The Plot Thickens…

…so Neil renamed “The Journey Deepens” retreat that took us to Philadelphia last weekend along with the Michaleks, Plahutas, and Leons. Indeed, “The Plot Thickens” is a good description of what transpired in the 1880s countryside manor where we stayed. Hosted by World Evangelization for Christ’s U.S. Headquarters, the retreat is designed to help people discover their role in cross-cultural work and determine the next steps in their missions journey.

WEC Center

WEC Center

How did our journey there begin? Neil and I had been mulling over whether Urbana, a missions conference geared for college students, was worth one week and over $2000 in registration fees, travel, and lodging. Then “The Journey Deepens” caught my eye in a Missions Catalyst email. Philly wasn’t too far away so I perused the retreat web site. The description, structure, and price were all right. The small groups with missions coaches sounded best of all. Before I mentioned it to Neil that day, I got another email about it, this time from OMF. I’ve never received an email from OMF unless I contacted them first. But it was a notice about the retreat. We decided to sign up and started trying to recruit the Michaleks.

The next morning our decision was confirmed when Holly McCallum also emailed me about the conference. Soon enough the Michaleks, Plahutas, and Leons were all signed up, too. I started praying that the retreat would prove worthwhile, that we’d get some clarification and answers to questions. God answered my prayers far beyond what I’d imagined!

My two main questions were: 1. Should we go to Thailand with Aor or through a missions agency’s short-term trip? and 2. If/when/how should I pursue some type of ESL training? Of course we also wondered “Should we go?” but that seemed too big a question to be answered in one weekend, and I was right.

Unreached People Groups

Unreached People Groups

So here’s how God answered my questions through this retreat. Two days before we left, Aor left me a message while I was swimming. She said she had to return to Thailand suddenly because her mother was having surgery. This is significant because we were considering going to Thailand with her when she returned to visit family for several weeks in December. But now that she went on short notice in June, how would she have the money to go again in December? We would probably have to wait another year or more and we wanted to take a trip sooner to gage our interest in the culture.

The reason we wanted to go with her was so we could see the culture first-hand, through the eyes of a national. But we also wanted to hook up with at least one missionary or missions agency while there. We didn’t want to spend more money on an expensive short-term trip and be able to serve in a small way, without getting to see much of the country or the people. But the missionaries at the retreat recommended going on a short-term “vision” trip, rather than a service missions trip. They said it’s possible to visit a number of missionaries and ministries throughout the country, as well as to visit a language training center. This is supposedly the best way to get a feel for if you’d like to consider long-term work in that culture.

Regarding ESL, I was told it’s always a useful training for cross-cultural work, and the endorsement to my teaching license was probably the best way to go. But one missionary raised a good point: it might be better to go on the “vision” trip first, see what kind of work we’re interested in doing, and then decide if/what type of training to get. I’m glad I heard this because I don’t want to spent $6000 or more on courses that won’t be helpful to me. In the mean time I can take a certificate course at Hudson Community Chapel for $50-100 and get the basics.

The eight Xenoids were together in the small group which was nice because we didn’t have to go over our backgrounds to understand each other, and we didn’t have to listen to people’s weird theologies or corny platitudes. One of our coaches reaches out to Chinese students at American universities, as well as leading short-term English-teaching trips to China. His organization, Chinese Outreach Ministry, will be a valuable contact for Craig and Jackie’s International Student Bible Study. They even have a branch of their ministry at Kent State. Our other coach spent 35 years translating the Bible in the Philippines and now recruits for Wycliffe.

Our small group

Our small group

The coaches offered useful practical advice and shared great personal experiences (once the translator’s husband was kidnapped by an Al Queda-trained group!), but I was longing to talk with a church-planter. Jackie found one (I think she met everyone there) and I enjoyed listening to her stories but they didn’t answer any of my questions. And she wasn’t there as a missions coach; she was living at WEC before departing to Spain in a month.

Next on the schedule was a missionary forum to answer our questions. The first panelist introduced himself as Steve Niphakis, church-planter in Thailand for eleven years, Thai language and cultural training director for six years, and now a recruiter for OMF. His answers during the panel were very helpful and Neil and I approached him immediately after to schedule an appointment during our afternoon break.

