Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 3: Biology

What is the origin of life?

For much of the 20th century, belief in the literal creation account of Genesis was uncommon among believers. Other explanations of origins had gained ground at the expense of truth. Thankfully, in recent decades, belief in literal creation has regained some of that ground.

What does the Bible teach? The Bible unmistakably teaches that God created everything, as described in Genesis 1:1-2:23. This is further emphasized in a variety of Bible passages; some of them include Mark 10:6-8, Ephesians 3:9, Colossians 1:16-17, Revelation 4:11, and Isaiah 40:26, 42:5, 43:1, 45:12, 45:18. Christians should recognize that the Bible gives us information about God and His universe. Science can only give us information about God's universe.

What are the competing ideas? Over the years, three have become prominent.
  • Theistic Evolution: This view teaches that God created the first "spark" of life, and then chose to use evolution as His vehicle to "direct" that creation over millions of years. This view has significant issues for the Christian. It undermines our understanding of God and our place in His universe. Evolution is a rather "inefficient" means of creating something; why would an omnipotent God use such an inefficient process? Why would God "meddle" with His creation, while subjecting it to running according to fixed laws? Perhaps most importantly, why would God use such a cruel technique, employing many mutations and generations of death and suffering, to create something (especially if Genesis said it was all "good" when He created it)? If theistic evolution is true, Genesis is little more than an allegory—if that. If Adam and his fall are not historical, is the rest of the Bible? If Jesus Christ is presented in the N.T. as analogous to Adam (see 1 Cor. 15), and Adam and the Fall are not historical, then the doctrines of sin and Christ's atonement for it collapse! And one last significant objection: If this theory is true, then death came into the world before Adam's sin—an impossibility, if one believes the Bible. I find it interesting that neither Bible-believing creationists nor secular evolutionists want to hold to this theory....
  • Darwinistic Evolution: As outlined in Charles Darwin's 1859 book, The Origin of Species, life evolved through a lengthy series of small, graduated, and fortuitous changes, over millions of years, to what we observe today. This was the first widespread book that postulated our existence as occurring without the supernatural, which probably continues to explain its adherence today.
  • Punctuated Equilibrium: This theory says that evolution occurs in rapid "spurts" between longer periods of stasis. By the way, we must currently be in a period of stasis, since we don't observe evolution occurring today. This theory attempts to rescue Darwin's widely-disreputed ideas by putting them into a theory which is completely devoid of observational evidence.
What does the scientific evidence suggest? First of all, scientists today can find no evidence of intermediate varieties of living things today—no "missing links." Furthermore, the fossil record shows absolutely no record of transitional forms—a fossil record that is far more complete than it was in Darwin's day. Creation is the more reasonable explanation. It is more in agreement with the observations!

Here are some more arguments in favor of Biblical creation:
  • The teleological argument of the watch and the watchmaker: The presence of design implies the presence of a Designer. And the more we learn about our universe, the more we observe design.
  • Probability dictates that the quantity of "chance" needed to evolve everything is remote beyond comprehension. (Even to us math majors)
  • Even the simplest living thing, a bacteria cell which weighs about a trillionth of a gram and contains 100,000,000,000 atoms, is exceptionally complex.
  • DNA, which contains the genetic information of a cell, cannot be explained by evolution. DNA is produced with the help of at least twenty proteins found in the cell, and those proteins can only be produced at the direction of the DNA. It would seem that both DNA and cellular proteins must have been produced simultaneously! Despite its enormous complexity, it is found in even the very simplest of cells.
  • There has never been a demonstration of the development of life from non-life—not in nature, nor in the laboratory.
  • The presence of oxygen (and its relative, ozone) in the atmosphere is problematic for evolution; if it were present way back when, it likely would have oxidized with the chemicals "required for life," and if it weren't, those first little living things would have been destroyed by radiation.
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics says the amount of energy available to do useful work in our universe is always getting smaller. Are we to believe that the moment when the greatest possible amount of available useful energy was available...was in the aftermath of the greatest explosion the universe has ever known (the "Big Bang")?!?
  • The gene pool of every species (animal, plant, etc.) has limits, beyond which they cannot stray, even with cross-breeding and selection. The Bible teaches that everything is to beget "after his kind."
  • Evolution requires that mutations be beneficial, but most "half-developed" forms would probably have no advantage and more likely be useless, not useful. If a limb evolved into a wing, an intermediate form would most likely be a bad limb—not a good wing.
We are all here as the result of the direct, creative action of God, and we must live accordingly! Furthermore, we can remember that although belief in creation requires faith, belief in evolution requires more faith—evolution runs counter to reason, science, and history.
"The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find intermediate varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps. he who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory." Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 2: Philosophy

Of all the topics in the "Thinking Like a Christian" series, this has got to be the hardest to distill, in understandable, concise, and yet sufficiently thorough language, into a 40-minute S.S. lesson! The word philosophy, recognized by many as a Greek word meaning "love of wisdom", occurs only once in the entire Bible, in Colossians 2:8:

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
There are many "philosophies" out there. Some of them are almost comically erroneous; others are quite difficult to discern from truth. What are some important biblical truths about philosophy? I offer these observations:

1. The most significant and important philosophical truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the Logos (Word) of God (John 1:1-4). Christ is the explanation for the universe and everything in it. Furthermore, all the Christian doctrines of God, creation, design, etc., etc. are consistent with the findings of science, history, and personal experience. The philosophies that "spoil" you will teach you otherwise.

2. The Bible does not ask the Christian to abandon reason in order to accept truth. Isaiah 1:18 reminds us: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Understood in the context of salvation (a rather important topic in the Bible!), God asks us to use our reason to understand not only our need, but also His provision and gift of salvation. A great truth! 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us of our Christian duty to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear," which again emphasizes our need as Christians to reason with biblical truth.

3. I offer this golden quote from Warren C. Young's book A Christian Approach to Philosophy:

"The crucial problem is that some thinkers place their trust in a set of assumptions in their search for truth, while other thinkers place their trust in a quite different set of assumptions."
Our set of assumptions is found in the Bible. Everything else is "vain deceit."

4. Christianity answers more of the deeper questions of life more completely than any other worldview. Again, this should not surprise us, since our philosophy and faith ought to founded in the Book which God Himself wrote.

5. Philosophy leads us astray when it is based on "vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." What should we do with such philosophies that lead us astray? Read 2 Corinthians 10:5:

"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
Cast them away! Know that God wants you to intentionally remove such philosophies from your life whenever they might exert a control over you. (One extra word to parents: Teach this to your children by precept and example—every single day! Teach them that thinking biblically is good, and that following the world's thinking is not good—it must be "cast down"!)

Philosophy, of course, is a very broad subject; many books and dissertations exist on the topic. In this entry I want to discuss several areas of philosophy and how a Christian worldview deals with them.

Faith and Epistemology: Hebrews 11:1 defines faith; Epistemology is defined as "The branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and origin of knowledge. Epistemology asks the question “How do we know what we know?" in the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd ed. This seems like an unresolvable paradox until we recognize that all knowing requires faith! Where is your faith? Is it in God, or something else? Edward T. Ramsdell is responsible for this great quote in his book, The Christian Perspective (p. 42):
"The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God.The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith."
Please note also that Christian philosophy does not throw out tests or reasons for truth. If anything, we are to consider the evidences that reason can employ.

Reconciling Science and Christian Philosophy: One of the most repeated (and erroneous) statements on this subject is that these cannot peacefully coexist. The scientific method is actually a help to the Christian, for it is based on observations—and the Christian should be OK with that. Indeed, it is the man who believes life sprang from non-life or that a large explosion was the catalyst for the known universe that should be concerned with observations. Observations from the scientific method support the Christian's teleology (discerning God from His design) and cosmology (questions about the origin and nature of the universe).

