We are so angry, annoyed, and fearful about what's going on. The folks at New Saint Andrews College want to show us what it would look like if we were eager to jump into the fray because we understand – because we are certain – that God had already been won. (Another example: their latest ad "Why All Black Lives Matter"). Home is underrated For family's that are able to do it, there are many advantages to having mom at home. Big Science needs to repent In a recent Nature article, two dozen scientists joined together in a "manifesto that calls for sweeping changes in the way scientific modeling is done." Though it isn't the Nature article's intention, the manifesto highlights how Science isn't unbiased – there are so many ways that findings can be twisted to fit particular ideologies. And it's only once we understand there is no neutrality that we can best assess the "facts" we are given by viewing them in light of the biases that were involved in their production. 5 things I learned debating a professor who wants to ban homeschooling There are those who want the State to be our "co-parent" and who, despite the State's dismal track record running their own schools, want to make sure no is "allowing some parents to escape" the public system. Pro-life group denounces Peter MacKay, Erin O'Toole as "Trudeau Tories" Canada's Conservative Party leadership race is drawing to a close, and there are 4 candidates on offer, two of whom – Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis – have been endorsed by the pro-life Campaign Life Coalition. The other two have been denounced as "Trudeau Tories" because, like Trudeau, Peter MacKay and Erin O'Toole endorse the greatest evil of our age: the slaughter of unborn babies crafted by God in His very Image. When we consider the outrage over the brutal death of another such image-bearer, George Floyd, were we then to multiply that outrage by 300 – the number of babies murdered each day in Canada – and then consider that this happens to 100,000 babies each year, we would begin to understand how outraged we should be when Justin Trudeau, Peter MacKay and Erin O'Toole say "Unborn lives don't matter." 81% of Canada's COVID deaths were long-term care residents Do we need to rethink old age homes? The wonder of the hummingbird's tongue (3 minutes) While the video doesn't specifically mention God, narrator Paul Nelson notes: "I think in some respects the wonder of a hummingbird almost transcends language.... It's almost like responding to the work of an artist. You just stand there and applaud." ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Yellow & Pink

by William Steig 1984 / 32 pages Sometimes one encounters a work of art, a poem, piece of music, figurine or painting which is so simple yet so perfect. Simplicity, you see, takes more talent, not less, to bring about. Sometimes these works come from unlikely sources too. Yet the masterpiece can be appreciated for what it is, rather than for who the artist is. Most people would not consider children’s literature to represent works of art, but of course, there are exceptions, and one such exception is a story called Yellow & Pink by William Steig. This story is so simple, the illustrations so charming, the whole so pregnant with meaning, that it merits the attention not only of children but also of their discriminating elders. The story involves two recently assembled wooden puppets laid out in the yard to allow their paint to dry. Suddenly aware of themselves and of their surroundings, they begin to speculate on where they came from. Pink declares that somebody must have made them. Yellow rejects this idea although he notes that they are “so intricate, so perfect.” He proposes time and chance as the preferred explanation: “With enough time – a thousand, a million, maybe two and a half million years – lots of unusual things could happen. Why not us?” Pink, however, declares that idea to be “preposterous.” Thus the puppets engage in dialogue. Yellow proposes hypotheses involving “natural processes” while Pink expresses skepticism in the form of further probing questions. The discerning reader will notice that Yellow’s hypotheses deal only with shape (form). They never deal with function or even the intricacies of form such as joints. Yellow continues his appeal to time and chance with speculations which become more and more improbable. Finally, he bogs down and appeals to mystery. This puppet is content, in the end, to say we may never know the answer, but he refuses to consider Pink’s suggested alternative. In the end, a man (whose drawing bears a striking resemblance to the book’s author and illustrator) comes along, checks the puppets’ paint and carries them away. Neither puppet recognizes that this is their maker. This simple story, illustrated with elegant line drawings colored pink and yellow, is an obvious analogy to evolutionary speculations. The appeals to time and chance to explain highly improbable events (such as hailstones of the right size falling repeatedly only in the eye sockets) have an all too familiar ring. This is like using time and chance to explain how a particular orchid flower ever came to resemble a particular female bee in appearance, texture, and smell. The author of this little story was a most interesting man. An artist by training, he had provided cartoon-like illustrations for The New Yorker magazine for almost forty years, when at the age of sixty he undertook to write and illustrate children’s books. Thus in 1968, Mr. Steig began a new, highly successful career, that would span a further twenty years. He favored stories that encouraged children to think. One device was to sprinkle big words into the text and another was to espouse unusual ideas. For example, in Shrek, he encourages his readers to value strength of character rather than conventionally attractive personal appearance. Thus it is in Yellow and Pink that he turns his attention to Darwinian speculations. Perhaps he wanted to encourage critical thinking. Whatever the author’s reasons may have been for writing this book, it conveys an important idea by means of an elegant and non-confrontational device – a children’s story. Buy the book because it is a discussion starter, or as a collector’s item, or just because it is fun to read....

Culture Clashes

Are you “blessed” or “privileged”?

They might seem close synonyms but the Devil is in the details **** A couple of years back a viral video showed a large group of older teens getting ready to race for a $100 bill. It was men and women, blacks and whites, athletic sorts and not so, and all things being equal, we’d expect one of the long lean guys to run away with the money. But the point of the video was to explain that things are not equal. The leader of the group, Adam Donyes, had a series of eight statements to tell the students before the race got started. The teens were supposed to take two steps forward for each one that applied to them: “Your parents are still married.” “You grew up with a father figure in your home.” “You had access to a private education.” “You had access to a free tutor growing up.” “You never had to worry about your cellphone being shut off.” “You never had to help mom or dad with the bills.” “It wasn’t because of your athletic ability that you don’t have to pay for college.” “You never wondered where your next meal was going to come from.” Doynes was trying to make a very specific point. He told the group that each of his statements had “nothing to do with decisions you’ve made.” The students up front were there not because of anything they had done, but because of the position they had been born into, or their parents had put them in. He told those students: “…if this was a fair race, and everybody was back on that line I guarantee you some of these black dudes would smoke all of you. And it is only because you have this big of a head start that you’re possibly going to win this race called life. That is a picture of life, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing you’ve done has put you in the lead that you’re in right now.” Then he shouted “go!” and the race was on. Drawing out biblical truths There are some clear biblical truths that could be drawn out of this video. Luke 12:48b might come to mind: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” Or we might think of how the three servants were given different amounts of money in the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25. It’s important for us to understand that for those who have been blessed with more, God has raised expectations for us. The video also lines up well with 1 Cor. 12 where Paul notes our different gifts, comparing them to parts of the body. One person might be a hand, another a foot, and another an eye. And just like the "eye cannot say to the hand 'I have no need of you'" so too we shouldn't look down on those with different gifts than our own. That's an important lesson, and Doynes tries to make that specifically to those out in the front. But in this same chapter Paul also makes another point that would have been an important one for all those farther back. We are all part of the body, and we shouldn't overlook what God gifts has given us: "...the body does not consist of one member but many. If the foot should say, 'because I am a hand I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body....there are many parts, yet one body." Guilt vs. gratitude So there was a lot to love in this video. But what made it go viral was how it seemed the perfect illustration of “privilege,” and specifically “white privilege,” since blacks were clustered in the back, and the very front was populated with whites. The way the term privileged is used it can seem like a close synonym to blessed. One person says, “I’m blessed to have always had a roof over my head” and another says, “I was privileged to never have to worry about being homeless.” Just a matter of tomato/tomatoh, right? Two terms for the same idea. But there’s an important sense in which the two words are actually opposites. Blessed is an inherently positive word. When we say we are blessed in this way or that, it is a note of appreciation to our “blesser” whether that is God, or maybe our parents, spouse, friends, or children. But whereas we celebrate the ways in which we are blessed, one admits to being privileged – we’re supposed to “check our privilege.” Being blessed makes us grateful, but being privileged brings guilt. Parents stayed together? You got to go to a basketball camp last summer? Lucky you, but not all of us are so privileged. There's more to privileged than just guilt. Often times it is shorthand for something like: "You're privileged so you don't know me – you haven't lived through what I've had to endure." There's truth to that – if we've been sheltered from some of the world's harshness that can bring with it a naivety. And that might leave a gulf between us and others who haven't been so blessed. But even in this usage privileged is a negative word. Noting differences can be a step to understanding, to beginning to know one another. But the way privileged is used it is not a conversation-starter. This is a putdown used as a conversation-stopper. While Donyes didn’t use the word privilege in his video, there was a reason so many others thought it fit – his video wasn’t a celebration of blessing; there was a touch of shame instead. If the difference between blessed and privileged is still muddy consider this: when we are blessed and others are not, what do we want for them? Don’t we want them to have what we have? But when we admit to being privileged, is that a state we’d wish on anyone else? Being privileged isn’t something you aspire to. This is part of the “victimhood culture” where the worse off you are, the less guilt you have to feel for what you have. But when it’s good, or at least less shameful, to be hard off, then it’s bad to become more “privileged.” A wise man once said that the battle we're in is over the dictionary, and this is an example. These two words – blessed and privileged – seem almost synonyms, but whereas the first takes us to gratitude and God, the second leads to unremitting guilt and stagnation. Inequality vs. poverty Inequality and poverty are also used interchangeably. When we see people who don’t have a warm bed to sleep in, or don’t have money for needed medical expenses, then we’ll quite naturally wish their situation wasn’t so unequal. We want them to have what we have, and wish that they could live like we do. But what we’re really lamenting here is not inequality but poverty. If inequality was our concern, we could be happy as long as everyone was equally needy. But that’s not what we’re after. Our real goal is for the poor to be raised out of poverty.  So here, too, there’s a sense in which this is all just tomato/tomatoh– we might use different words, but we all want to help the poor. But once again there is an important sense in which two seeming synonyms have dangerously different meanings. Whereas “fighting poverty” is focused on helping the poor, fighting inequality is sometimes about tearing down the rich. That shift of focus happens whenever we start believing that one person’s success happens at other people’s expense. That’s what Donyes taught in his video. Donyes told students that his $100 race was like “this race called life – this is a picture of life ladies and gentlemen.” But his race had only one winner. And that winner could only succeed if others failed. In this setting every two steps someone got to take forward diminished the chances of winning for all those left behind. If that’s how you thought the world operated, what sort of attitude would you have towards millionaires and billionaires? If you believed they got their wealth by impoverishing the rest of us, what would you see as the best way to help the poor? Just that quick, concern for the poor becomes “Let’s get the filthy rich!” The world’s wealth isn’t fixed and limited. If it was, would the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17) make sense? There God tells us it’s none of our business what our neighbor has, but if our neighbor could only get wealthy by keeping others poor, wouldn’t we all have a legitimate interest in making sure he didn’t get too much? The truth is, life is not a winner-take-all-race. We can thank God that’s true spiritually, with God’s children numbering as the sand on the seashore – God has made us all champions, and there are too many of us to even count. And it’s just as true materially. Even if someone beats me out for my dream job, that doesn’t mean I have to go jobless. There are other careers. I can succeed too. And if I start a successful business, yes, I might grow wealthy, but I’ll be making my money by creating a product that others find useful enough to pay for. I won’t become wealthy at my customers’ expense. They’re only buying my widget because they think it is worth more than I am asking for it (or they would never buy it). In a very real way in all the countless merchant/customer exchanges that take place around the world both sides are the wealthier for it. That’s why both customer and merchant will say thank-you at the conclusion of a sale – both have become richer...and at no one’s expense. Of course, robbers do exist – some people do become wealthy only by taking from others. But that’s not the rule. God has so made our world that we can work together to each other’s benefit. That’s why the Tenth Commandment makes sense. And when we realize that our neighbors’ wealth isn’t making anyone poor, then we can get back to fighting poverty in fruitful, rather than covetous ways. Conclusion Does that mean we should shake our finger at anyone who speaks of being privileged or uses the word inequality? Not at all. We can put some care and attention to what terms we use, but we don’t need to stress it when others use something else. Rather than going all grammar-nazi on them we can listen in humility, try to be understanding, and use context to hear what they are saying. What’s actually important is seeing through the Devil’s gambit here. Many a best-of-intentioned Christian loves the Lord with all his heart, but there’s a reason God also demands our minds (Matt. 22:37). The Prince of Perversion loves to misdirect what is good and right to his own completely different ends, and our guard against Him is knowing God’s Word, and learning how to apply it. Otherwise, the Devil might have us, in the name of helping the poor, casting covetous eyes at the wealth of our neighbor. And if he could, he’d love to rob God of the praise that is His due by making us feel guilty, not grateful, for all the blessings our Father showers on us. Thankfully, in the great blessing of the forgiveness of sins, we can put away all guilt and all envy, and instead respond in wholehearted, full-throated gratitude to our great God. ...

Science - General

Your head is fearfully and wonderfully made

“A little science estranges men from God, but much science leads them back to Him.” – Louis Pasteur or maybe Blaise Pascal or perhaps someone else altogether **** It's unclear who exactly spouted this bit of wisdom above, but it is clear it isn't always true. Well-studied evolutionists, like a Richard Dawkins, or like documentarian David Attenborough (the fellow narrating those amazing Planet Earth videos), have looked at God's creation closely and remained evolutionists still.  So, the principle doesn’t work always work. But there's still something to it. The deeper we dig into God’s creation, the more we find out how amazingly it's all been crafted. And then it is by choice, and not evidence, that one remains blind to God's artistry. From the neck up Consider just the human head. The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons, connected to maybe 1,000 other neurons (though some estimates up that by a factor of 10), for 100+ trillion electrical connections in all, making the human brain more complex than all the wiring done for all the houses in the world combined. All those interconnections then route into a very rigid, yet strangely flexible housing – your spinal column – that delivers messages to the rest of the body. Staying with our head, if we were to compare the human eye to a camera it's one with auto-focus, aperture control, and paired up to allow for depth perception. It has more than 100 million light-sensitive rods and cones that convert images into electrical impulses that our brain has the proper “program” to convert into images. There is said to be a blindspot where all the nerves bundle together in the back of the eye to head off to the brain and this is understood by critics to be evidence of the sort of bad design one might expect from accidental unguided evolution. But do you actually see any "blindspot" in your vision? No...because your brain, and the overlapping fields of vision from your two eyes, wonderfully compensate for it, such that it is only a theoretical and not actual blindspot. Astonishing! Your ears also come in pairs, allowing us to hear directionally. They are precision instruments, able to differentiate between thousands of different sounds. Their inner workings also give us our sense of equilibrium – our sense of balance – without which we really couldn't get around except on our hands and knees. Still sticking with our head, the tongue houses 10,000 tastebuds, is deft enough to tie a cherry stem in a knot, and tough enough to guide our food towards the teeth where it can begin to be digested. Those teeth first show up in a set of 20 shallowly rooted models, sized just right to fit our infant mouth. As we get bigger, these baby buds get replaced with teeth that are bigger too, with more of them, coming in a set of 32 that fills out our adult jaw. What wonderful timing! Concealing those teeth are our lips, which have the ability to express our moods, produce music, and, with our best beloved, smush other lips in a very agreeable manner! Let's not forget the nose, with its extreme sensitivity, filtration ability, and self-clearing capability (i.e. sneezing). Anyone not already amazed simply isn't paying attention. And we haven’t even looked at the rest of our body, like how our heart pumps 1,500 to 2,000 gallons a day, for 75 years, and yet weighs a mere 12 ounces. We haven’t looked at the skin, just a 20th of an inch thick, yet our body’s biggest organ, self-repairing, infection sparing, touch sharing. And what of our bones, all 206 of them, flexible during birth when they need to be, then toughening up to function as the scaffolding for all our other parts, and also produce the white blood cells that help us fight infection. Conclusion Of course, if we were to venture south of the jawline to start exploring God's engineering genius on display there too, this article might never end. So we'll have to limit ourselves to just the neck and up, and that is more than enough to make our point. Yes, educated men and women can deny God's evident artistry, they can choose not to see it, but that's only because it is possible for Man to suppress and deny the truth (Romans 1:18). But any with eyes to see – creatively and brilliantly crafted eyes! – the deeper we look, the more evident it becomes that from the top of our heads down, we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)! ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Pollyanna

Family 2003 / 99 minutes Rating: 8/10 Aside from a change of setting, this is a faithful adaption of the source book. Yes, moving it from Vermont to England will leave viewers a little surprised, especially if they've grown up watching the 1960s Disney version. But accents aside, this is the more authentic version and if you loved the book, you'll love this film. For those who don't already know, Pollyanna is a poor but cheerful girl who, after becoming orphaned, is sent to live with her very rich, and very strait-laced aunt Polly. The two have very different ways of viewing the world, with the joyful Pollyanna seeing nothing but wonder, despite the losses she's faced, and aunt Polly seeing nothing but the problems, despite the riches that surround her. So whose worldview is going to win out? Is Pollyanna going to stop giving out hugs, or is her aunt Polly going to get over her reluctance to be touched? Something has to give! One reason parents will appreciate this story is because of Pollyanna's "glad game." This is something her father taught her – he explained that even when things aren't going our way, there is always something to be glad about. He first taught her the game one Christmas when Pollyanna was hoping for a doll, but the only gift sent to her poor family was a pair of tiny crutches. So what is there to be happy about crutches? It took some thinking, but eventually father and daughter came up with something: they could be glad because at least “we didn’t need to use them!” As Pollyanna gets to know the people in her new community, both young and old, she teaches her game to them, and in doing so, transforms her community - they too, start to see the silver lining to each dark cloud. And in doing so, they are actually better seeing the world as it actually is. Yes, troubles exist, however blessings still abound! But what about aunt Polly? What is she going to think about the game? CAUTIONS It's worth noting that the "glad game" can be taken to extremes. For example, in the book, when an older man breaks a leg, Pollyanna notes he could be glad that he broke just the one leg. Well, okay. But, as the Preacher said, there is a time for everything, and that includes mourning. So maybe it is fine for the man to just simply be sad for a time at the pain and suffering that's happened to him. That said, I don't think many of us are in danger of overdoing our gladness. How often, really, do we count our blessings one by one? So couldn't we all do with a good dose of this Pollyanna-ish thinking? The only other caution concerns one shocking/sad moment that will cause young viewers distress – near the end of the film Pollyanna gets seriously injured. It all happens in a flash, so nothing gory is shown, but our girls needed to be reassured that Pollyanna would recover. CONCLUSION Young ladies are going to love this one, and I think young lads may even be up for it, with a little encouraging. And if mom and dad can get past the British accents, they, too, are sure to love this well-acted, authentic adaption of a timeless classic. ...

