Christian Education Devotionals (66)

These devotionals were originally written by Hope PR Christian School (Walker, MI) teacher Brian D. Dykstra for his fellow teachers. They are posted here for their broader significance and for broader use by Christian parents and other Christian school teachers.

Living in a Visual Society (2)

Living in a Visual Society (II)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

This past summer, my wife and I walked through a combination garden and sculpture park. The garden was amazing, displaying a rich variety of flowers of different colours and sizes of blooms. Not only were the large beds of roses beautiful, especially, I thought, the light orange ones, the aroma of the roses reached us at some distance. I had anticipated the sculptures to be the work of various artists but they were by the same man. Although my wife and I prefer our art in the form of paintings, let us simply say we found the art interesting.

Although the crowds were not thick, there were plenty of people. There were street performers as well. Most of the park-goers were younger, in their early 30s and 20s. They were in pairs or small groups. They appeared to be with close friends.

Were they, really, with their friends? I noticed more than half of this generation were on their phones and tablets. They did not pay much attention to the gardens or the sculptures, nor were they looking at each other, engaged in face-to-face conversation. Their attention was fixed on a screen, not on their surroundings or the people with them. Not only is society very visual, much of what our minds absorb is not even from the reality surrounding us but from screens!

This change in culture, caused by the emergence of social media and the technology supporting it, has caused some concern even among the world’s educators. What effects does this revolution have on children and learning? Let us look at two concerns which are currently being researched, one is physical and the other centres on what educators call “emotional intelligence.”

I have read articles regarding several physical concerns about the use of various screens. I will pass over the concern that one researcher found that toilet seats have fewer germs than do touch screens and focus on posture.

As the young people at the park I observed looked at their screens, I noticed their poor posture. They were not standing with shoulders back and heads erect. They rounded their shoulders forward as they looked at their screens and typed with their thumbs. They tilted their heads forward as well. This posture puts stress on the upper spine. Tilting the head forward can put about 60 pounds of force on the spine. Such force can lead to early wear, degeneration and possibly surgeries. This information is from the Medical Daily website in an article which first appeared 18 November, 2014, and was written by Chris Weller.

Weller points out how much of our time can be spent in this posture. One estimate is that people use screens roughly two to four hours each day. That would be 700 to 1,400 hours per year. He then points out that high school students are even worse, perhaps looking at screens as much as 5,000 hours before they graduate. A doctor interviewed by Weller states that we cannot abolish using these devices, but we must be more aware of our posture as we do so. I have heard the advice that after looking at a screen for twenty minutes, one should spend twenty seconds looking at something at least twenty feet away to give eyes a rest; referred to as the 20/20/20 rule. Perhaps we should add that one stand up straight as well while taking this eye break.

Now let us look at screen use on emotional intelligence, which is one’s ability to express, recognize and appropriately respond to, emotions, both one’s own and others. This information comes from Katherine DeWeese’s May 2014 master’s thesis titled, “Screen Time, How Much is Too Much? The Social and Emotional Costs of Technology on the Adolescent Brain.” (Her paper can be found at the Educational Research Information Center’s website. Enter ED546474 in the search box.)

DeWeese read many research papers for her thesis. Her reading caused her to wonder, “Can students define the skills necessary to appraise and express emotion when much of their day is focused on a screen?” DeWeese also cites the work of a psychologist who said, “one’s actions and reactions are based on those learned and observed in others.” DeWeese notes, “This theory is important when discussing the changes in adolescent brains when not actively observing peer groups or others but rather focusing on inanimate objects and screens.” She points out that neural pathways needed for emotional intelligence might not develop strongly enough when several hours of each day are spent observing screens, not reading and reacting to the body language and facial expressions of those actually present physically with us.

Since much of adolescent “conversation” takes place on social media, the concern is that children will not develop the skills needed to notice subtle clues given by others in facial expressions or gestures. Also they might not be able to allow others in the group to take turns in face-to-face conversations, wait for others to finish speaking before talking or be able to listen attentively for long periods of time.

For us, as members of the body of Christ, our children need to learn to live with one another. We need to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We need to learn to listen, really listen, to each other and react in a way to be of spiritual help and support to those in need. Merely texting each other might not be the best way to help our friends. We need face-to-face talks, when possible, with those we care about. It would be beneficial to stand up straight while doing this as well, especially before we bow our heads together in prayer with fellow members of the church to seek God’s guidance and help.


Living in a Visual Society (1)

Living in a Visual Society (I)

(reprinted from the Hope P. R. Christian School’s Highlights, May, 2016)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

When I was a child, most screens were to keep bugs out of the house when the weather was warm. The only electronic screen was the television which not only was black and white, but which could receive broadcast signals from a total of four, yes, count them, four, television broadcasting networks.