Scientific discoveries also support the conclusion that God exists. Here are four of them:

  1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (increasing entropy)
  2. The apparent impossibility of spontaneous generation of life from non-life
  3. DNA and genetic information theory
  4. The "Anthropic Principle": The cosmos seems to be "fine-tuned" to accommodate human life
It is also interesting to note that modern science, for the most part, was founded by men with a Christian perspective—men who, observing laws in nature, gave credit for those laws to an all-powerful Lawgiver.

Metaphysics (the branch of philosophy dealing with "first principles" and ultimate reality): The two main classes of metaphysics are plainly addressed by Christian philosophy.
  • Ontology—the nature of existence or being. Christians believe that God exists; God is.
  • Cosmology—the origin and nature of the universe. God created it, from nothing, as He described in Genesis 1.
Take, for example, the Mackinac Bridge. Does it exist? I have, by my count, crossed it five times, so I am going to say, Yes. Where did it come from? There are plenty of eyewitnesses (and probably a documentary on the History Channel) to its construction, so I'll assume it did not simply evolve at that location over a period of untold years.

Do the universe, our planet, our human race, and the other uncounted things we see around us exist? If so, where did they come from? The answers: Yes; because God created them.

The mind and the body are two different things: Christians believe the mind, or consciousness, exists as a separate entity from the physical body. Admittedly, some of the other worldviews believe this also. We believe that the mind was created by God. The key implication is this: Matter exists, and something other than matter exists. Christians believe in both the material and the supernatural. The Bible teaches that the physical body is not the same as the soul or spirit in verses such as Daniel 7:15; Micah 6:7; Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; and James 2:26.

Christian philosophy represents a worldview that is entirely consistent with the Bible. The choice of a supernaturalist worldview (that there exists something beyond the natural) will have strong influence over many areas of a person's life. Life is meaningful and purposeful, and our beliefs must be shaped and directed according to a coherent, reasonable, biblical worldview—not "tossed to and fro" by whatever secularist teaching comes along.

And a final quote from Warren C. Young:

“In the same way it can be said that the Christian philosopher and theologian must be acquainted with the contending worldviews of his age.Philosophy, after all, is a way of life, and the Christian believes that he has the true way—the true pattern for living.It is the task of the Christian leader to understand the ideologies of his day so that he may be able to meet their challenge.The task is a never-ending one, for, although the Christian’s worldview does not change, the world about him does.Thus the task of showing the relevance of the Christian realistic philosophy to a world in process is one which requires eternal vigilance.To such a task, to such an ideal, the Christian leader must dedicate himself.”A Christian Approach to Philosophy, pp. 228-229.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking Like A Christian, Week 1: Theology

Is there a God? What is God like?

Among the most profound of all questions are the two above. It is evident with just minimal thought that one's view of God's existence and person will effect one's thoughts, decisions, and actions every day.

Take, for example, those who hold an atheistic view—there is no god. They will see no purpose in life, since we simply came to be by chance. They will see no ultimate right or absolute good, and therefore will view law as something to be determined by majority vote, or even by caprice. Those who are pantheistic or those who hold to the teachings of another "god" (e.g., Allah) will have their own views on these and other questions.

How do we learn about God? The first way we learn about God is through special revelation, which includes the Word of God (the Bible) and the Person of Jesus Christ. We can learn more about God through these than any other avenue. Of course, to believe in God, we must believe that His Word is "inspired": That it is His very Word, communicated on purpose to us, and that it is entirely true to the very last word. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The inspiration of Scripture is fundamental; no one can deny it and still claim to be a Christian. To claim that the Bible is not God's Word is, in essence, to call the God of the Bible a liar. Faith cannot allow that.

For the Bible to be true and accurate, it must be divinely inspired! There is certainly plenty of evidence to support this view: Its exceptional unity, despite its diverse "authorship" (God authored all of it, of course, but used many different men in many different circumstances to pen the words [2 Peter 1:20-21]); its ability to change the lives of individuals for the better; its profound moral truth; its prophetic accuracy; and, certainly, so much more. An open-minded study of the Bible can leave no other conclusion.

The person of Jesus Christ is not a myth. He was a real human being (fully man and fully God—my finite mind can't understand that completely, either) who really lived, died, and rose again on this earth, as the Gospels record. The Holy Spirit, who lives within each Christian from the time of salvation, plays a role in revealing the truth of Scripture and of Christ to us.

This gives us so much more reason to make the study of Scripture an important and daily part of our lives.

Another way we learn about God is through general revelation: The Creation. What we observe in the Creation speaks of a Creator God Who designed it all for a divine purpose. We learn about that purpose in the Bible. A classic example of this: A person, walking on a hike through the woods, finds a watch. It is in working order, appears clean, and shows the correct time. Does the person conclude that the watch has lain there forever? Does the person conclude that the watch both came into being and "found its way there" by mere vagaries of chance? No. He concludes that not only did someone make the watch, but also that the watch was brought to that point (probably unintentionally, of course) by someone. He may not know all the details, but he knows that the watch did not get there by itself. The presence of design implies the existence of a designer. C.S. Lewis said,
“Suppose there were no intelligence behind the universe…In that case nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. Thought is merely the by-product of some atoms within my skull. But if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course, I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought; so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” (From the book, p. 25; quoted from Broadcast Talks [London: 1946, p. 37-38])
God's revelation, particularly the special revelation of His Word, tells us much about God. No single blog entry or Sunday School lesson can do more than scratch the surface of Who God is. But several important worldview points stand out:
  • There is only one God. God makes this exceptionally clear in many passages, including Deuteronomy 4:35, 38; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 45:5, 6, 14, 18, 22, and 46:9. He refers to Himself in Exodus 3:14 as the I AM THAT I AM. The very first of the Ten Commandments makes it very clear how we are to respond to this: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).
  • God is a personal God. He has what we humans might refer to as "personality," though His bears only faint resemblance to our own. He communicates and reveals Himself to men, as the Scriptures indicate in many places.
  • The characteristics of God are found in the Bible. Again, entire books could be written on every one of these (and they have been), but they include: He is sovereign (Daniel 4:34-35); He is moral (note that there are many passages, for example, where He distinguishes between good and evil, or between right and wrong); He is longsuffering, patient, and faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9); He is a Trinity (Matthew 28:19); He is powerful (Genesis 1:1 speaks adequately to this); He is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45, quoted in 1 Peter 1:15-16); and He is a judge (2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 10:30).
  • And just an extra word about God being a judge:  The judgment of God is not a popular preaching topic.  But that doesn't matter:  The holiness of God necessitates the judgment of God.  His holy nature is antithetical to sin.  God must judge people because people are sinners.  God does not take pleasure in judgment (Ezekiel 33:11), but He must judge because He is holy (Jude 15).  Live, think, and act, knowing that the Judge sees you every moment.
  • God is a Redeemer.  This is the great promise to mankind, the reason we can all rejoice, since it means that our eternal destiny doesn't have to be condemnation in hell. God is a loving and merciful God, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). His love is universal—available to all men and women of every nation, people, or demographic polling group. His love is gracious—He loved us "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8), sending His Son to die for us. His love is sacrificial—God willingly gave His own Son (John 3:16-17) to die for us. His love is beneficial—both in the benefit of eternal fellowship with God in Heaven (Romans 6:23b) and in the earthly benefits we enjoy every day as His children.
These truths are not merely an academic review exercise in theology! Study them, to be sure, but remember that every day, you will think thoughts, make decisions, and take actions. Think, decide, and act based upon Who God is, what He has done and will do, and knowing that He is a Holy Judge. Let these impact your life totally.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our Friends' Adoption: An Update

This summer friends of ours went to Russia and adopted a little boy, now four years old, with Down's Syndrome. Today "mom" updated her blog with uplifting photos of how well their new son is doing here in America. You can read about it here.

