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Complaining: our national pastime

Long ago, people were taught not to complain. In addition, being selfless, giving, and kind was applauded as the way that a person should live. I’m not certain when the tide changed, but there is generally an attitude now of “me first” that is promoted, approved, and endorsed. And we Christians even fall prey to this worldly behavior at times. It is so prevalent that we don’t even recognize it for the sin it is. Just a half twist on the truth I remember noticing self-centeredness when it became popular to say, “‘Charity begins at home, so I need to give to myself first.” The original saying, “Charity begins at home,” meant that learning to love others and put others first is an action that needs to be learned within the family unit. Then I noticed that “Love your brother as you love yourself” (Matt. 22:39) started being used in a way that disregarded Ephesians 5:29 which tells us “…no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Instead, some people started saying, “See, before we can love anyone else we first have to learn to love ourselves right.” Add to this the magazines that encourage women in particular to look out for themselves first (and even the crazy commercials where family members shout, “Leggo my Eggo” as they grab each other’s breakfast treat) and we have a society that thinks this is the correct way to think. Root of complaining When we place ourselves first, this entitlement can have us thinking that nothing should ever go wrong in our lives. Appliances and cars shouldn’t break down, kids shouldn’t argue, milk shouldn’t be spilled, traffic should never be jammed, and other drivers should never drive “wrong.” Our health should always be perfect, and our boss should give us praise and a raise, and our family and friends should consistently lavish loving attention on us (unless, wait, maybe they are putting themselves first also! Hmmm). But here we are in the real world, where things don’t always go the ideal way that we would prefer. And so we hold a complaint-a-thon: “Let me tell you all the things that I didn’t like in my last few hours (or days, or weeks).” Then we launch into how everything stinks. Often our recounting causes us to monopolize the conversation, believing that it’s interesting to the hearers. Our hearers, often enough, are patiently waiting to give their own account of their sufferings until the entire circle of friends is comparing or one-upping levels of discomfort. It’s quite the popular thing to do. When we complain, we are talking only about our own reactions to the world around us. It’s self-focused and self-centered, and generally expresses a lack of gratitude to and trust in the Sovereign God who brought those circumstances to us. Don’t do it The crux of the matter is that God very clearly commands (not suggests!) us not to complain. The apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” The root cause of complaining is a lack of trust in God’s providential care for us. Complaining means that we, His sheep, are essentially saying, “Hey, Shepherd, I don’t like the trial that you sent to me today.” Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” We will not always understand why we face circumstances that we do not like. But when we pray about them, the Lord will assure us that He has everything under control – His path just looks different than ours did. What we think complaining does for us Dave Stuart Jr., in The Case Against Complaining, suggests that we complain because we think venting is therapeutic and will make us feel better. We might even think that it builds the “fellowship of the offended” because we are all in this together. We need to carefully consider what our deceitful hearts tell us to do, as it may not actually be helpful to us or to others who have to listen to us. There are better, more positive ways to build camaraderie, because “complaining wastes time and warps our heart, making us feel powerless.” Will Bowen has an excellent TED Talk entitled “A World Without Complaining.” In it, he states five reasons why people complain so much: To get attention: complaining seems to help them to feel connected to other people. It’s ego reinforcement. To remove responsibility: complaining may get them out of doing a task that they don’t want to do. To inspire envy (or brag): the purpose of their complaining is to impress other people with their superiority in how much more they have suffered.  To make themselves more powerful: they gain support by complaining to people with similar opinions. To excuse poor performance: people complain instead of taking blame for not completing an assigned task. “It’s not my fault, because someone else….” They complain to avoid accountability. Results of complaining Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining negatively affects your brain and your body! According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, Ph.D. and author of Emotional Intelligence: Complaining actually rewires your brain for negativity, or in other words, what you practice, you perfect: “When you repeat a behavior, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information… So your neurons grow closer together and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’ Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening.” Complaining becomes an entrenched habit! Complaining shrinks the hippocampus – the area of the brain critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Keep in mind that the hippocampus is one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s. Complaining causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which shifts you into fight-or-flight mode. It raises your blood pressure and blood sugar, impairing your immune system and making you more susceptible to depression, digestive problems, sleep issues, physical/mental exhaustion, and heart disease. None of this should be a surprise to Christians. Prov. 17:22 states, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” And what did Paul say are the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) If we go back a couple of verses in Galatians 5, we might place complaining under “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.” Perhaps our complaints might stem from enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, or divisions. The solution to complaining So how do we counter a complaining spirit, especially if that’s become our habit? Develop an attitude of gratitude. Ps. 106 says, “O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” The apostle Paul tells us in Phil. 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” You can add to this numerous other verses and Heidelberg Catechism sections as well! When is constructive complaining okay? Not all complaining is wrong, of course. How can we improve if we won’t acknowledge that something isn’t the way it should be, or could be? However, we should only engage in solution-oriented constructive complaining. And this should only be done when you truly have something to complain about. Constructive complaining also means raising the concern with the appropriate person and asking for help with finding a solution. For example, if your son keeps leaving his shoes in the middle of the foyer, what good does it do to complain about it to all your friends? Sit down and work out a solution with your son. Your bank made an error on your account? Go talk to your banker. Feeling achy and tired for the past two days? Talk to your doctor or take the steps you already know will help you (specific exercises, sleep, vitamins, etc.). When there is an offense between Christians, we are to take the complaint directly to the offender (as scary as that may seem – God can give you the courage!). We read in Matt. 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” If there is no resolution, then the complaint can be escalated to take another person or two – possibly an elder – with you to plead your case. Note that this does not include telling everyone else you know about the problem! Good complaints can begin with gratitude When you make an appropriate complaint, start it with something positive first. For instance, if your bank makes an error, say, “I have been happily banking here for 15 years, and wish to continue, but recently there was a problem.” To your son you might say, “Son, I really appreciate that you always hang up your coat and backpack on the hooks. But yesterday I nearly tripped over your shoes that were in the middle of the foyer.” Be specific. Don’t dredge up everything that has ever happened in your experience with a person. If an employee was rude to you, describe specifically what the employee did that was rude. End on a positive note, such as, “I’d like to work this out together.” Please note: if you complain to anyone else, you are likely aiming to get attention, remove responsibility, brag, gain power, or excuse your poor performance. Dealing with other people who complain Dr. Bradberry states: “Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy…You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves.” This is likely too rash of a solution, because we must spend time with our family, friends, and brothers and sisters in the Lord. But you can see how it’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining when others are doing it. Instead, be thoughtful and brave! Think about the direction that a conversation is going, and then redirect it to something more positive. Start talking about specifically how God has blessed you lately, or what you heard in the sermon that really helped you. Dr. Bradberry suggests that once you have worked on your own habit of complaining, you can help others to improve their negative focus. That seems more sensible advice, akin to taking the log out of your own eyes before trying to get the speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7:3-5). Then do for them as you would want done for you: listen for the need that is being expressed – perhaps the person complains because he feels unheard. Then don’t try to solve his problem. Instead, offer only a few words of sympathy and some encouragement. You might reframe the situation, share information that might be helpful, ask for solutions, or call it out as what it is: grumbling. Then redirect the conversation, talking about positive things. The apostle Paul tells us to: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:12-13). If someone has a legitimate complaint against us, we must apologize. If we have a complaint against them, we must be ready to forgive. If the complaint is mis-directed to us, we should encourage them to go to the appropriate party and solve the problem, not just gossip about it. Learn to shine If we justify complaining, instead of confessing it as sin, we will reach a point where it is our default setting. It will feel natural to do it. But we are not stuck! We have the Holy Spirit within us, whose power we can call upon when the temptation strikes us – daily – to complain. We can ask for forgiveness and start noticing our complaints or ask our family members to do so (light-heartedly, perhaps). We can ask our omnipotent Lord to help us to stop it so that we will be “the children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of a collection of 45 RP articles entitled: “Soup and Buns: Nourishment from God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles.” To purchase this book, contact her at [email protected]....


Keeping Christ in Christmas: 12 ideas for honoring God in our Christmas festivities