Apologetics 101

Can God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it?

I have a theory that somewhere out there in this weird, wide world, there exists a laboratory, staffed entirely by atheists, the sole purpose of which is to churn out hard questions for Christians. In the January 2013 issue of Reformed Perspective, Jon Dykstra commented on one such popular riddle: “If God is omnipotent, if He is all powerful, can He create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?” Jon persuasively argued that in asking this question, the atheist misunderstands what we are saying about God’s character. There are many things, such as lying, that God cannot do, not because He is lacking in any way, but because such a proposition would violate His nature. Making a rock too heavy for Him to lift would fit into this category. In addition to the character violation argument, I want to come at the question from another angle, giving another reason why the riddle falls flat. Taxes to Caesar? The question is a bit like one of the conundrums the Pharisees put to Jesus (Matt. 22:15-22). Answer yes and we’ve got you; answer no and we’ve got you still. Can God make a rock so heavy He cannot lift it? Answer with a no, and God apparently disappears in a puff of His own powerlessness; answer with a yes, and again He goes up in a wisp of anti-omnipotence. Difficult conundrum though it may be, it should be borne in mind that it does come directly from the minds of those who believe we got a Universe out of nothing. That ought to tell us something! So what is the answer to the rock question? Well, the simple answer is no, He cannot create something so heavy He cannot lift it. So that’s the end of God, isn’t it? Atheists 1 - Christians 0. Game over. Impossible to give 110% Well not quite. In fact, rightly understood the question actually turns back on itself and becomes a wonderful apologetic for the omnipotence of God. How so? There is a basic problem with the question itself and that basic problem is logic. Or more accurately, the total lack of it. It is perhaps not as easy to see this with the attribute of omnipotence as it is with some of God’s other characteristics, so let’s begin by rephrasing the riddle using another of God’s traits, His infiniteness: “If God is infinite, if He is unlimited, can He use His boundlessness to create something more infinite than Himself?” Now the problem with this is not very hard to see. Infinity is, by definition, infinite, and so there cannot possibly be anything greater than it. Therefore, if God is infinite, the reason He cannot create something more unlimited than Himself is because: Infinity by definition cannot be surpassed. He Himself is that infinity. In other words, it is impossible for Him to create something more infinite than Himself, not because He is not infinite, but rather because He is. Now plug the same logic back into the original riddle: “If God is omnipotent, if He is all powerful, can He create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?” The problem with the question is that it is loaded with the assumption that omnipotence can somehow be surpassed. But just as infiniteness cannot, by definition, be surpassed, nor can omnipotence. It is All-powerful. Not just 90% powerful with a bit of leeway to allow something 91% powerful. It is 100% powerful. That’s what omnipotence is. So the reason the omnipotent God cannot create something that defies his omnipotence is because: Omnipotence by definition cannot be surpassed He Himself is that omnipotence. In other words, God cannot create something too heavy for Himself to lift, not because He is not omnipotent, but rather because He is. Nothing bigger! Look at it another way. If a being is able to create something bigger or stronger than itself, what does that tell you about it? Simply that the being in question cannot possibly be omnipotent, since the thing created is greater than itself. Therefore, the idea of the All-Powerful creating something that trumps All-Power is a total contradiction in terms. But does it follow that this inability of the omnipotent God to create something greater than Himself implies limitedness? Well, it’s a bit like asking whether a genius can create a work of greater genius than himself, and if the answer is no, maintaining that this disproves his genius. Could J.S. Bach or Michelangelo have created works greater than themselves? Clearly this is impossible, but wouldn’t it be foolish for us to then use this impossibility to cast doubts on their genius? So the heavy rock riddle, which apparently refutes the idea of God’s omnipotence, instead ends up establishing it rather neatly. Which other being, besides the omnipotent God, would be unable to make something too heavy for itself to lift? Foolishness to the Greeks But I have my own “omnipotence riddle” for atheists. Just as the heavy rock riddle assumes the idea of God’s omnipotence in order to then ridicule the concept, I would like to assume the idea God’s omnipotence, but this time in order to establish it. Their question is all about big things, but mine is more concerned with somewhat smaller things. So here goes: “If God is omnipotent, can He make Himself small enough to fit into a womb so that He can become the Saviour of World?” Now the atheist, along with the gnostic and the liberal theologian, would like to say no. The incarnation is impossible, unthinkable and absurd. Well if God is not omnipotent then they are right. Such a proposition would be barking mad. But what if there is an omnipotent God? Would the virgin conception, the resurrection and the ascension be feasible then? Could an omnipotent, Trinitarian God accomplish that? Or would such things be too hard for even omnipotence to overcome? The question answers itself. This is why the wisdom of the world will never understand the wisdom of God. The unbelieving mind seeks to disprove the omnipotence of God by asking hard riddles, even ones that propose the illogical and absurd idea of omnipotence trumping itself. Yet God has shown His omnipotence to the world already – not by making rocks too heavy for Himself to lift, but by becoming a baby, then a boy, then a man, all so that the world might be saved through Him. This is a riddle that only omnipotence could accomplish. Rob Slane is the author of "A Christian and an Unbeliever discuss..." and this article first appeared in the April 2013 issue. For another take on this same question, Tim Barnett gives it a go below. ...

News

Saturday Selections - June 27, 2020

Is Critical Theory Biblical? (6 min) If you haven't heard of Critical Theory, you've likely encountered aspects of it: wokeness, white privilege, identity politics, and even the #MeToo movement's slogans "believe all women" are all elements of Critical Theory. It's being embraced by some Christians because it seemingly helps the poor and oppressed. But as Joseph Backholm describes in the video below "critical theory reduces human beings to categories according to race, gender, sexual preference and orientation, income, and on and on." And in doing so, our worth is based, not on in Whose Image we are made, but according to our category. One nit to pick with Backholm's terminology: he says we are all equally sinful. That makes it sound like we've all committed exactly the same amount of sins, but Backholm's point is that we all share the same need for a Saviour. That nit aside, this is a fantastic summary of an ideology that we're going to need to understand. A devil offers advice on evangelism In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis shared letters from a senior demon to a junior demon advising how best to keep their "patients" from being saved. In Lord Foulgrin's Letters, Randy Alcorn shared more devilish correspondence, including Letter 30 shared here, about how best to distract and misdirect a Christian from ever actually sharing his faith. Sweden gives some elderly morphine, rather than the oxygen, to "treat" COVID “Elderly people were not taken to hospitals—they are given sedatives but not oxygen or basic care.” Euthanasia is not legal in Sweden, but, as Michael Cook reports, that didn't stop doctors without consciences from "throwing their patients overboard." That's the key for us in Canada to understand and share: this is what happens when we stop caring about every life. Who is discipling your children? David Murray explains, "Our children are being discipled. The only question is, who’s discipling them? You or the world?" Bad cops - bad unions? This lacks depth, but the point it raises – that some police unions have been defending bad cops – is one worth raising. As Calvinists, we know that Lord Acton's adage, that "power tends to corrupt," is based on a solid understanding of human nature. That is a reason, then, to hand over only as little power as necessary – it is a reason to have small government, including not overly large police forces – and a reason to be on guard for when, and not if, abuse happens. Police are a necessity, and the reason we want to defend them is that we have an inkling as to how hard their job can be, and we are grateful to find people willing to do this difficult dangerous job. But defending the police doesn't mean pretending that bad cops don't exist. Figuring out how best to weed out the bad apples is one part of defending the police. Looking closely at police unions might be a place to start. For those with more time, be sure to check out two ten-minute podcasts from WORLD magazine (a Christian, and often times specifically Reformed publication), the first on the Democrat police reform proposal, and the second on the Republican proposal (both podcasts are also available as transcripts at the links). The story behind the Bible app that's been downloaded nearly 500 million times (15 min) It was almost an accidental success - the YouVersion Bible app was an afterthought to what was meant to be a Bible website. But when the website got mild interest, one young programmer suggested getting something on the Apple's App store, which was opening shortly. Since then it has been downloaded almost a half billion times! There's so much more to the story - this is a fascinating peek at what God is working at behind the scenes. ...

Apologetics 101, Pro-life - Abortion

Pro-life shirts that spark, spur, and speak

“Hey, what’s with the shirt? What’s Abort73.com?” “I could tell you, but better yet, why don’t you go online and check it out?” **** Fifteen years ago, on campuses across the US, Canada, and even in England, students started showing up to class in t-shirts emblazoned with a distinctive “Abort73.com” logo. And the next day they'd be back, with a different shirt, in a different color, with a different style, but also emblazoned with “Abort73.com” across the chest and back. What'd it be like to sit behind someone who, day after day, was outfitted this way? Would you start getting a bit curious about this website? Would you want to know more? Speaking up without saying a word That’s the brilliance behind Abort73.com. Through repeated exposures, people who otherwise would never check out a pro-life website go to this one. Their curiosity compels them. Day after day, week after week, month after month, shirt after shirt, the same short web address – eventually curiosity has to get the best of them. These shirts are also an aid – and really an answer to prayer – to the many Christians who want to speak out against abortion but don’t feel equipped to do so. Perhaps you’re the type to get tongue-tied, or maybe you always think of just the right thing to say twenty minutes after the opportunity has passed you by. Maybe you’re worried that if you do speak up no one will pay attention. Or you’re more worried that everyone will listen. Whatever the case might be, these shirts can help you speak up without saying a word. A two-pronged approach Most pro-life t-shirts have been designed to make a statement all on their own with slogans like “Abortion is Murder” or “Choose life - Your mother did.” Originally Abort73.com shirts weren't like that. They were focussed entirely on getting folks to the website, because that's where they would have the room to really make the case for the humanity of the unborn in a way that no single t-shirt ever could. That's why their early shirts just had the website address, albeit in all sorts of fonts, colors, and styles. When people did visit the site, what they found was a well-organized summary of the medical, philosophical/logical, and pictorial arguments against abortion and for the humanity of the unborn. The one notable downside to their approach is that none of their "first layer" arguments – those you can find off of their front page – are Christian arguments. God's thoughts can only be found by digging deeper into the site. Nowadays Abort73 has expanded their approach in that they also sell shirts with slogans. I suspect that's because, even as it's better to get people to the website for the full presentation, they now recognize that speaking to the humanity of the unborn via even brief t-shirt slogans can be a way of stirring things up too. Especially on today's college campuses. The shirts are $20 US each but if you buy a half dozen you can get them for just $10 per, and that is pretty impressive. Why not check it out? So, is your curiosity piqued? Then why not go to www.Abort73.com and check it out? Or go directly to their store to order a shirt...or thirty? A version of this article was first February 2006 issue under the title “A shirt a day…the vision of the folks behind Abort73.com”...

Religion

Christianity explains everything…even Reincarnation

How would you react if a Hindu told you that reincarnation was true? That isn't something that would unsettle or anger you, is it? The man is wrong, and if the situation allows you might try and convince him of his error, but his claim wouldn't upset you. Would you react differently if a Christian told you that the evidence for reincarnation couldn’t just be dismissed? And what if instead of one Christian telling you, it was two, and both were well-respected philosophy professors? At this point, some of us might start getting a little perturbed. We don't know how this could possibly fit with our Christian worldview, and we're getting...uncomfortable. We might be annoyed, even a little angry. The problem with this defensive reaction is that it has us acting like God and His Word can't stand up to challenges. At some point, most of us have reacted this way, though the trigger might have been sickness, or money troubles, or maybe the challenge of evolution. Whatever it is, we get scared, and start doubting whether God can provide the answers we need. Hunkering down behind our church pew doesn't help though. Even when we find ourselves having doubts, God's people can and should proceed in trust, knowing that our doubts don't actually impact His faithfulness. Our doubts won't make Him disappear, so we can tackle our questions, instead of hiding from them. We can turn to Him, asking for help and the answers we need. Now, Hindus don't come around door-knocking like the Jehovah's Witnesses, so the evidence for reincarnation isn't a challenge many of are going to have to face. But it is a fun example of how proceeding in trust can help us dig out unexpected truths and better understand the world as God has really made it. So let's take a closer look. The evidence J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas are two Christian philosophers. Separately they have authored or edited such orthodox titles as: In Defense of Miracles; Love Your God With All Your Mind and The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. These guys are not New Age wing nuts. They’re not crazy. Though what they’re saying seems crazy. In their collaborative effort Beyond Death they devote a chapter to reincarnation and present some interesting evidence. A case they call typical involved a four-year-old boy named Prakesh who suddenly started telling his parents his actual name was Nirmal and that his home was in a different village. He told them many details about his “real” family including the names of friends and relatives and what business his father was in. He repeatedly tried to run away to this “former” home. Five years later things got really interesting when: “…Nirmal’s ‘real’ father visited Prakesh’s village and Prakesh recognized him. It was discovered that Nirmal was actually the name of the man’s son, who had died prior to Prakesh’s birth. Prakesh wanted to return ‘home,’ and subsequently was reunited more than once with those whom he claimed to have known in his previous existence. He recognized those he said were his former relatives and friends, greeted them with appropriate emotions, and provided precise details concerning the furnishings of his earlier home. Yet he was puzzled by the changes that had occurred in the intervening ten years.” Another explanation? This story is pretty compelling and it is easy to see why it and others like it are viewed as good evidence of reincarnation. But reincarnation does not fit with the Christian worldview; in the Bible we are told we live once, die, and then are raised to a new life in a different, perfect state. We die once and are raised once, not again and again and again as the reincarnation model states. So reincarnation is not true. But the evidence for it seems to be. What is a Christian to think? Is there another explanation that will fit the evidence? A better explanation? Yes. We need to look at the evidence a bit more deeply but by doing so we get a clearer picture of what is really going on. In a bit of an ironic twist, Moreland and Habermas turn to a reincarnation advocate to find the information they need to undermine the reincarnation position. Ian Stevenson presents a number of cases in which a child claimed to be the reincarnation of someone who was still alive when the child was born. But how can that be possible? Reincarnation is supposed to involve the passing on of a soul from a dead body to a new one, not the passing on of a soul from a living body to another body. So I cannot be a reincarnation of my brother Jeff since my brother is still alive and still very much in possession of his soul – he cannot pass it on to a new body until his old body is done with it. But in the cases Stevenson cites the reincarnated individual was born before the “earlier incarnation” had died. In one case in India “the deceased individual died when the second person was three and a half years old.” The spiritual realm Reincarnation has no explanation for such events…but the Bible does. In Scripture we learn that evil spirits can take possession of a person and control both what they say and what they do (see, for example, Mark 5:1-15). Scripture also tells us that these evil spirits have been living on earth for millennia. In the course of their time here they have undoubtedly seen a lot and had the chance to learn many facts and details about the lives of people long dead. They would know this information because they were actually there! So the evidence for reincarnation can be explained just as easily, and indeed better, as evidence of demonic possession. These people are not reincarnated versions of some former person – they are possessed by demons who have memories of events from long ago. Additionally, Habermas and Moreland note that many of these “reincarnation cases” occur in cultures that have very occultic religions. They quote one former Hindu guru who described his religion this way: “My world was filled with spirits and gods and occult powers, and my obligation from childhood was to give each its due.” Perhaps the reason “reincarnation” is more common in these cultures is that they openly worship evil spirits. It doesn’t seem too far a stretch to suppose that in a culture that prays to evil spirits, possession by these spirits might be more common. Conclusion The secular cynic dismisses anything supernatural because he can't touch, taste, hear, or see it. But, consequently, he has no answer for the evidence we've just encountered. Christians can sometimes act quite similar, dismissing evidence that doesn't easily fit in with our worldview. But we don't have to act so fearfully. While the secular sort can only maintain his worldview by ignoring all that conflicts with it, the Christian can be confident that nothing conflicts with it. Hindus probably aren't going to be knocking on your door any time soon. But you may get asked an uncomfortable question today. Whether it's your own kids asking questions about the birds and the bees, or a coworker asking about God and your faith, we're all going to get hit with questions we aren't ready to answer. That might leave us tempted to shy away from the challenge, and change the conversation to something about the weather or sports. But then our fear will have muted our witness. It's when we understand that what God has told us – about Himself, about ourselves, and about the world – is trustworthy, that we'll be able to seek out that truth boldly. Then what might seem uncomfortable questions can be recognized as opportunities to find out more about God. We might not always get a full answer – humility is also important, as only God is omniscient – but there are answers. Then, when we are bold we'll be able to share how Christianity explains not only reincarnation but everything else too! A version of this article was originally published in October 2003 as “Coming back again and again and again.”...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

