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I think it’s obvious and becoming even more obvious by the day. Is there really a more ridiculous idea than evolution? Random mutation + time + chance = we’re here! Let’s roll the dice with some mud and produce some lions! How much time do we have? 4.5 million years? Oh wait, that’s too short. How about 4.5 billion years? That sounds about right.

This clip is merely a tidbit of how absurd evolution is and it’s actually one part of a DVD that includes 6 videos about the problems of evolution.

I’m not trying to say I have all the answers but what more do you need? This hit me about 2-3 years ago in some discussions over evolution and looking at various arguments as to how evolution could produce the human brain or eye. The arguments revealed the gist of humanistic evolution: natural selection is not the driver, random mutation is. Go on Panda’s Thumb. Look up the arguments, there are too many discussions and arguments to link to. But the heart of the modern theory of evolution (an evolution of a theory that still hasn’t found its own evidence) is simply random mutation producing change over a very long period of time with a miniscule aid called natural selection (which is really isn’t much of an aid when it comes to increased complexity).

In fact, just forget about natural selection when you deal with evolution. Natural selection comes in handy with change but not with forming new species. You need a whole lot of mutation for that to happen. Mutation that we have yet to really see produce new genetic code.

Maybe calling it the dumbest idea ever is a bit extreme, but it’s pretty close…

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We’ve had a garden for 2 summers now. It’s been a privilege and a blessing, I know not everyone has the space or yard to do it. But I’ve been surprised at what a blessing building a garden truly has been. One of my favorite things to do is walk through it either when getting home from work or when our kids are in bed. I get to see growth each day, see where plants are struggling, and see foreshadowing of the fruit to come. There’s a part I can’t even explain, but it’s been encouraging in my relationship with Jesus.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

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Refreshment

There’s one word that I could use to describe my time (and my wife would agree) in our garden: refreshing. Maybe it’s the piece of wild nature vs. the boring and tame grass lawn. Maybe it’s the patience that is grown in you as you wait and watch. Maybe it’s the promise of reward in the fruit to come.

We’re growing carrots, 2 kinds of lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, 4 kinds of pumpkins, squash, cucumber, and cantaloupe. I’m not a big vegetable eater (I should be) but I love everything we grow. There’s a big difference between what comes out of your own garden versus store-bought. Don’t hear me as one of those extreme organic foodies, though I can appreciate the conviction, my family has to be budget conscious and we’re not opposed to Wal-Mart (though we do not prefer their produce which can be pretty putrid).

I love watching my kids eat fresh lettuce and green beans straight out of the garden to their mouths. They love helping with, and being in our garden as well. I love seeing their amazement at the growth and just the smallest signs of fruit.

Reinforcement

Do you understand photosynthesis? Especially the whole making-trees-and-leaves-and-fruit-out-of-thin-air part? Go blow on that bush. You can’t see it, but the bush will turn your breath into raspberry juice. We could improve on the name. Photosynthesis. I’ve suggested Green Magyk, but no one listens to me. – N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

My kids’ perspective has been teaching me to wonder more as well. Having a garden reinforces just how amazing God is and how ridiculous the concept of evolution is. Seriously, how can something start as this:

and grow to this (and not be done yet):

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Don’t give me Occam’s Razor or some argument about photosynthesis and random mutation. Please. Build a garden and watch it grow and try to not be amazed by it all.

Gardening reinforces that God does the growth but also that He can just as soon end it.

Resilience

A couple of weeks we had a crazy hail storm that lasted for about 5 minutes with golf-ball sized hail. Thankfully, we had just set up tarps to cover our plants only a few days earlier! However, the hail was intense and there were two plants that did not get adequately covered – a pumpkin plant and a cherry tomato that already had a few growing on it. The pumpkin plant in particular had only 2 leaves (out of 20-30) remaining undamaged. It was practically flattened! I wish I had a picture to show you just how crushed it was. My wife and I thought that there was no way the pumpkin plant would survive.

Today it is fully recovered, has plenty of buds, and you could not even tell unless you looked closely that it was hurt. That’s amazing. The cherry tomato plant is struggling on one side but is still growing despite now getting mugged by slugs (beer to the rescue)! Seeing the resilience of a few plants is convicting and encouraging.