There’s no more exciting time than Christmas. Reflecting on the birth of Christ, gifts, lights, decorations, music, special foods, and time spent with family and friends cause most Christians to anticipate some “good times ahead!” Ah, but since it is supposed to be exciting, and everyone is kindly wishing us a very merry time, we have to be careful to manage our expectations. All the anticipation can raise expectations to unreachable levels – we may begin to think that we have a “right” to a perfect Christmas. Then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment over the gift or invitation we didn’t receive, the people who didn’t come over, the lack of enthusiasm over gifts we presented, or the lack of cooperation with all the cooking and cleanup! Poor us! Instead, as God’s chosen ones, let’s take the time to meditate ahead of time on Colossians 3:12-17 and “get dressed” for the holiday season by putting on “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Let us bear with and forgive one another, and put on love which leads to harmony. Let us “let the peace of Christ dwell in us” as we celebrate Him! How? By immersing ourselves in God’s Word and singing Psalms and hymns, meditating on His great gifts to us. Resist the temptation to overdo it. Don’t exhaust yourself to the point of complaining. Let there be a balance so that you don’t end up tired, angry, resentful or poor. As you think about how you might spend the Christmas season honoring Jesus Christ whose birth and very life we are celebrating, consider including some of the following suggestions that I’ve gathered.  Suggestions Emphasize giving instead of receiving. As Acts 20:35 tells us, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Instead of asking “What do you want for Christmas?” ask “What are you going to give so and so?” Some activities are: Let young ones choose gifts for family members and teachers at the dollar store – even if some of their choices amuse you. Support a Christian ministry – let the kids earn money working at home or for others, and give it, so that they can feel the joy of donating as well. Collect food for the needy. Give of your time to help the sick or those who are overwhelmed with trials. Assist in a soup kitchen. Give a surprise gift of service to family members, neighbors, friends – and don’t forget your pastor and his family. Have a craft or baking day, perhaps with friends, and give some of the delicious results to others. Be honest about Santa. It’s wrong to lie to your children, especially about an ageless, supernaturally powerful, unbelievably generous, and generally invisible being, who “knows when you’ve been good or bad.” So let them know who is giving them the gifts. The kids will be thrilled that Mom, Dad, Oma, Opa and Aunt Susie showed their love by giving them something special. Consider opening gifts on a different day. That might be Sinterklaas (December 5), or Epiphany (January 6); this could help to keep Christmas Day as a time to worship and glorify our Lord. But note, if you do open gifts on Christmas Day, one thing you don’t want to do is to make the children sit through a devotional while in their little hearts they are eagerly staring at a pile of soon-to-be-unwrapped presents. There’s a time for everything, and it’s fine to let them cherish their anticipation and excitement rather than expecting them to obediently sit through a reading to which they are not even paying attention. Celebrate Advent. Advent means “coming” and begins a specified number of days before Christmas Eve to build anticipation for the actual Christmas day. If you buy an Advent calendar, avoid the distracting ones with candy or cutesy Santas/TV cartoon characters on them. Plan a devotional reading and song for each of the days. Teach your children how to use a Bible dictionary/handbook or the Logos online Bible aids to dig out facts for themselves to present to the whole family at the next dinnertime. Topics might include: Angels – Learn what the Bible says about angels. Some suggested verses are: Matt. 4:11, 24:31, 26:53; Luke 2:10-12, 22:43; 1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 1:9-11; 2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 7; Ps. 91:11-12. There are useful books on the subject that could also be your guide. Who was Augustus Caesar? – Was he related to Julius Caesar? Make a chart of the rulers from the New Testament era. What is a census and why did Augustus want to do one? Make a family tree together – your own “census.” Where is Bethlehem? – Study maps of Palestine in the time of Christ together, and compare the map to a current one. Bethlehem still exists! Use Google maps to look up the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem. If the weather is good, take a family hike and compare it to how far Joseph and Mary had to travel. Christmas carols – Learn the stories behind some of the carols and examine the words together to determine which are biblical and which are just sung for fun because they are a tradition (Little Drummer Boy, for instance – would a newborn want a kid to play a drum next to his little ears?). Learn some new-to-you Christmas carols – There are probably some in the Book of Praise or hymnbook that you do not know. Jesus as the “light of the world” (John 8:12) – If you’re putting up Christmas lights, then read/talk together about how Jesus is the light of the world. What does that mean? How can we be lights as well? Make a list of the names/titles of Jesus and talk about each one – Write down a dozen on good cardstock cards, put a number on the front of each, with the name inside and a verse to go with it. Talk about shepherds – What was it like to be a shepherd? Of all the people in the world, it was the shepherds who were told to go to Bethlehem and see the Christ child. Talk about how Jesus later said, “I am the good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep” and “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:11; 27-28). Have a treasure hunt looking for hidden treats and then talk about how Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes out searching for His sheep. 12 Days of Christmas – Historians disagree about whether this song was put together to aid children in remembering catechism or aspects of the Christian faith. However, there is enough basis that you can choose to look up the details online and view the song this way if you so desire. The Twelve Days of Christmas are supposed to start on Dec. 25 and end on the evening of Jan. 5th. It was traditionally celebrated that the Wise Men arrived with gifts on Jan. 6. What are frankincense and myrrh? – Research some ideas as to why these were given to Jesus along with gold. Christmas-related items – Include information that is interesting/possibly meaningful about items such as the possible Christian symbolism of the candy cane, the use of red and green (symbol of blood and everlasting life), and the circular Christmas wreath symbolizing the eternal nature of Christ and His endless love. Let each family member read a portion of the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. Take turns choosing carols or Psalms to sing. Host a party. Invite family members but also consider inviting single folks, neighbors, or small families who have no relatives nearby. While large gatherings can be fun, smaller ones lend themselves to better conversations; why not have 2 or 3 small gatherings instead? Go caroling at a hospital, assisted-living home, or to various shut-ins’ homes. Take a small gift of baking or fruit to give. Have the children prepare Christmas cards ahead of time to give out as well. Write a letter to a missionary family or two. Include encouraging scriptures, and let each member of the family tell a little about themselves, whether they write it, or dictate it. Collect yearly memories – Ask each person to write down something that they are thankful for, and something that they would like to see happen in the new year – collect these and pack them away with the Christmas decorations so you can read them when you get together next year. Watch a good Christian movie, such as War Room, Martin Luther, Woodlawn, Alleged, The Case for Christ, Beyond the Mask, Overcomer, Time Changer, Sabina, Courageous, The Song, I Can Only Imagine, and Calvinist and talk about it. Read and write some poems about the true Christmas story. Attend your church service, whether on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve.  Honoring Christ in every way It’s pretty common to see signs that say “Keep Christ in Christmas.” By analyzing what we have done before and carefully choosing what we will do this year, we can accomplish that goal. Sharon L. Bratcher has collected 45 of her RP articles into a book, which is available by contacting her at [email protected]....


Getting old(er)

“Getting older is so tough - I get tired after just a small amount of work or fun.” “I lost 4 teeth right after I turned 60.” “I exercised to make my knees feel better and ended up messing up my back.” “My hip goes out more often than I do!” “‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.’ Hah!” ***** At my Inter-City Christian High School reunion, we were all wide-eyed with wonder to even try and grasp the fact that it had been 50 years since some of us had seen one another. I was proud of myself for guessing the name of each person accurately, but it did take me a minute. Some of them looked older than I did. Some were in better physical shape. Some had gone through terrible difficulties, diseases, and operations that I wouldn’t even want to imagine. Yet we all talked about how God has blessed us and brought us through trials throughout all five decades, and how our Christian schooling/Bible curriculum laid a foundation that enabled us to face all that we went through. We praised God together! We thought about Psalm 37:25 that says: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” But not everyone was there. My best friend Robin died at age 43 and three other classmates out of our class of 24 have also passed on. I’ve said it, and so have many of my friends: we don’t like getting older. But someone always counters that sentiment with, “Well, what’s the other option?” We are ready to go to Heaven and live with our Lord. But we also love our spouses, kids, grandkids, and friends. Though we sing about the joy we will know in Heaven, whenever another body part fails us, we head for the doctor and pharmacy for another bottle of “Stay Here.” God continues to care for us as we age People fear death, and aging destroys our independent, strong self-image. Every ad promises that a product or experience will make us “feel and look young again.” We are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves when we lose the abilities that we were previously blessed to have. We might even feel ashamed because we cannot carry the same load. It becomes difficult to drive at night, walk very far, get up the stairs, or move furniture. Our weeks fill with frequent medical appointments. We start to experience pain, and we forget names, items, and events. It hurts our pride, and we think or say, “You should have seen me when I was 25!” There is a tendency to think that the “good old days” were somehow better than now. It seems like our Western world is more sinful – or is it just that the sins are more public now? In Ecclesiastes 7:10 we are reminded: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Those who do not know the Lord Jesus as their Savior must grieve the loss of their youth for they have no God to turn to for comfort, wisdom, or strength. They fear death. But we need not act like them. While it’s not enjoyable to be in pain, hospitalized, or extremely tired all the time, our Lord promises, “I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Is. 46:4) and “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Is. 40:29). We have a loving Good Shepherd who takes care of His sheep. We are not alone! And if we are reading God’s Word and worshipping at a Biblical church, we will know the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:16 where the Apostle Paul encourages us: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” As our bodies become more and more “corrupt,” we are moving towards receiving our “incorruptible” bodies! How does God want us to view the aged? In our Western culture, it isn’t popular to regard the aged with honor and respect. It’s no wonder that the elderly (sometimes even Christians) worry that they will become a burden to their families. God knew the sins that we would be prone to, and so He gives us commands to treat the aged with high regard: “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” – Job 12:12 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” – Lev. 19:32 “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” – Prov. 23:22 “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” – 1 Tim. 5:1-2 How does God expect the aged to act? If one reads the headlines on the magazines near the grocery store checkout counter, a consistent theme expressed is this: you worked hard raising kids and working at your job and taking care of your family all those years – now it’s your turn. It’s time to sit back and relax, or travel, or do what you want and make yourself happy. The sad news is that too often this call to self-centeredness has been adopted by aging Christian people as well. It’s not wrong to travel or to participate in favorite activities, especially when the daily tasks of parenthood have ended. It’s the attitude that isn’t right. What does God say that the aged (retirees?) should do? “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” – Ps. 92:14 “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” – Titus 2:2 “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” – Titus 2:3-5 “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” – Ps. 71:18 Rather than deciding that we have “done our bit,” we should do all that we are still capable of to glorify God and declare His power to the next generations. Conclusion When we grow older, God is not finished with us, and we are not finished with our work here. As the Westminster Catechism states it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” If our purpose in life is to glorify God, then there is nothing that can thwart our purpose in life! Even in difficulties and illness, even in progressively physically falling apart, we can and should glorify God. We can still pray, read or listen to God’s Word, encourage others by phone call or letter/email, teach others, sing praise, give money, perhaps make a meal, or write edifying words. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’” We don’t like being weak. But we who know the Lord need not fear! We can take comfort and draw strength from the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 1 which begins by asking, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer is certainly for the aging as well as the youth who memorize these awesome words: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.” Sharon L. Bratcher has collected 45 of her RP articles into a book which is available by contacting her at [email protected]...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

On writing (and writers): a miscellany of advice and opinions

by C.S. Lewis 2022 / 191 pages Not everyone can attend a Christian Writers' Conference, or take graduate-level writing classes. But if you like to write, and want to improve your skills (and maybe even write for RP!), one place to obtain a good amount of useful advice is in the book On Writing by C.S. Lewis. Though not as tidy as other “How to” books, with some repeated advice, Lewis’s golden nuggets of writing-truth challenge and encourage writers. He advises about writing children’s books, fantasy, and theology, and he spends a good amount of time critiquing well-known writers of his time. Here are just a few examples of the wisdom he offers: “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing. Ink is the great cure for all human ills.” “In the author’s mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story….It is now a thing inside him pawing to get out.” If you want to be a writer, “What you want is practice, practice, practice…even if it’s thrown into the fire in the next minutes, I am so much further on.” “Writing should delight readers, not just label an event delightful. It should make them feel terror, not just tell them that an event was terrifying. Emotional labeling is really just a way of asking readers, ‘Please, will you do my job for me?’” “Write for the ear, not just the eye.” Read your writing out loud. Another admonition that surprised me is that he strongly proposes that we re-read books in order to “savor the real beauties.” In subsequent readings, we progress without the “surprise” of knowing the ending; in doing so, we will discover “surprisingness” within the plot structure and style. If I were still teaching English, I would write excerpts from this book on the board to discuss with my classes each day. I think that writers/prospective writers will benefit from Lewis’s experience....


10 questions to discuss when “interviewing” someone for marriage

These 10 questions were crafted for Reformed Harmony by Taylor DeSoto, with the hope that they could provide guidance for prospective couples to get to know one another more deeply. He encourages singles to keep their emotions low at the outset, until compatibility on the most meaningful levels has been established. The questions are reprinted below with DeSoto’s permission, and my commentary accompanies them in the brackets. 1. When did you know your sin and misery and when did you feel the love of Christ in your life? 2. What are the core tenets of your theology? What are the secondary tenets of your theology? (Which issues are important to you, or not?) 3. What political views do you hold?  (Do you have strong views regarding political parties, poverty, abortion, the environment, or list any other topic important to you). 4. How do you view the husband-wife relationship regarding headship, chores, division of labor? 5. What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies? How do you spend your time? 6. How is your relationship with your parents and family? Do you want your parents to be involved in our relationship? 7. How do you serve your church as a single person?  (This is geared to rooting out the people who don’t go to or participate in church in a meaningful way. DeSoto believes that if you are not serving your church while you are single, then you are not going to serve it as a married person OR serve your family). 8. Do you hope to have children, and how many? How do you want to raise them - what type of schooling or catechism? Do you believe in the baptism of infants? 9. What are your deal breakers in a relationship? This covers everything - where to live, job to have, smoking, drinking alcohol, sports - he encourages people to make a list. 10. How do you want to manage finances when married? This includes views on spending money, finances, credit/debt, and how to share assets. DeSoto adds that an eleventh question could be: May I contact your pastor if I want to? This may seem extreme, but if you are going to live with this person for the rest of your life, his or her character should be known objectively, as well as possible. And if you have nothing to hide, why would it bother you?...