Of course, there are still a lot of challenges (take language, for example, and health), but it is a great blessing to see the willingness they have to cherish and raise up this little boy. Our prayers and encouragement go out to them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thinking Like a Christian: An Introduction

This Sunday, November 14, I will be beginning a series of lessons from the book Thinking Like a Christian by David Noebel. Each week I hope to add to this blog a summary of the lesson for those who are unable to attend Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, to hear it in person. The topic is of primary importance to Christians. The series will recess in January and, God-willing, be resumed later in 2012.

The introductory lesson discusses the importance of the topic. The textbook defines "worldview" as any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement, or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world, and man's relationship to God and the world (p. 6). Furthermore, every worldview has an answer to the three most basic questions:
Where did we come from?
What's wrong with the world?
What is the solution to man's basic problems?
The worldview promoted by the book (and by me, of course) is biblical Christianity: The worldview that comes directly from the Word of God. It answers all three questions clearly, and does so in a way that offers hope and eternal security to every man and woman.

Everyone has a worldview. Most can't explain their own worldview clearly or concisely, but everyone has one. Many Christians today are not taught, and frequently do not even consider, the importance of thinking biblically...which is probably why most Christians are not functioning as salt and light, and most are having little influence on the world around them—some, sad to say, have little influence even among their own families and friends. Most Christians today are more impacted by the world's worldviews than by the Bible's. If we are to reach the world for Christ, this must change.

The textbook divides a biblical worldview into ten categories, around which the text and the lessons are organized:
We will forego any discussion of whether a more suitable organization exists, except to say that many of the topics do overlap in our world, and all are important for the Christian to understand and discern. I think this organization works well.

Each of these ten categories is addressed in the Bible. Each has ramifications in our own lives, and demands that we understand how to biblically interact with it. Each impacts the others, and each demands some basic assumptions about the nature of reality—the reality of the creation in which God has placed us. We will see in subsequent lessons that each of them is dealt with even in the earliest chapters of Genesis and throughout the Bible; furthermore, Christ is manifested in His Word as having significance in each area.

Once upon a time, America, for the most part, had a biblical worldview. That is clearly not the case today. Every topic in the list above, in our country today, is dominated or under attack from perspectives which eminate from non-biblical worldviews. We Christians lament this. But we shouldn't just whine and lament: We need to educate ourselves, our fellow Christians, and the world about what the Bible says on these things! Sure, the world needs Christ, and we need to share the Gospel with everyone, as Scripture clearly teaches. But we also need to be making clear what the Bible says about the other aspects of life; the Holy Spirit can use this kind of teaching, too, to impress upon the hearts of the unsaved the truth of His Word and the need of His salvation. Think of it as teaching the "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

1 Peter 3:15 says that we must "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Understanding and having a Christian worldview will help you to do that. Remember, too: There is no difference between the sacred and the secular in the Christian's life; all of life is sacred to the Christian.

The other worldviews do not provide satisfaction. Colossians 2:4-8 reminds each of us that the "wisdom of this world" will "spoil" you—literally, it will carry you away captive! Only in Christ and His Word can mankind find joy and happiness, as well as a rational, adequate, and consistent explanation of reality. It doesn't require a Ph.D., nor immense intelligence. Even a child can understand the teachings of the Bible.

Learn the biblical worldview. Live it. Share it with others.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Christianity and Islam: A Quick Comparison

For weeks now I have had it in the back of my mind to post a blog entry on this topic. And without delving too deeply into the theology of either, let me identify some starting points:

On Your Enemies:

Islam—Kill them in any way possible.

Christianity—Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (Matt. 5:44)

Regarding Wives:

Islam—You can have several. You may divorce them for virtually any reason. To use western terminology, you can abuse them and not be concerned with the judicial system.

Christianity—Paul wrote, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;" (Eph. 5:25) That's a tall order, by the way.

Sharing Your Faith:

Islam—Submit to Allah, or be an infidel. Infidels must be killed.

Christianity—We are to spread the glorious Gospel message to all the world (Matt. 28:18-20), yet must remember what Christ told his disciples in John 15:18-21:

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.
The world will hate Christians, but Christians are to love the world.

Political Observations:

Islam—If you know of any country where Islam is the dominant religion (you may go back to the 7th century AD for this one) that simultaneously had a system of government where people had freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and anything resembling full democracy ("full" in this context includes women and those who are not Muslims), please identify that country in the comments below. I'm drawing a blank.

Christianity—America, for instance, was founded on Bible principles applied to law, freedom, liberty, economics, justice, and the like; and it has since become the greatest nation on earth. Other countries which have mimicked our founding political principles have been successful and allowed their peoples a large degree of freedom and justice.

As Perceived by Other Americans:

Islam—Nobody seems willing to criticize Muslims for fear of getting firebombed. Even something essentially harmless, like a political cartoon, is cause for riots.

Christianity—Nobody seems afraid to criticize and mock Christians, knowing that if they are true Christians, they will probably not reciprocate. (That whole "turn the other cheek" thing.)

Anyone have any additional comparisons? I'm willing to update the post if you have a good one.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What If...?

What if, eight years ago, President Bush had announced, on one week's notice, that he wanted to give a major speech to Congress on the long-established date of the other party's presidential primary debate?

And what if he hadn't followed protocol and formally asked the House speaker to do so in advance?

And then, when he realized what an idiotic move that was, he asked to reschedule it opposite the kickoff of the opening NFL football game of the year?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Wonderful Story: James is Home in Tennessee!

I hoped to have posted this earlier in the week, but our friends in TN have brought their little adopted son, James Ivan, home from Russia, concluding the stressful yet exciting saga of adoption. Now they have a lifetime of love and challenges to look forward to, so we pray for them as they deal with the multitude of things they must deal with—many of which they probably haven't thought about yet. Down's Syndrome can be like that.

Here is a picture of their son:

And if you want to read the uplifting blog post from which the picture came, click here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Wonderful Story—Almost Home!

I'm the cautious type who will reserve his strongest happiness for when they reach the airport and get in their car in TN...but our friends have taken custody of their new son and will soon be on their way back to the USA. Let us pray that their flights, paperwork, etc. will be smooth; and that following their arrival home, everyone will be able to quickly and easily adjust to the necessary new arrangements that must be made.

Our friends write that today was a great day that went very well due to the prayers of many. I encourage you to keep up with their story.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Remember These Votes!

The debt bill that our president signed today is not now, nor will be, good for our economy. In about 15 months, most of the people who voted Yea or Nay on this bill will be up for election.

You should know how they voted.

And as a service to all the blog readers, you can click below to find out how your representatives and senators voted. And of course, the president signed it.

How the House of Representatives voted

How the Senate voted

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Wonderful Story: God's Hand at Work

Our friends had a successful court appearance, but only today did "mom" get a chance to tell us via blog about the details. Their story makes it abundantly clear that God answers prayer, often in ways far more blessed than we dare to hope. I trust you will take this opportunity to read their story and thank God for what He has done in their family and for the little boy who is now part of their family.

They cannot claim their new son until August 3, according to local law. I assume they will be returning to the USA soon thereafter. Be in prayer for their trip and for the inevitable challenges that their new son will bring to their home.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Wonderful Story—A Happy Conclusion!

Our friends who were seeking to adopt had their court date on Friday, July 22, and the adoption was granted. I am not sure when they are returning to the USA, but for now, they have posted further details and pictures here and here.