There’s hail, tornadoes, frost, heat waves, bugs, darkness and death, but that’s never the full picture of this world that God has made. There is beauty, resilience, yummy fruit, massive thriving pumpkins, grace after the hail, reward from hard work, and it all whispers His name. I’m thinking that’s where the refreshment of my garden ultimately comes from.

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I received a Christmas letter from some friends serving in a country in Asia where nongovernment controlled churches are illegal as well as most forms of public or private expression of the Christian faith. This is a country where pastors are regularly jailed, home churches crushed, and movements squashed. Churches have to switch up meeting times and places in order to keep fellowship alive. People giving out the Jesus Film have been executed. My friends have been living there for a number of years, now as a family of 4, seeking to see the gospel furthered. I had to quote some of the letter as the wife quotes one of the nationals she is helping grow in Christ:

Someone asked me to look back on this year and give them a summary of what we have seen and I thought you might be interested in a short story or two of how the girls we disciple have grown recently.

Someone who chooses to be a disciple here must choose to go against their culture and face pressure from all sides, including parents, friends, and employers.  For many, once they grab a hold of the Truth and make His Word a part of their lives, they just can’t live the same way anymore.  I’ve seen this lived out on a daily basis from a friend I’ll call Sarah.  She has been studying regularly with me for some time and is growing in her faith, and I see a change in her week to week.  Just last week, she told me that she felt she could compare her life to that of the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt because they just complained about everything that God gave them, even though most things were meant to be blessings and provisions for them.  Because of their complaints, many lost their lives and they had to wander another 40 years.  Sarah said that as she keeps her eyes on Jesus and the road He is directing her to take, it is hard not to complain and wonder if it is fair. To paraphrase our last conversation, she said:  Due to my education and work experience, I have been working as a cashier/accountant for the last few years, but I can’t do that any longer because in that occupation, I am forced to cheat people and lie everyday. So now I’m having a hard time finding a job since I can no longer work in that way.  Also, most people must work seven days a week and it’s very difficult to have Sundays off and that is a must for me now so that I can attend fellowship.  I’d also like to have one other day during the week off to help serve and volunteer my time, but that dream seems impossible.  In addition, I’m getting pressure from my parents and friends to get married, but I tell them that I can only date and marry men who are Christians.  They all criticize me and tell me I’m stupid, foolish, and lazy.  They say that I’ve given up many good opportunities for work and marriage because of my new faith and that what I do each day is useless.  Since I’m not working, I’ve been taking advantage of my free time by studying the Bible everyday, listening to sermons online, and reading devotional books that my teacher has given me.  But they just say I’m wasting my time.  Now that I’m a Christian, I can’t be angry at my dad or those who say these hurtful things to me and I have to just hold my tongue when they yell at me.  I have to just keep silent.  But I’ve seen a change in my father.  Now that I don’t yell back, he runs out of things to say and just lets the subject drop.  When my aunt was going to come over for a visit, my mom and dad both asked me if I was going to share the gospel with her while she was there.  They were being somewhat sarcastic in their question, but it was a great idea!  I love to serve, to spread the gospel, and to spend time with the Lord.

Sarah went on to explain that many people around her are in the same condition and that in some ways we are all like the Israelites.  But now, she can see that even the difficulties that she faces is just training from the Lord and that it’s not an easy road, but it’s worth it because the end will be so good.

Is all that worth it? This sweet gal has given up marriage and jobs for the sake of Jesus. She’s been drilled by her family and friends for it. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we who believe in Jesus are most to pitied, especially Sarah. But Jesus did rise from the dead and He tells us this:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35 ESV)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

You bet it’s worth it. In this life we get plenty of fresh starts to remind us of this: a new year, a new day, a new month, a new birth, or a new decade even. One day, Christ will give us one final fresh start that will be like none other we’ve ever seen. Father God, in 2011, let me more fervently anticipate that day when everything will be made new.

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3 hours of driving in Fort Collins to see Christmas lights that is! A fun evening it was. We piled into the Alvarado-mobile and took off around Fort Collins to see a multitude of amazingly decorated homes, including our favorite shown above, the Habitat for Humanity “Lights for Habitat” house.