FREE FILM: Babies are still murdered here

Documentary 2019 / 102 minutes Rating: 8/10 If you were told the pro-life movement is made up of two groups that don't always get along, who would you guess? Old vs. young? Men and women? Catholics and Protestants? The answer is, none of the above. The real divide is between abolitionists and incrementalists. If you aren't familiar with these two camps, abolitionists want the unborn to be protected from the moment of conception onward and see anything else as being an unprincipled compromise. Incrementalists also want the unborn protected from conception, but they argue that this goal can best be achieved with a step-by-step or "incremental" strategy that involves protecting some now – saving whatever babies we can right now – even as we move towards protecting all at some later date. So an incrementalist might propose a law that would criminalize abortion in the third trimester, seeing it as a step towards full protection, while an abolitionist would see such a law as saving those third-trimester babies at the expense of babies in the first two trimesters. Babies Are Still Murdered Here comes from the abolitionist camp, and while I count myself among the incrementalists I'd say this is a thought-provoking watch for all pro-lifers. Overall the film makes three points: Pro-lifers need to call out abortion for what it is – murder – because we do nobody any favors but minimizing the wickedness of sin. A related point: Christian pro-lifers need to fight abortion as Christians. No more of these secular, scientific, supposedly "neutral" arguments. We need to call out abortion as a sin, call people to repentance, and offer them every help we can as representatives of God's Church. Some pro-lifers can get so caught up in strategy that they'll work against other pro-lifers. If this third point strikes you as incredible, the film gives a few different examples. Ohio Right to Life opposed a heartbeat bill in the name of being strategic. They argued that the bill would almost certainly be struck down by the courts, and the legal precedent could set the pro-life movement "back 40, 50 years" so they spoke out against it. And after the heartbeat bill was struck down by a federal district judge, this question came up at the National Right to Life convention: "If one of these more idealistic bills comes up in our state what advice do you think we should give to our legislature? Do we ask them to vote for something like that? Should we ask them to oppose it? The answer given? National Right to Life General Counsel Jim Bopp said: "Not introduce it. Not consider it. Not a committee hearing. Not vote for it." This is what a pro-lifer was telling pro-lifers. Lest you think pro-lifers undermining the pro-life movement can happen only in the US, let me give a Canadian example. Back in the 1990s, I witnessed the Alberta pro-life movement get so intent on a strategy that they undermined the personhood of the unborn. The provincial government had taken a fiscally responsible turn and was cutting programs to balance the budget, so pro-life leaders proposed that we promote an end to the tax-funding of abortion as a financial issue - we could pitch it as one more budget item that could be cut. However, the pro-choice opposition saw through this approach and accused the end-tax-funding group of trying to save babies' lives rather than save budget dollars. And, of course, that was entirely true. But that's when things got crazy – the end-tax-funding group denied they wanted to save babies' lives and insisted it was about the money. And by making it all about money, when it was pointed out that a live birth cost the government more than 10 times what an abortion did, the whole strategy fell to pieces. Avoiding all mention of God or the worth of the unborn didn't fool anyone but did make pro-lifers seem money-grubbing and uncaring. So yes, there are times when a pro-life incremental strategy can go very, very wrong. We need to know that, so we can steer clear of it! It is by understanding how and why it can go wrong that we can head it off from doing so. It comes down to keeping our first priorities our first priorities. God's people save babies as a means by which we can glorify God: in reaching out to the desperate, we reflect His goodness, His mercy, and His love. But when we make saving babies our ultimate goal, then it becomes an idol, and in service to that idol, we might find ourselves opposing or undermining God's Truth. We can then, in the name of "effective strategy," downplay what abortion is and downplay what our own end goals are. But this is not honest. And it does not make glorifying God our goal. And, interestingly enough, as we saw in the Alberta tax-funding debacle, it doesn't even seem to be effective. RC Sproul, Jeff Durbin, George Grant, Voddie Baucham, Sye Ten Bruggencate, and John Barros are among the notable names involved in the film. They have a lot of provocative thoughts to share, and even if you don't agree with them all, there is something here every pro-life will find beneficial to hear. What's more, you can watch the whole film for free, below. If you find it edifying, then be sure to check out the original, also free: Babies are Murdered Here. ...

Magazine, Past Issue

May/June 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: When C.S. Lewis was an atheist / Why I'm religious, not just spiritual / Live-streaming: is it real corporate worship? / Solomon on the pull of pornography / A 4 p.m. English class and the Problem of Evil / Racism is wrong... / Free movies / Repentance: What does it look like? / The defenestration of Prague / Fiction for young readers / Why free enterprise makes bread in abundance / More Canadians condemn plastic straws than abortion / Black Lives Matters isn't always about black lives / Christianity explains everything...even Reincarnation / and more... Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Hidden: Stories of War and Peace

by Christine Farenhorst 303 pages / 2020 “I was a Stranger” is reason enough to pick up Christine Farenhorst’s newest short story collection. The hero of this WWII story isn’t a resistance fighter or a soldier, and the bravery involved isn’t big or bold – this is a young woman saving a baby, no matter the shame she has to bear. So, quiet heroics, but heroics still – what Christine has crafted here is a story to inspire all of us called to everyday on-going faithfulness. There are eight other tales with the events all happening in and around the two World Wars. I initially read this with my girls in mind, but this is a book for adults too. But if you are reading it to your kids, since this is more drama than action, I do think it is better suited for girls – the sort that enjoy historical fiction like Little House on the Prairie. That these are good reads for both adults and older kids means this would make for a great read-aloud book for a summer road trip. So, kick back in the passenger seat, shut off any competing screens, and share with your spouse and kids what life was like during and just after the Great Wars. You can find it at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca, as well as other online retailers....

News

Saturday Selections - June 20, 2020

Homosexuality vs. transgenderism This video below is fantastic, but there's a lot packed in here, so the argument is worth writing out as well. What the narrator, Joseph Backholm, is explaining is that there is a fundamental conflict between homosexuals and transgenders. Whereas homosexual men say they are attracted to men, transgenders say you can't even know someone is a man by looking at him because gender is not tied to biology. Or, in other words, maleness and femaleness can only be known by asking not by seeing. It then makes no sense for a homosexual to say they are physically attracted to one gender or the other, because there are no physical attributes unique to one gender or the other – ie. men can have breasts, and women, penises. So transgenderism and homosexuality can only remain allies so long as they don't discuss their foundational assumptions. While homosexuality and transgenderism can't both be right, they can both be wrong. Backholm notes that "Our fundamental identity is not found in our sexual attractions, or in our feelings about how masculine or feminine we are." But he leaves it at that. Christians need to carry on and note that attractions may fade, and feelings may change, so grounding our identity in either of those is going to be disappointing. But we can find our true identity by turning to the One who made us.  Does systemic racism exist?  "Systemic racism isn’t whatever I – as a black man – says it is. My perceptions are not proof. My experiences are not authoritative. I am not God. "....Therefore, if we’re going to accuse our governments of participating in systemic racism today, we should be able to list examples of systemic partiality against black people today. ...Social justice proponents are unable to list racist laws or policies to support their accusations, so they usually resort to perceptions and racial disparities as evidence for their accusations.... Systemic racism theory essentially demands groups to prove they’re not systemically racist – instead of demanding social justice proponents to prove the legitimacy of their accusations." Deepfakes show the need for knowing your sources are trustworthy Deepfakes are faked videos of celebrities or political leaders that can't be distinguished from the real thing. We live in a world in which Justin Trudeau can be made to say anything, the video posted on YouTube, and the viewing audience would not, just from seeing and hearing it, be able to tell it from the real thing. The only way to discern whether it is true or not would be whether it was received from a trustworthy source, or not. But with trustworthy sources at a minimum these days, it underscores the need for higher standards in our media consumption. We can't believe everything we find in our social media feed...and we shouldn't be passing on what we ourselves don't know is reliable. Vaccines that use aborted fetuses' cells draw fire COVID-19 vaccines are being developed using cells from aborted fetuses. These fetuses were aborted long ago – more than 30 years ago – so the question is raised, does it really need to concern us now? Pastor Douglas Wilson proposes that before answering that question we should reframe it properly and ask: "Is it lawful for Christians knowingly to use vaccines that were grown in the cultivated remains of a murder victim?" Men: don't let chivalry die on your watch J. Aaron White (and the apostle Peter) on how gentlemen should be studying our wives, serving our wives, and enjoying our wives. Romeo and Juliet 2020 remix For all the English teachers out there... ...

Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Dragnet Season 1 (1951) - 4 free episodes

TV series 1951 / 26 minutes each RATING: 7/10 In the 1950s fans of Dragnet could not only watch it on TV, but listen to it on the radio, and even buy tickets to watch it in theaters. In every one of these iterations, it followed Los Angeles police detective Joe Friday and his partners as they put in the hard work to catch and convict the bad guys. Roughly half the episodes in the 1951-59 TV version of the series are in the public domain, making it possible to share some of the best of them here. I'll be up front that this is not a series that'll appeal to most tastes – the pacing is slower than what we're used to today, and the action briefer. But the appeal is the decency of the main characters. These are good cops trying to do their best – old fashioned heroes, winning the battle by putting in the effort and hours. Caution The standard warnings about sex, violence, and language don't really apply here – there's nothing offensive on display. But even as it isn't gory, the topic matter can be. Friday and his partners investigate murders, suicides, kidnappings, and drug rings, so while Dragnet is incredibly tame by today's standards, that doesn't make it all-ages family viewing. Every kid is different, but I won't be showing this to my own girls until they are at least 12. Eight episodes from the 1951 season are now copyright-free, but four of them were quite slow so I haven't included them (though if you'd like to give them a try anyway the links are: Ep. 4: The Big Mother, Ep. 5: The Big Cast, Ep. 11: The Big September Man, and Ep. 12: The Big Phone Call). The season's four best episodes can be found below. Episode 1: The Human Bomb Sergeants Joe Friday and Ben Romero have to stop a man threatening to blow up city hall if the police don't let his brother go. Episode 2 - The Big Actor Sergeants Joe Friday and Ben Romero thing a television actor may be running a drug ring. Episode 13 - The Big Casing Sergeants Joe Friday and Ed Jacobs have to determine if it is murder or suicide. Episode 14 - The Big Lamp Sergeants Joe Friday and Ed Jacobs get a second chance to convict a burglar. ...

Apologetics 101

The case for bumper-sticker and T-shirt Christianity

We found the handprinted note tucked beneath the windshield wiper, as we returned to our car in the mall parking lot. “May you not be judged as severely as you judge others,” it said. The note, printed by some shaky hand, was a reaction to our Mazda’s bumper sticker: “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope – Pope John Paul II.” Whoever left the note definitely “heard” our message. Signs of the effect it had on them were present. Without writing paper on hand, the person tore off a piece of some box to pass on their reaction to us. Shaky printing suggested that the writer was emotional and wanted to say as fast as possible what they had to say, and wrote it on the palm of their hand only, not bothering to look for a firmer support. (Or, I wondered, could this be the shaky hand of an older person? But no, the elderly don’t print, they use handwriting. Only the new generation never learned how to write, so they print). Furthermore, the writer, unable to attack the message, attacked the messenger – another sign of emotionalism. They must also have had some rudimentary knowledge of God and of his Word since they called for some higher judgment on us. Yes, the writer was definitely not left unmoved by our bumper sticker’s message. They heard it well. The same sticker got us a handshake in front of our cleaner’s shop. A man in his 30’s commended us for the sticker, and made some comments on the prevailing apathy of western Christians to the ongoing slaughter of the innocent. A bouncing gelatin wall I believe in bumper stickers, in stickers and in T-shirt messages. I know they work. And they work because they catch people before they are ready, in the moments when their hearts and minds are open and ready like a freshly plowed field to receive a seed. That seed, once planted, sends out a tiny root and eventually can give life to something good. Let me explain myself. Human minds and hearts are wonderfully able to hear what they want to hear, and to be deaf to what they don’t want to hear. For example, I was at one time convinced my son did not hear very well. But when I dragged him in for a hearing test it turned out he had perfect hearing. But also selective hearing. I’m sure you experience this yourself many times every day. When our spouses, teachers, preachers, parents, children or the media communicate something to us it takes us only 30 seconds to figure out if the coming address is going to be uncomfortable to us, or request something from us, or be hurtful to us. And if we sense such a message, instantly our defenses come up and we erect a powerful wall. This wall will not let anything from the outside penetrate us. Everything we don’t want to deal with just bounces off. It is a bouncing gelatin wall! With our defenses up, we hear selectively and pick up only the weakest points of the address to eventually use for a counterattack. But we are deaf to the main points, the facts of the address because of our mighty bouncing “gelatin wall.” I remember the communist indoctrination lessons I had to learn growing up behind the Iron Curtain. I remember clearly that when my beloved history professor started to praise the achievements of the communist ideology and tear down everything that was built before it, something always happened to me. I erected my own “bouncing wall.” I, too, did not hear. This wall allowed me to distance myself from the responsibility I had to stand up and say, “Comrade teacher, this is a lie! You know how bloody and unjust communism is!” The wall let me pretend I did not hear, so I did not have to comment. But in truth I knew that speaking would get me in trouble and perhaps put my father back in prison, so I did not act. After all, when I once approached this professor privately to talk about some great historical lie, he commanded me not to listen to my father, but to believe instead the communist history books. Before the wall goes up This mental “bouncing wall” is real, and everyone has one. Through this wall, we are not heard. So, ladies and gentlemen, we must get our message to people before this wall gets up! Speed is crucial. The reality is you have no more than 30 seconds to reach people before the bouncing wall goes up. You have only 30 seconds to get to them! Repeat this to yourself and adapt your strategies to it. Learn from the businessman who knows that advertising sells! Their 30-second commercials cost millions, but they make millions. They sell. Why? Because these short commercials get TV viewers unprepared in the midst of some other story, before their bouncing wall comes up. The message sneaks in and they say, “Hey, didn’t I always like this song?” And they rush to the computer and order the gadget, tool, book, or DVD that will soon make an appearance at their next garage sale. I know that people read bumper stickers. I read bumper stickers too. They get at us with their short messages while our walls are still down. That’s why they work, like TV ads. That’s why they get our message heard. Now. you and I don’t have the money to go on TV and say, “Dear Canadians, abortion kills people. Abortion is the cruel execution of the innocent…” Even if we had the millions of dollars needed to put this message on TV as an ad, the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) would not allow it on the air, because it is not politically correct. And if we tried a different approach and got permission to preach against abortion in the town square, nobody would come listen to it. The invisible bouncing wall would prevent all but the committed pro-lifers from coming and listening. In praise of red lights           But my bumper stickers? May our Lord be praised because of the one who invented them! My bumper sticker always catches the eyes of following drivers. They have to watch my bumper because that’s where the signal lights are. And while waiting for the green light with wandering eyes, bored by familiar scenery, they look eagerly for some distraction. My bumper sticker gives it to them – a definitely not common, nor boring, but rather clear message that sticks. They might get convicted and repent. They might get convicted and get angry. They might just process it as information and stay apathetic. Regardless, they are confronted with the truth and can never tell the Creator, “I did not know. Why did your servants, Christians, not tell me?” So when my dearest husband complains that he, “did not get even one green light today,” I say, “Thank-you Lord, for thou has created the yellow and red colors!” Those red lights mean that 16 people were confronted with the truth on the way to work. If we are lucky, 16 more will be confronted on the way home. Great! If we go to the city 3 times per week, we will reach 48 drivers (and some of their passengers). In one month that will add up to 200 people. Wow! In one year 2,400 people will read the $3 pro-life message on my bumper, a message we are not permitted to say aloud anywhere but in the street. I gave one of my most blatant pro-life bumper stickers to my brother. Soon somebody who worked at the hospital needed to borrow my brother’s car for one week. And it came to pass that the old red car was parked in the staff parking lot, standing in a predetermined strategic parking stall just next to the exit, where every car had to slow to stop and catch the message: “Abortion – the ultimate child abuse.” There it was, a witness to all the hospital staff, and I praised the Lord for it. I love small stickers too. I know that the message, “Abortion stops a beating heart” stuck just beneath the address on the envelope will be processed and read by 5-7 people. Its design is appealing and very interesting. With the 200–500 envelopes we mail every year I rejoice to reach large numbers of people who I would never have been able to speak to – especially members of the Canadian Postal Union, which donates lots of money for the advancement of the death culture in Canada! Now mind you, my local postal employees have read the sticker 2000 times already, but I still rejoice. After all, if Joseph Goebel’s idea – that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth – worked in Nazi Germany, then the truth repeated 2000 times must work also. Try sticking a small “Abortion stops a beating heart” sticker on your mailbox. I bet you that when your paperboy or girl first hears the word “abortion” in one of their condom and banana sex education classes, the first thing jumping to their mind will be the words, “…stops a beating heart.” He or she might even speak it out loud and start a very interesting conversation in the class, or with their parents. Marvelous things can be done with one-liners like “Beware of Dog!” or “Stop!” or “Don’t drink and drive!” It is time for us to use that power. Backward T-shirts With T-shirts I have one problem – its effectiveness is best when it is backwards. I have found that any message is lost on me when it is printed on the front of a T-shirt. Our culture avoids eye contact; we do not stare, or prey on privacy. While we may read the logos on T-shirts while they are still in the store, and may love to wear some that enhance our stands or our personalities, we hardly ever read what others carry on their bellies or across their busts. It is invasive. C’est un faux pas. On the other hand, we feel free to read what people carry on their backs as we walk behind them. This does not force on us any contact or seem as invasive. So should you wish to print up some great T-shirt message, print it on the back of the shirt. Just imagine that you are strolling in the fresh air and in front of you walks a person with a message on her back that you now have all the time to read: “Polluted by sin? Hardly breathing? Fresh air will not do. I might know the remedy. Feel free to ask.” Our most beloved T-shirt was given to me by my daughter, a University of Alberta student then. It listed on the back the “Top Ten Reasons to be Pro-life.” Aimed at university students, it read: 10. Equal rights for unborn women too. 9. All the best babes are pro-life. 8. You were a fetus once. 7. Diapers are disposable, babies aren’t. 6. Pampers stocks are up 1/8 on the TSE. 5. Nine out of ten babies do not pee on your rug. 4. Babies don’t talk back. 3. You’ll need someone to support you when you’re old and want a home in Florida. 2. Babies don’t drive up the !@# Grade Point Average. 1. 1,336 unborn babies will be killed in Canada today. While this was not a short 30-second message, the first 30 seconds of it were so amusing for any reader, except the committed pro-abort, that people continue to read on about these cute, friendly creatures – babies. And then, when they were already sold by the cute message, they were hit with number 1! Everywhere they look? I understand from the latest statistics that close to 30 percent of Canadians regularly attend some Christian church. Wouldn’t it be great if our politicians, media people and academia found out, as they traveled to work one day, that 30 percent of the vehicles they saw had some sort of Christian or pro-life message on them? And that 30 percent of the T-shirts they saw, as people strolled down Main Street, had some message showing off adherence to God and Christian morals? Don’t you think they would act accordingly? Don’t you think businessmen would soon sell them in any mall? Or that the editor of the paper would not leave out the name of Jesus Christ from my Christmas story he recently published? I bet you many things would look very different. Priests for Life has said that now, when Christianity and the Pro-life message are almost completely pushed out of the press, TV, and culture generally, the street is our media! They are right. The last frontier left to us is the street. Let’s make the best of it. But will we? Does it make any sense to try and figure out how best to get our message heard if there are no takers for the positions of criers and watchmen? Does it make any sense when people are not even willing to use bumper stickers? Lame excuses People say it does not change anything. I have a sticker for them that reads, “Did you try it?” They respond, “No, but others did.” Like who? Here in Grande Prairie there are only 10 cars carrying a meaningful message. (But we have lots of cars running around with the latest “angst” bumper sticker which reads, “I am a bitch.”) Some Christians say that while the message is true, it offends people, especially those who have had an abortion. “Jesus was and is always a gentleman, so we must follow his example and not offend people. After all, how would you like it, if somebody tried to impose their set of beliefs on you?” I have a bumper sticker for these people that reads, “The truth will make you free.” And I ask them how they would bring the message to the world in a better, less offensive way. “We would wait to be asked,” is their reply. And so most of them are still waiting for their first customer to show up and ask. Others don’t want their employers to get mad at them. I have a sticker for them that reads, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father” (Luke 9:26). The most honest admit, “I don’t want to get my car vandalized.” I would recommend to such honest people to continue their honesty and not to sing, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him freely I give.” All these and many, many other “reasons” are perpetuated in Christian circles, so the message does not get out simply because there are no messengers. But these are not real reasons, they are just excuses for our laziness, our cowardice and our lack of love for God and our fellow man. This is a point worth repeating – the three real reasons we do not get out message out are cowardice, laziness, and lack of love for God and our fellow man. The moment we repent and start to proclaim our God and His morality to the world (even if only by bumper stickers), that is the moment we start to obey God, and thus become courageous. In that moment we also return to our first love for God and we love our fellow men again. And at that moment we’ll get our message heard because there will finally be messengers to carry it, and no matter how it will be received it will be heard! I pray for that. Ladies and gentlemen, I now rest my case. You can find pro-life bumper stickers at Life Cycle Books Canadian store or American store. Pro-life t-shirts can be found at Abort73.com and other online retailers. A version of this article first appeared in the February 2002 issue. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