Making hospitality easier: how onion dip changed the world

Everyone has likely tasted onion dip and millions of homemakers have made it. The recipe is incredibly simple: mix dried onion soup mix with 2 cups of sour cream – voilà you are done! Place it in a bowl and surround it with chips, crackers, celery and carrot sticks, and any other veggies you think your guests will enjoy. Be suave and call it crudités! I still remember the first time I tasted it, at a Tupperware party in the early 80s (though it has been around since 1954!). I tentatively took a tiny beige blob and placed it on my plate. After tasting it with a ruffled potato chip, I eagerly returned for more. I was fascinated to observe a display about homemaking through the decades in a museum that showed a 1950s-type kitchen and mentioned onion dip (also known as French onion dip, and originally known as California dip, where an unknown homemaker first created it). Their interpretation was that this “California dip” totally changed hospitality throughout America and Canada. Previously, if one was going to entertain, a full dinner would be expected, perhaps with intricate hors d’oeuvres beforehand. Remember, you couldn’t run into Costco or Walmart’s frozen section and grab mini quiche or ready-to-cook breaded shrimp back then. After the recipe was printed in a newspaper, the Lipton Company got hold of it and began advertising it on the popular Arthur Godfrey Show on television. The California dip usage spread like wildfire and Lipton’s onion soup mix flew off the shelves. Pictures were shown of a host and hostess cheerfully serving chips and dip and veggies to their guests. This was so easy to prepare that people began inviting friends over more often, because the workload had lessened significantly. Not only did it become incredibly popular in the 50s, it has remained so ever since. Don’t let pride get in the way Onion dip probably didn’t “change the world” in a big way, but by providing an easier way to entertain, it did promote friendship and fellowship. It was a step in the right direction. How often have you heard someone say that they don’t have the time, energy, money, or nice enough house to provide hospitality to others? With an attitude that “We cannot do it unless we reach a certain level of perfection,” we actually may fall into pride and ignore God’s Word that calls us to care for one another. Rosaria Butterfield in her book The Gospel Comes With a House Key says: “God calls Christians to practice hospitality in order to build loving Christian communities, to build nightly table fellowship with fellow image bearers, to ease the pain of orphanhood, widowhood, and prison, to be qualified as elders in the church, and to be good and faithful stewards of what God has given to us in the person, work, example, obedience, and suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ…. God calls us to practice hospitality as a daily way of life, not as an occasional activity when time and finance allow…. God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps 68:6) and he intends to use your house as living proof.” If we only think about our own family and relatives and do not reach out to others, we miss the opportunity to build up one another in our churches. Instead, by inviting others to our imperfect home for some basic food and company, we make time to listen to one another. We learn that Joe just lost his job and we might have a connection that could help him. We find out that Sally is an expert seamstress, and maybe she can help us understand how to make the shirt we were confused about. We learn that Janet has a book group that meets monthly at her home and Jed can no longer cut his lawn because of his back trouble. Myrtle just found out she has cancer and she is frightened, and Darius is worried sick about his teenaged son. We pray together. We sing hymns or psalms together. We show love, and we rack our brains to think of what else we can do to help. We follow Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Or, alternatively, we say that we are tired or too poor, and we always stay home alone and watch television or plug ourselves into our phones or computers. Sports and movies and funny videos are way more interesting, and even easier than serving onion dip. Some people say that they need all day Sunday to spend time with their immediate family because they work and have other activities on the other six days. Consider the fact that showing hospitality is a family activity that your kids will learn from. And if you only use two to three hours, you will still have time left over to interact as family. The amount of hospitality shown will vary from family to family. But every adult should be exhibiting some, even if they just have a small apartment – they might invite two people over for coffee and discussion. It’s the time together that counts far more than the fare that is served or the furniture and house that it’s served in.  Simplify Fellowship doesn’t have to include a meal! Invite someone for chatting, singing, praying, and/or talking about what God taught you in the sermon, and serve nothing, or only coffee and store-bought cookies or coffee cake. There’s no need to one-up someone else. As mentioned, onion dip, chips, and veggies have been one way that people can easily show hospitality to others. You could meet in a park on a beautiful day, as well. Other easy ways might include: Serve hors d’oeuvres from the frozen section, heated in your oven for a short while. Have a meal of soup and buns, as has been the tradition for years. If you cannot manage homemade soup, canned soup as is or “doctored up” (such as adding leftover chicken and carbs to the basic soup) is fine. Homemade bread or biscuits are great, but store-bought Italian bread (available for a low cost at Walmart) can suffice as well. Pre-made frozen meatballs, heated with marinara or sweet and sour sauce are always good. Buy the sauce or make an easy one by mixing one jar of chili sauce (found in the same grocery aisle as the ketchup) and one jar of grape jam/jelly; heat, thicken if necessary, and pour over the meatballs. Cookies, cake, pudding, ice cream, or pie, whether homemade or store-bought are a good option. Fruit is a healthy choice. If you don’t have time to make a fruit salad, just serve sliced watermelon, bunches of grapes, orange slices, or strawberries. Make a practice of inviting people over regularly, perhaps once or twice a month to get started. Take an interest in them. And don’t just invite the same family and friends – work your way through your church directory and invite people that you barely know. The point is to get to know them better so you can build one another up in the Lord. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11...

Soup and Buns

Friends or acquaintances?

Loneliness can make you pretty sad. In lonely times, you may ponder your relationships and realize that they are superficial. Perhaps you have wanted to strengthen them and not known how. Perhaps you have tried, but you have not yet been successful. It may be that a little analysis and understanding could head you in the right direction. In the realm of relationships, there are four categories that people fall into: strangers, acquaintances, companions, and friends. Strangers are those whom you haven’t met yet; the other three categories can somewhat overlap. Acquaintances and companions Acquaintances are people whom we have met. They may be neighbors, fellow students, customers or co-workers. They may also be the majority of the members of our church. We know them by sight and reputation, and may feel comfortable having a conversation with them. The level of the conversation is usually superficial, pleasant, and relevant to our activities or the weather. Companions are the people whom we are together within a specific group. We function together because we are together. But as soon as we graduate, retire, or move away, we rarely stay in touch with most of them. The group defined our activities and without its structure, we drift apart. Friends Friends are on a level above these categories. Some will be close and one or two may get the title of “best friend” within your lifetime. Friends enjoy, love, and encourage you. They stick by you in difficult times, and are never an intrusion. Friends don’t keep track or keep score. Friends understand you and share your deepest griefs and your highest joys. They help when necessary and possible. This connection rarely disappears, for even if busy friends live far apart, they still value contact. I read about a tribe in an African country where each person is assigned a friend when he is young. This person is his official best friend, and they are to care for one another throughout their lives. It is considered as sacred a relationship as marriage. What a remarkable way to honor friendship, instill loyalty, provide security and prevent loneliness! The people there didn’t move away from home, so outside of death, this friendship was a certainty in a person’s life. It was stability, a fact to be counted upon. To call everyone a “friend” on a daily basis is sometimes easier than trying to subdivide into all of these categories. But it can be helpful to analyze and determine which of your companions you might like to encourage to become your friends. From one to the other How do you change the categories? A friendship must be built. Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” From this we learn that selfless effort is the way to get started. I'll note it is somewhat like a dating relationship, even as I'll quickly add I am not talking in any way about a sexual attraction. Two people are determining whether the other person’s company is worth an investment of their time. Usually, one person is more proactive in pursuing the relationship at the beginning. It helps to know that. This is not necessarily because the friendship is undesired by the other party. Rather, it is just because the other person is busy, isn’t as eager for company, or is kind of lazy about that sort of thing. Let’s face it, it’s easier to relax at home than to get out and interact with people. Think about your companions and choose someone who might be “friendship material.” Now it is time for both action and patience. Think of an activity that you might enjoy together and call with an invitation. Or just call to say hello and talk for a while. If it goes well, try it again after a week. Take joy in the slow progress, and be patient because depth takes time. If nothing comes of it, still give it a try at another time, and/or choose someone else to befriend. Don’t be discouraged if the person doesn’t issue invitations to you or initiate the call, as long as he or she is glad to hear from you and spend time together. Some people aren’t good at initiating but they enjoy responding. On the other hand, if you are accustomed to responding and not initiating, and you really want friends, you might want to pray for courage to get the process going instead of feeling sad that no one is calling you. As we put forth the efforts to build friendships, we can also pray and ask God to provide for us in this way, because a friend is a gift from God. We should also realize that others may need to have our care and friendship. It is important not to get so caught up in our own little worlds that we neglect growing closer to the members of our congregation. This first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Reformed Perspective. Find more of Sharon's articles by clicking here. This column is one of several dozen collected in her book "Soup and Buns," which you can purchase by contacting the author at sharoncopy1@ ...