We also made it to the live nativity at Peak Community Church. It was cold and my kids were tanked, but they were enthralled and I thought Peak did an excellent job, it made me very thankful for my brothers and sisters of that church.

Overall, it was fun night that made me thankful for my family and for how much Jesus has blessed us. It also made me very thankful that we live in a country that still goes a little crazy to celebrate Christmas. Maybe not every house had the same motivation but it stirred me as I prayed with the kids putting them to bed: Jesus coming to us a child in a manger really happened. He came to serve and give His life a ransom for us. He did it willingly. Celebrating this is worth 10 million times the beauty and number of lighting displays that my family witnessed tonight!

Here is the map set (moves from South to North) that I used tonight (big thanks to the Holiday Guide at the Coloradoan!): Christmas Lights Map and Plan

 

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The question so much of the time for me is: Does it really need to be this hard? Why does life have to be such a battle? Why can’t life be easier? I love Jesus and my joy has grown immensely since I met Him over 15 years ago, but still, life is hard. I deserve better! I deserve more good than struggle! My life is very blessed and yet I can battle these questions watching others deal with immensely difficult external and internal evil and pain. I have also grieved and felt the sting of death. But I can still feel like I deserve an easier and less painful life, or at least desire it so much so for others. Am I being too honest here? A major idol for me is comfort. Why can’t my life be all leisure and as much reading time and film viewing and nice slow meals with my wife and play time with my kids without feeling tired? This is so what my flesh screams for and thinks I deserve above anything and anyone else. Many of my struggles in my home flow out of this. But the other night, I saw the below video clip and it crushed me. Apart from Jesus, what do I deserve? Hell. Our depravity is deeper than we can imagine. Simply ignoring and watering it down and being passive and calling it someone else’s problem makes me feel like I deserve to be utterly crushed and obliterated by God. How can this be happening? How? Be aware, the video below is extremely graphic.

Don’t waste my time with arguments that this is fake. Take it up with them. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s been happening for a long time now. How do I deal with this? What is a proper response? How do you think God feels about this? He doesn’t see some short 3 minute clip, He sees it all and has seen it all. As my wife told me after watching this, how does God restrain Himself from stepping in and giving us all what we deserve? His restraint towards me is truly amazing.

None is righteous, no, not one;    no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

Only by the Blood of Jesus.

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I have to confess something: I don’t surf the internet anymore. Honestly, there is so much information and good stuff as well as so many worthless and evil things, where would I start? How would I surf nowadays? Would I just limit myself to a few sites? Should I just stick to Twitter? It’s overwhelming. The number of good blogs is overwhelming. The amount of news and quickness of it today is mind numbing. So how do I deal with it? Well, the nice thing is that there are also a number of tools and applications today to help with this! Good Noows, ReadItLater, Readability, and Last Pass are 4 of my favorites.

Good Noows

If you do not know what RSS is, then let me explain. RSS is basically a way of viewing a site as a listing of articles. Most sites these days will feed out their information in this format from news sites to blogs to anything. An excellent primer on RSS is here. If a site has an RSS feed, then the next thing you need an RSS feed reader. There are numerous ones out there like Google Reader or Sage for Firefox but my current favorite is Good Noows. Good Noows is a very customizable RSS reader and you can access it from anywhere, any browserou can set categories and then drop the links of the sites you want to track into those categories. You can turn off or delete feeds you’re no longer interested in and it will keep track of what you’ve clicked/read.

ReadItLater

Once you sift through what you actually want to read, you likely can’t read through everything you want to read at that moment, can you? Should you simply bookmark them all to read later? Is there an easier way to do this? Yes. ReadItLater is a very flexible, fantastic tool to save good reads for later when you have more time or even just to save good stuff that you read without building up an insane library of bookmarks on your own machine. There are multiple apps for ReadItLater making it easy to save links within any browser with one click of a button.

Adding additional power (for a $5 one time cost) is ReadItLater’s Digest. Digest allows you to build a custom categorizing tool to make it even easier to prioritize reading. I use ReadItLater in combination with Instapaper to send every 12-15 saved articles to my Kindle.