The Green Ember

by S.D. Smith 365 pages / 2015 “Rabbits with swords” – it’s an irresistible combination, and all I had to say to get my two oldest daughters to beg me to start reading. As you might expect of a sword epic, this has a feudal feel, with rabbit lords and ladies, and noble rabbit knights and, of course, villainous wolves. This is children’s fiction, intended for preteens and early teens, so naturally, the heroes are children too. The story begins with siblings Pickett and Heather being torn from the only home they’ve known, pursued by wolves, and separated from their parents and baby brother. It’s this last detail that might warrant some caution as to how appropriate this would be for the very young. It isn’t clear if mom, dad and baby Jack are dead…but it seems like that might well be, and that could be a bit much for the very young (I’m planning on skipping over that bit when I get to it with my preschool daughters). They escape to a community that is hidden away from the ravaging wolves, and made up of exiled rabbits that once lived in the Great Wood. Their former and peaceful realm fell to the wolves after it was betrayed from within, so now these rabbits in exile look forward to a time when the Great Wood will be restored. Or as one of the wisest of these rabbits puts it, …we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed…. We sing about it. We paint it. We make crutches and soups and have gardens and weddings and babies. This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. Though God is never mentioned, and the rabbits have no religious observance of any kind, author S.D. Smith’s Christian worldview comes through in passages like this, that parallel the way we can recall a perfect past, and look forward to a perfected future. It’s this depth that makes this more than just a rollicking tale of rabbits in peril. There are three full-size sequels – Ember Falls, Ember Rising, and Ember's End – as well as four small books that occur in the same rabbit world, but follow different characters. The Last Archer, and its own sequel, The First Fowler, might serve as a good intro to the whole Green Ember series, because they stand on their own, and were a little simpler to follow for my own young listeners (ages 5-9). The other two, The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner, and The Black Star of Kingston, should be read after reading Green Ember. For those of us with voracious readers, it is quite the blessing to find a fantastic and enormous – more than 2,000 pages in all! – series like Green Ember. ***** This week only, the series is on sale on e-book at Amazon.com with 4 for FREE, and 3 for just 99 cents with the hook being that the last and latest in the series is full price. Monday – FREE: The Blackstar of Kingston – https://amzn.to/2AGBEI3 Tuesday – FREE: The Green Ember – https://amzn.to/2MZKlj5 Wednesday – 99 cents: Ember Falls – https://amzn.to/2UI5q5W Thursday – 99 cents: The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner – https://amzn.to/2Y3xByp Friday - FREE: The Last Archer – https://amzn.to/2YGPuSy and for 99 cents: The First Fowler – https://amzn.to/30LR1tw Saturday – FREE: Ember Rising – https://amzn.to/3e5Eq8d Any day - $4.99: Ember's End – https://amzn.to/2YygeES ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

American Gospel: Christ alone

Documentary 2018 / 139 minutes RATING: 8/10 In one of the documentary's many memorable moments Costi Hinn, the nephew of televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, describes how, while working for his uncle, they would stay in $20,000-a-night luxury suites, fly in private jets, and eat in the very best restaurants. His uncle was not ashamed of this lifestyle since he preached that God wanted his people to be wealthy. But the extravagant lifestyle did start to wear on Costi Hinn: "Another hotel that sticks out in my mind is called the Grand Resort... it's in Greece and ironically, it's set on the Aegean Sea. I had my own suite, my own pool and there I stood every day looking out over the Aegean Sea. If you know your Bible at all, Paul sailed the Aegean Sea on many missionary journeys. And so here I am, a Word of Faith/Prosperity kid looking out where Paul was shipwrecked, where he went through literally chaos and hell on earth, just to get the gospel out to people, and now I am staying at 5-star hotels..." He began to recognize the contrast between the "God wants you to be rich" message he was spreading, and the message of Jesus, who prepared his disciples to be hated and persecuted (John 15:18, 2 Tim 3:12) but that they could endure it all knowing they had Christ. American Gospel: Christ Alone is about the many churches that have replaced Christ with what we hope to get Him to do for us. In this alternative gospel, Jesus isn't the gift; instead what is on offer is the American Dream: if we love God enough, and give enough to Him (via gifts to the right preachers), then He'll give us the nice car, the beautiful wife, and the big house with the picket fence all around. Why should you watch? That's a lie that most Reformed folk aren't falling for, or at least, not straight on. So why should we watch this documentary? One reason might be to help others. If you know any Christian friends tuning in to preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Joel Osteen, Todd White, and Benny Hinn, then this would be a great film to watch together. It exposes their health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity gospel for the sham that it is. Another reason is to better understand how, even in solid, orthodox Reformed churches, we can still buy into a prosperity-lite counterfeit. The version we adopt might be masked by other names, like "the Protestant work ethic." It isn't preached off our pulpits, but it is in amongst the pews. The hardworking sort that we are, our heart may start to feel some sense of entitlement. We'd never say out loud that God owes us anything, but if we did right by our family, helped at the Church and school, and put in the hours at the office then...shouldn't God want to reward us? And with that comes the pressure to keep up appearances. If hard work is supposed to earn you anything, then if you aren't successful, there must be something wrong with you, right? The end result of this train of thought is that works are done, not out of gratitude for what God has already done for us, but out of fear of what others might think. As one of the interviewees noted: "You can grow up in a church, hear a gospel about freedom, and still work your tail off trying to maintain the image that you're are a good person." So yes, we can also benefit from this false gospel take-down. Powerful insight Some of the most impactful interviews are the ordinary Christians. We meet Katherine Berger, who has had one medical issue after another but is happier today than when she was healthy because she now knows the true Jesus. It also doesn't hurt that there are some really insightful Christian leaders interviewed. Some of the recognizable names include: Jackie Hill-Perry Matt Chandler Ray Comfort Nabeel Qureshi Phil Johnson John MacArthur Michael Horton John Piper R. Scott Clark Steven J. Lawson Paul Washer Their responses are stitched together so seamlessly the film doesn't even have a narrator – a minor detail, but it highlights just how well-produced it is. If all I have is Jesus... Ultimately what makes American Gospel worth watching is what it teaches us about Christ. It tells us about a God so good that should we lose everything else – our health, our home, money, and family too – and we have Jesus, then we have more than we could ever imagine. The full film can be rented or bought online at their website here. But if you want to try before you buy, you can watch a 40-minute excerpt for free below. ...

Theology

Bill, and The Brothers Karamazov, on the Problem of Evil

“All right, so this passage shows Jesus’ lordship and control over all creation.” Bill glanced at his watch. It was already 3:45 and his class started at 4:00. It was at least a 10-minute walk across the campus. “Are there any questions?” Bill hoped that the passage was clear enough to Victor, the only visitor at the Bible study. The group of four sat in silence staring at their Bibles briefly. Then Peter spoke up, “Well, there aren’t any questions, I guess we can close in prayer. Steve, could you close with us?” During the prayer, Bill felt his stomach tighten. The next two hours were going to be rough. As Steve finished, Bill added a few extra words asking God to strengthen him for what was coming. “Well, I’d love to stick around and talk, but I really gotta get going. My class starts in 10 minutes. See ya!” Bill walked briskly into the cold October air. The darkening dusk added to the tension in Bill’s body. He quickly ran through in his mind the topic for the Intellectual History seminar. He thought of whether he should just keep his mouth shut. “Maybe,” he thought, “maybe I should just go home and skip.” But then he remembered how many classes he’d already missed. It wasn’t an option. ***** In the seminar room, the prof and most of the students were already seated. The professor, Dr. Hamowy, was a short man, but he compensated for his stature with an antagonistic personality and sharp tongue. He gloried in debate and loved the thrill of the attack. Bill took his place at the end of the long table, opposite Hamowy. With two minutes left, Bill quickly reviewed the book to be discussed. A couple more students drifted in – it was time. “Okay, today we’re looking at Dostoevsky. You guys’ll like this. Always creates a good debate. Who’s giving the introduction? Miss Hogan? All right, go ahead.” Hogan launched into it. Bill had heard her talking with some of the other students and she mentioned something about going to a Lutheran church. Could she be a Christian? Bill listened intently. Not a word about Dostoevsky and Christianity. “Thanks, Miss Hogan, but that was rather superficial. I’m wondering, why didn’t you mention anything about Dostoevsky and Christianity?” Hogan’s face bleached. “Umm…I just didn’t think it was that important.” “Miss Hogan, did you even read the book?” “Sure, but I didn’t really see anything religious.” “Miss Hogan, next time you better do a closer reading of the book. If you’d thought about it or even done some research, you’d see we can’t understand this thinker apart from religion. Come on guys, get your act together.” The first part of the class was over. It was now completely dark outside. “Okay, let’s get the discussion going here. We’re especially interested in what Dostoevsky has to say about the problem of evil. You’ve read the book, so you should know that Dostoevsky approaches the problem religiously. Open your books to page 240 and we’ll start reading that second paragraph and go to the end of the following page. Mr. Kosinski, could you read it for us?” Bill opened his copy of The Brothers Karamazov and followed along. Ivan was complaining to his brother Alyosha: “People sometimes talk of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. I’ve collected a great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother…” Ivan went on to describe how this little girl had been horribly abused by her parents. He concluded by asking Alyosha if he would design the world in such a way that little children suffer so terribly. Kosinski stopped reading and looked up. Hamowy started the discussion. “Okay, what’d you guys think of this?” Silence. “Come on, somebody must be thinking in this room!” More silence. Bill felt his stomach tighten more. He leaned against the table and slightly pulsated back and forth with the rhythm of his thumping heart. One of the other students raised his hand. “Good, Mr. Bosley. You’d like to comment?” “Yeah, this book pretty much nails it right on. How could anybody believe in God when there’s so much evil in the world? Think of the Holocaust, all those Jews dying, where was God then? How could anyone believe in a powerful good God who could control all this evil, but doesn’t?” “Thank you, Mr. Bosley. Anyone else? Surely you don’t all agree with Mr. Bosley?” It was time for Bill to strike. He slowly raised up his hand, but Evans beat him to it. “Okay, Miss Evans, enlighten us.” “I agree. Believing in a good God in a world where there’s suffering is completely illogical. I don’t get all these god-freaks. Are they even thinking with their brains? We aren’t going to get anywhere in dealing with evil as long as those brain-dead ideas are around. We’d be better off with something like when we’re all god and we all work together.” “All right, thanks Miss Evans. There seems to be a consensus developing. What’s wrong with you guys? Mr. Gordon, I saw your hand. What do you think?” Finally, Bill had his opportunity. “It intrigues me that everyone agrees there’s such a thing as evil and wickedness.” Bill’s heart beat faster and harder and his voice trembled. “I’d like to just ask a question to all of you: can we all agree that sexually abusing children is absolutely immoral?” Most students nodded their head in agreement. Only Bagchee didn’t. “Mr. Bagchee, you disagree with Gordon? Why?” “Well, there may be some societies where adults having sex with children is completely normal. In my country, in some of the cultures, it was at one time custom to make mothers sleep with their boys. In other cultures, teenage girls must be deflowered by tribal leaders to prepare for their arranged marriage.” Hogan couldn’t restrain herself. “I think that’s completely disgusting! Sexual abuse is wrong no matter what!” Dr. Hamowy smiled as the class finally heated up. “Miss Evans, you have something to add?” “Yeah, Subhash you can say that about your country or other cultures, but what if part of their culture was to smash their children’s head against rocks while sexually abusing them, would that be okay too? And what if it was you or your child?” Bagchee shrugged. “Mr. Gordon, where’d you want to go with this? “Well, pretty much everyone agrees there’s an absolute moral rightness or wrongness to certain things, like sexually abusing children or brutally murdering them.” Bill’s voice was quivering again. “But when you ask how can there be a God with so much evil in the world, you’ve missed the hidden assumption in your question – that there is such a thing as evil. And the fact that you get upset about evil in the world shows that in your hearts you know there is such a thing as absolute good and evil. But when you deny the God of Christianity, you deny the possibility of there even being absolute right and wrong. Apart from God, morality is an individual or cultural matter, and like Subhash’s examples, sexually abusing children could conceivably be acceptable. But we’ve agreed that it’s absolutely not. When you ask the question, you’re stuck. You’ve betrayed yourself and the real nature of your problem with Christianity.” “Umm, thanks Mr. Gordon. Okay, what’d the rest of you think of those comments?” Kosinksi leapt in again. “Yeah, I think Bill’s wrong. You’ve got a contradiction in your idea here. You say God is good. You say God is powerful, right?” Bill nodded. “But you say evil exists! You’ve got a contradiction, ‘cause if God was all-good and all-powerful, there’d be no bad stuff. So, ya see, Christianity isn’t so true after all.” Bill thought carefully for a moment. “Joe, you just said God is all-good and I completely agree with that – it’s found in the Bible. His character defines right and wrong. God is all-good and because I’m a Christian, I look at everything in the light of that. And so when I see evil, I can be consistent by inferring God has a morally good reason for the evil we see around us. Any evil we see must somehow fit with God’s goodness. Look at Jesus for example. Jesus was crucified. It was an act of evil – he was 100% innocent. But the cross fit in with God’s good plans to rescue those who’d believe in him. God therefore has a good reason for the wickedness in the world and there’s no contradiction. It all fits.” Bill took a long deep breath and carried on. “But within the non-Christian way of looking at the world, you can’t justify your contradiction between having absolute moral standards and not having an absolute source for those standards. If all we are is ooze, what difference does it make if one glob of ooze sexually abuses another glob of ooze? Who cares? Only with Christianity can absolute standards of good and evil have any meaning. And I think that was the point Dostoevsky was trying to make too.” “Okay, thanks Mr. Gordon. Anyone have anything to say? Mr. Bosley?” “Yeah, this is stupid. What about the influence of Dostoevsky on feminist scholarship?” ***** The rest of the seminar rambled in inanities. Bill’s heart rate and blood pressure were still coming down 20 minutes later when the class ended. As he got up to leave, he tried to make eye contact with some of the other students. He made his way out and walked down the hall of the history department. Hogan came up behind him and stopped him. “Bill, I really liked all those things you said. That was really good.” “Thanks.” Bill walked away wondering why no one ever spoke up in class to support him. As he stepped out into the chilly darkness, he still felt the aching of his chest and the tightness in his stomach. The only thing not bothering him was his conscience. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where this first appeared....