We praise the Lord for working out all the details and making this possible, and we look forward to seeing them sometime after their return.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Wonderful Story, continued

Our friends who are pursuing the adoption of a child from Eastern Europe have departed, with their own two children, to that country to complete the arrangements and bring him home. They have managed to update their blog with two entries: First, this one, and then this one.

We ask your prayers that they are able to complete all the arrangements promptly and successfully. It is not easy staying for an indefinite period of time in such a foreign place, and there is still no certainty that the adoption will be completed. This can, of course, be very stressful; it will be stressful enough moving a preschooler with Down's Syndrome into one's home. So let's pray that everything goes smoothly for them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hocking Hills State Park

Last week my family and many of my wife's relatives vacationed in SE Ohio, in a region called "Hocking Hills." Among the activities in which we engaged was a trip to Hocking Hills State Park.

The state park contains quite a few "things to see and do" (check out the link above), but my family focused on three of the obvious ones: Old Man's Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave.

Old Man's Cave is not a subterranean cavern, but rather the result of erosion of softer rock beneath harder rock, resulting in very large overhangs above hollowed out areas. This part of the state park has a variety of features and is very picturesque. The stream that moves through the area also flows over multiple waterfalls.

About two miles away on foot is Cedar Falls. This is a large and beautiful waterfall that also features some of the same erosional rock features as the two caves.

At this point our family got adventurous and, instead of driving three miles to Ash Cave, found the Buckeye Trail and hiked there. This was a pretty easy trail to hike, though we were getting weary on the return, mostly uphill, trip. Along the way, there is a fire tower, which I and various others took the opportunity to climb.

Ash Cave is enormous. Its upper lip sticks out roughly 100 feet above the bottom, and a small stream sends a long fall of water into a pond below. It is easy to see why it was a site of Indian encampments, since it provides a great deal of shelter against the elements. Once again, erosion accounts for the unusual rock formation.

If you ever get a chance to visit Hocking Hills State Park, I encourage you to do so.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Wonderful Story, Part 2

Our friends have posted more of their story about their trip to Eastern Europe as they prepare to adopt a child with Down's Syndrome. Right now they are waiting for the time when they can return and claim their soon-to-be son. You can read Part 2 here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Wonderful Story, Part 1

Friends of ours are in the process of adopting a boy with Down's Syndrome from somewhere in Eastern Europe. They recently took their first trip there and finally met the little almost-4-year-old boy, who has lived in an orphanage most of his life. Here is the first part of their story. I encourage you to read it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Review: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

This book was written by the anonymous "Professor X", an adjunct English 101 and English 102 teacher at two colleges somewhere in America. One is a private university; the other a community college. He had previously written an article for The Atlantic, out of which this book came.

Professor X believes that the idea of a university education being for everyone is a destructive myth. From his own experience, he points out that many who, often due to real or implied coercion, find themselves in a college classroom taking his courses one night per week for a semester are horribly ill-prepared for the experience. Many do not receive passing grades—sometimes half the class. Several general reasons he gives circle these themes:

  • Many students should not be in a college classroom because they are not ready to do college-level work. There may be any number of reasons for this. One he cites that is often overlooked is that many of these students in his evening classes read almost no books and follow almost no news, which makes it difficult for them to write about either classic literature or current events.
  • Many students who are compelled by their employers to take his class really do not need the class to perform their jobs. For example, does a police officer need to be acquainted with the literary theme of a book he will never, ever choose to read? But many employers these days, and especially in this economy, feel they are able to demand a college degree of some kind for a position that really doesn't need one.
  • America has, for the most part, absorbed the point of view that everyone should have a chance at a college education. This was not always the case. [Have you ever checked out the Harvard entrance requirements from two or three centuries ago? I still wouldn't have a chance.] But many are encouraged to try, despite their obvious lack of preparation.
Naturally, the colleges are happy with the increased enrollment. And, hey, if the student fails, he can always pay the course tuition to take it again. Politicians, including President Obama, feel almost unanimously that increased college enrollment is good; have you ever heard any politician decry the glut of college students in the land? Many employers, recognizing that college education does have benefits both tangible and intangible, help defray their employees' college expenses.

But the simple fact remains: There are those people in America who, despite having being awarded a high school diploma or GED, are not ready for college work. Professor X makes no attempt to fix blame for this. Many of these students, most years removed from their last classroom experience, find themselves in the classrooms of the community college or university, in the evening, after a day's work. Many are trying to do so while balancing all of the other serious responsibilities of parenthood and employment. Many would struggle with the time commitment even if their academic preparation was solid.

It is, in his view, a recipe for failure.

And I can totally relate, because I, too, have taught as an adjunct in the evenings at a university in Michigan. While I have no complaint about that university and no question about its educational motives, it became apparent that nearly every class had a few participants who were not anywhere close to ready for the College Algebra or (especially) Statistics classes that I taught. Mathematics, like grammar or writing, is a skill that can fade over time when not used...especially when that time can be measured in decades.

If I had a complaint, it would not be that the students were required to take these math courses—this is, after all, college, and the courses did have relevance to the program of study—but that they were enrolled into the courses regardless of their readiness to succeed in them. Some of my students, academically speaking, had no business being there; they were woefully ignorant of mathematical concepts quite basic to the course in which they were enrolled. "Remedial work," as it is usually called, was entirely in order....but not in the picture. After all, when these students sign up for this college program, do they want to hear that they must take remedial work just to get up to speed in mathematics? And when they already are embarking on the major task of completing a college program of study?

I do some online math tutoring, and I see this problem there, too. The student can identify his or her grade level and subject (they otherwise remain anonymous to me), and I regularly tutor "College Level" students in some of the most basic concepts of Algebra (or lower), concepts which my 13½-year-old (or even my 12-year-old) finds easy.

The fact that students are found in college (or high school) classrooms for which they are not academically prepared is a sad state of affairs. People need to honestly assess what it takes to succeed and whether or not individual students are ready to do so. Colleges need to be forthcoming about what-level-class a student of English or math should take.

And like Professor X, I agree that college is not for everyone.

P.S.: Professor X's most glaring writing deficiency is his use of vulgarity. This is not a book to let your 13½-year-old read.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Republican Presidential Field: A First Look

It's good to be back blogging again, after a busy few weeks.

The GOP presidential field is forming and evolving, as various individuals dive in or bow out. I want to discuss my thoughts on who these folks are and whether they are the "kind of people we want" in the White House. Starting from the top:

My Favorite so far: Tim Pawlenty. Two-term governor of a liberal-leaning state who managed to keep a wayward budget under control and generally be conservative without compromising core principles. As long as he doesn't get to DC and get grandiose ideas about how government can "help the people," I think he'll do a pretty good job.

Other Big Names:

Mitt Romney: He worries me. I can't get "RomneyCare" out of my head. He's Mormon...not sure how that will affect his decision making...if at all...or should it? He looks and talks presidential, but almost without passion.

Newt Gingrich: I like him, but his negatives are enormous. For every two good ideas he has—and he has many—there seems to be a lemon. I always have my doubts about those whose marital infidelity has become so, um, public. His tenure as House Speaker, however, was superb.

Rick Santorum: I like him, too. He's quite conservative and votes with a conscience. I don't think he has much of a chance, but mainly because so many of my GOP friends/family in PA don't like him. And if you can't do well in your home state....

Jon Huntsman: The man began running for president against Obama while still serving in the Obama administration. I call this bad ethics. He's an incredibly rich man—he didn't need the day job. So why did he take it?

The Rest of the Pack:

Michele Bachmann: Four words: Sarah Palin on steroids. Thoroughly enjoyable to listen to, and her positions on the issues are consistently on the mark. She comes across as less-than-presidential, though, and will be portrayed as (you heard it here first) Sarah Palin on steroids. This demonization will deep-six her campaign. And like Santorum, if you can't win your home state—Pawlenty will win MN, I'm sure—you are toast.