How to have a proper conversation

or, Confessions of a Loquacious Person ***** Loquacious: tending to talk a great deal We might all think that we know how to have a conversation, having learnt a particular style of conversing from how we were raised. But conversational styles differ greatly from family to family, anything from the children being almost afraid or forbidden to say a word (i.e. “children should be seen and not heard”), to everyone at the dinner table talking at the same time. Family members may have had to wait a long time to be heard if their extroverted siblings hadn’t learned conversational etiquette – “manners” may or may not have been taught, depending on whether the parents ever learned them, or whether they considered free-for-all conversations to be a problem! In my case, I thought that it was normal for family members to talk over one another. But my husband found it completely disorienting as my side of the family got louder and louder, switching subjects frequently and repeating anecdotes when someone in a separate conversation caught a snatch of it and requested to hear all of it right then. Since we loved to hear ourselves talk, we were most happy to oblige, even if we didn’t realize at the time that “talking” was what was most important to us. Loquacious people love to share details about their lives. After church, they might go from person to person telling the same stories and bits of information about their week, their trip, their surgery, or their job challenges. It’s what’s on their mind so they share it with others. But what about the people they are talking to? Do they ask about what happened in other folks’ lives during the past week? When they get home, do they even remember whom they “conversed” with since they did the majority of the talking? This article began with a bit of blaming: “This is how my family did things.” But there’s more to it than that. So let’s take a closer look at why a person talks too much and is not a good listener because, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” It’s not simply a learned habit. Self-centeredness      When we talk too much, as mentioned already, it is because we like to hear ourselves talk and we – rightly or wrongly – imagine that others are entertained, inspired, or enlightened by what we have to say. The first consideration should be whether our subject matter meets those criteria! We can all think of people whose conversation could bless us for hours, and others with whom we would be bored. We have probably all been the talker in both situations! We also ought to realize that we like to talk because we like to be in control. Celeste Headlee points out in her TED talk Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation that we control the conversation so that “we won’t have to hear anything that we are not interested in.” It makes us the center of attention, and perhaps is essential to “bolstering” our own identity. Ouch! But as Headlee concludes, “Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.” Did we even realize that we were being self-centered? We need to, because self-centeredness is destructive to relationships, whereas love for others is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Being a good listener In order to have a proper conversation, we need to be intentional and attentive listeners. One of the most difficult challenges is to realize that when people are relating their experience, that conversation is not about us. As Stephen Covey has said, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.” While someone is talking, we automatically think of our experience that we think parallels theirs, and eagerly formulate how we will present our information. My parent also died. I also have knee/car/kid/plumbing trouble. I also took a vacation to Timbuktu and here’s what I did. To launch directly into our somewhat connected experience shows that to us, their commentary was merely a catalyst to get ours started. And whether we realize it or not, we may be, as Headlee suggests, taking that moment to prove how amazing we are or how much we have suffered! Self-centered. When we truly listen, we should squelch those thoughts because our experience, even with grief, is not the same as theirs. Squelch them, and instead ask follow-up questions, seeking to understand what their experience was like and how it affected them. Think about what they say. Ask them how it affected them and what they think about it now. Tell them you’d love to hear more about it. Tell them how wonderful (or awful) it sounds. Sincerely offer prayer or assistance if the situation calls for it. A proper conversation includes and indeed emphasizes listening. It takes energy and effort to truly listen to the point of caring about the speaker and the content, and not just planning our response while we wait for them to finish, or even worse, interrupt them as soon as they take a breath. To interrupt is to declare that you consider yourself and what you want to say more important than the other person’s words. There may be a good reason to share some of our experiences later, but only after we have sufficiently listened, and only if it may truly benefit the hearer. Listening to your children It is particularly important to learn to listen attentively to your children. Parents need to learn to listen to what their children are saying and to ask questions that show a desire to understand and appreciate them. Listening needs to be done in a non-judgmental manner where the kids aren’t afraid that a rebuke or lecture will flatten them as soon as they speak their mind and open their heart. It may be that an issue will have to be addressed laterif wise counsel or discipline are necessary. But a thorough listening should come first. Proverbs 18:13 gives the admonition that, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Half-hearing or speeding through the conversation so that we can go do something “more important” is not really listening. We sometimes think as parents that we need to have “the answer” immediately. We are not perfect and it may be best on some occasions to state that we are going to think about a matter for a while before we fully respond. Of course, this takes more time and effort than giving a quick answer while multitasking. But it is time well spent. There’s a popular adage that nobody when growing old will say, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office” or, as a companion to that remark, “I wish I’d cleaned my house better when the kids were young.” But we may wish we had listened more attentively. Scripture says… The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about our speech. Proverbs 10:19 states: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” and 17:28 says: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” We are taught that our speech is to be truthful (4:24, 6:12), noble and straightforward (8:6-9), wise (10:31), gentle (15:1), knowledgeable (15:7), righteous (8:8; 16:13), and pleasant (16:24). We are commanded that our speech should not be devious (4:24), destructive of our neighbor (11:9), rash like sword thrusts (think about that image!) (12:18), a scorching fire/perverse/slanderous (16:27-28). Proverbs 31:26 says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”  In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, Paul says: “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.” Jesus and Paul taught us to love our neighbor as ourself. Should this not include listening carefully with a desire to learn and understand, rather than just popping off the first connection that comes to mind? We can learn to not be self-centered. Quick to listen In James 1:19, we read, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” What if we would rush in to listen to others, instead of to talk? These verses show us that we should analyze our recent conversations, and perhaps ask friends, family, and the Lord if we have been “too loquacious” and not a good listener. We should ponder Paul’s words from Philippians 2 which certainly apply to how we converse with others: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3-4)....


Keeping in touch with the grands

“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged…” Prov. 17:6a “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,” Prov. 13:22a It used to be that if someone mentioned a woman’s grandchildren, she would dig in her oversized purse for a small album and show off the pictures of her precious little people. Grandfathers, too, would pull out a wallet that trailed plastic sleeves filled with photos. Nowadays we might have to wait while he or she scrolls through their phone, but grandchildren remain every bit as loved! They are wonderful! They amuse, hug, and love us and remind us of when our own kids did this or that. They are usually not ours to raise and discipline, but they are ours to love and assist. If they don’t live nearby… It is often the case that grandparents won’t have the joy of living in the same general area as our grandchildren. Universities, jobs, missions, and marriages may take them to another province or state or even to a faraway country, and as we saw these past few years, governmental decisions may make visits even more difficult. We can praise God that it no longer takes a month or more to contact anyone, even if they are on the other side of the world! Most of the time there can be instant communication. We can all agree that long-distance communication pales in comparison to actually being together. Holding a child in your lap to read a story, swimming together in a pool, and hugging are all activities that require one’s presence. But when the circumstances of life insist that grandchildren are physically out of reach, there are ways to let them know that they are loved and to be a regular part of their lives. If the grandparents get it started, hopefully the grandkids will respond in kind. Here are some great ideas I’ve collected from friends and acquaintances. Some of these may suit your situation and help you nurture those long-distance relationships. So what can grandparents and grandchildren do to be a regular part of each others’ lives? Visit as often as possible. Even a visit for a couple of days helps to build the relationship and remind them of your love. Perhaps you can transport them to visit you one or two at a time. Learn about their lives. One daughter told about how her mother-in-law talked to the kids once a week on the phone, and had a knack of asking leading questions. She knew the names of their teachers and friends, what books and games they enjoyed, and what their interests were, so she talked knowingly about those things. When she sent them cards or small gifts, they would talk about those. Even though they only saw her once a year, the kids felt like they knew her and they knew that she loved them. Write letters. Everyone loves “snail mail” that is personal. Stock up on some stickers and coloring books. With one stamp you can send a letter (remember to print if they are younger than 9 years old!) with a page of stickers and a page taken out of a coloring book. Perhaps you can write them a silly poem, or tell them an anecdote from your week, or a story about their dad or mom when they were young. Send cash or gift cards. Many gift cards (such as Walmart!) do not work across the border, and banks in the US and Canada charge fees to process a foreign check. Postage for packages anywhere can end up costing twice as much as the gift! I have had success with including a small amount of cash in a birthday card. For larger amounts, PayPal has been our best option. If they have a Wendy’s nearby, you might send them a 5-Frosties-for-$1 coupon book around Halloween. Just be sure that they can easily cash in whichever gift card you send to them. Ask grandkids to write back. Ask the kids to write back to the grandparents, even if it means having little ones dictate their words to a parent or older sibling. Writing a thank you for a gift or remembering the grandparents’ birthday is also a loving way to respond. Schedule a regular online video call. Zoom/Facetime/Facebook Messenger, etc. make it possible. Ask to speak to one child at a time. This may lessen silliness or arguments about whose turn it is. If the time zones make it difficult, try making short calls here and there rather than setting up a full appointment. Even a 5-minute call just to tell them about something that happened and ask about their day shows that you are a part of their life. Let grandkids call. Allow the kids to call the grandparents when they want to, within reason. If there’s a 3-hour time difference, Grandpa might not respond at 6 a.m. Pacific time. Read a weekly story book You can read them part of a chapter book each week. They will look forward to your next call! Go to the library to improve your collection. Record your reading of the book and send it so that their busy family can listen to it at their convenience. Do an art project together. You can do this while chatting via Facetime, Zoom, or the like, after making suitable arrangements with their parents. Sing or play a short song. Do it regularly to help the little ones recognize you. Play games together. Kids love to play Battleship over Zoom/Facetime/Facebook Messenger. Another option is Drawful, which is part of a group of online games at We had family members from 5 or 6 locations play this Pictionary-type game together. Play Marco Polo together. There’s a phone app called Marco Polo (easy instructions can be found when you Google it) where you can send a video message to them to listen to later. This could include reading a story, sharing a Bible verse or song, or even showing them how to draw or create something. They can watch it repeatedly! They can send you videos as well, sharing the songs that they learned, introducing their friends, showing off their pets or their dance steps, or hearing them tell about a funny movie that they watched. Try “Friendship Lamps.” One grandmother bought Friendship Lamps for herself and all of her grandkids. You simply plug them in and connect them to your wi-fi. Then, through the power of the internet, when one person touches their lamp, everyone else's lamps light up with a special color that is unique to that person. So, if Grandma touches her lamp, all the grandkids’ lamps will turn orange, and they know that she is thinking of them. One grandparent declared that her grandkids love it. Ads on the internet list a “set of two” for about $150 US. Conclusion     Long distance between loved ones doesn’t have to bring an end to regular communication. You can show your love, give a listening ear, make them laugh, teach them a skill, and most importantly, share the steadfast love of the LORD and ideas for employing the fruit of the Spirit in everyday life. It just takes a bit of planning and effort on the grandparent’s part to get it started. “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children...” Ps 103:17             ...


Getting used to a new church

The time may come when you must leave the church you grew up in and become a member elsewhere. Let me be clear: I’m not encouraging people to withdraw or change their denomination/federation. I’m referring to church changes that are made because of marriage, affordability of location, employment, or desire to live near loved ones. It’s a huge life change, so I’m offering some suggestions to help you get used to your new place of worship and fellowship.  When will I feel at home? It helps a lot to know that you are going to feel weird for the first few Sundays, or possibly the first few months. You knew every nook and corner of your old church, when to stand or sit, and most of the faces were familiar. You had friends there. Suddenly, the rooms, the faces, and maybe even the music are different. But after a while, you will adjust to the new situation. You will recognize a few faces, begin to build new friendships, and get used to the differences. One of the benefits of being in a new church is that you come in with a clean slate. Nobody knows about the silly or awful things you did as a teenager or young parent, or pre-judges you because of them. As we mature and grow in grace, we (hopefully) leave behind some of our follies and sins, and learn to treat people with more kindness and patience, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13). We progressively learn how to love one another (1 John 4:7-8). Sometimes it’s easier to “turn over a new leaf” in a new location. How not to choose a church What characteristics should you consider in a new-to-you church? What if you actually have 2-3 or more choices? On one of our moves, there were two excellent churches that were exactly 8 miles from our home. Which to choose? There are lots of ways that people make their final decisions about this – and some are better than others! Some folks might want to choose a church based on which one has the nicest facilities. While I have had wishful thinking for a large fellowship hall and useful kitchen, in over 40 years of marriage, those amenities have always been at the churches that we didn’t choose. When my husband enrolled in Westminster Seminary, he had no vehicle, and therefore planned to walk up a fairly steep hill to Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His dormmate Leigh had a crush on a girl who attended a smaller OPC about 8 miles away. He offered Dennis a ride, which sounded much better than hiking up the hill – especially in poor weather conditions. Though the ride was important, for Dennis it was a mixture of the pastor’s friendliness and his excellent sermons that kept him attending that small church in Blue Bell, PA, and led to my membership as well for over 25 years (most of which were after it became Canadian/American Reformed). So far, we have seen that great facilities, desire for love, and convenience might be subjective reasons for choosing a particular church. But more should be said about the “friendliness factor.” Friendliness is important. Countless times, people have told me that they didn’t choose Church A or Church B because when they attended for one or two Sundays, nobody said hello to them. As the visitor, you will initially feel awkward and out of place and a friendly welcome could help to alleviate that emotion. On the other hand, you shouldn’t judge a church by that – friendliness can be overrated as a standard for choosing a church. In fact, I have two friends who had opposite experiences within the same church! Perhaps there were reasons why no one greeted you. Maybe they were rushing to deal with their children, or frustrated because their car broke down, or ill, or grieving. Maybe the official greeters were greeting someone else when you walked by. Don’t think that they don’t care about you; maybe they just don’t care about you – yet. And on this topic, just a word to church members: please do reach out to people you don’t know at church with a welcome and a desire to learn more about who they are! Don’t be so caught up in your own usual group of people that you neglect to include people who want to be an asset to your church! Wouldn’t it be nice to have more people to share all the responsibilities?  So, how do you choose? First and foremost, you need to choose a church where you will find the pure preaching of the Word of God, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the appropriate use of church discipline. Not all buildings with the designation of “church” preach the truth, and you need to carefully research before attending. Secondly, consider the location. When you are choosing where to worship, it is best to live close to your church if at all possible. Make living close to other church members a priority when you are house or apartment hunting. Why? Because we have found that visiting other members, and having other members visit us, is much more likely to happen if the distance between us is short. When you live 30-60 minutes away, there will be folks who don’t want to drive to your house. And people are more likely to drop off a meal 5 minutes away than 30-60 minutes away. We all get very busy in our lives, so if you can make fellowship and caring more convenient, why not do so? You don’t want to use “distance” as an excuse to not participate in the life of the church (or the Christian school). Jump right in The way to feel a part of a new congregation is to get to know people, and the way to get acquainted is to get involved with smaller group meetings/service projects of any sort. In fact, this is probably the best way for introverts, especially, to begin feeling at home. Consider these examples that we have observed: Show up and work hard at a church maintenance day. One couple did this before they even officially joined. What a great opportunity to converse and demonstrate that they were serious about serving the Lord along with us. Attend the ladies’ and men’s Bible studies and take your children to youth meetings. Note the requests for meals for new mothers and shut-ins and sign up to help. Join the choir. Attend a baby shower even if you do not know the new mother – it’s a great way to get acquainted, and your attendance and a small gift are always appreciated. Shake the pastor’s hand and tell him who you are. Introduce yourself to one of the elders, or if they have cards in the pews, fill one out and place it in the offering plate. If you don’t want to be called, just give an email or home address. In my lifetime, I have noticed that churches are always happy to gain new members, and some of them will send you information about their church. Send get well or encouragement cards to people who are shut-ins or recovering from surgery. The inspiring Bible verses in them will be uplifting even if they haven’t met you yet. Knowing that someone cares and is praying for them is always appreciated. So what if they don’t know who you are – they will soon! Don’t sit back and wait for everyone to reach out to you. God calls all of us to help and encourage one another. Pray and ask Him to help you see ways to participate in your new church life. In Hebrews 10:24 we read, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Your efforts will bless someone. Conclusion Although you will feel out of place during the first few times you worship in your new location, gradually you will begin to feel at home. Serving the Lord – “Blooming where you are planted” – will bring you into contact with fellow members, and after a while, friendships are likely to form. Following some of these suggestions might just move things along a bit quicker....