How times have changed. Screens are now on phones, computers, tablets, in automobiles and at sports stadiums. Adults, and even children, constantly have a screen within reach. I recall a road trip with my family several years ago. We were driving through the unbelievably wondrous landscape of southern Utah. The unusual landscape appeared to be something from another planet as it rolled by mile after amazing mile. I can still hear the groan of dismay emanating from my children as we were passed by a minivan. The groan’s origin was not that old dad was being passed, again, by yet another vehicle with less horsepower than we possessed. No. They had spotted youngsters in the back of a van watching a movie on small screens. “What!” they exclaimed. “You have a chance to see this wonderful creation and you’re sitting there watching a movie?”

In yesteryear’s classroom, a filmstrip was a visual treat. Filmstrips have not been used for about twenty-five years now, so the current generation of students, and even their parents, no longer know what a filmstrip was. A filmstrip was a roll of pictures on a transparent plastic roll which was run through a small projector. They would cover certain academic topics with words beneath the picture or, if more words were necessary, on a separate slide. We students would take turns reading the slides and the teacher would rotate a knob to advance to the next frame. How exciting! Now smartboards and ceiling mounted projectors can be found in nearly all of our classrooms. Teaching has become increasingly visual.

What is the effect of all this visual, and nearly constant, stimulation on our children? There are several matters which concern me. However, I will limit my concern here to one matter because of the constraint of space.

First, we would benefit from a brief refresher on our creation and the origin of sin. One aspect of man’s creation is the body. Our five physical senses are as portals to our souls. Our souls, which have no physical substance, are linked to the creation by our senses. What enters these portals influences our spiritual lives. What we taste, touch, smell, and especially what we see and hear, affects our souls.

God often makes us listen as He uses the portal of the ear to reach our hearts. We hear His Word preached. We hear an inner voice as we read Scripture. God spoke to Adam and Eve. He told them to eat of the tree of life, and not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told them the consequences of disobedience. And that was it. God could have come to Adam and Eve in a vision and shown to them the dreadful results of sin. After all, God gave Daniel and John very powerful and striking visuals in their visions. As for just the physical toll of sin, not considering the spiritual aspect of sin here, He could have revealed in a vision to Adam and Eve the ravages of aging or the maiming of sickness. God could have shown them the horrors of a body returning to dust in the grave. He did not. He merely told them they would die. They were to listen to Him.

What of the origin of sin? Satan presented the forbidden fruit as desirable. Yes, Satan spoke to Eve for a time, but he did not engage in a long dialogue with her to present to her in logical sequence why what God said was false and should not be believed. Satan especially directed Eve to look at the fruit. Whatever the fruit was, it was not disgusting, nor did it have worms. Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it was desirable. What Eve had heard God say would be the consequence of disobedience was overridden by what she saw. The fruit looked good. What we see can often overwhelm what we hear.

My greatest concern about our visual society is what will happen to our children as they hear the preaching of the gospel. Whether your pastor is crowned with the gray hairs of the wisdom of years or whether he is young, whether you think your pastor is attractive or whether you think he is not, when we listen to our pastors deliver a sermon, there is not much visual stimulation. Reformed worship services are not visual and that is deliberate because it is biblical.

We require our children to be attentive during church. Yet actively listening that long is hard. Notice once, the visual pace of images on our screens. One hardly ever has an opportunity to focus for long. The image is constantly changing, every five seconds at least. If this image does not grab you, let’s quickly move on to the next one. You don’t like this? Well, just wait a few seconds and perhaps you will find the next one more to your liking. One wonders whether or not our pastors even have a chance to hold our children’s attention when children are growing up in such a visual society.

Also, we develop skills by practice. Your youngster cannot kick a ball yet? Take him or her into the backyard and kick a ball around together. While the youngster might not ever reach the level of excellence, he or she will improve. What will happen to our listening skills as society requires us to use them less and less? Much is said today about the development of neural pathways in the brains of children. Modern researchers say the brain prunes away connections which are no longer used so pathways which are used can become stronger. If seeing dominates how we learn, how well will we be able to learn by hearing?

What are we to do in this era of the flickering, mega-pixeled high-def screen? Let us turn them off and put them away for awhile each day. Slow down and read a book for yourself or to your children. Develop some artistic skill, no matter how rudimentary. Mealtime can be hectic, and sometimes we parents just want to hurry up and finish eating so we can clean up the mess and move on to the next household chore. However, try to invest some time to engage in dinner conversation with your children and ask questions to see whether or not the children heard what you or their siblings had to say. Are they learning to listen?

It’s easy, too easy, to turn on a screen and let the eye be dazzled. Let’s make sure the portal of the ear is open, actively engaged and well connected to our souls and the souls of our children.


Debating the Origin of Things (2)

Debating the Origin of Things (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School

While the events treated in the previous article were unfolding, the Scripps Survey Research Center took a phone survey of 1,005 Americans from 9–23 October, 2005. A report on this survey by Thomas Hargrove and Guido Stempel III appeared in the 10 December, 2005, Grand Rapids Press. The results were interesting. Fifty-four percent of all those surveyed agreed with the statement, “God created the universe and humans in a six-day period.” Despite the advantages evolution has in public education, especially at the college and research levels, more than half of Americans remain unconvinced. No wonder evolutionists are frustrated.