He gave us almost two hours and unloaded all sorts of useful, detailed information with impeccable cheerfulness. Maybe that’s what seventeen years in the “Land of Smiles” does to you. He was exactly what we’d prayed to find at this conference: successful church-planting experience in Thailand, highly knowledgeable about language and cultural acquisition, and working for an agency to help get people on the field. Even better, we were already interested in OMF because of the Gibsons and Hudson Taylor.

Neil, Steve, and Mark

Neil, Steve, and Mark

And best of all, he said he would be happy to mentor us through the process of becoming missionaries if that’s the route we want to take. He offered to meet us at our home or his (in PA) to figure out what type of training and preparation we need. And he’s even willing to meet with people in our fellowship if they have questions or want help becoming a sending church.

He also said some interesting things during the panel about his love-hate relationship with the American church. And in answers to Neil’s question about choosing a field and agency, he said “Your team is more important than your field. You can play on a lot of different fields if you’re on a good team, but if you’re team isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what field you’re playing on, you can’t win.” This analogy to sports was actually helpful and describes how I feel. I’m interested in Thailand but I’d be happy to serve in other places as well. But if we become missionaries, we want the agency to have the same values and ideas about ministry, their vision, doctrine, etc.

OMF’s mission seems to match our own: they’re into establishing indigenous church-planting movements where the churches are reproducing within their country and sending to others nations, especially places closed to whites. Many OMF missionaries are doing pioneer work in unreached areas, and the existing Thai churches are very community-oriented.

OMF is praying for 100 new workers to Thailand. Now I can see why. Steve thinks Thailand is on the verge of exponential growth. The recent political unrest has left Thai people, especially youth, looking for a change. The country is politically open and missionary visas are available. Churches are being planted and Thai people are interested in Americans and therefore willing to make friendships with them.

Steve recommended applying to agencies early because it can take four years to even begin language training. If you apply early, he said, the agency can help you determine the preparation and training you need. So we need to think and pray seriously about whether we want to take the step of applying. We came away from this retreat with some “next steps”: stay in touch with Steve about developing an action plan and think about planning a “vision trip” to Thailand. At the same time he is encouraging us to talk to our “pastor” about this direction and make sure we’re on the same page with OMF as far as theology, ethos, methods, etc. before we go any further.

All the missionaries strongly recommended developing a strong support group who will pray for us as “the plot thickens.” We’re blessed to have such a close fellowship of believers who are interested in what we’re doing. But if you read this and want to commit to praying for us regularly, please let me know and I’ll keep you updated about our deepening journey.

How to be Cheap: On-line Savings

We all love the Internet, we all have the Internet, and most of us are paying for the Internet. Here’s how the Internet can save you money.

If you can “borrow” Internet from a neighbor who failed to secure their network, do it. It isn’t illegal or unethical as long as you don’t access their personal information. If an individual chooses not to secure their network, they’re sharing, so enjoy. If you can’t borrow, figure out if you can split with a neighbor. Internet service is expensive, but if you have a neighbor you trust and are able to pick up a wireless signal then why not split the cost?

The internet can save you lots of money on consumer goods. For example, the Cuyahoga Falls library has a database of movie titles you can download for free. And of course there are many free mp3s and podcasts of music, news, Bible teachings, radio programs, and much more. Keep up on pop culture without paying for cable by watching television shows and music videos on YouTube and other such sites.

The Internet is also good for “shopping around” without wasting gas money and time. Instead you can check stores’ web sites to price and compare an item you need. I do this before buying anything out of the ordinary, such as a gift or new appliance. The disadvantage is that usually stores that sell close-outs don’t have their inventory on-line. (That would be nearly impossible.) But if you’re planning to buy an item in a regular retail store comparing prices on-line is fast and free. I often compare prices at Walmart, Target, Kohls, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond online before making a purchase.