The gift of sleep: it's good for what ails you

Early to bed is a spiritual discipline. You may have said it yourself at some time, “I can get by with only 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It’s no problem.” And, like many of us, what you meant was that even though your workload (including studies and family needs in that category) led to late nights and early mornings, you found that you were still clear-headed enough to drive, to do your job, and maybe even maintain patience and good humor – probably while bolstering yourself with some amount of caffeine. But according to Dr. Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., we are not “getting by” even though we think we are. Hart has lectured around the world about his three decades of study on the topic of sleep, and in 2010 he published the results of his extensive studies in a book entitled Sleep: It Does a Family Good. Why sleep? Why do we need sleep? Our bodies were made to have a "sleep cycle" and a "wake cycle." During the sleep cycle, energy is restored, and all of the cells in the body rejuvenate. Adrenal and other glands, muscles, and proteins, all rejuvenate. Hart says, “Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep rejuvenates us.” In children and young adults, there is a release of growth hormones as well. And during the deepest part of sleep, Hart writes, ...the brain processes information, like problems and new learning, and grows new connections accordingly. It synthesizes information learned through the waking hours. It saves newly learned information into long-term memory. Modern outlook Unfortunately, many of us have adopted the modern notion that sleep is expendable. There is just so much to do during the day to take care of our financial, family, emotional, and leisure needs (and desires) that jokes like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” are often quipped. We brag about getting by, and we really do not think that we are causing any lasting damage. Add to that Proverbs 24:33-34, which says, " A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Thus, Hart says, “we tend to associate sleeping long with laziness” and with not being a good steward of our time. It sets the stage for viewing sleep as a necessity, but not a priority. But isn’t it likely that Proverbs is talking about excessive amounts of sleep that keep a person from doing his job at all? This passage seems to relate more to laziness than to speaking against getting a full night of rest. Hart says that, “God has designed sleep into us as a fundamental need, as fundamental as eating food and breathing air.” He might as well be quoting Psalm 127: 2, which says, "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." Based on polls which have been done during the past few decades by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), about 70 million Americans (and likely Canadians as well) suffer from some sort of sleep disorder or sleep deprivation. Hart says, “Every year there are more than 30,000 deaths from car accidents linked to sleepiness, and more than three million disabling injuries from sleep-related accidents.” He adds that, “Sleep deficits have been implicated in many major public catastrophes, including the Exxon Valdez and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger,” as well as the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Peach Bottom. Hart explains that, “Our sleep loss can affect how we crouch, stoop, push or pull large objects, handle small objects, write with a pen, learn new things, remember old things, gain weight, and walk up stairs.” He adds that sleep-deprived people are more irritable and negative, less joyful, lighthearted and happy, and have more memory problems. They are at higher risks for accidents and divorce and “disordered social relationships” and show a dramatic reduction in creativity and productivity.  Hart says, “A major study reports that reduced sleep carries a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease. Take a moment for that to sink in.” It makes sense: if you cannot cope as well, your stress level will increase, elevating your blood pressure, and disrupting your sleep even more. A 2006 article in The Institute of Medicine associates sleep loss with hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attacks, and strokes. The Rev. John Piper says in When I Don’t Desire God, For me, adequate sleep is not just a matter of staying healthy. It’s a matter of staying in the ministry – I’m tempted to say it’s a matter of persevering as a Christian. I know it is irrational that my future should look so bleak when I get only four or five hours of sleep several nights in a row. But rational or irrational, that is a fact. And I must live within the limits of fact. Therefore we must watch the changes in our bodies. Damage to the family is noted when Hart points out that the whole family suffers when babies and small children don’t get enough sleep, but it also suffers when mother and father choose to stay up and read or watch a television show instead of getting the sleep that their bodies need.  Hart says that, “It’s well known that child sleeplessness can also lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety in mothers, and a reciprocal loss of love feelings toward the child.” Sleeplessness with a newborn doesn’t last forever, but it can continue to plague children, especially those with learning disabilities, stress and ADHD. What can be done? Hart’s statistics suggest that everyone needs to be in bed for 9 hours in order to get 8 hours of sleep per night and he tells many stories about people whose lives improve when they move towards or attain this standard, or, don’t. Sometimes when an otherwise healthy-as-an-ox person dies at an early age, sleep deprivation has been found to be a contributing factor. So, if God has made our bodies a temple of the Holy Spirit, and instructed us to take care of them as best we can, and if it is true that we need sleep for our cells to rejuvenate and our brains to function well, then we might all examine our lives to see how we might improve in this area. Hart starts from the standpoint of a family that has bought into the modern notion, and gives a number of suggestions as to how we can improve our lives by sleeping more. When Hart first desired to change his pattern, I feared that taking more time to sleep would mean less time for my work…but I went ahead and took the plunge. My secretary rearranged my appointments to start later in the morning after I had spent the first few hours reaping the benefits of a good night’s sleep and then getting some writing done. It only took a few days to convince me of the two principles I have followed ever since. First, getting to bed earlier, and as a consequence getting more sleep, works wonders for my brain. Second, creative tasks are best accomplished earlier in the day, rather than later. He was amazed to discover that his efficiency and productivity increased. “The time I lost by adding more sleep time was more than compensated for by my being able to work and write more efficiently. I made far fewer mistakes. My ideas came more easily. I completed my tasks faster.” How to make changes Hart’s “Simple Sleep Test” asks whether you fall asleep within half an hour of going to bed, whether you can fall back asleep if disturbed, and whether you feel refreshed, not headachy, in the morning and not in need of a nap by noon. If you can't answer yes to those questions, then Hart suggests there is room for improvement, and offers some helpful hints. For the first week, add 15 minutes of sleep time to your normal sleep, either in the evening or the morning.  Even if you don’t get more sleep, you are training your body and brain to adapt to the new schedule.  “At the end of the week, evaluate your level of tiredness upon awakening, energy, efficiency, alertness, mental acuity, reduced daytime tiredness and your general feeling of well-being.” For the second week, add a second 15 minutes to your sleep. Evaluate. Do the same in the third week and so on until you have achieved 9 hours of bedtime, evaluating all along the way. As Hart says, “Now you will have a better idea of what amount of sleep your body and mind really need. If the benefits peaked at eight and a half hours, then stick with that for a while.” Hart’s main point is that “The family that sleeps well, lives well.” He knows that it will be difficult to get the entire family on board with sleeping more, but he presents the benefits that will result from doing so. It is imperative that parents step up to the plate and take control of their family’s sleeping habits. Our children are facing enormous increases in their general stimulation. They are forced to multitask in ways that undermine effective learning, and they generally have too much excitement in their lives. Hart encourages families to determine what their biggest challenges are. He lists stress, anxiety/worry, depression and caffeine as the top four “Sleep Killers.” He says that “Caffeine is a two-edged sword – it both overcomes and causes our sleeplessness.” If caffeine is necessary for your day, then it has become an addiction, and while it might help you function in your wake cycle, you are losing out on all the rejuvenation needed in your sleep cycle. Beyond 2 or 3 cups a day is discouraged by doctors, and don’t even get Hart started on the topic of energy drinks.  He also suggests ways to deal with overactive minds, arguments, and too-much-screen-time as well. Some good news Hart describes the various stages of sleep and includes some questionnaires to help readers figure themselves out. His suggested 9 hours includes not just the time you are zonked-out in REM sleep, but even when you are lying restfully and those “light sleep” times when you may think that you are actually still awake. One piece of good news was this: we sleep in cycles of about one and a half hours and our dream sleep comes at or near the end of each cycle. What this means is that if we remember waking up a few times during the night, that’s not a problem – as long as we go back to sleep, we still “get credit” for all of that sleep time. He also says that if we lose sleep during the night and take a nap later that also gives us credit for the 9 hours that are needed. He finds this particularly helpful when he travels overseas. He also describes how to build up one’s sleep bank ahead of time so that the jetlag won’t overwhelm. Conclusion The subtitle to Dr. Archibald D. Hart’s book is “How busy families can overcome sleep deprivation.” Once a problem has been identified, there are ways, even in our overly-busy lives, that we can work to fix the problem and improve on the overall health of ourselves, our families, and our communities. It seems that Hart has well described one of them. And Rev. John Piper has the best comments of all regarding our need for sleep: Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. How humiliating to the self-made corporate executive that he has to give up all control and become as limp as a suckling infant every day. Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps. Good night!...