The article also reports,

Joseph Howard, director of the Catholic Medical Ethics Advisory Council and an exponent of intelligent design, said he is troubled that so many Americans take a literal view of the Bible. “Have they studied ancient Hebrew? For people to sit around and pretend they can understand the Book of Genesis is ludicrous,” Howard said.

This is the modern attempt to take the Bible from the hands of God’s people. Our kindergartners seem to understand quite clearly what the Bible says.

The efforts of Christians to have some element of religion in public education are futile and serve no positive purpose. Opinion columnist Cal Thomas expressed this in the 28 December, 2005, Grand Rapids Press:

Religious parents should exercise the opportunity that has always been theirs. They should remove their children from state schools with their “instruction manuals” for turning them into secular liberals, and place them in private schools—or home school them—where they will be taught the truth, according to their parents’ beliefs. Too many parents who would never send their children to a church on Sunday that taught doctrines they believed to be wrong, have had no problem placing them in state schools five days a week where they are taught conflicting doctrines and ideas.

Be thankful our forefathers realized this and established the schools which we enjoy today!

Evolutionists will not be able to sway public opinion in their favour. Evolution is fundamentally flawed. The natural mind of man sees this because creation itself proclaims its Creator. Rev. Herman Hoeksema wrote of this in his Reformed Dogmatics,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Hence, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Unbelief does not understand the things of the Spirit of God, and for that reason can never find the origin of things. It judges all things in the light and according to the standard of human wisdom. And according to that standard, things can be called only after they exist, and the former can never precede the latter. It must naturally proceed from the principle that things that are seen also proceed from things which do appear. But faith, that clings to God, the Creator of all things, understands that things which are seen are not made of things that do appear: for the world is framed by the Word of God, Who calls the things that are not as if they were (pp. 465-466; italics mine).

Rev. Hoeksema continues.

For God has formed all things for His own name’s sake, in order that all creatures should acknowledge Him with thanksgiving and glorify His name. In the earthly creation all things must serve man, in order that man might serve God. God does not leave Himself without witness, and calls man to His service. He does that through the things that are made. For “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge” ... By this calling through the things that are made God gives witness of Himself, of His eternal power and Godhead, and demands that all men must glorify and serve Him (pp. 466–467).

Because creation has such a purpose, it is no wonder that the ungodly strive to mute such a call with the earplugs of evolution. Because creation has such a purpose, how can covenant parents not establish and maintain schools where creation’s call may be echoed!


Debating the Origin of Things (1)

Debating the Origin of Things (1)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker MI.

Recently, we looked at an editorial by Richard Fienberg, Editor in Chief of Sky and Telescope magazine. The article was titled, “Evolution: We Can’t Sit Idly By.” In his article, Fienberg expressed concern about what might happen to science education in our nation’s public schools if religious fundamentalists had their way. Fienberg’s article elicited quite a response from his readers. Sky and Telescope printed a representative sample of these letters in its August 2005 issue.

The following are excerpts from reader responses.

● As an amateur stargazer, I cannot look at this beautiful universe as an accident. The change of seasons, the Sun being neither too far away nor too close to sustain life, our own conscience—all scream to me of an intelligent designer. It is ridiculous to believe that chance can cause anything, scientifically, rationally, or theologically.
● Evolution serves to remove God from the picture, allowing us to escape the dilemma of having to answer to a higher being. Thus, humanists and secularists, no matter how foolish they look, uphold it.
● On Christmas Eve 1968, humanity saw Earth for the first time as a small blue-and-white ball against the vastness of space. On that day, the three Apollo 8 astronauts read the first few verses from Genesis. Science and religion coexisted on that day with nothing but applause from both the scientific community and the general population. Sadly, that level of tolerance is gone, replaced by an intolerance that wants to wipe the presence of faith from the public circle ... we should enjoy the wonders of the universe together. We can figure out who should get the credit for it as individuals.
● Fienberg notes that good science education reaching more people would improve the situation. To build on his point, let’s advocate not just for the protection of science education but also for the notion that an educated person is someone able and inclined to wrestle with intellectual, moral, and social issues.
● I find it peculiar that Fienberg’s article made not one, or two, but three references to Christian fundamentalists who suggest that Earth is 6,000 years old. As a Christian who attended parochial school and church for most of my 44 years, I can honestly say that I have never heard a pastor or a teacher of any denomination suggest that Earth is anywhere near that young.
● Who will defend NASA and the other pure science programs after the creationists have poisoned public opinion by denigrating science and scientists?
● For those of us who believe that somewhere between any two views is probably where the truth lies, this complex universe of ours didn’t happen by accident. If there are two major theories about the way everything began, why can’t we honestly present both?

