Friday, September 14, 2018

LOVE: Part 1 - What the World Needs Most

On April 15, 1965, just six weeks before my graduation from high school, an album of Jackie DeShannon was released that included a song that has become very familiar: 

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some but for everyone
– Hal David

The enduring popularity of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” reflects Hal David’s gift of creating lyrics that resonated with the “interior sadness of daily life;” in particular, the human longing for the sweetness of enduring love.  From what I have read, it seems unlikely that Hal David and musician Burt Bacharach intended their song to be understood from a biblical perspective.  However, the song is both a commentary on human nature and a prayer to God to send more of His love.  The commentary and the prayer remain very pertinent to this day.

Hal David used an additional line in his “prayer” to intensify his point that “the world needs love.”  The song continues, “Lord, we don’t need another mountain.”  Rather, we just need more “sweet love.”

As I listened again to David’s lyrics wafting sadly on the wings of Bacharach’s music, I began to wonder:  Is the world’s problem really that it has too little love?  Or, could it be that there is plenty of love, but many of us have been seeking a lesser love and looking for it in the wrong places?   The answer from the Bible is “yes.” 

The Apostle John, whom Jesus loved, tells us that God loved the world so much that He gave what is often described as His great “love gift” in the form of His beloved Son, Jesus (John 3: 16).   Years after recording those words of Jesus, John declared in 1 John 4: 8, “God is love.”  By this, he meant, that God’s divine Son, Jesus, is not only His “love gift” to the world but Jesus is the very embodiment of love.  And Jesus spoke of His Father’s love to His disciples in this way: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love (John 15: 9).”  As we abide in Jesus’s love, His love, joy, and peace flow out from us to others.  The Apostle John affirms the reality of this flowing stream of love from God through us to others: “We love, because He (God) first loved us (1 John 4: 19).

But, while God’s sweet love is abundantly available, the world continues to plead for more
“love, sweet love” while looking for it where it cannot be found.  Nathanael Blake, in Why Everything Is Wonderful But Nobody’s Happy, And What To Do About It, addresses the concern of many today who realize the inability of material pursuits to substitute for “sweet love.” He laments
[JS1] :

…the symptoms of civilizational despair are persistent and worsening. The doleful litany is familiar: Fertility and life expectancy are down; suicides are up; overdose deaths are way up…deaths from alcohol abuse are up. The comforts of modern life have not made us happy, even as material comforts that were once exclusive to the rich have become the norm. Never before in human history have so many, with so much, been so miserable.  Nor has sexual liberation, the last, best hope for materialist pleasure, brought general happiness. …widespread sexual indulgence has left our culture so far from sexual bliss that even The New York Times is running columns lamenting our sexual dystopia.


It seems that Western culture can achieve every goal set before it except to agree upon what  is truly satisfying and enduring.  As social beings, our relational, vocational, recreational, and spiritual lives are incomplete unless we achieve satisfying relationships with others and with God.  We long for assurance and security that can only come from a deeper well than our buckets will reach.  And so, many continue to look for love, meaning, and purpose in vain.  Our frustration from this vain pursuit may explain recent political division and unrest.

Blake suggests that our anxiety over unsatisfied wants is at least partly the cause of the growing percentage of the American electorate who are infatuated with socialism.   However, he notes that expanding government programs are not the answer because prophets, philosophers, and preachers throughout the ages have reminded us, happiness does not consist of the satisfaction of our material desires, for they will never be satisfied. Desire expands to fill the imagination’s capacity.


On the other hand, social and political conservatism holds that true freedom is granted by God, not by government.   We are accountable to God as stewards of His gifts and opportunities to honor Him and benefit our neighbor, not as a means to amass wealth for our own gratification (Ephesians 4: 28).  As Blake explains, those who know that complete happiness is not found in this life…can have gratitude for our material blessings and relief from physical ills, without seeking our happiness in wealth. We can cultivate those virtues (such as humility, charity, patience, and self-control) that mitigate social conflict, and discourage vices (such as envy, pride, jealousy, and lust) that inflame them.


We can also provide an account of human flourishing that explains why happiness and heartbreak are linked. Happiness requires accepting our mortality, but our culture sanitizes and cordons-off death and neglects the philosophical and religious reflection that reconciles us to death and prepares us for it. What our culture needs—recognition of the realities of human nature, the instilling of self-control, living with love and charity in community, and offering hope for the hereafter—is what churches should be preaching and, more importantly, exemplifying.

Unfortunately, we frequently fail in these things (I very much include myself in this indictment), and we will have little to offer an unhappy culture if we are anxious, defensive, and hateful toward our political and cultural opponents. If we do not want those we disagree with to be happy; if we do not model a life of joy for them, why should they bother to listen to us?

The Life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in our New Testament left an unmistakable mark on Christ-followers of the first-century church as described in the Book of Acts.  When the Roman Emperor Hadrian sent a man named Aristides to spy upon the Christians, his report to the Emperor contained these words, "Behold! How they love one another."  The power of Christ’s love among first century Christ-followers was the key to the rapid spread of the “Good News” of salvation across Europe.