Parenting, Soup and Buns

“Mom, where’s my toothbrush?” 9 packing tips for before and during the trip

The well-circulated belief that "moms are supposed to know where everything is at every given moment" was humorously illustrated for me two years ago when we attended our son’s out of state wedding. Another son, who was a groomsman, was lodging for two nights beforehand at a separate location from us and yet he still called me on the morning of the wedding to ask if I knew the whereabouts of his dress pants! On a trip, a few organizational plans can keep Mom from going crazy from hearing constant requests for favorite t-shirts, swim suits or Sunday shoes. It’s also a good way for the rest of the family to learn responsibility. The following ideas will make the “suitcase living” a little easier. 1. Pack a “motel bag”: If there is a stopover on the way to your destination, pack a “motel bag” to significantly reduce the amount that gets carried in and out. Include a change of clothes and pajamas for each person, and toiletries. 2. Plan your vehicle-packing strategy: Take your empty suitcases out to the vehicle a day or two beforehand and determine the best way to fit them all inside.  Some families find that plastic bins or pillow cases or trash bags fit better than suitcases. Remember to make the “motel bag” the easiest to reach. A rooftop luggage pod or trailer might ease the crowding of the “stuff” also. 3. Give your husband his own suitcase: He will be out of his usual element too, and having his own space will make it easier for him to find his razor without having to dig through the baby’s onesies or your extra shoes. The goal is for no one to have to ask Mom questions.  (You won’t ever reach it, but you’ll get closer.) 4. Number your suitcases: Use masking tape or adhesive labels to number them, for easier recognition and accountability.  Even a four-year-old will be able to remember who uses which one.  When Mom needs something out of a suitcase, she can easily direct someone to #5 instead of “the small blue one…no, no, the small blue one.” 5. Give everyone 3 and up a list of what to pack and let them pack it… but be sure to inspect: Determine the general list:  five shirts, two hoodies, 2 pairs of jeans, 6 pairs of underwear, etc. Our 12 year old daughter Julie gladly made a pictorial list for her 3-year-old sister; Amy was thrilled to be able to pack her own suitcase and confidently mark off each item as she found it. Make photocopies of the lists to save for next time. Of course, you must inspect, because there’s always one who still completely forgets his underwear or his toothbrush. But their work saves you a lot of steps, teaches them how to do it, and puts all their pre-trip excitement to good use! Actually it’s a good time to buy new toothbrushes for everyone; that way you can pack them up and not have to wait until morning to finish packing all the suitcases – they can use their old one before they leave in the morning. 6. Write it down, don’t try to remember it all: While packing, if you are missing an item or two or three from someone’s case, write it down and tape it to the suitcase so that you don’t have to try to keep all those details inside your brain. And when you go to bed, put a pad of paper and a pen on the floor or nightstand next to you so that when you think of something that wasn’t packed you can write it down instead of jumping up to go and retrieve it “before you forget.” 7. Use ziplock bags for daily sets of clothing: When the kids are young, place a shirt, shorts, socks, and underwear in a gallon size ziplock bag and write “Amy – Monday” on it, etc.  This is especially helpful for Sunday clothes which might be kept in a separate suitcase.  Dad can just hand out the packets and everyone can dress.  8. All packed: Once a suitcase is declared “All packed,” close it up and stand it in line in a designated place, and make a rule that no one except you is allowed to open it again. They are numbered, so everyone will know when they are all there. I always like to pack them all into the car the night before, and let the children place their bookbags in the first seat they will sit in.  We lay out the clothes for the next day. Some families who are leaving in the middle of the night just have everyone sleep in their travel clothes. In the morning, we just use our old toothbrushes and share a comb or two, pack up the food and water and hit the road. 9. Packing to head home: To pack for driving home, you may need your “motel bag” as before. You should also appoint a suitcase or two to be only for “dirty clothes” and combine the clean clothes into other suitcases, taking note of the numbers on them. Now #1 and #2 can be left in the laundry room, #4 taken to the girls’ room, and so forth. This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue....


8 tips for traveling with the family

My favorite travel anecdote came from Reader’s Digest years ago. An older woman felt overwhelmed while packing to go to Florida with her husband.  She said, “George, I can either pack to go, or I can go but I can’t do both.” Since then, many times my husband has heard me shout out, “George?........” and known what I meant. Family travel can be a big challenge. The worst family trip I ever took involved three non-walking, whining one-year olds, a three-year old who accidentally barfed and pee-d on the other driver, a broken heater and three flat tires. After 600 miles, I really dreaded the trip back home. But from experience comes wisdom and innovation, so as the years rolled by, we discovered ways to make the long traveling hours easier to handle. God has given us creative minds that spark with wonderful innovations, after which we wonder, “now why didn’t I think of that sooner?” Then, just as I am doing now, we share them with others who might benefit. There are so many ways to help your family prepare for a long trip, that the instances of unpleasantness can be greatly diminished, and the firm hand only needed on occasion. Even traveling with one-year olds can be somewhat improved, though they will never understand why they have to sit still all the time. So here are 8 ideas that will help during the travel time. 1. Beforehand, talk through the trip with your kids A day or two before you go, talk about what the ride will be like: “We’re going to be in the car alllll day. Breakfast, lunchtime, nap time, and dinner time, and we’re even going to watch the sun go down!”  Talk about how they might feel and what they will encounter, and joke about what they might be tempted to do.  Emphasize the importance of getting along when in close quarters. Talk about safety hazards like screaming children, or not heeding the call to “Silence!” when driving directions are being discussed or you’re facing the border guard. Talk about watching for traffic and not getting lost at rest stops. Knowledge enables children to know what to expect and it gives you information to refer back to when necessary.  Pray together beforehand and on the road, thanking God, and asking Him for safety, wisdom and strength. 2. Study your directions/maps ahead of time Nothing brings up anger or harsh words between mom and dad like arguing over directions. Plan ahead – this is valuable even in an age of GPS, to think through where you want to stop, and what breaks you might want to take (are there any sights to see, or maybe a nice park to take a break in, a nice restaurant to stop for dinner?). And if there are mistakes, be forgiving and “go with the flow.” It is helpful to have maps of the area in case you end up in the middle of nowhere with NO signal! Maps are also helpful to get a real "feel" for how places are connected which you cannot see well on a tiny screen. And they are great for enhancing the kids' geographical knowledge, which you cannot quite do on a tiny screen. Remember that children hate listening to their parents argue; if it’s necessary to “clear the air,” perhaps it can be done away from the children. 3. Make everything as special and comfortable as possible. Choose books, toys, food and games that are unique so that the novelty will enthuse them. Our family visited a used bookstore a few weeks before each trip.  Each child chose about six 50 cent books and then, to their chagrin, I packed them all away until it was time to leave! A three-year-old will enjoy a Magna Doodle, and can manage an audiobook with headphones. Played over your car stereo, audiobooks from the library are a wonderful way for the whole family, even the driver, to pass the time. Each child can have a zippered bookbag with a coloring book and colored pencils (or markers if you trust your kids!). Add two small toys with no little pieces (one for each hand,) and a favorite stuffed friend. Some like electronic games, or maybe your car has a DVD player: be sure to choose games and films that are new to them, that keep their attention. If they aren't on screens normally, this can be a special treat. Find some word or singing games to teach them. Be sure to play the silly ones that they suggest and enjoy. We once sang “Hey, ho, nobody home” for 20 minutes straight just to see if we could do it. Bring small pillows for everyone, and make sure whoever is always cold has a hoodie or blanket to put over her. Carry a roll of paper towel and some plastic bags for “whatever.” 4. A parent sitting in the back can be helpful I turned around so often while seated in the front seat that I began to wonder whether I should wear my shoulder harness across my front or my back side. Having Mom or Dad sit in a middle or back seat can actually alleviate a lot of problems, especially with the little ones who need the physical assurance of extra kisses or holding someone’s hand.  Playing games also becomes easier and more fun for the kids because Mom or Dad is involved. It’s also easier to pass around the food to everyone and collect up all of the trash. You might rotate seats at every stop, because whoever gets a turn in the front seat will feel very special. 5. Have rules and plans Yes, it’s hard to sit in a car all day, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We still have to love one another, and put others first.  The loss of privilege that comes from arguing or disobeying might include not being allowed to speak for a set amount of time. Take charge of a simple, flexible daily plan. “Let’s sing for awhile.” “Now we’re going to listen to Prince Caspian for about an hour.” “We’re stopping at a rest stop in five minutes – everyone put away your toys and books now and get your shoes on.” “After lunch it’s naptime or quiet reading.” Don’t forget to read God’s Word after each meal and pray.  You have plenty of time for discussion or related Bible games: why not make use of it? After two summers of driving eight or so teenagers from Philadelphia to Ontario for a "Campfire! Summer Bible Camp" I learned that everyone got rowdy late at night after the last rest stop because there were less than two hours left on the trip. The third summer I made a rule: "No talking at all after the last rest stop – you may sleep, read with the ceiling light, or listen to a walkman.” I also outlawed 32 oz. Cokes for the entire trip after some people began needing more frequent relief. 6. Eat in the vehicle as you drive When you stop, you need to stretch and run and hug and throw a frisbee, and look at the flowers and license plates around you, not sit and eat.  Eating is fun, and doing it while riding passes the time very nicely.  I learned the hard way that it’s also not a good idea to eat at the rest stop and then let the kids run and roll down hills right afterwards.  Enter the need for paper towels.  No wonder my “mean old mother” never let us do that. For meals, you might bake or have Mom go into a grocery store bakery to buy fresh muffins for a special breakfast. For lunch and dinner, pack favorite sandwiches and baggies of chips or fruit or cookies – a different kind for each meal. Freezing them the night before eliminates the need for a big cooler.  On the other hand, the lid from a hard plastic cooler makes a great lap table for spreading fresh peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hand around. Think about it:  instead of using up more of your valuable pre-trip time making sandwiches, you could use your “nothing else to do anyway” hours stacking meat and cheese and tomato slices on buns. 7. Eight reasons to drink only water (except if the driver needs caffeine)       Water rules over juice, kool-aid, tea, and soda, and they’ll drink it if they’re thirsty. They get plenty of taste variety from their meals. Water is cheaper, healthier, not sticky, stain-free, non-caffeinated, and non-sweetened.  It doesn’t speed through your system as fast as other drinks, and it can be used to wash faces, hands and seats. Each person’s bottle can be refilled at the next rest stop or from a bigger container near the parent’s seat. 8. The fantastic trip comes to an end My children finally convinced me that if we arrive home late at night, it is best to go to bed and empty the car the next day when everyone is rested and happier. The suitcases will wait patiently. The end of the trip is already a letdown for the children, so, while they do need to help with the gargantuan task of putting everything away, it’s also good to consider their fatigue level and emotions. Have a nice breakfast, divide up the tasks, and tackle the pile. But maybe you arrive home during the daylight hours, or maybe the car has to be emptied for Dad to go to work the next morning. It still might be best to give everyone a short break to “be happy to see their home,” perhaps coupled with a snack and a hug and a “de-briefing” session. Later, you might put together a family newsletter with each one writing (or dictating) what happened at the cave, at Grandpa’s, or in the ocean. This helps save the memories for years to come, and it’s a nice gift for any relatives and friends you visited along the way. Traveling together can form close bonds with shared memories.  When parents plan ahead, the possibility for frustration is lessened and a good example is set....

