Articles

Christian Education Devotionals (70)

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.

Is Cozbi in the House?

Is Cozbi in the House?

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

“And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian” (Num. 25:15).

The Israelites were camped just east of the Jordan River. The fulfilment of God’s promise to give Abraham’s children the Promised Land was near. The anticipation and excitement of the people were palpable. Israel defeated the Amorites, possessing their land and living in their cities. Better things were yet to come!

Israel was now in Shittim. Since the people did not complain about a lack of food or water, which they did not hesitate to do, we can assume Israel was supplied with both. As there was no struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life, perhaps there was some leisure time to explore the offerings of the world around them. Numbers 25:1 tells us, “the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.”

Israel was the peculiar treasure of God. From the descendants of Terah, Jehovah established His covenant with Abraham, not Lot and his son Moab. God then distinguished among the offspring of Abraham, decreeing that the covenant seed would be called in Sarah’s son Isaac, not Hagar’s son Ishmael or Keturah’s son Midian.

God gave Israel His commandments and the laws which governed His people’s social and religious life. God was not to be worshipped the same way the heathen worshipped their idols. The nations around Israel were supposed to be able to tell that God’s people were a separate and distinct nation.

Moab heard what God had done to Egypt. Moab knew of Israel’s recent destruction of the Amorites. Though the Israelites were the descendants of slaves and had spent nearly forty years as nomads in the wilderness, it was clear Israel was a serious threat. Moab had enmity for God’s covenant people. Moab, though witnessing the blessings of Jehovah resting upon Israel, did not repent, put away her idols and ask to participate in some way in Israel’s covenant life. Moab would repeatedly oppose Israel through the rest of her history.

The Midianites joined Moab in hostility against God’s people. The Midianites were also distant relatives of Israel. The Midianites were nomads, not having any fixed territory of their own. From time to time, they lived near Moab. Now these nations had a common interest in opposing Israel. Did Midian bear a grudge against Israel? Was the record of Genesis 25:5-6 told from father to son? “And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.” Can you hear the Midianites complain, “What! You mean our forefather wasn’t even deemed worthy to be in the same area as Abraham’s precious Isaac but was sent away!”

Moab’s king, Balak, knew something must be done to stop Israel. Balak had enough sense not to fight Israel on the battlefield, so he sent for the prophet Balaam. What made Israel so fearsome was that Israel was blessed by Jehovah. All that needed to be done, therefore, was to have Jehovah’s curse placed upon Israel. Israel would then be no different from any other nation and Balak could take his chances against them in war. Balaam found he could not curse those whom God had blessed. Balaam pronounced God’s blessing upon Israel, spoke of Israel’s coming glory and the destruction of Israel’s enemies.

Balaam, however, was not finished yet. God’s church could not be destroyed by pronouncing God’s curse to be upon them but what could be done was to corrupt God’s church so that the church could no longer be distinguished from the world. The Israelites could be enticed into idolatry by encouraging relationships with Moab’s women. The women of Midian were willing to join in this effort. The Zondervan Bible Encyclopedia has this in its entry regarding Balaam, “His teaching involved the most contemptible action ever conceived in an unregenerate heart. Corrupt a people you cannot curse and God will have to chasten them. In short, this means to take a people under divine blessing and deliberately lead them into sin to strip them of the divine blessing.”

It worked. God punished Israel with a plague and twenty-four thousand people died. Those who feared God were weeping before the door of the tabernacle. Did they feel too corrupt to enter to bring their supplication to God? While these people wept, Zimri, a son of one the important families of Simeon, brazenly took a Midianite woman to his tent. No imagination was required to determine what Zimri had in mind.

The Midianite woman was Cozbi. She was not a daughter of some low-level goat herder. She was the daughter of a man who was the leader of an important house in Midian. She was a princess. In our day, Zimri, one of the elite in Simeon, and Princess Cozbi would be among the trend setters, those pursued by the paparazzi.

Phinehas the priest followed them into the privacy of Zimri’s tent and killed them both with a javelin. The plague was stayed and the Lord’s anger was turned. God rewarded Phinehas for being zealous and God told Moses to fight Midian so this could not happen again.

Satan continues his attempts to corrupt God’s people. It has worked before. Satan has had success in the areas of heresy, doctrinal indifference and false ecumenism. The boundary between what calls itself the church and the world is continually blurred.