Ron Paul: Good on fiscal issues. Libertarian streak is too strong. Occasionally comes across as a crackpot.

Herman Cain: I lack research. Is he a bona fide, conscience-driven, Bible-believing Christian? Is he another loud-mouthed, egotistical, radio talking head? I honestly have no idea yet.

Gary Johnson: Leading nominee at present for the 2012 "Who??" award.

Thankful they dropped out: Huckabee, Trump. (Although Trump may do a Ross Perot and jump back in. I can see this scenario. I don't like it.)

Still haven't committed, and looking doubtful they will: Palin, Christie

And there are others out there as well. Start your research, everyone; I'll keep you informed about mine.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Book Review: Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

This book is the third book of the trilogy of Teddy Roosevelt's life, preceded years ago by The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex. Like the first two books, this one is well-written, informative, and interesting.

This volume covers the period of TR's life from his Africa trip in 1909, immediately after he left the presidential office, until his death in 1919. The book contains copious endnotes (as the first two volumes did) which augment the basic storyline with a variety of details and source information; for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing, it is a great resource. For those who do not, you can simply enjoy the text, unencumbered with that "stuff."

Three things struck me about TR's life in particular. First, it was amazing to see how wide his circles of acquaintance were. His correspondence is legendary; it is estimated that in his lifetime he composed 150,000 letters, etc. to people. He knew people all over Europe and America, from royalty to scientists to authors.

A second thing was how his six children turned out. One son, Quentin, died heroically in World War I. His other five children all married and had varying degrees of success in this world, but at least three of them did not lead lives I would hope for my own children. His eldest child, Alice, had a rocky marriage and both she and her husband were apparently not faithful to each other. I cannot help but wonder if his extended absences from his family were directly or indirectly related to how his children turned out.

The third thing was his position on spiritual things. Despite his enormous breadth of reading and his ability to plow through a 300-page book in an evening (with legendary recollection), he admitted to not reading substantial portions of the Bible until his post-presidential years. He was an ardent follower and promoter of the theory of evolution, and tried to apply it to various fields of science. Although his personal moral code was above reproach, he rarely attended church or showed signs of piety. His writings on religious topics (his pen generated much of his post-presidential income) show that his views on righteousness and eternity were quite different from the teachings of the Bible. Indeed, if Morris's research is accurately presented—and I have no reason to believe it is not—it appears Theodore Roosevelt lived his life without accepting Christ as his personal Savior.

Despite that sad thought, the book is a fitting capstone to the Theodore Roosevelt trilogy. If you have the time to read the 2,000-ish pages in all three books, I encourage you to do so.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Thought

Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Does "As a share of GDP" Mean?

From the top story at at this hour, dealing with Standard & Poor's lowered outlook for U.S. sovereign debt:

"Both political parties now agree that it is time to begin bringing down deficits as a share of GDP," Mary Miller, assistant secretary for financial markets at the Treasury Department, said in a written statement. "We believe S&P's negative outlook underestimates the ability of America's leaders to come together to address the difficult fiscal challenges facing the nation."
" a share of GDP..." What does that mean to you? Let's convert the numbers (presently in the trillions) to ones we more commonly understand. Suppose the "gross domestic product" of your household—for this example, all of the income generated by all the people in the household—is $50,000 in the year 2011. Because you spend like the government, you have spent $60,000 and generated $10,000 debt this year, which is 20% of your household GDP. [This would be in addition to the many years of debt you've been racking up prior to 2011.] As the leaders of your household come together for a meeting, they all agree that annual debt consisting of 20% of household GDP—up from, say, 12% in previous years—is pretty high, and that something needs to be done about it. After all, it's getting harder to make all the credit card, car, vacation home, jet ski, timeshare, home alarm system, and charity payments to lazy neighbors simultaneously.

So here's what one of them says:

We need to rein in our debt by keeping it at the level of 20% of household GDP.
And the rest of them? They all should look at the speaker and, as politely as possible, point out how stupid that is and how utterly ineffective it is in dealing with the problem...and once the speaker understands that, they should point out that in the long-term, this will only make the problem worse.

What the speaker is implying is this: That if next year's household income rises to $60,000—a very optimistic forecast in the current economy—it will be OK to incur $12,000 (that's 20% of $60,000) more in debt, to add to all those prior years' worth of debt. For that matter, even if one of these people should recommend that the debt be limited to 12% of household GDP, it's still a bad idea; the way to get rid of debt is to reduce spending to below the level of income!

And this the federal government does not yet seem to understand. Our leaders in Washington DC need to determine what needs to be done, as soon as possible, to get the level of government spending to less than the level of government income.

If they want suggestions, I will be happy to offer them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Who Voted for the Ryan Bill?

Today the U.S. House passed a bill on a 235-193 vote for a budget plan which was spearheaded by Paul Ryan (R-WI). It likely won't even see a vote in the Senate, but even if it got through there, it is likely the president would veto it.

Every single D in the House voted against it. Every Republican except four of them voted for it. (Not sure what those four—Jones, McKinley, Paul, and Rehberg—were thinking.) Feel free to contact your Congressman and let him know what you think about his vote.

Full details on the vote can be found here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Who Voted for the Budget Bill?

Earlier today, the House and Senate passed a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. President Obama is expected to sign the bill on Friday, April 15. [Ponder the irony for a moment.]

It did, however, receive bipartisan opposition. In the House, 108 D's opposed it while only 81 supported it; 59 R's opposed it while 179 carried the bill to passage. The Senate saw it passed by a 81-19 vote, with 3 D's and the quasi-democrat Sanders (I-VT) in the "Nay" column.

The bill, if looked upon as a serious attempt to deal with annual federal spending, is actually a joke. Consider this quote from the afore-linked FoxNews article:

Conservatives in particular were disappointed after a Congressional Budget Office report showed the package only saves $352 million from non-war accounts this year -- compared with the $38.5 billion in cuts Boehner had claimed.

The CBO study confirmed the measure trims more than $38 billion in new spending authority relative to current levels, but many of the cuts come in slow-spending accounts like water-and-sewer grants that don't have an immediate deficit impact. Other cuts come in areas where the government was unlikely to spend the money anyway, CBO suggested.
$352 million?? At the rate of the past two years, that's about 2 hours' worth of deficit!! And it's slightly less that 1% of what was "claimed" as a $38.5 billion cut. In short, this is merely a token. It should not be claimed as any sort of serious effort at reducing federal spending.

I am happy to say that my U.S. Representative, Trey Gowdy (R-SC 4th district), and both my U.S. Senators (Jim DeMint and Lindsay Graham) voted against the bill. Had I still lived in MI today, my U.S. Representative, Fred Upton (R-MI 6th district) and one of my U.S. Senators (Debbie Stabenow, D-MI) voted for it. The other senator, Carl Levin (D-MI), voted against it.

Find how your U.S. Representative voted here.

Find how your U.S. Senators voted here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Manny Ramirez dia-Tribe

In general, I can't stand Manny Ramirez.

He is the absolute antithesis of a role model. His career, aside from his impressive statistics, has been tainted by multiple drug scandals, apathy, lack of effort, and a bizarre eccentricity some have labeled as "Manny being Manny" (that some find it pleasantly amusing says something about them).