(I should tell you that this last quotation came from a minister.)

Other readers then felt a need to comment upon the letters to the editor. Further reader responses appeared in Sky & Telescope’s October 2005 issue. They were discouraged to see letters upholding the intelligent design viewpoint.

● It’s preposterous to consider “creation science” or “intelligent design science” as anything more than oxymoronic terms. People who believe these ideas reach their conclusions first and then twist the data to support their fundamentalist dogmas.
● I found some of the published responses to Fienberg’s well-judged editorial disappointing and surprising. It comes as something of a shock that amateur astronomers can be so uninformed about the nature of science; the basics of biology, evolution, and astrophysics; and the evidence that underpins this knowledge. The responses clearly demonstrate the necessity for a more scientifically based education system—not only to enable people to appreciate how amazing the universe is but also to counter the dangers presented by faith-based curricula that demand the acceptance of statements without requiring evidence.
● As a Christian, professional scientist, and science educator, I’m appalled by some of the arguments presented in the August letters. They show a profound misunderstanding of what science is. The age of the Earth and the solar system as a whole is about 4.5 billion years old, obtained by various independent dating methods, and this is unassailable.

A court case and school board election in Dover, Pennsylvania, have sparked debate over intelligent design and evolution in the public school classroom. The Grand Rapids Press printed an article by Richard Ostling on 27 August, 2005, concerning these events.

Quizzed on the topic, President Bush recently told reporters: “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas and the answer is ‘Yes.’”

The president’s remark prompted sharp criticism from intelligent design opponents. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said ... Bush is “anti-science” and “there’s no factual evidence for intelligent design.”

A federal district court ruled there was no place in the public school curriculum for intelligent design because it was merely a re-labeling of creationism. Thus, the separation between church and state was violated. In the November school board election in Dover, Pennsylvania, all candidates supporting intelligent design lost.  to be continued ..


"The Fun They Had"

“The Fun They Had”

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI.

“And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zech. 8:5).

This summer a new literature book appeared in my mailbox in the school office. It’s interesting to see how textbooks are changing. The artwork and photography in new textbooks are much more colourful than they used to be. The layout of text and graphics are also very different than they were twenty-five years ago. Women and minority authors are more numerous than before.

There were some stories which caught my eye because my classmates and I read them in English class. This also shows another change in schoolbooks. This new literature text is meant for 6th grade, but my classmates and I did not study these stories until junior high or high school. Topics covered in school continue to move to the younger grades.

One of these stories was “The Fun They Had” by Isaac Asimov. A friend of Asimov’s asked him to write a short story for young readers. He decided to write about schools of the future. The “Meet the Writer” page at the end of the story reports, “He wrote the story at one sitting and earned ten dollars for it—‘a penny a word,’ Asimov says.”

The story is set in the year 2155 and speaks of a boy who found a “real book” in the attic of his house. He shares the book with a neighbour girl. The children think it is strange that a book would be printed on paper and that the words just stay stationary on the page instead of moving across a television screen the way their books did. The book was about school, which was also different from their experience. Their school was a room in their houses which contained a mechanical teacher. Their lessons appeared on a screen and they would do their work by use of punch cards, which they then fed into a slot of the teaching machine. The “teacher” would then grade their work and report on their progress.

In the book, the children read about a school which was a special building where all the children went. The children learned in groups and were taught by a person. When the eleven-year-old girl in the story returns to her lonely schoolroom and mechanical teacher, “She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighbourhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.” The story ends with the little girl “thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.”

The older our children grow the less likely they are to say they enjoy or have fun at school. It is just not the socially acceptable thing to do. It is part of our society that, as children grow older, they will say that school is boring. As modern society presents American adolescents, we would expect the only matters in which they would show any interest to be various forms of entertainment.

Yet that is not what I see in the classroom or especially on the playground. These children do appear to be having fun. Of course, I realize our school is not built in Nirvana nor is it found at the end of a rainbow. As soon as one person sets foot in school in the morning, there will be a saint facing the spiritual struggle of temptation and dealing with sin. When the school is populated by more than 260 of us, the spiritual challenges only increase. All of us at school must deal with our weak and sinful flesh, and we must strive to mortify the old man of sin. The devil does not leave us alone here because the word “Christian” is on our building. Satan does not consider school property to be out of bounds for spreading his snares.

However, when the regular textbook work is finished and my students have the opportunity to prepare for quizzes and tests together, they make the best of it and often invent ways to enjoy their preparation. When watching the children on the playground, there are hundreds of smiles seen. True, there are tears which are shed on the playground, but almost all of the time it is because the children have not run with each other, but into each other. If something mean has been done and discipline must be administered, it is usually well received. There are many Christian friendships which are developing here. We have much for which to be thankful.

Hope School began in the 1940s with four classrooms. Do you think Hope’s first school society members envisioned what we have today? We had an enrolment high of 374 students in 1984, the year before Heritage School started. Hope has now reached 249 students and Heritage certainly does not have a small student body.