Yet I am convinced an area in which Satan enjoys great success is in the various dramatic presentations of Hollywood. Satan would have us grow accustomed to the vilest of sins by having them presented so often that we hardly even notice. We know we are to be distinct as God’s people but being different from the world does not come easily to our nature. Hollywood is a great teacher when it comes to setting examples about how to act, talk, dress and what to value in life. Not watching the productions of Hollywood can make us appear to be as outdated as zipperless clothes and the Amish buggy, beard and wimple. Who wants to be as weird as that?

How much of Hollywood’s drama enters the privacy of our homes through television, cable services, videos and DVDs? Are these corruptions made pure by taking them into the privacy of covenant homes? Is it nobody else’s business? Is there no adverse effect on Christ’s people?

Zimri thought he could do as he pleased in the privacy of his tent. Nobody else should care. Zimri thought, “I will have my sinful pleasure in my tent, and the rest of you prudes can go right ahead and weep in front of the tabernacle as much as you please.” Phinehas thought differently. Zimri’s action did have an effect on the covenant community at large. Are we corrupting ourselves with worldly entertainment? The actresses of Hollywood are as so many Cozbis to instruct us and our children in the ways of the world. Is Cozbi in the house?

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The Voice of the Enemy (2)

The Voice of the Enemy (2)

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

“Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually” (Psalm 74:23).

[In the previous article we looked at an article by Mr. Gregory Paul, which concluded that belief in God is bad. Society is better off when there are fewer people who believe in God.]

The paper then concludes with several pages of e-mails sent in by listeners.

Diamond Sutherland (USA): “I completely agree that we have the most dysfunctional society. Anyone who needs to believe there is something more than them [sic] has no control over their own lives. We should be beyond believing in Gods by now. Gods were created because the early humans had no control over what was going on around them. We have control. Yet for some reason the Christian right believes we do not. Someone please throw a science book at these people.”

Jan Velema (Canada): “The reason that religion, especially Christianity, is bad for society is because most Christians believe that people come back from the dead. This is absurd! The ancient Norse and Greeks believed their Gods were real as well. To continue to teach your children impossibilities displays a lack of intellect. There must be an admittance of these mistaken past teachings in order for Christianity to survive. If not, it will continue to die a slow, painful death.”

Cliff Prosser (USA): “ But religion isn’t the issue ... faith is the issue. The Bible itself is replete with examples of religiosity that has no real substance. For example, the Pharisees of old who held great religious stature but gained no favour with God because they were self absorbed, intellectual and arrogant. Religion is not the answer. A true, deep, abiding belief and faith in a sovereign God and the blood of the Perfect Sacrificial Lamb (Jesus Christ) that He provided is the answer.”

Neil (USA): “Fact: Here in America we eat more ice cream in July than any other month. Fact: Here in America there are more rapes committed in July than any other month. Conclusion: Eating ice cream causes rape. This is the kind of shoddy statistical analysis your report depends on.”

Thomas Anderson (Canada): “Religion is the world’s most deadly weapon of mass destruction.”

Gern Blansden (USA): “Yes, religion is bad for society. Faith in each other is not. But the way modern religious leaders have warped and skewed faith in each other to become a basis for persecution and discrimination has turned religion into more of a liability for society than an asset. There is nothing religion provides to society that cannot be achieved through faith in each other and an extension of one’s own benevolence to others. Throw away the guilt, rules and controls of religion and instill faith and hope in each other and you turn around the state of this world. Open your minds. This world, our society, is not a mythological entity.”

We can hear the voice of God’s enemies, the spirit of anti-Christ, in this discussion. Mr. Paul believes he has proven, scientifically, that God is more of a nuisance than a help. Society would benefit if there weren’t so many of His followers around. We can only expect such an attitude to increase and become more vocal. Despite society’s praise of open-mindedness and tolerance, for how long will society tolerate those who would truly worship God or be open-minded toward those who hold God’s Word as Truth?

There is the assertion that God was only needed to explain the origin of the universe. Man no longer needs the creative power of God. However, is there no need for God’s recreative power in redemption? It appears mankind sees no sin from which he needs to be delivered. The Russian author Dostoyevsky was correct, apparently, when we wrote, “If God does not exist, then everything is permissible.” It’s becoming evident that not only are all things permissible, but nothing is sin either. No wonder anti-Christ has no need, and little tolerance remaining, for God.