Science - Creation/Evolution

Biomimicry recognizes the genius (but not the Genius) behind the wonders of creation

A few years back, Vox media reported on the discipline of biomimicry, which encourages engineering teams to include a biologist to help them solve problems by seeing what already works well in the natural world. It’s a return to copying designs that the Creator put into place thousands of years ago. In Christophe Hawbursin’s Vox article “The man-made world is horribly designed. But copying nature helps.” the illustration he gives of how biomimicry helps is the Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train. At 170 mph, whenever it exited a tunnel, it caused a sonic boom that annoyed people up to 400 meters away. To get a quieter, faster, and more efficient train, an engineering team was created, headed by Ejii Nakatsu, who was also an avid birdwatcher. It turns out that bird connection was key – the team based components of the redesigned bullet train on characteristics of three different birds: The owl: the pantograph – the rig that connects the train to the electric wires above – was modeled after the owl’s feathers, reducing noise by using similar serrations and curvature The Adelie penguin: the penguin’s smooth body inspired the pantograph’s supporting shaft to provide lower wind resistance The kingfisher: the kingfisher’s unique no-splash beak was copied for the front of the engine By copying designs from creation, the new train became 10% faster, 15% more efficient, and the decibel level was significantly lowered. Other examples of biomimicry include studying sharkskin to learn to repel bacteria, and studying the self-organization of ants to enable autonomous cars to communicate with one another. Biomimicry also studies the eco-system to create a circular economy where there are no wasteful byproducts. And recently, scientists have begun a website at where people all over the world can match problems with solutions advised by “nature.” There is an irony in how Janine Benyus, the author who popularized the term biomimicry, recognizes that the design found in Creation far exceeds that of Mankind’s best minds. And yet she doesn’t see a better Mind behind any of it, choosing instead to credit these wonders to mindless evolution working over the last 3.8 billions years. As the apostle Paul might put it, she worships and serves “created things rather the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). But for Christians, how wonderful it is to be reminded of just how much humans can learn from the genius of our God who declared all the creatures He made “good.”   Sharon L. Bratcher has a book with 45 of her RP articles in it, and a 2-year lesson plan entitled “Bible Overview for Young Children” ages 2-6 and 6-9. For information on these, contact [email protected]....


Is Cleanliness next to Godliness?

My goal is to have every room of my house neat and clean at the same time. But I do not believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” although it is one of its outworkings. When John Wesley mentioned that famous line in his sermon, he was encouraging people to remember to bathe and to wash their clothing before they came to worship the Lord on Sundays. Well, that’s a standard I can easily maintain. I think women are constantly looking for balance in our housekeeping. As Shirley Conran notes in her book Superwoman: “Housework expands to however much time you have to do it, plus fifteen minutes.” And I have often quipped, “All of life is maintenance.” Indeed, it often seems that if we’re not maintaining clothing, houses, children, ourselves, our garden, or our car, we are maintaining our school, our church or our relationships. Much is done with joy, and some is done from duty, but at times it comes from embarrassment or false guilt. That's why I have a sign in my kitchen that states: “A house should be clean enough to be healthy, and messy enough to be happy.” But who decides what is “enough?” No extra time One would think that with all of our time-saving devices, that a homemaker’s job would be much easier than it used to be… and to some extent it is. But some historians have suggested that vacuum cleaners and washing machines did not diminish our “time spent” on household chores. Rather, the standards of cleanliness increased so that frequency replaced difficulty in these chores. For example, instead of carrying a rug outside to beat it twice a year, and living with a bit of dirt in-between, one could just vacuum it. Since vacuuming was so much easier, it was possible to keep the rug looking perfect all the time by simply vacuuming every single day! Instead of washing once a week, the washer made it easy and possible to do more loads more often. Soon the idea of wearing a garment more than a day or two became loathsome. Instead of having a standard of “fairly clean,” we moved up to a standard of “perfection” wherein any deviation from the best became cause for embarrassment. Cleanliness is important, of course. Keeping the level of germs down in one’s bathroom and kitchen can generally lead to better health. But we need to be careful that we don’t get caught up in the cycle of pride, embarrassment and frenzy that causes homemakers to worry constantly about what others are going to think about our level of housekeeping. For most women, receiving visitors is “report card time.” There is a tendency to fear failure, sometimes accompanied by anger at those who mess up “our” household. It’s as though someone scribbled on our research paper on the day that it was due. There is also a tendency to become so occupied with one’s household maintenance that more important things in life get by-passed. I read about some missionaries who took their usual habits of cleanliness to Africa when they served there. The local Christians were appalled at the amount of time these westerners spent caring for their material possessions – why, it seemed that they treated them like idols! The missionaries were always washing their belongings and their vehicles, and it was quite a concern to the church members. They were concerned that all of this caretaking might eat into the many hours that should be spent in fellowship, in Bible study, and in visiting the sick and reaching out to others with the gospel. What about Mary and Martha, anyway? Maybe the Apostle Paul’s words “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6) apply to over-maintenance as well! Balance On the one hand I think we need to cut each other a break and not judge anyone else’s housekeeping. After all, we’re not visiting the house, we’re visiting the people. And we need to cut ourselves a break by realizing that, as Conran says, “The real purpose of maintaining a home is to provide a pleasant environment for living – so live!” And here’s where the balance comes in. A house isn’t supposed to look like a magazine ad, but it would be best if everyone didn’t trip over piles of stuff. You need never apologize for a project-related mess that you or your children are in the midst of creating, but keeping materials orderly in between projects will prevent wasted time and frustration from searching for them later. Good stewardship includes taking care of our possessions. But either extreme can result in our being weighed down by our material possessions and being less useful to God’s kingdom. If possessions become a weight, either way, that hold us back from the activities that God is most pleased with, then it is worth reconsidering how much time we spend on our “maintenance” and why. As we ponder what is “enough,” we might analyze how much of our cleanliness is godliness....

Parenting, Soup and Buns

10 games you can play with your toddler without having to roll off the sofa

A young relative has two toddlers, and our conversation reminded me of some useful strategies from those wonderful and exhausting days. While I don’t miss the days when several of my children were sick simultaneously, or those hours when they all whined or argued, I do miss those young years: their voices giving daily news bulletins that showed me who they were and who they were becoming, and all of the singing, learning, and playing together. Some negative people see only the duties of parenting. That’s like a Fortune 500 company president focusing only on flooding toilets in the washroom, or employee theft. But as the saying goes, “nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.” You can enjoy being in the thick of it now, even if the work is challenging and tiring! The first strategy is that days always went best when I guided, loosely at least, the order of the activities for the day. Mom or Dad assessed the needs and the desires of the children, and then decided when it was playtime, rest time, or lunchtime. A second strategy was born from fatigue and creativity. I found that with enthusiasm I could engage the little ones in activities that could be done while I was physically resting and they were getting exercise. Here's my top 10 list: Fetch. Seriously! While lying on the sofa, you can throw a ball for a toddler to retrieve. They love it, and you get to be prone. Rollies. Similar to fetch, except that you take whichever toys will roll (stacking rings, for instance) and you roll them as far as you can, and the kids chase them and bring them back. I used to do this in the church nursery and it kept them occupied for a good twenty minutes. Coloring. Children like to have you color with them. Get a coffee table that’s the height of the sofa, and pull it over next to the sofa. While you lie there, color together, commenting on what you are doing. It’s a great time to listen. You can even color with your odd hand if you need to turn over onto your other side– the kids don’t care or even notice. Reading, and lessons. Let them bring over their favorite books. I taught all of my kids to read (starting at age 4) using Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch; all it takes is the book, attention, and some paper and pencils. It doesn’t matter what position your body is in while you read or teach them! Blocks or Duplos. Build towers and teach them to build houses on the coffee table. Practice boundaries by letting them use opposite ends of the table to build. They love your attention to their designs and details. Safety scissors, magazines, catalogs, and tape = books. Staple together 3 or 4 pieces of construction paper and then, on the coffee table, let them cut pictures and tape them in to make a book. Have them dictate what to say, and write it down exactly. All together at the end you can pick up the debris. “Don’t let the balloon hit the floor!” Best played when there are at least 2-3 kids to run and jump after it. You can use one hand and one foot as you lie there. Sing. Sing songs that they know. Teach them silly songs from your youth. Listen and sing along to kids’ CD’s (our favorite was Rosenshontz!) Encourage them to dance and jump to the music, or have a stuffed animal parade. They get exercise, and you’re laying on the sofa, waving your arms. Write letters to grandparents, or church members. Be the secretary and ask them what to say (with a little prompting.) Let them make up a story, and read back each paragraph as they finish it. If you use a pencil and paper on a clipboard or book, you can write while laying on your back. After your rest you can walk to the mailbox together. Watch a video together. I’m not for plugging kids in very often, but it is another activity you can do while lying down on the sofa. Plan it, saying, “after lunch cleanup we’ll watch a video together;” then get comfy and enjoying their responses, teaching them tidbits: “God made those butterflies, didn’t He?” Toddlers desire your loving attention. You can give them a full dose of it and rest yourself by trying these ideas in your home. This first appeared in the October 2011 issue under the title “Parent rests while toddlers play: film at 11”...

Christian education

On public schools: evangelism is not discipleship

A few years ago, at a Ligonier Conference, Pastor Voddie Baucham was asked what he would say to parents who were weighing the option of homeschooling or Christian schooling over against using the public schools. The hope was, in using the public system, that their children’s Christian faith would be a “witness and influence” in this unbelieving culture. Baucham’s response was profound. "I think they're making a categorical error….All of a sudden we went from a discussion about education, which is discipleship, to a discussion about evangelism in spite of negative discipleship. And so, we've got two completely separate categories there…. So what we’ve got do is, we’ve got to talk about those things properly.” He went on to explain: “When somebody asks me that question that way, they're telling me that they don't want to answer the most important question. And they've created a false argument between two separate categories that are being held up in competition against one another when they are absolutely not. Because, if they ask me, ‘Should I give my child a Christ-honoring education’ or ‘Should I have my child be an influence on people who are unbelievers” - Yes! Why do we assume that the only way a child can have an impact and influence on unbelievers is if they give up on a Christ-honoring, Christ-centered education? So, I think there's a categorical error in the question.” The impact starts so young As a public school substitute teacher in the Detroit, Michigan area, I have worked in more than 30 schools. While I have been impressed with the teachers’ and staff’s dedication, I find constant reminders that the children are in no way learning about God or Jesus Christ. He has been replaced by Nature in Science class, ignored in Mathematics, barely noticed in History and Literature, and severely criticized in Psychology and Sociology. Recently I was teaching a lovable group of Kindergarteners about the symbols of the USA: the flag, the eagle, and the Statue of Liberty. I defined freedom for them, mentioning that in our country everyone can pray to God the way that we want to, get the type of job we prefer, and travel where we want to without the government telling us that we cannot. A sweet, smiling, dark-haired girl raised her little hand, eager to add info to my list. She said, “And in the United States, when you grow up, if you’re a boy, you can marry a girl or a boy, and if you’re a girl, you can marry a boy or a girl! In some places you can’t do that, but in the United States we can marry who we want to.” She was quite excited. I was stunned. Factually, she was correct, so there was nothing I could say in that setting. I changed the subject and moved on. But I shouldn’t have been shocked. The public schools, colleges, and universities follow the current cultural norm wherever it leads, and that, without question, includes teaching kids that 2 Moms or 2 Dads is entirely normal, even desirable. By the time this 5-year-old is 18, she won’t have any room left in her “open” mind to think anything else. Conclusion At the same Ligonier Conference, R.C. Sproul added his own thoughts to Voddie Baucham’s, speaking to the economic cost of Christian school tuition: “The biggest illusion is that sending your kids to the government school is free. It's the most costly thing you could ever do.” While we are still free to do so, we need to renew our dedication to Christ-centered, Christ-honoring education, whether inside a brick and mortar building or as a consortium of homeschoolers who aid one another. How might we all sacrifice more to ensure that all of our children will learn His truth? “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” – Deut. 6:6-7