Another great way the Internet can save you money is through money-saving blogs, web sites, coupons, and emails. Check out the following sites: use this iphone app at the store or your home computer to read product reviews and find the best current price for a particular item. It will tell you the going rates at amazon, ebay, and many other sites and stores. every day this web site lists great deals, often available for purchase on the Internet. Some typical items include clothing, household items, and restaurant dining. “One day, one deal” is their slogan. Sign up for their daily email, which sends one hot deal a day, from electronics to fast food, and everything in between. features several great deals every day, from laptops to apparel. Includes items for purchase, sometimes with free shipping. search your local area and use to compare prices. Keep your eyes open for scams, and never meet someone alone in their home. Either take a friend or meet in a public place. Not only can find great deals on this site, but you avoid shipping costs by purchasing locally and picking up the item. a great place to buy and sell, but only if you know the going rate. Make sure you’re getting a better deal than retail or Craigslist, don’t bid above that, and remember to factor in shipping costs. Keep in mind that it can be hard to compete with snipers, who can use software to automatically re-bid every second! if you’re going to spend over $25 on new products, you get automatic free shipping. This is a great place if you want to buy gifts or otherwise don’t want used items. Their prices on new items are usually far cheaper than chain retail stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. And their used collection isn’t bad, but the prices rarely beat the best place to buy used books, whether you’re looking for college textbooks, light reading, or anything in between. Standard shipping is $3.99, but it’s still usually a better deal than anywhere else. if you don’t want to buy the book, sign up for a free trial and choose free printable coupons for your area. shop more than two million new and used books at bargain prices. Their prices may not beat, but shipping is free within the U.S. So do the math and find the best deal. Plus they donate a portion of their revenues to literacy causes. search this web site to find “secret” coupon codes for online shopping. This site includes customer reviews about which coupons actually work, and under what conditions. Some states or localities will offer a discount on energy-efficient appliance purchases. Check here to find out if you can save money on your next appliance. Discounts organized by state. offers 2,000 classic titles for free download. buy and sell unwanted gift cards on this web site for an average discount of 15%. The site verifies the balances to make sure buyers don’t get ripped off.

The Write Way to Pray

I’ve never been much of a prayer warrior. I find it virtually impossible to concentrate during silent, prolonged prayer, and by prolonged I mean more than two minutes. My attempts often sound something like this: “God, thank you for Your grace….I wonder what I should make for dinner…” Such prayers are far from Paul’s exhortations to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In reality I’m more likely to cease without praying.

With my involvement in ministry there was no way I could survive spiritually on lightning-speed prayers alone. If Jesus spent long periods talking with the Father (Luke 5:16), surely I need to do the same. Over time my desperate need to pray increased, yet I still felt defeated in this most foundational area of my relationship with God.

I explored other forms of prayer to compensate for my weakness. Praying aloud with others helped me focus on what I was saying to God. But corporate prayer is meant to supplement one-on-one time with God and it didn’t solve the problem when I was alone. So I tried praying aloud on my own, but still found myself trailing off as my mind wandered. Prayer lists also held limited effectiveness because my distractibility kept my praises and requests superficial. Though I was disciplined in many other areas, my prayer life continually frustrated and baffled me.

So I prayed about prayer: “God, please teach me to pray.” This short request was all I was capable of, but God answered. He showed me how to use one of my strengths to compensate for my shortcomings in prayer. I’ve always enjoyed writing; in fact, I express myself best this way. “So why not converse with Me through written language?” God subtly suggested. Once He revealed this idea I started a prayer journal, where once a day I write out my prayers word-for-word.

God knew I would be distractible when it came to prayer and He graciously provided a way for me to communicate. But even if prayer isn’t particularly difficult for you or writing isn’t your gift, a prayer journal can benefit your relationship with God. Educators agree that writing clarifies thinking—often people don’t know exactly what they think about a topic until they write about it. So writing about our gratitude, emotions, requests, and questions to God can help us see His insights about ourselves, His character, and His will. For example, it wasn’t until I saw my thoughts about trying harder and doing better in black and white that I realized I wasn’t really trusting God to transform my character.

If you’d like to try writing in a prayer journal then consider the following suggestions. There’s no one right way to write to God, but these ideas can help you get started.

1. Choose your medium. After a few days of writing my prayers on paper, I knew this method could work for me. I was expressing myself more clearly and fully to God and my mind didn’t wander much at all. But the medium wasn’t ideal. I had so much to talk to God about but my hand cramped as it tried to keep up with my thoughts. So I switched to typing in a word-processing program, which allowed me to pour out my heart to God before I forgot what I wanted to say. If you try a prayer journal, choose the form which makes it easiest for you to commune with your Creator.