News

Saturday Selections - June 13, 2020

Dandelions: more amazing than you knew! (4 minutes) I've shown this to all my kids - same reaction from all of them: "Wow!" When someone says "There is no truth..." As Greg Koukl explains, uttering the statement, “There is no truth,” in itself establishes the truth of at least 17 different things. So when we meet radical skeptics – those who doubt everything – we should challenge them to be "intellectually honest skeptics." "...we must be as skeptical about our skepticism as we are about our knowledge. We should take the burden of proof to defend our skepticism instead of simply asserting our skepticism. Anyone can assert disbelief. Whether they can make sense out of it is a different thing." This is how we do it here With so many wanting just to tear down and destroy, here is an example to inspire: this is a town where police, churches, and Black Lives Matters protesters marched together. Why the media is biased, even when they don't mean to be It's the nature of the business for journalists to give more coverage to scandal, failure, and conflict, than for success, calmness, and competency. And what they cover, they encourage. Pursuing godly manhood "Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with beards, flannels, bonfires, work boots, pocket knives, pickup trucks, or hatchet throwing. In fact, it might do some of us a lot of good to put our phones down and spend some time in the woods. Nevertheless, God’s Word is more concerned with character than charisma..." On the age and origin of Pluto (11 min) While working as an engineer for the US military space program, Spike Psarris examined the stars and planets. The evidence drove him to first become a creationist, and then a Christian. To share his findings, he crafted a series of 3 DVDs that explore Astronomy and the creation of the universe. While he is a soft-spoken man, his facts pack quite the wallop. And now he has turned his gaze to Pluto: "I am in the process of updating my Solar System DVD. One of the major topics that needed updating was Pluto; my DVD was published several years before the New Horizons probe visited Pluto, and that spacecraft made many fascinating discoveries....This chapter is now finished, and you can watch it online for free here" "Just Thinking" Instagram goodies Are they devotionals, or doodles, or a wonderful combination thereof? For the last few years now, Reformed artist Jason Bouwman has been sharing thought-provoking pictures like the one below, and you can find hundreds more on his Instagram page. ...

News

"Black lives matter" isn't always about black lives

On May 25 a Minneapolis black man, George Floyd, died in handcuffs while three police officers kneeled on him, including one, Derek Chauvin, who was kneeling on his neck. In the weeks that followed protests erupted in cities across the US and the world, and protesters also made their feelings known on social media, many using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. Christians nodded their agreement, but some wondered at the emphasis on blacks. After all, we know that all of us are just one race, and wouldn’t furthering that understanding be the best way to counter racism? So many well-meaning Christian noted that “all lives matter” because, of course, they do. But what this overlooked is the specific charge being made: protesters are saying that many black lives are not being treated like they matter. One clarifying analogy shared around social media about the “all lives matter” slogan told of a husband speaking at his wife’s funeral about how much she mattered to him only to have someone take the mike and share that “all wives matter.” This is a true statement, but at this time and place would be understood as entirely missing the point. So let’s be done with “all lives matter.” Does that mean we should embrace the “black lives matter” (BLM) slogan? The problem with doing so is that there is more to BLM than just the slogan; there is also a Black Lives Matter movement. While the movement is loosely knit, some of its key leaders are as interested in promoting homosexuality and transgenderism as they are in fighting racism. In a 2015 interview with MSNBC, one of the founders, Patrisse Cullors, noted that the hashtag #blacklivesmatter: “...was created by two black queer women, myself and Alicia, and one Nigerian-American woman, Opal Tometi…” It doesn’t take much digging to find abortion-promoting work as well. So the slogan speaks to one matter, but the organization is taking on many more, much of it in direct opposition to God’s will. There have been a couple of suggestions on how Christians might modify the BLM slogan to, on the one hand, acknowledge the grievance being made, and, on the other, distance us from the BLM organization. “All black lives matter” is a pro-life suggestion, meant to highlight how blacks are disproportionately victims of abortion. But, unfortunately, the BLM organization is already using this slogan, with the “all,” in their case, referring to transgender, gay, and lesbian blacks. Another possibility: “Black lives matter too.” This acknowledges the grievance, but in a way that is more unifying, and less an us vs. them statement. And it also takes us a step away from what the BLM organization is doing. Whatever slogan we use, what’s most significantly missing here is God’s perspective. The biggest contribution God’s people can make to this discussion might be to add just a few select biblical words. We can note that George Floyd, an image-bearer of God (Gen. 1:27), was killed. When we put his death in that context then it becomes clear what needs to be done and what should not be done. By making it about God, and His standards, then we understand Floyd’s life was precious for the very same reason that our lives are. We’ll know that justice needs to be done. It will also be clear that our calls for justice can’t be accompanied by evil. How can we demand God’s justice for one image-bearer, even as we throw bricks or insults at other such image-bearers? #ImagebearerOfGod might not make for an effective hashtag, but it is the beginning of an explicitly Christian, God-acknowledging message, which is what our world most needs to hear....

News

Dutch scientists find Gouda, Edam may help fight COVID-19

This is the sort of headline to have you checking whether it isn’t April 1 today. But the report is genuine. As The Guardian’s Daniel Boffey reported: “Patients who have died or been admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 have been found to be deficient in a vitamin found in spinach, eggs, and hard and blue cheese…” The study took place at a hospital in Nijmegen, and the missing vitamin is K. Vitamin K is crucial for the production of proteins regulating blood clotting, and the hope is that intake of K may help combat the problems COVID-19 causes with blood clotting. So far no clinical trials have been run, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if subsequent findings conflict with these early reports. In the meantime, one of the project researchers, Dr. Rob Janssen, advised Vitamin K supplements because whether it helps with COVID or not, “it is good for your blood vessels bones…” The vitamin K1 can be found in blueberries and green vegetables, but, according to Dr. Janssen, it is K2 that “is better absorbed by the body.” Where can K2 be found? “It is in Dutch cheese, I have to say, and French cheese as well.”...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

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

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

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Prince Martin wins his sword

by Brandon Hale 52 pages / 2018 At bedtime, my dad reads a lot of books to us – me and my two sisters. One night he read a rhyming book called Prince Martin Wins His Sword, and we all liked it. Prince Martin is a boy who wants to prove to his father the king that he is brave, loyal, and true. So he decides to explore the unknown forest, and while he was there he found four evil hogs who were bullying a baby deer. And there was a dog there too, protecting the fawn. And the dog was a knight, named Sir Ray! Prince Martin was scared, but then he dove right in, fighting side by side with Sir Ray. The rhymes in the book are like this: Should he help or go home, the boy had to decide. And just how much help, could a mere kid provide? It has lots of good pictures, but even without the pictures, the book is super good (I didn’t see the pictures the first time because I was in bed). Also, my little six-year-old sister doesn’t really like tension, and while this one was scary it wasn’t too scary. I think this would be great for kids ages five through ten. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Spirit & Truth

How does God want to be worshipped? Documentary 2019 / 87 minutes RATING: 8/10 How should we worship God?  It’s one of the most important questions a Christian can ask.  We often think that the Reformation was about important doctrines like justification by faith alone. It certainly was, but it wasn’t just about that. In fact, one of the most central issues of the Reformation was the manner in which God should be worshipped. Some believed that if God did not forbid something, then it was permissible. Others argued that the church had the authority to formulate Christian worship as it saw fit.  The Reformed churches, however, applied sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) to worship – only God, through his Word, can decided how God is to be worshipped.  This fundamental principle came to expression in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism and its explanation of the second commandment:  “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” That idea is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  This documentary, by Les Lanphere, is about the Regulative Principle of Worship and Reformed worship.  It’s about how this principle is biblical, how it’s needed for our day, what it looks like in practice, and why it matters supremely. Great content, with packaging to match Documentaries can sometimes be as inspiring as a grammar handbook.  Les Lanphere’s are decidedly not.  If you’ve seen his 2017 Calvinist, you know he has a gift for making films that grab you by the collar and pull you right in.  While it starts off a bit slow, Spirit & Truth rises to that same standard. I loved it, not only for the content, but also for the production qualities. The film features interviews with numerous pastors and theologians.  Some of the more familiar faces would be Tim Challies, W. Robert Godfrey (URCNA), John Bouwers (URCNA), and Kevin DeYoung. These interviews put meat on the bones of what Reformed worship is all about. Three facets There are several facets to Spirit & Truth that I really appreciate. The film is not only about the outward externals of worshipping God properly. It also speaks of the heart – the “spirit” of “worship in spirit and truth.” One can go through the motions of worshipping God to the letter, but without heart-engagement it’s all meaningless. While Spirit and Truth is a faithful explanation of Reformed worship in general, it carefully treads around some of the finer details about which some Reformed and Presbyterian believers may disagree. For example, there are some Presbyterians (and Reformed too) who are convinced that we ought only to sing Psalms.  Spirit and Truth leaves that issue alone. However, it does emphasize the thing we all agree on:  at the very least, Scripture does command us to sing Psalms.  That’s something often neglected in contemporary Christian worship. Finally, there’s sometimes a perception that Reformed worship (as we know it) is merely a white, western, Euro-centric practice.  If that’s true, that has implications for worship in cross-cultural contexts, both in our own country and abroad.  However, Spirit & Truth includes interviews with non-western or non-caucasian Christians in various contexts to illustrate that Reformed worship, following the RPW, transcends cultures.  It does so because it’s biblical and God’s Word transcends cultures. Conclusion I sometimes wonder whether we hold on to our Reformed worship practices just because they’re our practices or because they’re traditional.  Spirit & Truth persuasively argues that we ought to hold on to Reformed worship because it’s biblical.  And because it’s biblical, it honors God, it puts Christ and the gospel in the center, and it will serve for our blessing. There are a lot of pressures to modify worship in our churches to make it more like what we see in the broader ecclesiastical context. But if Spirit & Truth can help convince us that we have to hold on to distinctively Reformed worship for the right reasons, those pressures will be easily resisted.  This one is highly recommended for Bible or catechism classes, Bible study groups, and office bearer retreats. You can watch the trailer below, and find Spirit & Truth available for streaming rental here. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the author of "Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship." ...

News

Saturday Selections - June 6, 2020

Stepping up by stepping away Warren Barfield was once best known for his songs The Time is Now, and the one below, Love Is Not a Fight. But then, in 2017, the Christian singer, songwriter, and public speaker stepped away from the spotlight because, in his words, he didn't want to: "...be out building a career and wealth while my wife and kids built memories and a life without me. With my wife’s full support I walked away from the promise of material success, to pursue something priceless with her, a life.... Bottom line, I’m more interested in being an intentional husband and father and a good man rather than just playing one on stage or social media." And for three years now that's the last we've heard of him. Is there a settled scientific consensus about wearing masks? Should everyone in public wear a mask? Even as some call it "settled" science that we should, other experts disagree. While that tells us very little about the effectiveness of masks, it does tell us something about those who proclaim things settled when they aren't. Keep the good from the COVID quarantine Being forced to stay at home has brought with it some positives. When it is all over, will we be able to take those with us? Focus on the Family offering free movies/audiobooks Focus on the Family has produced some fun family-friendly material like a dramatized audio version of C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, the Last Chance Detectives films, and the Adventures in Odyssey radio series. And they are now offering a lot of this content for free, with the only requirement being your name and email address. Parents should note that this Christian group, though conservative, is not Reformed and on occasion Arminian tones will pop up in their materials. Frontal lobotomies: a Darwinian mental health holocaust (15-minute read) Before the procedure was discredited, as many as 35,000 were subjected to frontal lobotomies. This "psychosurgery" was based on evolutionary beliefs, and it was those beliefs that led to harmful conclusions. There is a relevance to today because many secular psychologists are also evolutionists, and if they don't understand who we actually are and why we are here, that will have implications for how they try to restore us. Why Christians shouldn’t jump on bandwagon of progressive groups like Black Lives Matter "I can say, heartily, that black lives matter....however, I cannot support the organization Black Lives Matter. As I’ve noted before, their guiding principles include the promotion of the LGBT agenda and new and radical interpretations of gender (they want to “dismantle cis-gender privilege,” for example.) Their leaders are, without exception, radically pro-abortion..." What an NBA reporter's tweet reveals about Christianity (6 min) On May 25 a Minneapolis police officer killed an African American suspect, George Floyd, by placing a knee on the handcuffed Floyd's neck for more than 8 minutes. Some protests in bigger cities turned into riots, with police vehicles and businesses being set on fire. On May 29, the officer, Derek Chauvin was charged with murder. In this video, Whaddo You Meme's Jon McCray looks at what one reporter's reaction to the riots reveals about how if God were to judge us by even just our own standards, we would never measure up. ...

In a Nutshell

Tidbits - June 2020

Is this love? How can a parent help put a daughter’s crushes in the right context? How can we help her view this boy with discerning eyes? Diane Stark shared her approach in the March 2015 issue of Thriving Family. First she pointed her daughter to 1 Corinthians 13:4-6: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Then she asked her daughter to replace the word “love” in this passage with the boy’s name, to see if it fit. As in “Timmy is patient and kind; he does not envy or boast. Timmy is not arrogant or rude…” What her daughter found is that the boy she was interested in wasn’t all that loving to many of their classmates. Seen in this biblical light, this prince wasn’t quite so charming. Stark wasn’t done. Next she asked her daughter to insert her own name in this passage to see how well it fit. Though the Stark didn’t share her daughter’s self-evaluation it is safe to say this passage exposed her own room for improvement – this passage exposes us all, and shows us all our need to ask God to continue His transforming work on us, so we can become more and more like Him. Exegeting God’s other book “Imagine if we’d let atheists translate all our Bibles? Imagine if we did that, and so the Bible now says, ‘There is no God’ ‘Everything is chaotic and meaningless’ and ‘You are just a piece of shrapnel’ and yet we keep using them. And then we’re shocked that we lose people? …. we’ve let natural revelation be exegeted, extrapolated, and taught and all the ‘catechisms’ are made by people who hate it, and hate the One who made it. And they hate the people who love the One who made it.“ – N.D. Wilson, director of the Riot and the Dance, on why there is a pressing need for Christians making nature documentaries A Dutch joke inspired by my neighbor’s cat… LITTLE GIRL: “Look auntie, this is our new kitten Pepper!” AUNT: “So is your other kitten named Salt?” LITTLE GIRL: “No Auntie, that wouldn’t make sense, because Pepper is actually short for Peppermint.” AUNT: “So what is your other kitten’s name?” LITTLE GIRL: “Double Salt!” Sometimes I Wonder... Sometimes I wonder, My Lord, why Did you create us with our eye? Unlike the worm or mole made blind Who labour in earth's soil, yet find Their tasks both noble, right and true In ink-black solitude, praise You. Eyes prove the window of our soul But, do they help us see Truth's goal? Did, what Eve saw corrupt her heart? Can we keep wrong from right apart? Was Achan not by wealth impressed? Eyes, led him to sin, he confessed. And David? Whom the Lord loved so? That sordid tale! So we might know, Our eyes are to our soul, the key, What does that mean for you and me? Were it not better, we were maimed And blessed with blindness, than be shamed? Are we not given to despise? Job covenanted both his eyes Not, to be overcome with lust, But in these things in God to trust, For, does our God not see our ways? Lord, shield our eyes, yes, all our days. – Aart Blokhuis Feb. 29/20  Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020) The well-known apologist Ravi Zacharias passed away on May 19 of cancer at the age of 74. While his family was Anglican, he didn’t believe until, at age 17, an attempt at suicide landed him in a hospital and while there someone brought his mother a Bible and told her to read John 14 to him. Zacharias said God used verse 19 to turn him: “Because I live, you will also live.” Later, in his book Jesus among other Gods, he summed up that conversion experience this way: “I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny.” Called to business Even in Reformed circles there can be the feeling that ministry is a calling and business is not. But can we glorify God in providing for our families, in creating jobs that allow others to do the same, and in supporting ministries that, without such support, simply couldn’t exist? Yes, ministers and missionaries are vital, but as the Rev. Dick Lucas noted, to reach the ends of the earth with God’s Word we also need those who make it possible for them to do their work: “You have to have a generation of people raised up to proclaim the Gospel but you also have to have a generation who are prepared to support the Gospel to a sacrificial extent.” Red and yellow, black and white… Creationist Ken Ham has a response to racism: he wants us to help people understand their true origins: “ says all people are descendants of one man and one woman, Adam and Eve. That means there’s only one race of people… I remember after talking on this once a man told me, ‘When I filled out my census form and it said, “What race are you?” I wrote down “Adam’s.”’” On public education “I think we ought to be plain about this – that unless we preserve the principles of liberty in this department there is no use in trying to preserve them anywhere else. If you give the bureaucrats the children, you might as well give them everything else as well.” – Presbyterian professor J. Gresham Machen, testifying before Congress in 1926, speaking against the formation of a federal Department of Education and the further involvement of the government in education....