Readability

ReadItLater Digest also is a great place to read articles because it will filter out advertisements and sidebar distractions and images but Readability is the king at doing this. Readability will transform a 5 page article into a streamlined single page read weeding out the advertisements and sidebars but retaining the main article images and tables. If you’re reading articles on the fly, right when you run into them, this is the tool to use. See before and after below.

LastPass

The last tool I especially wanted to mention is LastPass. How many passwords do you think you have saved in your browser cookies? Do you just use the same old password for every site you register for or utilize consistently? This is very dangerous. Ever have your email hacked? You’ve surely seen this happen to multiple friends. Last Pass is way to securely store and access your passwords online utilizing one main access code. You can then use LastPass to generate random 8-12-16 digit passwords for any website (highly recommended for your email accounts)! You can also categorize your saved username/passwords and alter and update them with ease with any of their browser tools.

I hope these tools are helpful to you! In terms of browsers, it simply has to be Chrome. What tools do you use? How do you sift through the data deluge of the internet? Do you just bypass it by avoiding it? That’s not exactly the worse solution!

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This morning I gave a presentation at GIS in the Rockies held nearby in Windsor, Colorado. I posted my slide deck to slideshare earlier today but I wanted to explain the presentation more and then provide some links to more resources. Remember, any opinions expressed in this blog are my own and not necessarily representative of the company I work for!

My presentation was titled “Monitoring the Levees of Sacramento” and here was the abstract that I submitted for it:

At the end of 1996, over the New Year’s holiday, a series of storms (collectively called a pineapple connection) hit the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Valley. Over $2 billion in damage was done. Dozens of levees within the San Joaquin River basin failed along with many levees within the Sacramento River basin as well as the Delta. Nine people were killed and over 120,000 people were evacuated from their homes. After this event, an annual erosion inventory was started to help identify the weakest spots in the levee system and repair them. Early on, the amount of repairs actually completed was limited due to environmental concerns and political issues. Following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina event, during which levee failures caused extensive flooding to the city of New Orleans, concerns became heightened for the Sacramento Levee System which has a lower level of flood protection than New Orleans’ level of protection. In February 2006, the governor of California declared a state of emergency for the Sacramento & San Joaquin River Systems levees and emergency repairs were completed on the most critical sites. More repairs have been completed since and the annual inventory documents more erosion sites that can be repaired in a given year. In 2009, the inventory moved towards a fully digital means of data collection using ArcPad 8 and a Trimble GeoXH, standardizing the erosion inventory database and developing field forms to allow for easier and more efficient observation.

In my presentation I give a basic history of the flooding and levees from the early settlement in the mid 1800s up to the present. It’s a fascinating history. It is to me, at least! I have worked on Sacramento River and levee system for almost 10 years.  The levee repairs and erosion inventory work that I have been more closely involved with since 2006 has been the most satisfying project work that I have been a part of in my young career. In my presentation I discussed a little of what has been done and a little bit about what is left including the current status as far as I know. Later in the presentation, I get moe specifically into the move to establish a formal erosion site database and going from paper to digital when it comes to the annual levee inspections. You can view the slide deck below.

If it wasn’t clear from the presentation, the agency we worked closest with and who oversees this most of this work is the Sacramento District of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps have taken a lot of flack since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and  are nearly reviled in the Sacramento area as well in many other levee systems that they oversee. You have to understand though that the Corps is so much of the time merely the  middle man. They only have so much authority compared to the responsibility that is passed on to them. When they decertify levees, people and local officials scream bloody murder and disparage them in the media. Yet when the levees break and flood, they also crush the Corps. In Sacramento, for years, it was environmental issues that seem to hold up more repairs. Other times it has been simply been funding. There are some sharp folks working in the Sacramento District. They do more than you think with very little credit. Maybe there are some typical inefficiencies that come with federal level governance but these Corps folks care. They are looking at the levee problems locally as well as systemically and want solutions as much as anyone.

Here are some resources for further research and some of my external sources:

“Battling the Inland Sea” by Robert Kelley

California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Photo Library

1997 Floods, Northern California Information Resources

California Floods (Wikipedia)

Central Valley (California) (Wikipedia)

One other recommended resources:

California DWR Levee Repair Website

California DWR Delta Initiatives

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Did I get any facts wrong in my presentation? Do you disagree with my opinion of the USACE? Am I missing some excellent resources? Comment below!

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