2. Start each entry with gratitude for God. Ephesians 5:20 says we should be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” A prayer journal is a good place to foster such a grateful attitude by reflecting on God’s goodness. My gratitude grows as I spend time each day thanking God for who He is, what He’s done throughout history, and/or what He’s currently doing in my life and ministry. In your prayer journal you might consider praying through a Psalm of thanksgiving, reflecting on one of God’s attributes, or listing ways His grace is evident in your life.

3. Intercede with interaction. Using my prayer journal transformed my intercessory prayer into a dynamic interaction with God. In the past I might’ve prayed, “God, please lead Jane into a saving relationship with You.” The content of the prayer was biblical but I wasn’t listening for godly wisdom and discernment. Now I would add to the request above, “Please show me how You want to use me to help Jane know You.” Often God shows me specific steps such as broaching the topic of eternity with Jane, asking a more mature Christian for advice about the situation, or reading a relevant passage of Scripture.

Philippians 4:6 offers pointers regarding intercessory prayer: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Prayer should be our antidote to worry because we can trust God. Relying on God is a challenge for me as I’m a nasty combination of control-freak and worrywart. But when I’m anxious I can pray through a situation and express my dependence on God, affirming my desire to do His will and my belief in His trustworthiness.

This verse also says we should express gratitude as we petition God, meaning our thanksgiving doesn’t stop after the first paragraph in an entry. For example, when praying about a conflict I might thank God for His forgiveness, which is my basis for forgiving others and thus resolving arguments.

Through the more detailed intercession my prayer journal made possible, I’m able to spell out my thoughts and feelings about a situation to God, and then ask questions, write down possible answers, and wait for His wisdom. I encourage you to try the same in your prayer journal. Feel free to brainstorm ideas and ask God which are from Him. Try to determine whether your entry reflects what you know of God’s will.

4. Organize your prayer requests. Even with the speed of typing I still found it difficult to present my requests to God without my prayer journal resembling a to-do list. I didn’t want to approach God as if He was Santa Claus, just there to give me the items on my wish list. At the same time I longed to lift up many people’s needs to him. So I wrote a list and assigned different topics to different days of the week. Afterward my daily prayer list contained about four topics, which gave me room to add more as they arose. You can organize your prayer requests however you want: by urgency, importance, frequency, or another method. Just remember to approach writing in your journal as a relational time with God. Don’t pressure yourself to make it through a catalog of requests, especially when a different concern is weighing on your heart.

5. Review older entries. Rereading old journal entries is an encouraging way to see how God answers prayer. Remembering what God has done cultivates gratitude and reminds us of prayer’s role in God accomplishing His will. Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered, or not as we hoped. God can give us wisdom as we reflect on unanswered prayer. Perhaps we weren’t persistent in prayer, the request went against God’s will, or a person’s free choice prevented it from happening. As you mourn a petition not granted, allow God to comfort you and help you understand His wisdom.

One of the unexpected benefits I experienced from typing my prayer journal was the search function of my text editor. If I want to know what I prayed about Jane’s salvation I can find every instance of the word “Jane” and review what I wrote. This is another opportunity to remember how God led me. Sometimes I remember old insights or convictions which move me to take a different approach with a person or situation. For example, after my friend struggled spiritually for months, I wasn’t sure how else to help her. So I looked back on old entries and noticed a pattern: her priorities were all mixed up. Instead of continuing to address the problem one case at a time, I was able to present the big picture which God showed me.

As writing offered me a newfound ability to focus on talking with God, I established a deeper prayer life than I ever experienced before. I still struggle to continue the day with an attitude of prayer after closing my journal, but it’s helped my prayer life grow immeasurably. I’m learning to depend on God more by praying about difficult situations. My gratitude for Him is growing as I spend time in thanksgiving. As my thoughts become more concrete on paper I’m better able to pray within His will and I’m gaining discernment by asking questions and listening for answers. Starting a prayer journal revolutionized my spiritual life, and it can do the same for yours. There’s no one right way to pray, but I hope you’ll try the write way.