Economics

Thinking in terms of tradeoffs rather than solutions...

In a June 2 Facebook live discussion with fellow Conservative MP Garnett Genius, Arnold Viersen outlined two very different ways that politicians tend to approach problems. “One of my friends points out that the progressive vote thinks in terms of solutions, and the conservative thinks in terms of tradeoffs. And you can see that even in the COVID response. The progressives: ‘We have got to stop the spread of COVID!’ The conservative will much more think: ‘We have to trade off one health concern for another health concern.’ For example, in Alberta we’ve had, I think, just about 150 deaths from COVID. But in the same time period we’ve had 37 deaths from a lack of heart surgeries. And that’s a tradeoff that we’ve made. It’s not necessarily talked about. But that is the tradeoff.” That’s a fantastic point. And while Viersen framed it as a conservative vs. a progressive way of thinking, it might better be framed as a Christian vs. secular way of thinking. It is the Christian, after all, who knows why we should be acknowledging that our best efforts will always be trade-offs, rather than solutions for all. It comes down to our more accurate understanding of the world and of our own capabilities. For the secularist, G.K. Chesterton noted, “Once abolish God, and the government becomes God.” Refusing to turn upwards, the secularist is forced to look sideways for a savior, landing on the government because there is no more powerful human institution. But fallible, fallen, limited Man isn’t savior material, no matter what level of power he attains. So the secularist can only continue placing their hope in government by disregarding the limited nature of Man’s capabilities and character. Then they look for solutions rather than trade-offs because it has become their habit to overestimate what Man can do. The Christian, on the other hand, has no need to gloss over Man’s limitations. We also understand that time, money, and every other resource, are limited too, such that we need to count the cost before setting out on an endeavor (Luke 14:25-34). And, finally, we know that in this sin-stained world perfection is impossible. That’s why anything we do will always be a tradeoff, with one of the most common being that resources used for one purpose, can’t then be used to some other end. As Viersen pointed out, when most governments first proposed the lockdowns, we didn’t hear about the other health costs that would come along with doing so. Overall the situation was presented as being lives vs. money, and given that sort of tradeoff, then the choice was clear. And even as an economic tradeoff was noted, the government had their “solution” to that too – they were going to hand out money and lots of it, and we didn’t hear of any downside to doing that. However, it wasn’t just lives vs. money. The reality was that it was lives vs. other lives. There was a predictable, but overlooked cost that would come from heart surgeries, and other vital medical treatments, that were cancelled or delayed due to our COVID-19 response. There was also the physical and mental health concerns that come with unemployment on such a massive scale. Those weren’t widely acknowledged tradeoffs. Going forward, one hard-earned lesson we can take from this strange spring is to question whatever “solutions” we are offered (Prov. 18:17). As Christians, we can apply our God-given insights about the nature of Man, and our world, and help those around us by posing the important questions that spring from our better understanding. We can gently yet firmly ask: “What is the trade-off?” and “What are the costs you haven’t yet mentioned?” Because there will be such costs. In this finite, fallen world every proposal will always involve tradeoffs. ...

News

Racism is wrong…

Racism is wrong. The Minneapolis police officer, holding his knee on George Floyd’s neck for a lengthy period of time, may have been motivated racially, or by pride, or by hatred, etc. I do not know. If the police officers involved behave as racists or as “judge, jury, and executioner,” they deserve to be punished.  We can empathize with protests demanding justice in this way; some may even participate. Christians in Minnesota should be writing to their newspapers, political leaders, and law enforcement personnel, encouraging everyone to fight for justice, but to do so in a godly way. Action can be taken throughout our various countries, but our action needs to be in step with who we are as Christians and it must respect the dignity of all others. Racism is wrong. And the root cause of racism is sin. …because we are all made in God’s image Racism is wrong. Anyone holding to a solid biblical worldview cannot help but arrive at that conclusion. We know that all people are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Originally, being created in God’s image, man: “was adorned in his mind with true and wholesome knowledge of his Creator and of all spiritual things; his will was upright, all his affections pure, and therefore man was completely holy.” – Canons of Dort, Chapter 3/4, Art. 1 However, man fell from this glorious state of being as we rebelled against God in paradise. Nevertheless, we confess that man’s fall did not make him like the animals, but that a light of nature remains in mankind after the fall: “whereby he retains some notions about God, about natural things, and about the difference between what is honourable and shameful, and show some regard for virtue and outward order. But so far is he from arriving at the saving knowledge of God and true conversion through this light of nature that he does not even use it properly in natural and civil matters… man wholly pollutes it in various ways and suppresses it by his wickedness.” – Canons of Dort, Chapter 3/4, Art. 4 All of mankind share in this new fallen state of being. There is no alternative until the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds, making us alive again in Christ, and the image of God is being renewed in us. …because diversity was always God's intention Racism is wrong. We are reminded of the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. This story tells us of one united nation that did not want to fulfill the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 in filling the earth. Man’s rebellion against God increases exponentially when there is a united purpose against him and his revealed plan for mankind. At the Tower of Babel God decides to create new cultures through confusing the languages of the people there. This confusion drives the people apart and the earth begins to be filled. Physical, racial, and cultural diversity develops. This mosaic of diversity is a result of sin, but is not sin in itself – God wanted mankind to develop culturally and spread throughout the earth and He will not let his plans be manipulated. …because the Gospel is for all Racism is wrong. When Abram was addressed by God to leave his home country he was encouraged by the promise that God would make of him a great nation and that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). God develops a nation through Abraham, a special distinct nation in all the earth, as he works out his plan of salvation for his people from all tribes, languages, and nations. Racism is wrong. When our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross he fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament, also the promises to Abraham. Christ gives his disciples the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). Much of the New Testament scriptures are about taking the gospel of Jesus Christ and spreading that message indiscriminately among the nations! There is no room for racism in Christianity. Where racism is evident, together with any and all examples of injustice, Christians should be engaged in various Godly activities to provide a witness to the truth and to fight the injustices as they are able. …because it is what’s inside that counts Racism is wrong. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Racism looks at the color of one’s skin and makes a judgement ignorant of the content of that person’s character. Racists look at the outside of a person, make an unjust judgement, and so reveal the depravity of their own heart and mind. Those who love and defend the just cause of their neighbour because God has loved them reveal a heart that is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, while those who hate their neighbour, who judge them falsely or on the basis of skin colour, still live in darkness and delusion. …but not all disagreement is racism Racism is wrong. But not all that is called racism is racism. In this context we can think of disagreements between the worldview of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Christians who argue that the Islamic religion is false and dangerous, are not behaving in a racist fashion. Although most Muslims are from the Middle East, this does not mean that Christians are racist against Middle Eastern citizens when we express the implications of the cultural battles that exist between these two significantly different worldviews. When Christians tell Judaists and Muslims that the promise given to father Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, we are not making a racist comment but the very opposite – we are inviting them to accept Christ as Saviour and so be our brothers and sisters in Christ! Godly mission work directed towards individuals of other faiths or those who profess no faith is not driven by a cultural or racist superiority rooted in idolatry, but in a love for our neighbours, fellow image bearers who also need the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved from meaninglessness in this life and eternal punishment in the life to come. …but riots are not the answer Racism is wrong. Christians need to fight against this form of injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. But Christians do not riot. The evil evident in the riots over the past weeks demonstrate an unchristian worldview bearing fruit. Evil begets evil. These riots are not being indiscriminately condemned: a number of actors are contributing to a "protester bail fund," including Steve Carrell, Janelle Monae, Seth Rogen, Ben Schwartz, and Halsey. Justin Timberlake is also encouraging people to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund which is raising funds to bail out protesters. But which protesters? In the larger cities, many among the protesters are not fighting against injustice; they are perpetrating it! Stores and much property of black citizens, and others, are being destroyed by "protesters." The violence and damage will do nothing to address injustice or racism. It is an unchristian and an inhumane response. Love is not the overriding principle, idolatry is. Unbelievers are developing (or have created) a worldview that has no foundation and the idol of self is at the centre. Justice for George Floyd is not the goal of those rioting – it is the excuse for open “acceptable” rebellion. …and the Gospel is the answer Racism is wrong. The solution, despite opinion to the contrary, is the gospel rightly understood and applied. May the Lord, the king over all the earth, so work by his word and spirit so that justice is restored in this world. In the meantime, we are busy fighting for justice in a godly way. We are also praying that the Lord will usher in his kingdom in all its glory so that his people from all tribes, tongues, races, and languages can be gathered together in one united kingdom to praise our King! ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Beyond the Mask

Christian / Action / Drama / Family 103 minutes / 2015 RATING 8/10 William Reynolds is a 18th century assassin and the righthand man to the head of the East India Trading company. When the young assassin wants to leave his dark life behind, his employer (played by veteran actor John Rhys-Davies) tries to have this loose end tied up, planting a bomb under Reynolds' carriage. Reynolds only manages to survive thanks to the warning of a passing vicar who ends up paying for his kindness by getting blown up himself. On the run from his employer, and in search of a new life, Reynolds adopts the vicar's identity only to meet Charlotte, a young woman who knows a lot more about God then this hastily minted "vicar" does. There is so much to love about this film, and this romance is a big part of it. It has the typical movie-plot instant attraction yes, but none of the usual bodice-ripping. As impressed as Charlotte might be by Reynolds' charm, she wants to know his heart – she finds it strange that this man of God so often speaks of God as "if He were a distant acquaintance." So despite her heart saying yes, she will not pledge herself to him until she seeks advice from an older wiser head. So, one more thing to love: Beyond the Mask has the fun of the two principals exchanging flirtatious banter, yet with none of that falling-into-bed-with-a-near-stranger nonsense. Of course, with their affair of the heart taking place just 20 minutes in, we know that the happy ending can't come yet. Reynolds' old life forces its way into the new and he has to flee to the American Colonies, leaving his lady-love behind. There he decides he will make repayment for his former evils by doing heroic goods – he dons a disguise and a mask to fight the East India Company in its new endeavors in the Americas. Lots of daring-do and explosions follow. Cautions There is no sexual content at all, and while God's name is called upon, it seems to be put to appropriate use (being either directed to Him, or part of a discussion about Him). The notable concern is violence. Parents considering this as a family night film need to understand that while there is no gory violence, there are men murdered, others blown up, and a very large number put down quickly by a punch or two from our reforming yet not fully reformed William Reynolds. Conclusion This is a wonderful film, with solid acting, an intriguing (if on occasion confusing) script, good special effects, authentic period costumes and sets, and a pleasant number of explosions. It is a family film (though because of the violence, for older children only) with a solid Christian moral. I don't want to praise it too highly, because this also isn't a movie that will go down as an all-time classic. But it is one of the best Christian films you'll see, and a cut above most any family film out there. Check out the trailer below. ...

Parenting

The problem with explanations

God has not called parents to explain but to train. Explanations often lead to frustration and anger for both parents and children. Children are not in need of lengthy, compelling explanations. What they are in need of is the understanding that God must be obeyed. Ephesians 6:4 addresses this issue: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Explanations tend to focus on getting someone to agree with you. The logic for explanations runs something like this: "If I can just get my children to understand the reason for my direction, then they will be more likely to follow my instruction." The real issue While this may sound like solid reasoning, it is not. Explanations are more consistent with gaining approval and winning arguments. Neither of these are appropriate goals for biblical parenting and can lead to anger in your children as Ephesians warns against. This doesn’t mean your parenting is to be arbitrary. You must use kind and pleasant words to instruct your children. You must be patient. You must be sensitive to your children. But you are not attempting to secure their approval for your instruction. This can easily lead to manipulation rather than discipline and instruction. With young children and toddlers, lengthy explanations cloud the real issue.  Obedience is a response to God’s authority. Biblical obedience is not a matter of winning a debate.  Young children must be trained to obey right away, to do exactly as they are told, and to obey with a good attitude. Children from 6-12 must be encouraged to obey because they know this pleases God. Your discussions will be more involved than with young children, but again you are not trying to win their approval. You want them to grasp how important it is to trust God and the reliability of his word. This type of training will yield a conscience that is sensitive to the things of God. Long lectures don't work It doesn’t take much insight to realize that teenagers and long explanations don’t go well together.  Obedience with teenagers is to be primarily be focused on helping them see the value of following God because they love him and that God’s ways are the only ones that can be trusted. Your goal is to have conversations not explanations. Explanations may be well intended. But at the root of many conflicts in families is the attempt to explain rather than to train. Don’t provoke your children to anger. Provide them with the loving instruction of your heavenly Father. Something to think about. Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children andEveryday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....

News

Saturday Selections - May 30, 2020

Dolphin sonar is incredibly designed! (4 min) The many different components of dolphins' echolocation system allows it such a level of precision it can tell the difference between a golf ball and a ping pong ball. The closer we look at God's creation, the more we have to praise Him about! This is an excerpt from the fantastic documentary Living Waters. How David Livingstone's brave publicity stunt helped end slavery (15-minute read) John Piper writes about how David Livingstone's famed expedition, supposedly to find the headwaters of the Nile, actually had a very different purpose – Livingstone wanted to bring British attention to the horrors of the Slave Trade. Are purebred dogs ethical? God calls us to be stewards of creation, and that includes the creatures in it. When we breed a creature for a particular look, knowing that this look also leads to specific health problems – as happens with many purebred dogs – aren't we being bad stewards? Cessationism: what it is, and the case for it, in just 10 minutes While most Reformed folk hold to cessationism – the belief that the gifts of tongues, and prophecy, and miraculous healing have passed (even as we acknowledge that miraculous healing itself has not) – but don't know why. Professor Robert Rothwell lays out the cessationism case here. Scientists often lie Every time we read another headline about "millions of years," or this evolving into that, conservative Christians are reminded once again of how mainstream science can be very, very wrong. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, some are encouraging us to "Just trust Science" and we know that's more than a little naive. Is Science now our infallible guide? There's good reason to be grateful for the guidance scientists can offer (Prov. 11:14, Prov. 15:22), but if we treat them as our one sure guide (ignoring, for example, the input of economists) – if we treat them as if they were God – then they are sure to disappoint. On the other hand, we shouldn't forget why we can be so certain scientists are wrong in some cases, and yet not be as certain in others. We can know they got it wrong when scientists' conclusions run right up against the Bible as they do on the subject of origins. Then we have God's infallible Word vs. fallible Man and it shouldn't be hard to know who to believe. But when scientists make declarations about things that God hasn't spoken to directly – like how harmful COVID-19 actually is – we might still have reasons to doubt what is said but not with the same degree of certainty. This is not what Man says versus what God says, but rather one group of experts vs. another. BC pastors appeal to government to free Christians to worship Occasional RP contributor Rev. Rob Schouten was one of those behind an open letter to BC Premier John Horgan asking for churches to receive attention as to when they can start to safely worship together once again. The letter is considerate, and well-argued, asking only for the same sort of accommodation as is being given to businesses and others. So far 85 churches have given their support to the letter. If you want to find out how you can too, or if you live outside BC and want to see a wonderful example of calm, winsome, yet persistent interaction with the authorities, then be sure to check out the website: ExpandBCWorshipServices.ca. The man behind Ravi (15 min) On May 19, the well-known apologist Ravi Zacharias died of cancer. God used him to "tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:5) via public events, often times on university campuses, around the world. God used Ravi in a big public way, but in this wonderful, tear-jerking (God is so amazing!) short film we get a glimpse at the "man behind the man," D.D. Davis, who God also called, but to work behind the scenes to equip and encourage Ravi. Few of us are called to be on the stage, in front of the mike, but all of us can be "Gospel patrons" – equippers, encouragers, and in smaller ways too, proclaimers – who can help those called to lead. ...