Soup and Buns

How to approach a porcupine

Some Christians seem quite like porcupines. They are so bristly and sharp that people are reluctant to come close to them for fear of getting hurt. It seems wise to the onlookers to practice self-preservation. Who among us enjoys unpleasantness? Who craves the company of a Negative-Nancy, a Whining-Wilfred or an Angry-Anderson? Who runs out into the street when Mack-truck-Maggie is barreling right at them? Most are not so brave. “In my heart,” said one porcupine Christian, “I wanted so much for everyone to come and hug me and tell me that they cared. Once, a woman told me that she had really wanted to, but she was afraid that I would lash out at her in my pain. How I wished she could have overlooked my weakness and reached out to me.” How do people turn into porcupine Christians? That path starts with lack of forgiveness or misunderstanding. Unrecognized selfishness and envy accrue, leading to confusion, pain, futility, resentment, anger, and bitterness. The church experience seems to be the opposite of what Paul says in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” In the porcupine's mind, the opening verses of Philippians 2  might seem the reverse of what they should be: There is no encouragement from being united with Christ, and not likely to be any comfort from His love around here, let alone fellowship, tenderness or compassion. Nobody is going to try to please Jesus by acting like He would, showing love like He would, or working together in the same spirit or purpose. What you want is more important, and your opinion is as worthy as anyone else’s, so make sure you follow your dream and make everyone else do as you want. After all, nobody else is better than you are, and no one else will do it right. And, if your busy family has things to do, you only need to take care of yourselve, and let everyone else take care of their own interests. Really, who wants to be a servant in this day and age? Such is the porcupine's perception... but in all honesty don't these thoughts, at times, live in all of our hearts? The initial distress is like a little pile of dried mud on the rug that gets swept underneath that rug. It might start with taking offense at a word or action. Or it might start with being criticized for taking offense, so that one believes that there is no way to resolve the problem. It might begin with someone saying, “Oh, he’s always like that – don’t bother trying to talk to him.” Sweep, sweep, sweep. If someone’s words or actions have caused us to feel angry, we are not allowed to sweep! Jesus said we must go and talk: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). Hopefully, you will either receive an apology or discover your misunderstanding. Both parties, in love, must notice their own sins, and attribute to the other the highest of motives, “Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4). This first step must not be neglected! Otherwise, years may go by, with quills of bitterness growing and no one knowing where and why everything went wrong. People begin to avoid the porcupine and the pain just deepens. Fear controls behavior as everyone stays away rather than run the risk of facing an angry retort. But inside, the porcupine longs for comfort and peace, even while consumed with bitterness. Difficulty with emotions does not stop the desire for the warmth of brotherly Christian love; it just makes it nearly impossible to obtain. Sin continues, unchallenged by mercy, due to fear. Before we take the easier path of thinking, “I’m not going to say anything to him,” or “you could never hug her,” let’s determine whether we might be at fault in the situation, and remember that Jesus also told us: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). And if we are not at fault, but are just brothers and sisters in the Lord, let us cease our fear, because a soft word and a loving gesture will do more to smooth down the quills than avoidance ever will. Squeeze that hand. Give that hug. Say a word. Drop off that cake. Write that note. Today....

Drama, Movie Reviews

End of the Spear

Drama 2005 / 108 minutes Rating: 7/10 This review first appeared in the January 2006 issue How does a Christian group succeed in presenting a major motion picture in secular theaters? How do they present a true story about the Truth setting an entire native tribe free…and do it without the director and producer of the film taking too much dramatic license? I must admit to being a bit disappointed when I viewed The End of the Spear during its opening weekend - it wasn’t quite the Christian story I had been hoping for. But then I spoke with a friend of mine from Wycliffe Bible Translators who had met Steve Saint, the author of the book from which the film was made, and I became much more sympathetic to the challenge he faced. This movie is based on the true story of five missionaries who went to Ecuador back in the 1950’s to the Waodani tribe (known to most as the Aucas), a fierce homicidal “Stone Age” tribe. Many people are acquainted with this account via the famous book Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of the missionary Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot is also well known as the author of the quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The missionaries reached out to the tribe but all five men were speared to death. Later on some of their wives and a sister went back and lived with the tribe, teaching them about Christ, and many were converted, giving up their violent ways. A church still exists there today, with Steve Saint, the son of the slain missionary Nate Saint, living among them. One movie becomes two The original goal was to make just one movie – The End of the Spear. But Steve Saint wasn’t willing to give in to the moviemakers’ desire to take dramatic license and change the actual events of the real story. In the end a compromise was made – first they made a true-to-life documentary. Afterwards, Steve consented to their taking some dramatic license in another film as long as it was still close enough to reality. The documentary, entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor, was released to DVD in October 2005. It gives the entire story of the missionaries, from their days in Wheaton College until current times. The family members of the five missionaries are interviewed, along with several members of the Waodani tribe. Their faith in Christ and eagerness for their mission will no doubt be an inspiration to all who view this film. As for The End of the Spear, the story is told from the point of view of the natives, with less emphasis on the missionaries themselves. It focuses on what they thought and learned. It isn’t intended to be a “tract,” but rather, as one local commentator put it, it’s supposed to tell a true religious story “without beating people over the head with it.” An obscured message The major disappointment is that the name of Jesus Christ is never mentioned. We learn that the missionaries wanted to teach the people to give up spearing one another, and they would not kill the Waodani because those people were not ready for Heaven. God is referred to by His Waodani name, and the fact that He had a Son who “was speared but did not spear back” is mentioned. A converted Waodani woman shares with her tribe the fact that God left “carvings” for them to follow – in other words, information directly from Him on how He wanted them to live. But when the tribesman asks to see the carvings, no Bible is quoted from or shown. There is also a scene when the missionaries are afraid, yet they do not even pray! We learn that those who listened to the missionaries became peaceful, and near the end we do see that the “Gospel” has been translated into Waodani. But is all of this enough to accurately explain the transforming power of Christ that took place? There are enough pieces to the message/puzzle there for someone to take it and elaborate on it later. I couldn’t help but think of urban gang violence and revenge when the Waodani were spearing each other repeatedly at the beginning of the film. The clue is there: the same message that helped this tribe could help others. In fact, according to the movie's promotional materials, it was this hope for spreading the Gospel message that convinced the Waodani to put aside their embarrassment regarding their history and give permission for it to be told. But what could we really learn about the change of heart that took place in these people? Basically, we discovered that when the tribe learned about God’s Son not retaliating their lives were changed. I was left thinking that based only on what was in the film it would be possible for secular viewers to think of (the un-named) Christ as a Gandhi or any other non-divine “good teacher,” and remain happy and un-offended. At the end of the credits the filmmakers could have added, “no non-Christian positions were harmed in the making of this film.” To those of us who believe in the Truth, it is sad that the entire story of God’s redeeming love could not have been spelled out more clearly. We can hope that there is enough interest from the film to lead people to watch the documentary afterwards. Some final considerations A few other factors regarding the film should be mentioned. The scenery in both films is absolutely breathtaking, and especially so on the big screen where I saw it. Another factor to consider is the native dress. Missionaries have to deal with that, and while the Beyond the Gates of Splendor documentary showed the more authentic dress (read: almost naked), The End of the Spear film actually covered the people more than was authentic. If there is any time when one might say that nudity is acceptable, this would be it. Still, I found it rather disturbing, watching the thonged naked behinds of men running through the jungle for two hours. It’s something to consider before taking the whole family to see the film. There is no greater arrogance in our society today than for someone to state that he has the Truth. So, even in a movie telling the story of the Truth transforming the lives of many, Christ’s name and most tenets of the missionaries’ faith were carefully avoided. It reminded me of some brands of diet ice cream – where the basic substance is there but I find myself searching for the missing flavor. It was better than nothing, but it left me disappointed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone that believes….” Romans 1:16a ...

Pro-life - Abortion, Science - General

The wonder of the womb

If you haven’t seen any of the YouTube videos of Dr. Kristin Collier talking about the unborn, you've missed out. This Christian physician and University of Michigan Medical School faculty member has been speaking at universities around the USA, sharing scientific evidence about the interconnection between mothers and babies in the womb. Let me share a few of the highlights. The placenta: a cooperative project Many of Dr. Collier’s presentations have focused on the amazing miracle of the placenta. Often referred to as the “afterbirth,” it is actually the vital organ inside of which a baby grows. Dr. Collier states, “In a mother’s womb following conception, God is building between mother and child an anatomic masterpiece, a relational organ. The placenta is therefore considered a fetomaternal organ because it is made by both the baby and mother (and Providence). The placenta is the only purposely transient organ in humans and is the only single organ that is created by two people in cooperation. Through the placenta, mother and prenatal child interface. In one organ we see the function of what is usually performed by multiple organs and systems. The placenta provides the function normally assumed by one’s lungs and kidneys and additionally has metabolic, thermo-regulatory, endocrine and immune function.” In other words, when the baby is merely 6-7 weeks old inside the mother, he or she is contributing by assisting the mother in building the placenta. This is an important proof that even at that very early gestational age, this is not just a blob of tissue, but a co-worker in the process of life. Microchimerism: an interconnection Dr. Collier has also shared how analysis of DNA, taken during prenatal screening tests, shows that there is another sort of profound interconnectedness between the prenatal child and the mother. “We know that genetic material from the prenatal child crosses through the placenta and can be found in the mother’s circulation. The interaction at the level of genetic material between mother and prenatal child is illustrated in what is called ‘microchimerism.’” Microchimerism is the presence of a small population of genetically distinct and separately derived cells within an individual. Dr. Collier goes on to say: “The growing baby sends some of her cells across the placenta into her mother in a way that we are only beginning to understand. These cells migrate to various sites of maternal tissue and integrate into them. They then assume the function of the surrounding tissue and begin to function as such. Microchimeric cells have been found in various maternal tissues and organs, such as the breast, bone marrow, skin, liver and brain. “Early and late effects of these cells have been hypothesized. Some of these cells appear to target sites of injury and may help mother heal after delivery by integrating into a Cesarean section wound and helping to produce collagen. Fetal cells may be involved in the process of lactation by signaling the mother’s body to make milk. Others have been thought to help protect a mother against breast cancer later in life. This process likely involves negotiation and cooperation between mom and baby at the cellular level. Researchers are in the early stages of attempting to understand the full function of these cells, which may have important implications for the immune status of women.” To summarize, cells of their children remain within women throughout their lives, helping the mother, and also perhaps explaining the connection that mothers feel with their children - and their lost children. “Human beings carry remnants of other humans in their bodies. These cells become integrated into maternal tissue and are active and working in ways that we are just beginning to understand. Think about mothers who have lost both prenatal and postnatal children, and how they have longed for their children still to be with them in some way. Now we see that in fact, they are.” Babies: a superb design by our Creator God Psalm 139 rejoices in how God forms children within the womb. Learning how these babies participate in building their own placenta reinforces the truth that these are little people growing in there. And discovering the wonderful ways in which mothers and babies are, and stay connected gives us cause to rejoice in the superb designs of our Creator God. And this is why Dr. Kristin Collier is determined to share this knowledge throughout the world. You can learn more in the doctor's wonderful 16-minute presentation below. ...

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