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Two amazing stories of resilience

Credit: ABC NewsThis morning's ABC News headline caught my eye: "Dog Swims Over 6 Miles to Reunite With Family After Falling Off Boat in Lake Michigan." The ten-month-old puppy fell overboard, swam to shore, then walked over twelve miles to a campground where she was reunited with her family the next day.

Now consider another story of resilience. Humans have long aspired to go to Mars, but six months of travel and life in claustrophobic conditions make the psychological part of the expedition as daunting as the physical. ICE environments (isolated, confined, and extreme) have long challenged explorers.

That's why six astronauts spent twelve months in isolation on a simulated Martian plain. The three-woman, three-man crew lived in a dome-shaped habitat on a lava plain on the flank of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. They worked in conditions as close to Martian as science could make them. And they proved that humans are often as resilient as we need to be.

To many Christians, our culture feels more Martian by the day. As a recent article noted, "Many conservative Christians just don't feel welcome in their own country. They say they are either mocked or erased in popular culture." One pastor asked, "When was the last time you saw an evangelical or conservative Christian character portrayed positively on TV?"

But God promises, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). Scripture enjoins us: "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).

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French Mayors Ban Women From Wearing Burkini at Beach

Credit: Chris Carlson via APLess is more, especially in France. Muslim women, or anyone for that matter, who visit the beach in Cannes, France, are no longer permitted to wear burkinis. These full body swimsuits have been banned by mayor David Lisnard because they are a "symbol of Islamic extremism" and could disrupt the public order. More covering equates to less order when it pertains to French beaches.

Anyone wearing the burkini will be asked either to change into something else or to leave the beach. The penalty for not doing either is equivalent to around forty-three dollars. According to the law, “Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation . . . is liable to create risks of disrupting public order.” It goes on to read: “Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.”

It is fascinating how the law disassociates good morals from religious obedience. A common assumption is that religion produces good morals, not bad behavior. But according to insinuations within this law, religion is an incubator for disruption and chaos.

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2 reasons why I disagree with Colin Kaepernick

Credit: Jack Dempsey via APSan Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is generating headlines with his refusal to stand during the national anthem at football games. He explained his decision to reporters: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

He later added: "This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people that don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change. So I'm in the position where I can do that and I'm going to do that for people that can't." Response from NFL players and fans has been as varied as you'd expect, some voicing support for his position and others protesting vehemently.

Let's begin with the obvious: Kaepernick has the right to stand or sit when the national anthem is played. He also has the right to express his views on our national challenges regarding racism, violence, and poverty. And it's tragically clear that America has not yet achieved the racial and economic equality we should all seek for our country.

However, I disagree with the way Kaepernick has expressed his convictions, for two reasons.

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What would it be like to live on Mars?

Credit: Kevin Gill via flickr

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on Mars? NASA and an international team working with the HI-SEAS program recently finished up their longest simulation yet in order to determine just that. Six scientists spent 365 days in a geodesic dome on the side of a Hawaiian volcano to better understand whether or not people could really survive and be productive while stuck in a tiny, enclosed space without privacy, fresh food, or fresh air. Simulated missions, where the members were required to wear space suits, were the only times that the group was allowed to leave the dome.

While the simulation appears to have been a success—all six walked out under their own power with nary a black eye or missing tooth among them—technological advances continue to outpace the human element with regards to our understanding of how feasible a trip to Mars truly is. Simulations, like those from the HI-SEAS group, hope to provide such answers and will play a key role in helping NASA better prepare for that eventuality.

But, as mission commander Carmel Johnston described, living in the dome was a struggle at times: "It is kind of like having roommates that just are always there and you can never escape them so I'm sure some people can imagine what that is like and if you can't then just imagine never being able to get away from anybody." That the crew survived it, and appeared to be in good spirits by the end of their time together, bodes well for pushing the limits even further next time. Recruitment is already underway for similar experiments to begin in 2017 and 2018. But considering that any mission to the red planet could take as long as three years to complete, there's still a great deal left to learn before the simulations can become a reality.

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Colin Kaepernick Can Sit Because Others Stood

Credit: Ben Margot via AP

He can sit because others were willing to stand. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has sat during the national anthem in all three preseason games and said he plans to continue to do so until he sees real change when it comes to racial injustices. The figurative rockets red glare and bombs bursting through the air prove that there is still fighting going on.

Waiting two weeks before speaking out, Kaepernick said, "I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."

Joining the Founders of the country and framers of the Constitution, Kaepernick said, “This country stands for liberty, freedom, justice for all.” However, assessing the current situation, the millionaire 49ers quarterback noted, “And it’s not happening for all right now.”

Kaepernick joins countless others around the country that are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Their actions disrupt the emotional equilibrium of the country, from political party conventions to now the sacred football stadiums. Their protests create a suffocating sense that something needs to be done. But this is accompanied by a hesitant fear of what might be done. And the line that separates reacting appropriately and overreacting detrimentally is far smaller than desired and usually exceeded because of desire.

To silence their voice is to relegate our veterans’ actions as partially futile, dying for rights individuals cannot use. To encourage their sit-ins is to dishonor those who gave their lives for their rights.