He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and played for them from 1993 to 2000. His career there was generally good but when he was able in 2000, he signed an enormous eight-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. During that span of time his eccentricities became more and more obvious. In 2003, the Red Sox put him on waivers, meaning that basically any team that was willing to assume his enormous salary could have him outright, and there were no takers. His 2004 season was memorable, and the Red Sox won the World Series that year. Various problems began to surface in the final four years with the Red Sox, both in the clubhouse and elsewhere. He seemed to express disapproval with his contract situation in 2008 [how you express disapproval making $20M/year is beyond me] by giving less-than-full effort and the Red Sox, by then fully disgusted, sent him packing to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he miraculously revived and finished the season with great results. The Dodgers then signed him to a two-year deal paying him $45M.

Within the first two months of the season, Ramirez received a 50-game suspension for violating MLB drug rules. It would later come out that this had not been his first drug-related interaction with MLB. His 2010 season included both time on the DL and increasing Dodger frustration with him. They put him on waivers and the Chicago White Sox, willing to pick up the balance of the salary, claimed him. He hit 1 home run in 24 games and became a free agent.

He signed a one-year, $2M deal with the Tampa Bay Rays in early 2011. He batted 1-for-17 (.059) and, when informed of a forthcoming 100-game suspension from MLB for yet another drug violation, decided to retire instead of serving the suspension.

To summarize: Except for perhaps Cleveland, every team that has had Ramirez on their team has either actively sought to get rid of him or let him walk at the end of a season (or in the case of Tampa Bay, he retired in disgrace). He plays hard when he wants to and loses focus when he doesn't. He has manipulated his effort (ask Boston) in attempts to manipulate a bigger contract. He has talent without character and skills without morals. He repeatedly violated the rules. Despite his massive talent, teams did not want him. While you might want your son to earn his contract, you wouldn't want him to emulate Manny's personal life.

I sincerely hope that Manny Ramirez is never elected to the Hall of Fame.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How Democrats Historically Respond to Losing

Earlier this year 14 Wisconsin senators and a bunch of Indiana representatives, who found themselves in the minority party in their chambers, decided to hightail it to Illinois [formerly known as "Land of Lincoln" but new nicknames like "Land of Democrat Refugees" should be considered] to simply stop business from occurring in the legislatures of their states. In so doing they showed contempt for their offices and the citizens who voted for them. They also showed deep contempt for the democratic process. We live in a country where "We, the People" elect representatives to our government. These people—like it or not—were the elected representatives. But instead of doing the honored job which they were elected to do, they behaved like the pouting 5-year-old who takes his proverbial ball and heads home. It probably goes without saying that if Republicans tried something like this, they would be publicly demonized for years to come. Now rewind to the years 1860-1861. Democrats had been the majority party for about a decade due to the demise of the Whig party and other events. The 1850's saw multiple pieces of legislation which the Democratic party supported—and the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, the second worst decision of the Court in our nation's history—passed and signed into law by democrat presidents. These pieces of legislation infuriated many who saw them as contrary to the principles and freedoms which America was founded upon. Members of other parties stayed in their seats and dutifully voted, even when in the minority. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was elected president. Before he even took the oath of office, seven entire states—commandeered by democrats—seceded from the Union. Within weeks after the inauguration, four more entire states—also commandeered by democrats—seceded also. I'm predicting that if our current president gets voted out next year, we may see members of the Democratic Party try similar stunts in Washington in 2013.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The NFL Players Association

The NFL owners and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) are locked in mediation regarding a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The current one is set to expire on Friday night. Failure to reach an agreement will precipitate a lockout, litigation, or a combination of the two--and put the 2011 NFL season in doubt.

I have no problem with the owners and the players (and even their union) enjoying the capitalistic enterprise of negotiating salaries--very large salaries, in many cases. Certainly, it makes sense that free-market principles are brought to bear, and that greater talent and success generate greater incomes.

But this evening, I read an article on that, among other things, outlined many of the demands that the NFLPA is making of the owners. Most of the ones mentioned in the article are issues of "transparency;" basically, the NFLPA wants to know every little nitty-gritty detail of the incomes, expenses, and profits of the league and its 32 franchises.

And here, I believe, they have crossed a line. The owners of the NFL franchises are the ones that have taken the financial risks: They build (or co-opt state and local governments) stadia and other facilities; they make multi-million dollar marketing decisions; they choose, sign, and pay players. Without their financial investments, the NFL does not exist. The NFL and its 32 teams have no obligation whatsoever to disclose their sensitive financial information to anyone to whom they do not wish to do so. (Well, except maybe the IRS.)

To hear the head of NFLPA speak, however, you would think it is absolutely necessary for the union to have access to all such know, so they can make "more informed" decisions in the bargaining process.

I don't think so. If the NFLPA really thinks it can do so much better, why doesn't it take all of its players and start another football league? Since football is still likely to be popular, and since the player talent level would remain about the same, surely they, too, could make mountains of money?

But they won't. They would prefer to squeeze the golden goose. Let's just hope they do not suffocate it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Some People Still Love Hymns

I encountered a fascinating article today about hymns that are perpetually popular. A survey was done of hymnals of six mainline Protestant denominations (Anglican (Episcopal), American Baptist, Congregational (United Church of Christ), Lutheran (ELCA), United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA)) from the 1870's to the 2006 Lutheran hymnal. The survey included a total of 28 hymnals. It was found that 27 hymns were found in at least 26 of the hymnals; 13 hymns were found in all of them.

The good news: Every single one of these hymns is an excellent hymn! You can see the full list here; if you have grown up in a church that uses a hymnal in any of these denominations, you should recognize most, if not all, of them.

And why are they kept in the hymnals from generation to generation? Because people value them. They recognize the timeless biblical truths, taking comfort in God's Word and promises. They recognize, at some level, the intersection of biblical worship and biblical truth.

Because the survey of hymnals includes those dating back to the antebellum period, hymns that have become better known in the past 150 years do not appear on the list. This might explain why you don't see certain of your favorites.

In the summer of 2009 I blogged about what I thought were the "Top Ten Hymns"; two of them, as well as two of my runners-up, were on this list (and in retrospect, I really dropped the ball by not including "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing").

Of the 27 hymns, four of them were written before the 13th century.

The average date of the texts of the other 23 hymns: 1774.

More proof that good music—words and tune alike—stands the test of time. To God be the glory!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Product Endorsement: TI Graphing Calculators

It occurred to me today that it's been over 18 years since I first got my own, brand new, TI-85 graphing calculator. At the time, it was the top of the line, and I was thrilled to have it. And since I have been a math teacher for most of those last 18 years, it has gotten a tremendous amount of use.

And it works just as well today as the day I bought it.

In the meantime, I have added a TI-83 to my calculator collection. I do not use it quite as often as my TI-85, but it, too, has served me well.

One thing I have done just a few times, but which my students have collectively done many times, is to drop my graphing calculator on the floor—often a tile floor, sometimes carpet. I always instinctively cringe whenever I see or hear one of them reach the floor under the influence of gravity—but today I cannot recall a student who had to do anything more than put the batteries back in to get it to work properly. If the product can also survive years in a teen's backpack, then surely it is durable!

I would happily encourage anyone needing a graphing calculator to purchase the appropriate level Texas Instruments machine. They are durable, relatively user-friendly (relative to your mathematical understanding, that is), and even have a pretty good resale value, should you decide to exchange yours for cash.

Monday, February 28, 2011

On Turning Forty

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
This verse struck me recently, as I just reached the age of forty. As in, half of fourscore. As in, it is entirely possible that I have reached—nay, surpassed—the halfway point of my earthly days. God could see fit to take my life tomorrow, or He might choose to leave me here until I'm 110. I don't know. But how prepared am I to live the rest of my life?

Spiritually: I was saved over 35 years ago, and to whom much is given, much is required. Although I owe God far more than I can ever repay Him, I do have an obligation to do my best to serve and glorify Him for as long as I can. That's a tall order.