Are we concerned about the perilous days which lay ahead for us and our covenant children? What will the voices of the enemy be saying soon, and what tumults will be raised against God’s Anointed One? God will not forget the enemies’ voice but His is the stronger voice. By the clear, unmistakable voice of His Word, God will gather, defend and finally raise from the grave all those who look to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith.

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The Voice of the Enemy (1)

The Voice of the Enemy (1)

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

“Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually” (Psalm 74:23).

The wars, possibilities of future conflicts, hurricanes and earthquakes of which we have read in the news bear testimony that Christ is returning. It is not as often, however, that we can read of the growth of man’s arrogance in his way of sin and his disdain for anything having to do with God and His Word. Yet, the voice of God’s enemies is increasing continually.

The Journal of Religion and Society recently published a study done by Gregory S. Paul. Mr. Paul is known as a leading international expert on dinosaur paleontology, but he turned his research abilities to the area of social science for a recent study. Mr. Paul investigated the belief that religion is of benefit to society. He writes,

As he helped initiate the American experiment Benjamin Franklin stated that “religion will be a powerful regulator of our actions, give us peace and tranquility within our minds, and render us benevolent, useful and beneficial to others.” When the theory of biological evolution removed the need for a supernatural creator concerns immediately arose over the societal implications of widespread abandonment of faith. In 1880 the religious moralist Dostoyevsky penned the famous warning that “if God does not exist, then everything is permissible.”

Mr. Paul’s study intends to investigate the relationship between society’s overall level of belief in a supernatural power and problems in society. By employing scientific research methods Mr. Paul comes to the conclusion that higher rates of belief correspond with higher levels of social problems while nations in which levels of belief are the lowest, are the nations which demonstrate the highest levels of societal health. Mr. Paul claims that this would not be true if believing in God were beneficial to society. He concludes,

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards.

That is Mr. Paul’s conclusion. Belief in God is bad. Society is better off when there are fewer people who believe in God.

Mr. Paul’s study caught the attention of Andy Clark, host of “Amsterdam Forum,” an hour long shortwave radio program broadcasted by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The printable on-line version of this broadcast begins:

Is having God on your side always advantageous? Well, a new study from the US says not necessarily so. The broad ranging study compares data from 18 developed democracies and it shows societies with higher levels of belief also have higher levels of societal dysfunction. The US was the most religious country in the study, with around 90 percent of people believing in a higher power, and it also showed the highest murder rates, highest levels of child mortality and highest levels of sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy. An expert panel joined Amsterdam Forum this week to tackle the question: “Is religion bad for society?”

The panelists included Gregory Paul, and Peter Derkx, professor of Humanism and Worldview at the University for Humanistics in Utrecht. The paper includes a few key quotations from the discussion:

Peter Derkx: “I don’t think religion in itself is the problem. I think a particular type of religion is the problem and I would say an absolute belief in God is closer to what I think is a problem. I think that God as an authority figure causes people not to think for themselves critically and rationally and intelligently, and I think it’s very important when people meet problems in life that they think about what they want and what the best thing to do is, etcetera, instead of looking to some authority figure who tells the[m] what to do.”
Gregory Paul: “The Bible is whatever you want to make it, there are passages where God orders his followers to kill children, to mass murder children—this happens repeatedly. We need to start looking at whether the Bible is really a good moral guide. It’s a very dark book, in many ways, written by ancient tribal peoples, who in many regards didn’t know any better. This may be one of the reasons why the United States, which is more Bible-based than any other developed democracy, is suffering from some [sic] many societal problems.”
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Living in a Visual Society (3)

Living in a Visual Society (3)

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

This is the third instalment of this series of Highlights articles about the effects of “screen time” on our children. I began with a glance at the beginning of sin. Satan often tempts us through our eyes, while God uses our ears through the preaching of the Word. We also wondered what is happening to our children’s ability to listen attentively for prolonged periods of time to sermons, when our visual age allows us to divert our attention quickly and search out other options when we begin to be bored.

Last time, I noted that physical therapists have actually began to see an increase in young patients whose upper spines have developed problems because of bad posture brought about by hours of observing screens. I also related what I had read about children’s ability to develop “emotional intelligence,” the ability to read other’s body language and facial expressions when much of today’s communication takes place through social media.