The Jews of Zechariah’s day needed encouragement. They had returned from captivity, but faced enemies and the sins of their countrymen. Jerusalem was a relatively large city by size but the people in it were few. People had to be asked to volunteer to live there. Zechariah encouraged the people by telling them Jerusalem’s streets would be full of boys and girls playing in the streets. The Jews might not have dared to imagine such a sight.

The Lord has blessed the efforts of believing parents and grandparents. God has kept His covenant promise, and has given to us schools and playgrounds full of children. However, how far off is the day when we will no longer be able to have our own schools? We must put this opportunity to good use and see to it that our children have an understanding of their blessings. Is there a day when we will remember the fun we had?


Our Invincible King

Our Invincible King

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI.

“The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1).

As our school begins its 59th year of parental, covenant instruction, our first song-of-the-week is based on Psalm 110. There is encouragement for us in the first verse of this Psalm. The days will come when we will need to remember this verse.

As we begin a new school year, the students are happy to see one another and renew friendships. The freshly painted halls and lockers are bright and clean, and the new carpet is unstained and still has its nap. The days will come, however, when there will be fingerprints smudging the walls. Lockers will be scratched. The carpeting will become dirty and show evidence of many footsteps.

Also our experiences here will prove to us that our schools are not havens from sin. Each of us involved in our schools will carry with him his own sinful flesh with desires against which he must struggle every day. Students will miss the mark in their duty to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. The shortcomings and weaknesses of teachers will either become evident or be remembered as the weeks and months unfold. The school year brings numerous demands on our time and attention. Our schools can begin to feel more as a daily or weekly grind to endure rather than the blessings they truly are.

As we struggle with our weaknesses and sins, and witness the growth of sin in the world, our encouragement is to know that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. This is a place of unmatched glory. Here Christ is exalted over all creation as the Lord of lords. Christ’s enemies may try to resist His will and overthrow His kingdom, but all their efforts will be in vain, because the day comes when Christ’s enemies will be placed at His footstool, a reference to the ancient tradition of victorious kings placing their feet upon the necks of the enemies whom they had defeated.

By nature, we were also among Christ’s enemies. God’s irresistible grace has subdued and humbled our haughty and rebellious hearts. The working of His grace through the preaching of His Word has made us see the foolishness of the way we chose in Adam. We confess our inability to save ourselves or change the hearts of those dear to us. We have been delivered by an almighty, gracious hand, while the reprobate will find themselves being ground beneath His feet.

We must, however, wait for that day. Yet it is encouraging to see that, while the world expresses its hatred for God and His Word, Christ is calmly seated at God’s right hand. He is not scurrying about in a panic trying to rescue a plan which has somehow gone terribly wrong. He is not pacing back and forth with an anxious look on His face as He tries to find some way to gain victory for His church. He calmly sits. His counsel is being unfolded in our troubled times. Christ has told us what must come to pass before the end comes. The world is not becoming an easier place for the true church to carry out her work. This is what is taught in our schools to the covenant children God has given us. God has turned the world over to its sin, and we must labour diligently and wait patiently for Christ’s return.

The lordship of Christ will encourage us to be faithful stewards in the work He has given us to do in our small part of His kingdom. Our noses may be bloodied from time to time as we struggle in the battle against sin, but our Lord is seated at God’s right hand where some day all the church will be gathered. John Calvin encourages believers in his commentary on Psalm 110:2 by writing about Christ, “Moreover, as he does not reign on his own account, but for our salvation, we may rest assured that we will be protected and preserved from all ills under the guardianship of this invincible King.”

Let us encourage one another and be forgiving of one another, as we work together in our covenant schools as servants of our invincible King.


Valorous Service

Valorous Service

Brian D. Dykstra, Teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

“Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies” (Ps. 108:12-13).

Our nation observed Memorial Day recently. It is a day to remember those who died protecting our country. Some of our nation’s fighting men died during the Battle of Iwo Jima. This is the most famous battle the Marines fought against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean. The mountain on this small, eight square mile island was the setting for the well-known flag-raising photograph which served as the model for the Marine memorial in Washington, D.C. and symbolized the teamwork and effort demanded to win the war.

The Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima had months to prepare for the American invasion they knew was coming. The Japanese used this time to construct a complex of underground fortifications from which to fight the Marines. Bunkers, pillboxes and sniper pits were built, and many of these structures were connected by miles of tunnels. This underground system was so well made that bombing from the air and shelling from the sea did little damage. The Japanese were so well hidden many Marines reported that during the entire gruelling, month-long battle, they never saw a living Japanese soldier. One army fought below the ground, while the other fought on it.

The Japanese had carefully mapped the island so their weapons could inflict the greatest damage possible on the steadily advancing Marines. It was a battle of incredible violence. Nurses on offshore hospital ships had never seen such terrible wounds. Yet there were some moments of humour. For example, at one point of the battle as an officer tumbled into a shell hole for some protection, he turned to a buddy in the same hole and understated, “I have the distinct impression that we’re not welcome here!”