How to Be Cheap: Revolutionary Fashion

Be a fashion revolutionary, not a fashion icon! To do this, you must first forget the fashion falsehoods. Fashion sells the lie that you need new clothes every season, or even every year. This is not based in reality at all. I have clothes that have lasted since high school. Granted, they aren’t the most stylish (they weren’t back then, either). But if you buy quality basics, you should be able to wear them much longer than a season or even a year.

Fashion is really just another aspect of consumerism, but it’s particularly tempting as it’s so closely tied to identity, perhaps especially for females. In response to the air-brushed models and well-styled actresses flooding the media, we believe the lie that our looks determine our value. Soon we are slaves to our appearance. If we don’t have the right clothing, shoes, purse, jewelry, and make-up, we are unattractive and therefore worthless. If we say we don’t believe this, let’s live like it, too!

Fashion is sometimes beautiful, more often ridiculous.

To fight the fashion myths, wait until your clothes are really worn out or don’t fit, and then shop at thrift stores, clearance racks, and sales. You don’t need to be in style or have your clothes fit like they’re tailored. At the same time, don’t buy clothes that are obviously cheaply made. For example, many of the mall stores with teeny-bopper-type clothes have cheap prices but the clothes fall apart in less than a year. Find stores that sell quality items for less, but always consider whether you could do better at the thrift or second-hand store.

All the same principles apply for shoes, pursues, and other accessories. Why do you need five purses? Just get something basic that will match many outfits and seasons. Don’t buy into the myth that you need shoes and accessories to perfectly match every outfit. Who cares if the shade or style is a little off? We’re revolutionaries, not fashion icons!

While the fashion industry is quite artificial since no one needs new clothes each season, fashion itself can be an art form that reflects the beauty of God’s creation and His creative image stamped in us. So I’m not saying it’s wrong to match, or wear flattering clothing, or buy a new dress once in a while. It is harmful, denigrating, and enslaving to take our identity from what we wear and frivolously spend on clothes when there are better ways to use our money.

So what is a revolutionary to do?

Recognize the difference between want and need. Maybe you’d like a new pair of shoes to match a particular outfit, but if you’re like me and already own a dozen pairs, you probably don’t need them. Most likely you own something suitable, if not entirely fashionable. Learn to let go of the idea that you have to look red-carpet ready to go the grocery store, or even to a wedding.

When you do need something, shop around for a good price. Depending on the item, consider trying a thrift store or second-hand shop first. Most Goodwill and Salvation Army stores have dressing rooms, which is a big advantage because it’s a waste of money to buy something only to find out it doesn’t fit. And most thrift stores have “deal” days, like the Cuyahoga Falls Salvation Army has fifty percent all items on Wednesday. The Village Discount Outlet has different tag colors fifty percent off every day, and on Mondays one tag color is only fifty cents. Of course thrift shopping always involves the luck of the draw and takes more time. If possible, try to go early to get the best deals.

My favorite store

At the mall, avoid stores where clothing is inexpensive but cheaply made. I find that Express and Limited brands hold up well. Most of the clothes I’ve had since high school (I graduated seven years ago), are from these stores. So if you go to the mall, head to the clearance racks at the back of the store. If you’re looking for something in particular, keep in mind that the cheapest items are those just going out of season. So think ahead and then shop ahead (or behind) as appropriate. Kohl’s often has very good clearance, although I don’t fit into their misses sizes, and I find their juniors items to be less well-made. There are bargains to be had, so don’t give up hope. For example, I didn’t pay more than $10 for any of the jeans I own, and I bought them new at the mall.

If you’re small, try buying socks and shoes from the children’s section. I’ve found good particularly good deals on tennis shoes (half the price of the same adult shoes).

Buy men’s dress-casual clothes new, on clearance racks or sales. Men tend to hang onto their clothes longer than women, meaning that the thrift store collection is often missing buttons and full of sweat stains, food stains, rips, and holes. There are occasional deals to be had on unworn items, but generally I don’t find it worth an hour to find one such item. I usually get Neil’s shirts and dress pants on sale or clearance at Kohl’s.