Having looked at several research papers, Katherine DeWeese’s thesis titled, “Screen Time, How Much is Too Much? The Social and Emotional Costs of Technology on the Adolescent Brain” serves our purposes well. (Her entire paper can be found at the Educational Research Information Center’s website. Enter ED546474 in the search box.)

Personal electronic devices with their portability and internet capabilities have made multitasking a way of life in society. The claim is that working on several projects at a time can increase worker productivity, especially in an office setting. However, adolescent multitasking has a different purpose. While doing school work, an adolescent is likely to remain connected to friends through social media. DeWeese reports that research shows academic performance declines when there are several social demands imposing on academic work.

DeWeese writes, “The brain can multitask but only by separating those tasks in the mind. The ability to do many things at once means the brain is splitting itself. If students engage in this each day for several hours, their brains will be forming neural pathways in a shortened capacity. It is similar to the difference between muscles used for sprinting and muscles used for long distance. Long and lean muscles need to be active for longer amounts of time and thus are used more. Tight and bulky muscles are used for speed, not endurance. We are training our brain for bursts of energy and not the contemplative long haul of life in a global world.”

She adds that, “technology, while enhancing the access to information, is stunting the ability to process information and think critically. Students are losing their ability to reflect, take time to think and ponder about questions to which they do not know the answer. The new generation’s solution is to immediately pick up the nearest device and ask Google. What is that teaching the students?”

Most educators are interested in providing their students with the skills needed to solve the world’s problems. In the view of many, society’s greatest threat is that humanity is soiling its own nest with its reliance on burning fossil fuels. We need new problem solvers in chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering in the interest of developing a green and sustainable economy and society.

We have more pressing concerns. Is there a doctrinal controversy in our denomination’s future? It has been quite some time since someone in a position of leadership has taken a hammer, even if the hammer had been used in a very subtle fashion, to our denominational foundation. Today’s students would not be able to “google” their way to a determination of truth or falsehood in those circumstances. They would have to be able to contemplate, and invest prolonged thought to analyze what would be said and written by those in opposing camps. We have witnessed what happens in following generations when the generation which experiences the controversy comes to the wrong conclusion about what the Bible teaches. We should not be so proud as to assume that we are immune to what we have seen develop elsewhere.

DeWeese then turns her research to a relative of multitasking, Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). This is a “situation in which the individual does not focus on any one thing in reality while he or she is engaged in and follows everything. While multitasking can be defined as doing many things at once in order to be more productive, CPA is constant fragmented attention that is motivated not by productivity, but by the desire to be connected.”

She goes on to relate a study done on digital natives, people who have grown up with technology. Researchers found “that the digital natives switch their attention between media platforms every other minute. Digital natives switch their attention at the first sign of boredom. The frequent switching results in low attention that limits their emotional response. This study strongly suggests a transformation ... that is rewiring the brains of a generation of Americans like never before ... Under this kind of stress, our brains instinctively signal the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol and adrenaline. In the short run, these stress hormones boost energy levels and augment memory, but over time they actually impair cognition, lead to depression, and alter the neural circuitry in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex—the brain regions that control mood and thought. Chronic and prolonged techno-brain burnout can even reshape the underlying brain structure.”

It has been many years since I took human physiology and embryology in college, so my response to this aspect of DeWeese’s research must be limited. However, we are wonderfully fashioned works of the Creator’s hand. We have both spiritual and physical aspects to us. God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground (his physical aspect) while breathing into him the breath of life (his spiritual aspect). These two are tightly bound, intricately intertwined into one creative work. I do not know how one determines cause and effect when considering the relationship between physical and spiritual problems. However, could problems in brain development lead to spiritual issues? Is over-use of modern technology indicative of a lack of vigorous spiritual growth? Maybe these questions are worth some thought.

If the effects on brain development in adolescents cited by DeWeese are true, we had better be careful on how much “screen time” we allow our children to have. Parents must be attentive to their children, not letting them drift along in our actual, physical presence while they wile away hours in the unreality of the ether of social media and the internet. Young minds are growing and developing, and parents must engage in face to face conversation with their children to ensure they are developing a rich spiritual life, not a life in which quality is measured by “likes,” Facebook “friends” or the frequency of times a smartphone vibrates, but a life in which they show evidence of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 ..

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"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?

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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.

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