In the 36-day battle, 75,000 American Marines fought 22,000 Japanese soldiers. Only about 1,000 Japanese survived the battle. One-third of the Marines became casualties, with 6,821 being killed. Several Marines saved the lives of their friends by throwing their bodies on live grenades. Twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honour were awarded. The Marines won a great victory and through dogged determination were able to defeat the enemy. One commander said that such a victory would guarantee the existence of the Marine Corps for another five hundred years. Another American general commanding the Marines wrote, “Uncommon valour was a common virtue.”

As members of God’s militant church, we are also engaged in battle. The spiritual battle we face is no less fierce than that of Iwo Jima. We also must grapple with an enemy which is unseen. It is no secret to us what the world thinks about God, His Word and His people. We are not welcome here.

Everyone associated with our school has faced the usual work required during the year. Parents and students have spent many hours on school work or on the job so money can be earned to pay the bills. Grandparents have given their support in various ways, including attendance at chapels and various programs. Have we been allowed to go about this work unmolested by our spiritual enemies? At times, we have been discouraged. There are occasions when the blessing of having our own school seems burdensome. Now and then in the hectic pace of life we, and our children, become distracted and forget that there really is a battle taking place. Satan can lure us to complain about some aspect of school life when we should be more thankful for what we have been given. Words have been spoken before thought was given about the effect such words could have on others. We must constantly be on our guard against Satan’s weapons. They do no less damage than shrapnel.

During this school year, God has been pleased to add to our usual cares. God has taken from the Hope School community a beloved son, father, mother and daughter. Their tours of service here are now over, though God did not give them their threescore years and ten. They are no longer found in the ranks of the church militant, for the Lord of Hosts determined they were prepared for their place in the church triumphant. We know God works all things for the good of His people and we are never separated from His love. Yet Satan attempts to use these same events to fight against us with discontent and to have us question the goodness of our heavenly Father. Our prayer is for Jehovah to give us help from trouble.

We must confess with David that the help of man is vain. We can only help each other in this battle when we come with the truth of God’s Word and when we together cling to His promises. It is only by God’s strength that we can serve valiantly in the spiritual battle which takes place not only around us but also in our own weak flesh. Only our Almighty God can tread down our spiritual enemies.

There is no doubt the battles we face in the Christian life are difficult. We have our sorrows. Still, we must be examples to God’s covenant children of how to face our enemies. The Marines on Iwo Jima were never in doubt about the final outcome of the battle. Their only question was how much it would cost. They pressed on through their fears with grim determination to realize a great victory. In the battle’s first week, the Marines gave a joyous shout when they saw the Stars and Stripes raised over Mount Suribachi. We and our children can press forward in God’s grace as well. The price of victory has already been paid in Christ’s blood on the cross. Imagine the great shout of victory and praise there will be when Christ’s standard is raised high over the heads of His victorious church! What great encouragement we have to render to God our best, valorous service!




Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI.

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (Ps. 139:14).

The 19 April, 2004 Grand Rapids Press contained an editorial entitled “Parenthood Unplugged.” After addressing the issue of what children watch on television, the article states, “A new study shows parents should be equally concerned about the sheer quantity of TV young children consume.”

The survey found that the more television youngsters age 1 and 3 watch, the likelier they are to develop attention deficit problems later in life ... At risk, investigators speculate, is the brain itself. Pliable and quickly-forming in toddlers, the organ may be altered by the fast-paced images and bursts of sound typical of television.

The American Society of Pediatrics recommends no television (their emphasis) for children under 2 years of age. Older children should be limited to one to two hours a day.
The study found that the longer youngsters sat in front of the TV, the greater the likelihood they would have difficulty concentrating, act restless and impulsive and become easily confused.
Even the best programming may change the delicate pathways of the brain and keep neurons from connecting.
As well-intentioned as they are, Kermit and Miss Piggy can’t substitute for Mom and Dad. This study is one more solid reason for parents to unplug and reclaim their rightful roles.

The March 2005 National Geographic also contained an article about the development and function of the brain. The article reports that during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, a baby’s brain cells establish contacts (synapses) with each other at the rate of two million per second. Different areas of the brain continue to develop in various ways and rates even into early adulthood. “If there is a single theme that has dominated the past decade of neurological research, it is the growing appreciation of the brain’s plasticity—its ability to reshape and reorganize itself through adulthood.”

We are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made.

The world’s scientists are concerned about the effects of television on the development of the physical nature of the brain. Some members of society are worried about the possible effects upon behaviour caused by television viewing. Television has become a major part of society and consumes a significant portion of the typical American’s leisure time. An article in the February 2002 Scientific American entitled “Television Addiction is no mere metaphor” reported, “On average, individuals in the industrialized world devote three hours a day to the pursuit—fully half of their leisure time, and more than on any single activity save work and sleep.”