Physically: The doctor says I should diet; he's probably right. I am not as strong or as healthy as I was at age twenty. But if I want to continue avoiding any major health hurdles, self-discipline is required. That's a tall order, too. I like to eat, and I don't care much for exercise.

Family: I have four children who need a loving father who sets a good example of the Christian walk. I have a wife who needs a loving, caring husband. I have bills to pay and needs to meet. Who knows what our family will face in the days ahead? This could be a tall order, too.

I also want to be a positive influence on my grandkids...but that's still quite a few years off. I'll need to prepare for the son-in-law-wannabe interviews, also.

Work: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might..." (Eccl. 9:10). That's not always easy.

In the world, but not of it: What kind of testimony am I to those around me—especially those who do not know Christ as Savior?

In short, life doesn't get easier at forty! It is a good time to reflect on what God's plan for me will be in the years ahead. I pray that the next forty years will contain more zealous efforts and greater glorifying of Him than the first forty have been.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What To Do In Wisconsin

The short version of the story: Newly-elected GOP legislative majority and GOP governor begin to follow through on campaign promises to cut state spending. Teachers in the public schools are included, and will be expected to receive less generous compensation packages. Unions are outraged; democrats wail and howl.

Then, the 14 remaining democrat members of the Wisconsin Senate flee. Away. To Illinois. Since a quorum of 20 is required, and since there are only 19 Republicans, Senate business has come to a halt.

The fugitive legislators deserve strong criticism for their cowardice and irresponsibility. But they deserve more than that. In the "real world," those of us who don't show up for work—nay, refuse to come to work!—get the axe.

The Wisconsin constitution (I found it here; see p. 63) provides a way for elected officials to be recalled from office. I would encourage everybody who lives in a district represented by one of these fugitive legislators to begin the process by signing petitions to get these folks removed from office. They have abdicated their responsibilities, and therefore, they should be removed from their posts.

Whether or not these 14 like the legislation being debated, and regardless of the number or opinions of those protesters, they were entrusted with a responsibility. If they don't care to fulfill that responsibility, they should no longer hold office.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

I've only been to California once—a trip to the L.A. area in 2008. One of the things I definitely wanted to do during the three-day trip was to visit the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. It is located atop a mountain (Simi "Valley" seems a bit ironic) and was worth the drive up to the top.

Most attentive people realize today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan. He was unquestionably the greatest president of my lifetime, and I sure do wish someone of his caliber and convictions occupied the White House right now. It saddens me to think that nobody below the age of 25 remembers him as president. The Reagan Library helps to preserve his legacy.

My wife and I had a great visit, and would strongly recommend it to anyone traveling through that region of the country. In addition to many excellent momentoes and reminisces of his presidency, the actual Air Force One of his era (it was replaced by a 747 about a decade ago) was moved to the Museum and placed in a special pavilion for everyone to see.

It is also interesting to note that Reagan loved California. The "land of," that is. I think he would be angered and/or horrified if he could witness the political and social scene now, along with the contempt displayed toward our immigration laws.

More importantly (to me), Reagan loved the United States of America, and was dedicated to keeping it the greatest, freest, strongest country in the world. For that, we should thank God that we could have such a leader at such a time as we did.

Monday, January 31, 2011

When Does Homeschool Start in the Morning?

One of my pet annoyances has to do with church. The church I attend now, as well as the last one I attended in MI before we moved to SC, had Sunday School hour at 10:00, followed by the Morning Worship at 11:00. My wife and children and I were (and are) generally early. Nevertheless, there would always be some who, despite being able the next day to get everyone to school/work/wherever by 8:00 a.m., could not seem to consistently arrive on time to Sunday School from week to week at 10:00.

Worse yet, some skipped Sunday School and still couldn't get to the 11:00 service on time.

I interpret this, in part, to the fact that such people do not deem Sunday School or church to be very important. We live in a culture where virtually all educated Americans understand that punctuality is a positive good. To be late habitually implies either a consistent lack of planning—an issue of concern in its own right—or a treatment of the event as not worthy of importance.

That, however, is not the focus of this post. My last post discussed the fact that "homeschooling in one's pajamas" is not a good thing. This is the sequel, with the following thesis: Homeschooling needs to follow a schedule, and it needs to start at a regular time.

When my wife and I (mostly my wife, of course) began homeschooling two of our children a few years ago, we decided that "school" would start at a regular time each morning, generally right after breakfast and the sending off of the other two children to their school. Essentially, this meant that homeschool started in the vicinity of 7:45 a.m. Because of my wife's efficiency, combined with two above-average little intellects sitting in front of her, her teaching was generally done by 11:00, and the kids had usually completed their work for the day before lunchtime. The advantages were obvious: The afternoon was free for planning, errands, and picking up the other two from their school at about 3:15.

In Year 1, this worked very well for us. In Year 2, I volunteered to assist my wife by teaching our eldest, then in seventh grade, her math and science lessons before I left for 7:45 or so (I also dropped off the younger two at school on my way). This meant she and I were in our little classroom, with breakfast already eaten, by 7:00.

Such a plan certainly isn't for everyone. Nor does it need to be. But it did teach everybody another lesson: The self-discipline to get one's self out of bed, into one's clothes, and breakfasted by a given time in the morning. This is a great lesson to learn!

Furthermore, before the first day of homeschooling each year, we drew up a calendar for the school year, delineating the first and last days of the year, and generally (but not always) observing the same holidays our other kids' school had. This gave some evidence that we had school on a set number of days—even though no such requirement existed in Michigan.

Many homeschoolers, in addition to bragging that they can "homeschool in their pajamas" (see my earlier post), also brag that they get started whenever they get out of bed in the morning—which might not be until 9:30 or 10:00. Some also brag that they begin and end the school year whenever the kids are "done with their lessons," not seeming to realize that this sounds highly ambiguous (or even suspect, to the cynical) to most other people. First, let's consider some reasons to begin the homeschool day at a set time every morning:

1. It teaches self-discipline. When your child gets a job, he'll be expected to consistently show up on time—or he will be relieved of said job. Teaching the child to "get up and at 'em" when young is invaluable to their character development.

2. It sends a message: This is important! Nobody cares when you show up at Wal-Mart. But walk into a wedding 23 minutes late, and you might be ashamed as you sit on the back row. [Or in church, it's reversed: Show up 23 minutes late, and you'll be ashamed as you sit at the front!] When the parent doesn't set the example of getting started, on time, every day, he or she is essentially telling the student that the "event" of homeschooling is not that important.

3. It supports a good reputation for the homeschool community. The average hard-working, law-abiding citizen of this country looks askance at homeschoolers who get their day started whenever it gets started. They perceive such adults (and children) as having a lack of self-discipline, and certainly far less than their own family, who are all at school/work/wherever consistently by a certain time each morning. By extension, they will perceive the homeschooling of that home to be, as I said in the last post, "the shoddy work of amateurs."

The same principle extends to the school year. A lot of us do the math in our heads when we are told that "We started, oh, around September 15 and the kids all finished their lessons by the middle of April," and realize that there seems to be a lot fewer days of school than "normal kids" have. Some of us are open-minded enough to realize that, yes, perhaps an entire year's worth of education was done in that interval (though we reserve skepticism), but many are going to look at such an endeavor as inadequate, below average, or worse. Is that really what the homeschool community wants?

My advice is twofold. First, plan to begin each homeschool day at a set time. Make sure your kids are out of bed, dressed, and fed before that time. Tell your friends not to call you between that time and whatever time you anticipate finishing a normal day of schooling. Let your children know that this time is fixed, and barring an unusual circumstance, will be the starting time each day. Furthermore, I suggest a start time before 9:00 and preferably closer to 8:00, although this must be chosen in light of your family's specific needs.