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Why some teens say no to social media

Credit: PexelsIf you go by the popular stereotypes, a teen who doesn't use social media ranks somewhere between dragons and world peace among concepts that would be awesome if real, but are most likely nothing more than a fantasy. Generally speaking, that assessment isn't far off. The Pew Research Center reports that ninety-two percent of American teenagers go online daily and twenty-four percent claim to be on their devices "almost constantly." Seventy-one percent use Facebook, roughly fifty percent use Instagram, and forty-one percent are on Snapchat. Pew found that a normal teen has 145 Facebook friends and 150 Instagram followers.

However, as The Wall Street Journal's Christine Rosen writes, there are a surprising number of young people that have chosen to focus on the real world rather than the virtual, and they couldn't be happier with the choice. They still use technology and routinely text or call their friends, but it's often to choose a place to meet or to have a conversation that doesn't involve clicking a "Like" button.

Jacqueline Nesi, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies teens and social media, estimates that "between five percent and fifteen percent of teens abstain from social media use." While that number is low compared with those who choose to be on Facebook and its kin, I can honestly say that it's higher than I expected.

Many of the teens with whom Rosen spoke say that being heavily involved in social media just looks exhausting and is less fulfilling than getting together in person. When asked if they felt like they were missing out, most were quick to offer that they still find out about the important stuff, and the occasional joke that they may not understand isn't worth the price of keeping up with the virtual community.

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Newborn baby rescued at sea

Credit: Emilio Morenatti via APThe front page of this morning's Wall Street Journal has a poignant photo: a woman is holding a newborn baby surrounded by life jackets and chaos on a ship. They are among more than 700 migrants rescued yesterday from seven boats in the Mediterranean Sea and transferred to the Italian coast guard.

CNN reports today on another harrowing escape over the weekend. Southwest Airlines Flight 3472, en route from New Orleans to Orlando, was diverted to Pensacola, Florida, after an engine exploded. "It was thanks to that pilot that we're all alive," a passenger said after the plane landed safely.

One more story of resilience: according to CNN, a couple was married yesterday amid the rubble of the deadly earthquake in Italy. They had planned to be married in the town church, but part of the building crumbled in the quake that killed at least 291 people. So they moved their wedding to the village square and made a memory the world is sharing today.

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ISIS martyr Kayla Mueller's amazing faith

Credit: Ross D. Franklin via AP"She was always considerate of others, even though she herself was in a very difficult situation. She was always concerned for other prisoners. She never stopped being concerned for the Syrian population living through just horrible things in this war and still are. She never stopped caring for others."

This is how a former ISIS hostage describes Kayla Mueller in a remarkable story on this morning's ABC News website. Four former hostages will tell about their shared ordeal on tonight's "20/20" broadcast.

We knew that Mueller was tortured and assaulted sexually by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS. But we are only now hearing remarkable accounts of her unfailing Christian commitment and character. Former hostages describe her sense of humor and unwavering faith. They testify that she defended her Christian commitment to "Jihadi John," the infamous ISIS executioner, and inspired them all with her courage.

At one point she refused a chance to escape so that some teenage girls with her would have a better chance at freedom. "I am an American. If I escape with you, they will do everything to find us again," she explained. One girl who escaped said Mueller "was praying for us to escape, to survive. I will never forget this sacrifice. She was very good to us. I will never forget."

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The most powerful way to unclutter your life

"When you have peace and quiet and you're not concerned with people trying to get your attention, you're dramatically more effective and can get important work done." This is how psychologist Josh Davis describes the advantages of starting your day at 4 a.m. He notes that people booby-trap their offices with distractions: desk clutter, email pop-ups, cellphone, Facebook, other social media. However, "by waking up at 4 a.m., they've essentially wiped a lot of those distractions off their plate."

You may not decide to get up at 4 a.m. tomorrow, but you can still choose to live a less cluttered life. Here's how.

God's word teaches us to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). One way to do this is to cultivate a soul that listens to God. David testified, "For God alone my soul waits in silence" (Psalm 62:1). As a result, he could say, "Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God, and to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love" (vs. 11–12).

"God said" appears forty-six times in the Bible. We find this statement first in the third verse of the Bible (Genesis 1:3). The next-to-last verse of Scripture also quotes a direct statement of God (Revelation 22:20). Since neither human nor divine nature have changed, does it seem reasonable that the God who spoke so often in the biblical era would be silent today?

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Surprising findings about why people go to church

Credit: Nikko Tan via PexelsThe decline of religion, and Christianity specifically, is a common theme among many in the church today. Statistics routinely focus on the growth of those who do not consider themselves religious and the problems plaguing God's people in America. A new study by the Pew Research Center, however, paints a slightly different picture.

Researchers found a roughly fifty-fifty split between Americans who go to church regularly—defined as at least once or twice a month—and those who do not. Of those who attend regularly, twenty-seven percent say they now go more often than they used to. Conversely, only twenty-two percent of those who do not frequent a church or other religious community used to attend more often than they currently do. For Christians, those numbers are even better, with roughly two-thirds of those claiming to follow Christ attending at least a couple times a month and thirty-five percent doing so more often than in the past.

That means more than a third of all Christians and more than a quarter of all Americans have become more active in regards to their faith in recent years. Coupled with the fact that a smaller percentage of people are moving away from their faith than those who are moving towards it, the trends paint a far more encouraging picture than we often have of the religious landscape in our culture.

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