We Christians ought to be concerned about the use of television too. What are the spiritual effects of television viewing? Of course, the primary concern is the (often filthy) dramatic presentations of Hollywood. However, today, with the growth of cable television services, there is a host of non-dramatic offerings on the television. This can involve the issue of stewardship regarding the investment of time. Also, an impressive amount of money is spent to operate our schools each day. We stress the importance of teaching from a Reformed point of view. How much of this instruction is undone when we spend time watching TV?

As an example, a parent recently gave me a review of the movie Shrek, an animated fairy-tale style film about a large, green ogre. He found the review on the internet. I do not have the name of the web address for this review, but I noted with interest (or disappointment) that the line at the top of the first page said, “Shrek / a review from Christian Spotlight on the Movies.”

The author begins with what appears to be a typical movie review. He then explains why the film has a PG rating, assuring readers, “There’s a small amount of mild sexual innuendo, which is bound to go way over the heads of most children.” He then concludes with some comments about why this film would be acceptable fare for Christians. “On the positive side, Shrek has a lot of good, clean humor and some good messages. The biggest moral of the story is the wrongfulness of judging people by their appearance ... A secondary message is the importance of companionship.”

What followed were nine one-paragraph submissions from those who had gone to see the film. Most of the paragraphs related a positive attitude toward the film. There were two, however, which were the most striking. One couple wrote, “We as parents need to be careful that we are not sending mixed messages to our children. Don’t do that or speak like that and yet we entertain ourselves with this kind of junk?” The couple then made a plea to the Christian community based on Ephesians 5. Finally, a sixteen-year-old saw the film and wrote, “This is one of the greatest movies of the year!” Later she adds this, “From the Christian perspective, the only thing that may offend is perhaps a misuse of the Lord’s name ...” So the taking of God’s name in vain is only mildly offensive? Well, it might be to many people, but God surely does not take it lightly.

Covenant families have many sounds in their homes. There are the shrieks of infants, the joyful shouts of toddlers, and the laughter of children and parents enjoying one another’s company. We also hear the sounds of Zion’s Psalms. Perhaps another sound we need to hear more often is the “Click” of the TV being turned off.


Family Values: Is Education Among Them?

Family Values: Is Education Among Them?

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23).

An article written by William Raspberry appeared in the Grand Rapids Press (11 September, 2004). He titled his article, “The foundation of any child’s school success—a good home.” Mr. Raspberry begins,

Show me a home where education and learning are central values, and where the parents are reasonably competent at the business of child-rearing, and I’ll show you the home of a good student.

The correlation ... isn’t perfect ... But the correlation between good homes and good students stands. Further, the clearest identifying characteristic of what we call a good school is a critical mass of children from good homes.

If this is so, why do our public policies pay so little attention? Listen to our school leaders and you’d think the difference between school success and school failure lies in the quality of the superintendent, the size of the school budgets or the academic backgrounds and skill levels of the teachers.

After mentioning vouchers, charter schools and other programs, Mr. Raspberry continues,

I don’t mean to suggest that the things that schools and school districts do don’t matter. Of course it matters to have qualified teachers, principals who can provide safety and support, budgets that furnish the tools of learning and competent staff to bring all these things together.

But it matters more what parents do—and believe.

My point is not to let the schools off the hook, but to offer an explanation of why a torrent of school reforms over the past few decades has brought the merest trickle of improvement. We’ve not paid enough attention to improving the homes our children come from.

For Mr. Raspberry, however, what parents “believe” has nothing to do with God’s truth, biblical faith or the keeping of baptismal vows. Mr. Raspberry is speaking only of what parents believe about the power of education. “How can they tell their children of the wonders education will open up for them? Well, they can’t—unless they believe it. And they won’t believe it unless those of us who know the truth take the trouble to teach them.”

From this point, Mr. Raspberry speaks about government programs such as Head Start, Parents As Teachers and a program he began and funds in his Mississippi hometown called Baby Steps. Mr. Raspberry writes, “We tell them that the best help they can give is to make their children know how much they value learning.”

Mr. Raspberry is right as far as he goes, and it is clear that his concern is limited to public education. The family is a fundamental institution created by God. The overall condition of families determines the condition of schools, churches, denominations and even society on a national level. While I was taking graduate classes at Michigan State University as part of a group of thirty teachers, only three of whom taught at Christian schools, the topic of families was discussed often. Single parent and “blended” families are now the norm. A fellow student in the class mentioned that the decline of American family life could even be seen in the school directory. There were multiple entries for most of the students because their weekend address was different from their school day address. Grandparents were sometimes listed because there were times when the single parent was temporarily unfit to provide care. It was awful just to listen to what some of these children had to endure.