Another good strategy is to borrow and get hand-me-downs from people less cheap than you. Here’s a dirty little secret: the cheap people need the not-so-frugal people to save money. Without them there would be no thrift stores, no hand-me-downs worth handing down, and no one’s closet to raid. My sisters and I share clothes sometimes, although less frequently now that we live further apart, and I welcome hand-me-downs, especially from my fashion designer sister! Always remember to take good care of other people’s clothes if they’re on loan, though. One of my sisters ruined a most fabulous find of mine, a light blue silk blouse I got on clearance at Banana Republic for $5. In trying to return it to me clean, she put it through both the washer and dryer. So be careful with other people’s stuff!

Once you’ve got your new or new-to-you rags, take care of them! This will make them last much longer. The best way to extend a garment’s lifespan is not wash it too frequently. Of course you’ll wash your undergarments and exercise gear often. But with jeans and sweaters, the more expensive items, don’t wash every time you wear. Unless you’ve spilled something on them, there’s really no need to wash after one or two wears. I wash one pair of jeans per week unless I spill something on them. My sister designed denim for Express and she agrees with this advice.

I barely believe in dry-cleaning. I’ve taken Neil’s suit to be dry-cleaned once in the five years he’s owned it. And I took a wool coat once, with a coupon of course! That’s the extent of my dry-cleaning experience. Instead of spending money at the cleaners, I avoid buying dry-clean only clothes. My husband is less careful about this and has gifted me with a number of dry-clean only garments like wool sweaters. He even managed to find a pair of exercise pants that aren’t supposed to be machine washed. Can you think of anything more impractical?

So what is a frugal wife to do with such items? It’s what I call “home dry cleaning.” First, wash items only when needed, like if there’s a stain or it’ stinky or sweaty. Next, most items can be cleaned in a gentle, cold water cycle in a washing machine. Just don’t put the item in the dryer—I shrunk more than one sweater that way. If the item will lose shape, lay it flat to dry; otherwise hang it up right away.

If the no-machine-wash item is extremely delicate, such as with beadwork or silk, wash it by hand when necessary. Use lukewarm water and just a dab of laundry detergent. Scrub stained areas or the armpits by gently rubbing the fabric against itself. Then wring it out and hang or lay flat to dry.

One of the big advantages of dry-cleaning is that your clothes come back pressed and ready to wear. But there’s
a way to avoid both dry-cleaning and ironing. I buy wrinkle-resistant dress clothes for Neil, and generally stay away from clothes that requiring ironing for me. Wrinkle-resistant fabric is very common in men’s dress clothes so it usually doesn’t cost more, especially when you’re shopping clearance and sales. Really resisting wrinkles takes some diligence with the laundry, though. You can’t let the clothes sit in the drier after the cycle is finished. It actually works best to take them out while they’re still slightly wet, or immediately after they’ve dried. Hang them immediately, squarely on the hangers, in a way that does not smash the clothes into each other. Using this method I only iron about once every three weeks because Neil still has some shirts that aren’t wrinkle-resistant. Using the method above makes ironing easier for all types of fabric.

To make bras last longer I wash them in a bra ball, also called a lingerie bag. It’s a little mesh bag that zips open so you can put small delicate items inside. I purchased one at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for $4 with a coupon, which is much cheaper than buying a new bra.

No Soup for You!

I recently finished reading The Case for the Creator and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. Lee Strobel does a great job making the scientific evidence for God understandable and interesting. I’m a bit late for a book review since it was published five years ago, but I’ll recount my favorite parts.

Strobel dismantles the icons of evolution presented in high school biology books, the very same images and “information” that led him and many others into atheism. First was the Miller-Ulrey experiment, in which a container of gases was zapped with electricity and “poof!”—life appeared. Actually, the reproduced early atmosphere was inaccurate: instead of being hydrogen-rich, scientists have determined there was very little hydrogen. And the molecules that were produced were still far from assembling life. In fact, toxic molecules like cyanide formed.

Then there’s Darwin’s tree of life, which I just ran across a drawing of at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. But the fossil record, which Darwin knew didn’t exist “yet” when he drew the tree, never materialized. Instead the record shows a “Cambrian explosion” where lots of new and different forms of life appeared in a very short span of time, which is exactly the opposite of evolution!