Apologetics 101, Satire

The Triangle Curvature Inclusion Bill

A controversial bill to redefine triangles was presented in the British Parliament this past month. Debate was opened by the Culture Secretary, Valerie Brimble, who began by setting out the case for expanding what she sees as an oppressively restrictive definition. “Times change,” she began, “old customs and habits which may have served society well in the past need to be constantly reviewed. It is my contention that the traditional view of triangles, as having three straight sides, joining at three corners and forming three internal angles which aggregate to 180 degrees must urgently be reviewed. There is no reason why this configuration need remain, and a modern society ought not to be hidebound by antiquated customs.” Unusually for a Commons debate, she then whipped out a visual aid from under the dispatch box in order to demonstrate her proposals. Figure 1, she told a packed House, was an example of how triangles have been traditionally defined. FIG 1. She then went on to explain that this traditional definition of triangles could no longer be tolerated in a modern, diverse and inclusive society. “If we are to be a compassionate people, then we must include shapes that we’ve previously pushed to the margins.” She then sought to reassure some of her more traditionalist colleagues that what the government was proposing was merely a change to allow just one of the sides of the triangle to be redefined, to allow for the introduction of a wiggly line. Figure 2 was then presented to her fellow MPs, which depicted a “triangle” with this wiggly short side. FIG. 2 As she sat down after her opening remarks, Mrs. Brimble faced a barrage of criticism from opponents of the bill. It was pointed out to her that once you redefine triangles to include one wiggly line, it was only a matter of time until other self-interest groups demanded their right to add a second or even a third bendy line. Mrs. Brimble responded by reassuring the House that the government had no plans to allow any further redefinitions. “We are only, I repeat, only, legislating to allow either one of the two shorter lines to be redefined,” she said. “We are not, I repeat, we are not legislating for the redefinition of the hypotenuse.” However, this failed to satisfy her opponents who one by one got up to denounce the redefinition. One of the most vocal said this: “Can my Right Honourable friend tell the house this: once she has redefined the triangle to include a wiggly line, what reason can she give to those who then want to redefine it to include four straight lines, or multiple bendy lines, or even as many lines, bendy or otherwise, that they choose?” Not to be outdone by Mrs. Brimble, he then whipped out his own visual aid and showed the House what could well happen to the triangle if this legislation passes. FIG. 3 “Oh come off it,” scoffed a clearly exasperated Mrs. Brimble. “Don’t be ridiculous. They don’t look anything like triangles. Even a fool can see that.”...

Documentary, Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

FREE MOVIE: Dude Perfect: Backstage Pass

Documentary 84 minutes / 2020 RATING: 8/10 In 2009 some college friends, calling themselves the "Backyard Stuntmen" videotaped each other trying crazy basketball shots – behind the back shots, roof shots, hitting-a-hoop-driving-by-in-the-bed-of-a-pickup-truck shots – with each guy trying to outdo the last. Then they posted all their makes to YouTube, shared the link with family and friends, and then headed off to bed. They woke up the next morning to find out they had been featured on Sports Illustrated's website and their video was getting hits by the tens of thousands. So they followed up that one with another. Ten years later the five friends, now called Dude Perfect, are still making videos and their viewers number in the tens of millions. In this documentary the Dudes are giving their fans, old and new, a peek backstage at their 2019 live tour. And, in segments interspersed throughout, we also get the backstory on the ten years that preceded it: how the Dudes first met, why they all clicked, and even how they almost stopped before they really got going. All five Dudes – Tyler, Garret, Cody, Coby, and Cory – are professing Christians, and while that isn't as obvious in their trick shot videos (except, maybe, in how family-friendly they are), it comes out clearly in Backstage Pass. One example: as the Dudes are about to head out on tour their family and friends come together to pray for them. The very same ingredients that make their videos so popular are all on display in the documentary: amazing trick shots, over-the-top excitement, loads of humor, and good friends enjoying each others' company. Cautions The only content-related caution worth sharing relates to the "Rage Monster" that Tyler plays in a number of the videos, and on the the live tour too. The joke is that sometimes Tyler just can't control his temper and then he will, usually in a creative way, destroy something big. It might involve taking a pick axe to a skidoo, or throwing a 4,700 piece LEGO Star Wars Imperial Destroyer off a second-story landing. Adults will be able to deduce that when the Rage Monster rampages, what he is destroying is likely already headed for the garbage heap. But when the Rage Monster destroys the Dudes' hardwood basketball court kids won't know water damage meant there were already plans in place to pull it up – they'll just see an adult acting like a child having a tantrum. So, even though the Rage Monster only has a limited role in the documentary, mom or dad might want to hit the pause button to let kids in on his backstory. The only other caution isn't one I'd want to make too much of, but will still mention. These five Dudes show a lot of admirable traits in this documentary: they love their wives and their children, show respect to their parents and grandparents, and show love for each other. They also demonstrate industry, creativity, and hard work. But to some of their young fans they might seem to be five adults who have never had to grow up – the so-called "Peter Pan" syndrome. If any of our kids are under the impression they can play their way into millions, that's a course we want to correct. Fruitful work is a way to glorify God, and we should share with our kids that while the Backstage Pass shows some of the behind-the-scenes work, there's a lot more that gets left out because, like a lot of hard work, it would be boring to watch. But whether seen or unseen, our children need to know that hard work is key to the Dudes' success. Conclusion This is really all-ages viewing, keeping the attention of kids as young as 4 or 5, and while I haven't tested this on anyone over 50, I really can't see anyone disliking it. If you want to kick back for a dinner-and-a-movie family night, this should fill the bill. You can watch Dude Perfect: Backstage Pass for free below. ...

Theology

Is it real corporate worship? - a parable

In this time of pandemic, Christians are carrying on a vigorous discussion about the character of corporate worship. When many if not most of the congregation members are watching online, can we really say that we are gathered as the Body of Christ, worshipping Him in corporate worship? I’ve read many of the arguments for and against, and I tend to agree with all of them. My position is basically this: yes, we are gathered for corporate worship. At the same time, it is only a pale imitation of how corporate worship should be. Some speak quite forcefully against calling a live-streamed service real corporate worship, calling it only a “pale imitation.” Others argue quite forcefully that live-streaming is real, corporate worship; the congregation is gathered together in the building and over the internet, and together the Body comes into the presence of the Lord and worships. It may be pale (less than desirable), but it’s not an imitation: it is real worship. A real imitation As I said, in a sense I side with both.  I would like to insist on maintaining the word “imitation.” The word “imitation,” derived from a Latin root, conveys the idea of “copy.” I think of what the letter to the Hebrews says about the temple and the sacrificial system. They were “copies” of the real thing. The real Holy of Holies is in heaven. The temple was a pale imitation of the real thing. But it was the best that was available until Jesus came, died, rose, and ascended, opening up for us a new and living way beyond the veil, past the very real cherubim (not the gold pale imitations), into the very throne room of God. I would argue that something can be a pale imitation, but can at the same time be real, in the sense that it is the best we have available at the moment. So how can live-streamed worship be real, and at the same time a pale imitation? Let me tell you a parable which might convey how these two things might be true at the same time. The parable of the packed and pollinated country wedding Imagine a wedding going on in a country church. The bride’s cousin has unfortunately come down with a bad case of allergies, and is sneezing a lot. The church auditorium is very small and the cousin doesn’t want to sit amongst the guests and sneeze on them continuously, nor does she want to ruin the video with the sounds of her sneezes. So she stands in a separate room, with the door slightly ajar, and she can more or less see the wedding ceremony from a safe distance.  She’s thankful to be there, and to witness the marriage. But it doesn’t feel quite right: she doesn’t sense that she’s participating fully in the event, because she’s alone in a separate room. She has trouble hearing everything and she has a hard time joining in with the singing.  Meanwhile, the bride’s brother has a large family. Their flight was delayed and their rental car took quite a bit longer to arrange than they had thought. They arrived at the church building only to discover that all of the seats are already filled. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, so they find themselves obliged to stand outside the building by an open window and try to participate as best as they can. (They had considered standing in a separate room, but there was a lady in there sneezing away). This family has to crowd around the little window, and, in fact, take turns peeking in to see the ceremony which they can more or less hear. It’s certainly not what they had imagined when they planned their trip to see the wedding of their sister and aunty.  Is the cousin really at the wedding? Are the brother and his wife and children really at the wedding? Yes, they are. They are there, they are witnessing the vows, they are participating in the event, they are trying their best to sing along.  At the same time, their experience is really a pale imitation of what being at a wedding should be. They are there, but they’re not there. They feel one with the gathered group of family, friends, and fellow believers, but at the same time they feel separate. Now, is this a real wedding? It certainly is!  Is it only a real wedding for the people sitting in the pews? Certainly not!  The cousin in the separate room, and the brother and his family standing outside by the window, are witnessing and participating in a real wedding. Real but not optimal I would suggest that when in our Sunday worship, the Bride comes into the holy presence of the Bridegroom, and their vows of covenant love are renewed and celebrated, this is a real Wedding. It is real worship. It is real for the people who are physically there, and it is real for the people who are straining to participate through “a door ajar, or an open window,” or, in other words, through an online connection. It’s real participation in real worship.  But it is certainly not optimal. For those obliged to “look through the window,” it is a pale imitation of the experience they long to have: to be physically present in the gathered assembly of God’s people, singing and participating physically as the Bride communes with the Bridegroom. Addressing one concern Some are concerned that if we say participation via live-stream is considered real participation in real worship, then once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, some people will say it doesn’t matter if they stay home and watch the church service instead. I believe this concern is unwarranted.  Think again of those in the wedding parable, and the one obliged to participate from a distance because of a health condition. God knows the heart. There is no negligence or lack of commitment when a child of God is obliged to watch the live stream because they have to stay home for a lawful reason.  Think of the family watching through the window. They are forced to do so by the circumstances. Everyone will understand this. If, however, there are lots of pews open in the building, but the brother and his family insist on standing outside and looking through the window, this would be at the very least rather strange, if not offensive.  The same goes for participating in worship via livestream. We do this reluctantly because we are obliged by the circumstances, namely the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic. In a normal state of affairs, however, someone staying home to “watch” church of their own volition, when this is not imposed on them as a necessity, would constitute “despising the Word and the sacraments” and reveal a heart not committed to the Lord, His people, and His worship. Conclusion Is participating in public worship via livestream really worship? Are we really worshipping God together as a gathered church? The answer, during this pandemic, is “certainly!”  It may be a pale imitation of the type of gathered congregational worship we are used to, but given the circumstances, it is the very best we can do. And because it is the very best we can do, given the restrictions, we can be certain that in Christ the gathered congregation is certainly meeting with God in real corporate worship. Rev. Ken Wieske is the pastor of the St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church....

Amazing stories from times past

The Good Hanoverian (Luke 10:29-37)

There is a remarkable anecdote about George III of England, that king with whom most people are acquainted through the 1994 movie The Madness of King George. There was more to George, however, than the declining mental health from which he suffered during his later years. George, who lived from 1739-1820 (ruling Britain from 1760-1820), was a man of principle. He tried to apply Biblical precepts to his daily life, a life of family and politics. Deeply convinced of divine providence, he mentioned it in his letters to family and politicians. He was devoted to his wife, Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Strelitz, whom he saw for the first time on their wedding day. God blessed them. By all accounts they had a sturdy marriage and were given fifteen children, thirteen of whom reached adulthood. On to the anecdote… The second greatest commandment King George III enjoyed hunting and was out one day with a party of several men stalking some deer in the Forest of Windsor. Led by dogs, they were in hot pursuit of a stag when they were forced to halt by the edge of the river Thames. The stag managed to cross. The river, however, was exceptionally deep at that particular spot and the hounds could not follow. So the hunting party trotted along the edge of the streaming water looking for a location shallow enough for all to be able to safely reach the other side. The ground was rocky; the grass high; and the many thickets quickly separated the riders from one another. The king's horse was weary. George knew it and he resolved to stop and give the beast a rest. Consequently he parted ways with the hunters and moved onto a clearing where some oaks stood. Fatigued himself, he enjoyed the wind swaying the branches of the trees and the singing of the birds. Suddenly, shaken out of his reveries, he sat bolt upright for he fancied he heard someone weeping nearby. Spurring his horse on towards the sound, he became increasingly aware that it was a cry of distress. The closer he came, the more he could make out the words. "Oh, my mother! My poor, dear mother!!" It was quiet for a moment and then again a repetition. "May God have pity on my dear mother!" The king rode on, intensely intrigued and moved by the words. He reached a small glade with a sizable plot of grass. On that grass and under an oak stood a crude, makeshift bed covered with a small amount of straw. Over this pallet hung a bit of tent material. A slip of a girl knelt in close proximity to the bed. Dark-haired, tears running down her cheeks, she was the picture of desolation. Some packs, as well as a basket or two, lay nearby. George spoke. He was a father as well as a king, and not unmoved by such a scene. It pained him to see a child in such heartbreaking anxiety. "Why are you crying, little one?" he enquired. As she looked up at him, startled at his sudden appearance, he went on in a compassionate tone. "And what is it you are praying for?" The little girl, about eight years of age, rose and pointed to a still figure stretched out on the pallet. She answered, sobbing as she spoke. "Oh, sir, my mother is dying." George dismounted, tethered his horse to one of the low-lying branches of the oak and walked towards the child. She took him to the little mound of straw upon which her mother was laying. As he came closer, he could see that the prostrate figure was a gypsy woman. He also perceived that she was indeed close to death. The woman turned her eyes towards him but did not speak. It seem that her power of speech ebbed away and that the Grim Reaper was patiently waiting for her breath to stop as well. The child had begun to weep once more and left George's side to once more kneel down by the woman. She began to wipe her mother's face with her hands, hands wet with tears. "What is your name, child? Are there others here who are your family? How long has your mother been ill?" Before the child had a chance to answer any of these questions, another girl, one bearing much resemblance to the child, emerged from the trees. This girl was a few years older and as she became aware of George's presence, curtsied and also knelt down by the dying woman. Kissing her, she began to weep as well. "Dear children," George said, "do not cry. What can be done for you? Indeed, how can I help you?" "Oh, sir," replied the older girl, "early this morning I ran all the way to Windsor and looked about the streets trying to find a minister. I did find one and then another, but neither would come back with me to pray with my mother." The woman, the dying mother, could understand every word her daughter spoke. It could be seen in her eyes. These were fixed upon her child and they changed from sadness to fear. It was plain to George that this was so. The children were kneeling on the left side of their mother. George picked up one of the packs laying on the grass, carried it over to the woman's right side and sat down on it. He then took her right hand and spoke softly. "I am a minister," he whispered, "and God has sent me here to help you." The woman's eyes turned away from her girls towards him. There was a question in her eyes. George went on to speak of the fall of humankind into sin, afterwards voicing the need for a Savior. And then he gladly told her of the Redeemer Who had been born, Jesus Christ. The woman's eyes never left his face. They became, as George spoke, more animated and then, peaceful. Then they left his face and focused beyond the king. And then suddenly, she smiled. Because her expression had become so happy and peaceful, a few moments passed before George and the children realized that she had died. ***** When George's attendants came onto the scene a little later, they found George comforting the gypsy children as if they were his own children. He rose up as they rode into the glade, simultaneously pressing some gold coins into the hands of the orphans speaking as he did so. "You have my protection," he said. Remounting his horse, he addressed his attendants, even as he pointed to the children. "Who do you think is neighbor to these?" ***** George's faith seemed to be part of a piety that permeated his being and his daily life. In his last years, physical as well as mental powers deserted him and he became blind. He died at Windsor Castle on January 29, 1820, after a reign of almost sixty years. But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:29-37...

News

Saturday Selections - May 23, 2020

Surfin is illegal in the USA: A Beach Boys parody (2 min) There's no better way to kill the funny than to discuss a joke. But with all the vicious memes, and cruel editorial cartoons circulating the Internet, before I pass along this bit of parody it's worth considering what Christians can, and must not, say about our elected officials. Romans 13:6-7 instructs us: "Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." That rules out the careless insult, and the casual disobedience. We can't call our Prime Minister names, and can't disobey his lawful orders without being able to show how those orders violate God's commands. But in our democratic system, our elected authorities are also our employees, and one of our roles is to evaluate their performance – we could even describe that as an authoritative role God has given to the electorate. So there may well be a time when, in the process of a"performance review" on our authorities, we have to use language they'd rather not hear. But it isn't disrespectful or dishonoring to explain why Joe Biden is a hypocrite for insisting we should believe women except when one accuses him. And it isn't violating Romans 13 to question the intent of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent gun ban. That's legitimate job performance review material, even if the "interviewee" might prefer we don't go there. When it comes to our current COVID-19 crisis, we also aren't violating Romans 13:6-7 when we highlight governmental excesses, even when we do so with a dose of humor. The fellow behind this video below may or may not be a Christian, but his Surfin USA parody illustrates an important point: some of our authorities are not exercising their powers with restraint. These are the questions I asked about the viral "Plandemic" video An investigative journalist tracked down the documentary's producer and asked him some key questions. Michael Cook offers some sage advice as well, in his "How should we tackle conspiracy theories about COVID-19?" UN provides us some unintended comedy This week the United Nations tweeted out a request to have folks ditch the words "husband" and "wife" to "help create a more equal world." As Jonathon Van Maren shares, "the global community united in side-splitting gales of laughter." Why surrogacy is oppression "...surrogacy exploits the vulnerable....Increasingly, surrogacy is about two wealthy men using a woman for her body, while appropriating a role that only she can fulfill." John Stonestreet and Maria Baer followed up their article above with: "Adoption is beautiful; surrogacy isn't." Frog fossils found in the Antarctic Does a warmer earth spell our doom? Frog fossils in the land of ice and snow would seem to say no. Parents: slow down and listen Tedd and Margy Tripp with important advice for parents: "If your children are saying 'You never listen to me,' it is because they feel you never listen to them. Slow down and listen." The spread of the Gospel (2 min) "Every frame is one year in the last 2000 years of the Great Commission....It shows everywhere the Gospel has been preached, where churches and Christian gravestones first show external evidence of that work, and where churches and Bibles are accessible today." ...

Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Ordinary Commission

Documentary 22 minutes / 2019 Throughout our Reformed congregations and communities, more and more attention is being given to the call to reach out to our neighbors in the Name of Christ.  Congregations and councils are talking about what they can do in their particular locations.  There is a shift from relying exclusively on ordained missionaries and organized mission projects to being active as individual believers. Lifestyle evangelism Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” and Paul instructs slaves in Titus 2:10, that they ought to behave in such a way that they “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.”  These words suggest that one way, at least, in which we are to make the gospel known involves simply living our day to day lives as believers where people can see us, and get to know what makes us tick, namely, the grace of God in Jesus Christ. John Dickson, in a book that we studied recently as ministers in the Niagara area, stated that personal interaction and personal relationships are aspects of "the best kept secret of Christian mission." You don’t need special training; you don’t need to learn any strategies or particular skills. You just need to take an interest in the people around you in your neighbourhood, your university or workplace, and invite them to get to know you, and to observe as you live the Christian life. The Gospel Comes With A House Key, a recent book by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, promotes hospitality as a very practical way for ordinary people to create a context in which this kind of interaction can take place. This is what two young filmmakers from southern Ontario, Jacob Valk and John-Michael Bout, call, the “ordinary commission." In an effort to learn how “ordinary believers” can personally fulfill the great commission, Jacob and John-Michael customized a 1977 Dodge van and travelled to mission conferences in Florida and Texas.  They chronicled their journey and their findings in a 22-minute documentary called, Ordinary Commission. At the conferences, they encountered two organizations that were established to provide ordinary Christians an opportunity to reach their communities with the gospel.  The communities in question are made up of people who have hobbies in common: surfers, and video gamers. Cautions These are admittedly hobbies that come with several question marks, and even if a believer involved in these activities would avoid the pitfalls stereotypically associated with them, it would no doubt be a challenge to maintain the posture of being in the world but not of the world.  By reputation, at least, there are questions about the content and the character of some of the most popular video games, and, gamers spend an inordinate amount of time alone or in a virtual community.  That raises questions about the appropriateness of deep involvement in video gaming. Of course, no one disputes that surfers and gamers need the gospel, or that Jesus associated with people considered undesirable by the religious community.  And it’s also true that there are many “respectable” hobbies that can consume an inordinate amount of our time and money. However, it’s clear that before Christians immerse themselves in any activity, they should consider the implications and possible complications.  How do we handle ourselves in clubs or groups that have questionable priorities, such as a community hockey or softball team that has a “win at all costs” ethic?  What are some of the ethical barriers that could stand in the way for believers to become involved in community activities -- for example, Sunday games or meetings? Conclusion For their part, Jacob and John-Michael do not intend to endorse these particular organizations or hobbies.  They only want to use them as illustrations of how believers can fulfill the “ordinary commission.”  That’s the basic message of the documentary: we should look at the various communities in which we are involved as mission fields. The principle illustrated by organizations such as Christian Surfers, and the outreach to gamers called Love Thy Nerd, can be applied to all kinds of communities, such as neighborhoods and workplaces. The point is that we all have neighbours in one context or another.  Some live next door, down the hall, or down the road; some play hockey or bridge with us, or belong to the knitting club; some work or study at the same place we do.  The documentary makes it clear that our involvement in these communities gives us the opportunity to take up the “ordinary commission,” and bring the gospel to our neighbors. The documentary is accompanied by a “Workshop” (i.e. leader’s guide and questions), intended to facilitate a discussion of the “ordinary commission,” and encourage viewers to think of ways in which they can carry it out.  The workshop could be improved by including questions which encourage participants to reflect on the challenge of being “in the world, but not of the world” as we involve ourselves in various hobbies and activities.  It might be helpful, for example, to include some reflection on the implications of Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” That noted, this is highly recommended for small groups, and for study societies. You can watch Ordinary Commission below and download their workshop here (you will have to give your name and email address). Rev. Dick Wynia is the pastor of Vineyard Canadian Reformed Church. ...

Theology

Why I'm religious, not just spiritual

I was sitting in the sauna at the local aquatic centre the other day when I struck up a conversation with the man sitting opposite me. When you’re a missionary, it’s easy to turn conversations toward matters of faith, and that’s the direction this particular conversation quickly took. It wasn’t long before the man told me something about himself that I’ve heard before, many times. It’s a statement that, to be honest, makes me cringe: “I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious.” What does that mean? Well, it turns out that to this man it meant that he believed in a “higher power” of some sort, that he didn’t attend church, and didn’t have any appreciation for “organized religion,” and that he tried to live, in his words, a “moral life.” And judging from our brief conversation, he certainly did appear to be, on the surface at least, a “good person.” He looked more than a little rough around the edges – he had full tattoo sleeves on both arms, long hair and piercings, but he expressed respect for my position and the work I do, he spoke with affection about his wife and his kids, and he told me how he worked hard to take care of his family and live a good life. So why did his statement make me cringe? Why do I find myself reacting negatively whenever I hear people speaking ill of “religion,” while speaking positively about “spirituality”? Spirituality's self-made god In this case, and others like it, my reaction has much to do with the fact that a person like this is essentially fooling himself. He believes that he can be a good person (and, in the world’s eyes, he is), and he believes that “God” (whoever or whatever he, she, or it is) will accept him on that basis. When it comes right down to it, he believes that he’ll be okay with God because he has, in his mind, created a god that he can feel comfortable with – a god that doesn’t demand too much, a god that doesn’t ask for things that will take him out of his comfort zone, a god who won’t judge him. Let me put it like this by way of example: on a Sunday morning at 8:00, when you’re enjoying that pleasant drowsiness that marks the end of a good sleep after a hard week of work, when you hear the kids beginning to wind themselves up in preparation for another day of rambunctious activity, it’s a whole lot easier to be “spiritual” than it is to be “religious.” Why? Because the “spiritual” person isn’t going to have to get the kids washed, dressed, fed, and into the vehicle before the Sunday morning service. He’s not going to have to keep those same kids under control for an hour of formal worship. He’s not going to have to spend time talking to people that he may not have much in common with, people who may annoy him or get on his nerves. He’s not going to have to listen to a preacher telling him things that he may not be interested in hearing; he’s not going to have his conscience pricked by calls to repentance. But most importantly, he’s not going to hear the gospel – the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, salvation that comes to people because of God’s pure and beautiful grace, if only they trust in Him. And because of that, regardless of how good a person he is, if he continues on his “spiritual journey,” while avoiding the trappings of what is now known as “religion,” he will not be saved. So when I hear a non-Christian tell me that he or she is “spiritual,” and not “religious,” it frightens me. And in the faith landscape of North America, this kind of self-definition is becoming more and more common. Prejudice against organized religion, individualistic thinking, and lack of respect for any kind of authority, whether religious or otherwise, has led to this unfortunate development in our recent history. True religion is more than ritual Now, seemingly in response to this shift in our culture, many Christians have begun to distance themselves from any association with “religion,” and have begun to define themselves in terms of “spirituality.” One phrase, in particular, keeps on rearing its (ugly) head: “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” “Religion,” we’re told, is a negative concept, and it has to do with outward observance of rituals and behaviors, rather than the relationship that we should have with Jesus. It sounds great because we should all agree that the Christian faith isn’t simply about following the right rules. Being a true Christian means much more than going to church, making the requisite donations, attending Bible study or youth group or whatever church functions may have been organized. It is about living in a right relationship with God. The prophets of the Old Testament knew this, and they would write things like this: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). So why should we be bothered by the phrase, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship,” if the person saying it simply means that Christianity is about more than ritual and formality and outward obedience to the moral code of the Christian community? Isn’t this just an argument over semantics? But when I hear that Christianity is not a religion, I think of James 1:26 and 27. James says this: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James does not say that religion is wrong. He doesn’t say that it’s superior to be “spiritual” rather than “religious.” The goal is true religion, not the absence of religion. True religion means bridling your tongue. It means visiting orphans and widows in their affliction. It means keeping oneself unstained from the world. So true religion is about much more than going through the motions; that’s clear in both the Old and New Testaments. True religion must be a religion of the heart. True religion is lived out But the fact is, it must not stop at the heart! True religion is not simply something that happens within the person. A faithful life is not a life that’s spent contemplating the right things, having the correct feeling in one’s heart. That attitude of the heart must show itself in outward observance – in seeking to live a holy life, in serving others, in speaking in a way that comports with God’s demand for pure speech. And it must show itself even in the observance of (gasp!) ritual! Sometimes people will speak of a divide that exists between the Old Testament and the New Testament, as if the Old Testament was all about ritual and observance of rules and regulations, about offering the right sacrifices in the right way at the right time, and the New Testament is all about the interior life of the person – what goes on in the heart. And so people see the Old Testament people of God as being “religious,” while New Testament Christians are called to be “spiritual.” But this is a false dichotomy. The Old Testament was never about the external divorced from the internal; the verse I quoted from Hosea proves that. And what’s more, the New Testament isn’t about the internal falsely separated from the external. As Christians, we still have rituals – repeated practices, done the same way again and again, that conform to a set standard. We have been given new rituals – the Lord’s Supper, and baptism – the sacraments. But we also participate in the old rituals – gathering together every week as a set pattern for corporate worship is a central religious ritual that we are called to honor. Ritual unexamined and done in an unthinking manner is surely a negative thing; but that doesn’t mean that ritual, the stuff that people now think of as “religious,” is negative in and of itself. Far from it! In fact, the Bible repeatedly speaks positively about these sorts of activities, and strongly encourages Christians to participate in them! True religion is communal And that brings me to my final concern about the religion/spirituality divide. As Christians, we are people who are called to live in community. As Reformed Christians, we speak about God’s covenant, and we speak of ourselves as God’s covenant people. One of my greatest concerns with pitting “religion” against “spirituality” is the individualistic focus of spirituality. “Spirituality” so often seems to be about my personal relationship with God, while “religion” is often associated with activities that involve corporate relationships – groups of people, doing the same things at the same time, together. In focusing on personal spirituality, as contrasted with organized religion, it often seems that the individual, and his or her needs and desires, becomes paramount, while the corporate aspect of our faith, which should be so central, is lost. Conclusion Our religion is not just about a personal relationship with Jesus; it is about that, to be sure, but it’s so much richer than that, so much more! John puts it this way, in the introduction to his first letter: “ That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). True religion is about the vertical (our relationship with God), but it also includes the horizontal (our relationships with one another). That is what we must strive for – not a vague, individualistic “spirituality,” but a true religion, a religion that defines all activities in our life, a religion that works itself out in love for our neighbor, especially in love for our brothers and sisters in the covenant community, based in our love for the Lord. So maybe we could work out a new motto. Say, something like this: “Christianity: not just a relationship, but a religion made up of relationships – beautiful (and challenging) relationships – with our fellow believers, based in a renewed relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ.” It may not be catchy, but it’s true. So let’s reclaim “religion” – a Biblical word that has been much maligned – and rejoice in it, and everything that it stands for. Rev. Witteveen is a missionary who has served the Church in Canada and now Brazil. He also blogs at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Do we have a “right” to life?

If you’ve ever attended a pro-life rally or an abortion protest you’ve heard fellow Christians talking about the unborn’s “right to life.” But is this a phrase that Christians should use? Does it have a biblical basis? Can Christians claim a right to life, or for that matter, any rights at all? Rights vs. wishes It all depends on what you mean by the term “rights.” We'll sometimes hear special interest groups claim a "right" to healthcare or a "right" to a free college education but that's a trivialization of the term. They are using it in a way that is really no different than claiming a "right" to pepperoni pizza, or a "right" to free parking. These are items some might want at taxpayer expense, but describing your wishlist as rights does not make them so. Rights are better understood as that which it is wicked to deny. So, for example, if a government doesn't provide free college tuition, we aren't going to hold tribunals to investigate their human rights abuses – it is not a monstrous evil to deny citizens a tax-funded post-secondary experience. But if governments violate their citizens' right to property, then there should be an outcry because we recognize that the right to property is one that governments would be wicked to deny – this is a fundamental right. Rights before God? When it comes to the pro-life movement's "right to life" slogan, I've run across some Christians who object to the term. Since we are sinful creatures, wholly dependent on God’s grace, they argue that God doesn’t owe us anything. Are we in any position to make demands of our Maker, to make any claims of “rights” before Him? Clearly not. But as Stephen Pidgeon explains in this article, just because we have no rights before God doesn’t mean we don’t have rights given by God. In the Ten Commandments God spells out a number of prohibitions, and it is from these prohibitions that our rights spring. God has said, “Thou shall not murder” so from that we all have a God-given right to life. No man, no group, no government has the right to murder us because God has forbidden it. Since this right comes from a God-given prohibition, no authority on Earth may take this right from us. Individuals and governments can violate the right to life – they can and regularly do murder, ending the lives of one-quarter of all citizens here in the United States and Canada before they are even born. But even as they violate the right to life, and deny the unborn's claim to it, the right remains nonetheless. Governments and individuals did not award this right, so they cannot take it away. Of course, God can rightfully take our life – we are his, and He can do with us as He pleases. We have no rights before God. But we do have God-given rights that we can hold to before Man. And, made in His Image (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:6), the unborn, too, can claim a God-given right to life. And we can pray for the day when our governments start to recognize, honor, and protect that right....

Economics, Watch for free

It's A Wonderful Loaf: why free enterprise makes bread in abundance

In the illustrated economic poem below, the author shows how the free enterprise system – with supposedly no one in control – can deliver bread in a great variety, and more cheaply than a socialist system. A socialist system would have some "bread czar" making decisions about what sort, and how much, bread would be made, but then he'd also have to decide how much rye or wheat would have to be planted, and also what other crops would have to be curtailed to make room for the wheat crops. To keep everyone happy, from the rye lover to the white bread aficionado, to the gluten intolerant chap, the number of decisions this bread czar would have to make would be beyond the ability of any single human being – or even a government department – to manage competently. The video is fantastic, but it's missing something vital – the author, Russ Roberts, doesn't see the Christian connection. He says that the ability of the free enterprise system to deliver hot, fresh, affordable bread in an abundance of varieties each and every day is something "no one intends" and "no one has to orchestrate it. It’s the product of our actions but no single mind’s designed it." The truth is different. No human mind designed it, but the foundational principles of the free market system – what makes it work – are Christian principles given by God. Do not worship other gods – Whereas the 1st Commandment (Ex. 20:3) teaches us not to turn to other gods, Socialism is dependent on someone at the top being near-omnipotent, knowing all the right moves to make for the betterment of everyone. Don't steal – The 8th Commandment (Ex. 20:15) make clear God's intent for us to be able to own property, while Socialism takes away property rights. Don't covet – Socialism wants to know what everyone makes while the 10th Commandment (Ex. 20:17) forbids us from looking over the fence to see what our neighbor has got. This commandment frees us to develop what God has given us (Matt 25:14-30) instead of minding our neighbor's business. Other biblical texts could be highlighted and explored but the point is, the reason the free market works as well as it does is that, in these commandments and more, it better lines up with what God commands. And when we obey these commands, then His is the "invisible hand" guiding farmers, mills, bakers, and consumers to arrive at this wonderful loaf. (h/t to Albert Van der Linden)...

News

Saturday Selections - May 16, 2020

What's the Reformed perspective on the UFO videos? (1-hour podcast) Last month the Pentagon declassified three videos of what they termed "unexplained aerial phenomena." The videos had previously been leaked to the Internet back in 2017, so what was newsworthy now was the official confirmation of their authenticity. What should Christians think of claims that we are being visited by alien civilizations? Pastor Jeff Durbin and his crew at Apologia Radio offer a fascinating take. If their 1-hour podcast is a bit too long for you, a Reformed perspective on UFOs can also be found in our review of Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection. The problem with mailed-in ballots With COVID-19 keeping people in, there's been pressure in the US for more States to switch from in-person voting to using mail-in ballots instead. While voting by the post might be more hygienic, it has a downside: mail-in ballots aren't secure. When we go into a voting booth, no one knows what choice we make, so no one can threaten or bribe us to vote as they want us to. But when someone can watch you fill in your ballot, then pressure can come from spouses, parents, friends, careworkers, and others. The false dilemma of Science vs. Faith  Dr. John Byl has a fascinating summary of a debate over Science and Faith that took place in the pages of the Dordt University publication Pro Rege. It began with an explanation as to how "Science vs. Faith" is "the Great False Dichotomy" (because the real battle is not Science vs. Faith, but actually between the Christian worldview and an anti-Christian worldview). and then heated up when Dr. Arnold Sikkema wrote a letter to the editor, against the original article. And then his letter garnered its own reply. 5 ways to protect your kids from pornography The most important way? Talk to your children early – be their first teacher, and therefore their go-to, for this topic. Don't let a video, seen on their friend's phone, be their first exposure to what sex is. Parents: don't shame your kids Tedd Tripp on how we parents have to come alongside our kids as fellow sinners, and not simply as judges. Quarantine stereotypes (10 minutes) The 5 friends at Dude Perfect offer up a slice of quarantine life. ...