I was usually allowed to keep a low profile in these classes because the solutions I had offered in other discussions were quite out of fashion, as you can imagine. I still remember, however, the reaction of the class when the professor turned to me and asked about the condition of the families which used our school. There was disbelief when I reported that out of the nearly ninety families which used our school at that time, there were no blended families, no broken homes, all of the couples were on their first marriage and there was only one single-parent family because it had pleased God to take a mother in death. They wondered how that was even possible. I simply told them that God’s commandments are to be taken seriously and that there are consequences for sin. The discussion moved on.

Yet, Mr. Raspberry’s article causes us to ask how much we as parents value education. Are our schools just a haven from the world and false doctrine, and whatever they learn is just a bonus? Are we satisfied when our children do less than their best or do sloppy, careless work? Do we let them say they hate school or act as though they have no interest in learning anything? As a teacher, I do try to make lessons interesting, but I cannot make students care.

Do our children see us read anything other than the newspaper? Do we show interest in the subjects they study? Do we strive to have our children miss as little school time as possible because of vacations or appointments?

God has blessed us for many years through our schools. The churches of our denomination grow where we have our own schools. Our children have a wonderful opportunity to learn about God’s creation and the unfolding of His council in time. We must make good, diligent use of our schools while we still have them. We sometimes speak of the day our schools close as being the day when our government forces us to do so. How remote is the possibility that we close our schools ourselves because of a lack of interest or not valuing Christian education enough to make the sacrifices our schools require?


Yes, Darwin Was Wrong

Yes, Darwin Was Wrong

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

“What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things?” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 28).

The November 2004 issue of the National Geographic had an article written by David Quammen. He began his article with the question, “Was Darwin wrong?” The question also appeared on the magazine’s cover. Imagine! A magazine known for its belief in evolution even asking the question! Could it be possible that an article in the National Geographic would present both sides, creation and evolution, then explain positive and negative aspects of both?

I should have known the question was not being posed because there was some genuine debate of evolution or creation in the article. I had hoped the author might point out some of the difficulties and shortcomings of evolution. Such ideas were dispelled immediately upon turning the page where in large letters one reads, “NO. The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming.” Do you also find it telling that “evolution” was printed with a capital “E”?

An interesting aspect of the article is that Quammen cites Gallup polls in which responders were presented the choices of evolution, creation or a mixture of the two as explanations for human existence. He reports, “Gallup interviewers posed exactly the same choices in 1982, 1993, 1997, and 1999. The creationist conviction—that God alone, and not evolution, produced humans—has never drawn less than 44 percent. In other words, nearly half the American populace prefers to believe that Charles Darwin was wrong where it mattered most.” Evolutionists are frustrated that they have made no headway in reducing the percentage of Americans who hold to creation.

The theory of evolution is very important to those who hold to it. This is evident when Quammen writes, “Evolution is both a beautiful concept and an important one, more crucial nowadays to human welfare, to medical science, and to our understanding of the world than ever before. It’s also deeply persuasive—a theory you can take to the bank. The essential points are slightly more complicated than most people assume, but not so complicated that they can’t be comprehended by any attentive person. Furthermore, the supporting evidence is abundant, various, ever increasing, solidly interconnected, and easily available in museums, popular books, textbooks, and a mountainous accumulation of peer-reviewed scientific studies. No one needs to, and no one should, accept evolution merely as a matter of faith.”

Again, Quammen views faith as “merely” believing something which cannot be proved. Faith is never defined as an assured confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the elect through the preaching of the gospel (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7).

Yet we are saddened that so many have compromised the clear teaching of Genesis in order to find an accepted place in scientific circles. Quammen even points out that there are papal pronouncements which state that Roman Catholic dogma has room for the view that God begins the process but uses evolution as the means to create all things. We are also aware of Christian colleges where evolution has been allowed to creep into science departments.

Is there a temptation for us to moderate our stance on the biblical truth of creation? Do some think our churches would be more attractive to more people in areas where our denomination does mission work if we were to abandon such a literal reading of Genesis? Would the larger Christian community view us as not being so backward or stridently conservative, if we were to adopt some form of evolutionary thinking? Other denominations have thought there was enough to be gained by accepting some form of evolution to change their positions.

While some churches have thought the gains of evolution outweigh maintaining biblical creation, Lord’s Day 10 of theHeidelberg Catechism tells us what would be lost. God upholds and governs all things with His fatherly hand. Therefore, we know that whatever happens to us is not the result of chance but is the will of our loving heavenly Father. Knowing that our God is the almighty Creator assures us that nothing can separate us from His love. These are not advantages which we are willing to trade for acceptance in the world.

Yet evolution must be presented to our students because it is such an important part of modern society. Not only does evolution dominate the scientific realm which plays a large role in our society but it is also the basis of modern morality (of the lack thereof). We need to know enough about evolution to be able to point out its flaws. Yet while instructing our children we must always answer the question, “Was Darwin wrong?” by saying, “Yes! Because not only does evolution have an atheistic viewpoint, it also denies us the comfort of having all things directed by a loving heavenly Father who is strong enough not to allow anything to separate us from His love.”

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