Second, set the school year in advance. Some will have no choice in the matter if, for example, they have some sort of cyber-school arrangement and have to follow its schedule, or if local regulations dictate this. Have a "first day" of the year. Plan a "last day"—contingent on the children finishing their courses of study. If the children finish ahead of that date, continue to educate them! Furthermore, unless an emergency occurs, don't take "days off" from the calendar. Plan ahead so that you can have school each day it is scheduled.

Don't revel in (what appears to many) your lack of self-discipline. Impress us with your dedication and consistency.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Homeschooling in Your PJ's? A Bad Idea

One of the things many homeschoolers—parents and children alike—say that they like about homeschooling is that they never have to get dressed up: They can have school in their pajamas if they choose. While I have no objection to wearing comfortable clothing, my thesis is that wearing your pajamas (and similar clothing that most decent people wouldn't wear out in public) to teach/learn in the homeschooling environment is a bad idea. And here's why:

1. Clothes send a message. Why do we dress up for certain formal occasions? Why do we look better to go to a wedding than we typically do to go to Wal-Mart? Because dressing up sends a clear message of the importance of the event. By allowing the children to wear pajamas or other clothing normal kids couldn't wear to school sends a message that "homeschooling isn't all that terribly important." The parents are probably speaking the opposite message to their kids; why would they wish to undermine it?

2. The parents are setting an example. Mom (or Dad), if you look like you just rolled out of bed when you are teaching your children, you're communicating that same message: "Homeschooling isn't all that terribly important to me." Get dressed, look presentable, and then get to work. Look the part of a teacher.

3. It's a bad habit. You want your child to be successful and get a good job, right? One where pajamas probably aren't the daily wardrobe? Your children need to understand, both by precept and practice, that "getting dressed" and looking presentable to go out in public are positive things that they need to do. They need to be in the habit of doing this every day...even if they aren't going out in public.

4. It is bad for the reputation of the homeschool community. I think homeschooling can be great if it is done right. I certainly believe that every parent has the right to choose the best educational options for their children. I cringe when I hear people clamoring for the government to step in and "regulate" homeschooling. But as long as there are those in the public who think of homeschoolers, "They really don't do anything. They just sit around in their pajamas and do whatever they want, and claim that going to the grocery store is 'math class,' yada, yada,..." the homeschoolers of our land are going to have to be on the lookout for government intrusion.

I'm afraid that many homeschoolers don't realize that a whole lot of normal, civil, law-abiding fellowcitizens do not take them seriously as educators. And when those fellowcitizens hear, from child or parent, that "school" is done in pajamas [and, just as bad, that they don't start until 9:45 a.m. or whenever they roll out of bed], they, despite their civil demeanor, are thinking to themselves that homeschooling endeavors are nothing more than the shoddy work of amateurs. In many cases, they will paint all homeschoolers with that same brush.

I would encourage every homeschool family to have a "dress code" for both the parent and children. It doesn't have to be their "Sunday best" clothes—Mom may not feel the need to wear nylons, for example—and it should be comfortable. But not slovenly, bummy, or grungy. It needs to be nice enough, though, that it sends a message to the student (and to anyone who may stop by the house during the day) that "school time" is important and worthy of getting dressed for. It should be enforced, too.

And perhaps in my next post, I will discuss why starting the homeschooling day at 9:45 a.m. is just as bad.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Abortion is Murder

I was already reminded this morning that today is the 38th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Since that day, more than 50,000,000 people have been killed while in their mother's wombs--roughly one-fourth of every single pregnancy in America since that time.

Human life begins at conception. Some question that, but the clear teaching of the Bible, the facts of science, and the inevitability of logic point unmistakably to this conclusion. Others have written, more eloquently than I, from biblical, scientific, and logical perspectives, that abortion is nothing but the snuffing out of a human life.

If the life of somebody "outside the womb" is snuffed out by another human being, we call it murder. If the life of somebody "inside the womb" is snuffed out by another human being, it should still be called murder. Abortion, truly, is just a euphemism for murder.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your Happy Thought For Today

Pittsburgh 31

Baltimore 24

Baltimore is one of my least favorite cities on the earth, partly because of its crime, partly because I have found the people to be generally unfriendly, partly because it's so heavily liberal politically, partly because of its arrogance, and even partly because of what happened to the Cleveland Browns.

And my memories of the city aren't real pretty either. My wife and I still remember, back in late 1995, as we drove through Maryland, hearing radio yak-yaks bitterly talk about how Jacksonville got the team that Baltimore deserved (I missed their rationale for that). I remember hearing people bitterly say, many years later, how the Colts "snuck out of town." This is the city that embraced Art Modell and still wants to kill Robert Irsay. That tells you something. Baltimore even threatened to seize the Colts back in 1984 to prevent them from moving.

And furthermore, many of the Baltimore Ravens players are the absolute antithesis of role models. Though every team has a few character-deficient players, the Ravens seem to have a lot more than average...and historically have.

So in closing, I am happy to report that the Steelers defeated the Ravens by a score of 31-24. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why Are You in Algebra 2?

The title is a thought I have had a number of times lately. I do some tutoring online, and the largest number of my sessions come from students who are seeking an Algebra 2 tutor. [I also tutor Algebra 1, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Statistics.] Sadly, many students' sessions begin with something like this:

Student: I need to solve this equation [student shares an equation containing a logarithm].
Me: Have you ever done an equation like this one before?
Student: No.
Me: OK...have you ever worked with logarithms before?
Student: What's a logarithm?
Although it's not the focus of my concern while I'm tutoring, there are several possible explanations for such ignorance:
  • The student is goofing around, either presently, or in class earlier in the day(s).
  • The student is taking an online course and has no teacher to whom to ask questions; consequently, the student is totally lost.
  • The student has been passed from one math course to the next over time, has learned virtually nothing, and is now hopelessly puzzled.
  • The student is actually at the college level and probably hasn't taken a math class in years, if not decades.
The last two options seem to be depressingly common. I am led to the following thesis:
Students should not be permitted to take Algebra 2 until they have demonstrated a firm level of competency in Algebra 1. This applies both in high school and at the college level (regardless of what these courses may be named in college).
This became a big issue in Michigan a couple years ago (see my thoughts here) when the legislature, in a perhaps-well-meaning-but-totally-void-of-reality move made Algebra 2 part of the general graduation requirements for all public school students. Among other problems, this pressures teachers in the earlier grades to pass students along so that they can "get to Algebra 2 and pass it" before completing high school. This is neither wise nor fair.

But that's not my main point here. Parents and teachers in the upper high school grades (and professors, academic advisers, and students in colleges) must recognize that if the student is not ready for Algebra 2, the student should not be taking Algebra 2. The student should instead be sent to Algebra 1 (or, if necessary, something more basic) in order to master the requisite skills needed.

Self-esteem is not an issue here, either. It is no more psychologically beneficial to struggle with, cheat through, or fail one course than it is to step back and take a remedial one that will, in the long run, help the student to succeed.

Furthermore, a competent teacher with a class full of competent Algebra 2 students will be able to make more progress than if that teacher has to try to get all the incompetent students caught up at the same time. In other words, those students who have succeeded up to this point won't be held back by all the students who (for whatever reason) have not.

Finally, let us note that the blame for this phenomenon can be shared all around. Sure, some kids are slackers and are lost in Algebra 2 for reasons of their own creation. Yes, some teachers are inept [they should be removed, but discussing teacher unions and their prerogatives is not the point of this post]. Certainly, some parents pay no attention to their children's educational progress. And, contemptibly, some school administrators don't really care.

If you are a parent of an Algebra 2 student (or one yourself, at whatever age or level), consider this: Make sure your student is ready to take that class. If not, get them ready...first.