Next he talked about Haeckel’s embryos, drawings that showed similarities between the embryos of different species. However, the drawings don’t match photographs. Haeckel purposely fudged the drawings to make them appear more similar than they really are. He was accused of fraud when he published in the 1860s, but science books today still contain this misinformation. He also selectively chose examples of species that happened to be more similar, while ignoring those that didn’t suit his agenda. And he omitted the early stages and starts at the midpoint, the time when the embryos of various species look most alike in the process called the “hourglass of development.”

And what about the prebiotic (primordial) soup? Sorry, no soup for you! There’s simply no evidence for the ancient chemical ocean that most origin-of-life theories presuppose. There was not enough nitrogen in the early atmosphere (0.015%) to compose the nitrogenous amino acids which are essential to life. And the earliest sediments on earth do not contain nitrogen-rich minerals. Even if such a soup did exist, there would have been serious problems with amino acids reacting with other chemical to produce substances that are threatening to life.

I found the kalam argument fascinating. It states: everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. William Lane Craig’s arguments prove the first two statements true, so it follows that the conclusion is valid. First, he shows that, though the ancient Greeks believed in an eternal universe, science, math, and philosophy all show that the universe began at some point in time. No scientists really argue otherwise today. Craig even demonstrates that the universe requires a personal creator, because there are two explanations for every effect: the scientific/physical explanation, or the personal/volitional reason. He uses the examples of, “Why is that water boiling?” You can answer by explaining the physics of water molecules being heated to their boiling point, or you can explain that you wanted to make a cup of tea. But before the universe began to exist there were no physical laws, because there was nothing physical to be governed by them.

Strobel also covers the “anthropic fine-tuning” which refers to the incredibly precise values involved in the physics necessary for the universe to support life. One common example is earth’s distance from the sun. If we were further or closer, it would be too hot or cold for life, and there would be no water. If gravity were just a hair stronger, humans would be crushed. The cosmological constant—the energy density of empty space—is surprisingly small and inconceivably precise. And the difference in mass between neutrons and protons, if changed a tiny bit, would make nuclear fusion impossible for stars, and thus there would be no energy source for life. In summary, the size, location, gravity, composition, structure, atmosphere, temperature, internal dynamics, plate tectonics, and many other factors about Earth uniquely support life.

The sun uniquely supports life with its size, the colors it emits, its long life-span, and the stability of its light output, which only varies 0.1% in eleven years. Earth’s orbit is just right, and other planets and the moon shield us from asteroids and comets (consider the moon’s pocked surface).In addition to the unbelievable precision that makes life possible in the universe, many other factors suggest that the universe was “designed for discovery.” Apparently earth has a singularly good vantage point for seeing and studying the universe. The clarity of the atmosphere is rare, and earth has a rare view of eclipses. The book refers to the “convergence of habitability and measurability,” or the idea that it’s not only very unique and unlikely that Earth supports human life, but also that the universe and life are governed by such precise laws and principles which we have the capacity to discover.

Strobel interviewed Behe about irreducible complexity, and his argument that cell couldn’t have evolved to their current state because they can’t function with any less complexity held up under Strobel’s interrogation.

The Case for the Creator also contains the familiar vast mathematical improbability that random chemicals formed specific proteins that compose precise amino acids, which order themselves into long specific sequences to create DNA. And there’s much more to life than just DNA. It’s like throwing a bunch of Scrabble pieces down and hoping to write Hamlet—impossible.

The final chapter touches on the interesting topic of consciousness. We all sense that the brain and mind are not synonymous, that there is a part of us that is not determined purely by the physical. J.P. Moreland describes consciousness as sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, beliefs, and free choices that make us alive and aware. If humans are only physical then consciousness doesn’t exist and there can be no first person point of view; there is no such thing as free will, and therefore no responsibility; and there is disembodied intermediate state, as described by people who had near-death and out-of-body experiences. Experiments have shown that there is no part of the brain where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide. Other studies have shown that the mind has a causal power independent of the brain’s activities. The private nature of introspection, REM and dreaming, and our experience of the soul also provide reason to believe in human consciousness.