Like our world today, the Roman world of the first century was hungry for “love, sweet love”—that ‘greater love’ that comes from God through the “Love Gift” of His Son, Jesus Christ.   In our world where many of us are materially rich but many are also anxious, unfulfilled, and in despair, may we who have God’s love be committed to express His love and lovingkindness (mercy) where it is so badly needed.  Perhaps the lyrics of “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns describes our marching orders as redeemed sinners called to love lost sinners:

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I'm so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours

----------------------------------
Coming Next:  In “LOVE: Part 2 – Lavished through Our Actions” I want to consider how love is defined and shared through our actions.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Rising Spirit of “the Resistance”


Nearly two years into President Donald Trump’s administration, there has hardly been a week without a new accusation or allegation questioning his legal, or moral, or psychological fitness for the office to which he was elected.  This week was no exception.

First, came the release of Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear:  Trump in the White House (Simon & Schuster).  According to The NY Times, the book “portrays a White House with relentless infighting and a work culture so toxic and volatile that many of President Trump’s top advisers and cabinet members became accustomed to working around their boss, whom they described as unstable and uninformed.”  President Trump and many “top advisors and cabinet members” deny the validity of Woodward’s claims.

Then came the second punch at the President.  On Wednesday, The NY Times, fresh from its commentary on Woodward’s Fear, published an anonymous op-ed letter allegedly written by a member of President Trump’s senior staff.   “Anonymous” confirmed much of Woodward’s account as he/she purports to speak for “the resistance” within the Executive Branch.  “The resistance” allegedly wants the President to succeed while at the same time to protect him from his most dangerous instincts.

Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump’s top advisors and cabinet members have all denied that they are “Anonymous.”  President Trump has labelled this op-ed and “the resistance” as treason, and rightly so.  If “Anonymous” is indeed a top administration official, he/she poses a serious threat to the security of the President and to our nation.  Especially disconcerting is what can be read as a veiled threat by “Anonymous” that “we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”

Even if everything “Anonymous” has written is accurate, I believe this action by one individual or a group of unelected individuals charged with the privilege of serving in the Executive Branch of the United States government is arrogant, unethical, and dangerous.  If “Anonymous” believes so strongly in the cause of “the resistance,” why not resign and present his/her case in the public forum along with other allegations against President Trump such as his alleged collusion with Russia which has been investigated for nearly two years without substantive proof?

In spite of the unsettling events that have occurred this week, perhaps we can learn from them.  For instance, should we be surprised at the actions of “the resistance,” regardless of how well intended they are?  Hasn’t our culture become increasingly disrespectful of people in positions of authority?   Is our culture any different than that of the Roman Empire in which the Apostle Paul was a prisoner under the deranged and ruthless emperor, Nero?  Surely, Paul would advise Christ-followers to take some action to “resist” Nero, wouldn’t he?

However, as recorded in 2 Timothy 3: 1-4, Paul wrote,

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.

What are these Scriptures teaching us as Americans, blessed with much more freedom than Roman citizens like Paul experienced under Nero?   Maybe the most obvious lesson is found in Paul’s prediction of what I believe we are now seeing in full bloom; namely, how “disobedience to parents” and ungratefulness has been expanding from our homes into a spirit of rebellion against teachers and civil authorities.  This week, it has reached all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief.  And we should remember, President Trump is not an authoritarian monarch like Emperor Nero, but rather, the leader of the Executive Branch of our federal government, elected by the will of the American people.

So, I am asking what I would do as a Christ-follower if I were “Anonymous” or if I were a colleague who knew him/her?”  I’m not sure, but as a citizen and Christ-follower, I think I would begin by reading and meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy in verses 10-17.  This is a very uplifting passage for a time such as this week.  May I encourage you to take time to read and meditate on it?  Paul’s earlier charge to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2: 1-5, calls us to a posture of prayer in submission to our leaders as well as to the purpose of our Heavenly Father who wants everyone to be saved:

Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

Whoever “Anonymous” is, I’m confident in the outcome.  As important as presidents have been in our history, America owes its exceptionalism to the faithfulness of God Who has so often surrounded presidents with men and women of great faith and integrity.  Thankfully, President Trump is in very good company.  My place is simply to pray for our President and for “all who are in authority.”

Recommended Reading:  “Who is in Charge of the White House?” by Dr. Mark Caleb Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, in the blog, Bereans at the Gate.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Stewardship from a “Stone Quarry”

Our family has just returned from a weekend vacation that included a visit to an abandoned sandstone quarry in Akron, Ohio.  I know, that doesn’t sound very exciting.   But, that’s what we did, and a bit more.  
 Our family at the "stone quarry." (Photo by Bradley Silvius)

We wanted to share variety of activities together including the “stone quarry visit,” scenic hiking at Brandywine Falls within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and several indoor activities like eating, swimming, and a rousing table game of Rummikub at the hotel where we lodged for the weekend.  Included in our party, in addition to Abby and I, was our son Bradley and his wife Raquel; and, our daughter Mindy (Silvius) Salyers with her husband Steve, and two daughters, Kiara Maetta and Della Rose.

But, maybe you are still wondering why we wanted to visit an abandoned stone quarry.  For starters, visitors arriving at the entrance to the property containing the quarry will see a sign, “Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens.”  The name “Stan Hywet” in Old English means “stone quarry” or “stone hewn.”   Our participation in a guided tour of the Manor afforded us with important lessons in local and American history for both the young and old among us.  Abby and I were especially blessed to accompany our offspring in what was our first return to Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens since we enjoyed our junior-senior banquet there at the manor while we were students at Malone College, in 1968.  That was “ancient history” to our granddaughters.
  
Stan Hywet Manor House is the 64,500 square-foot home of the Frank A. Seiberling family, constructed from 1912 to 1915 on the edge of an old sandstone quarry overlooking the Cuyahoga River valley.  The original area of the estate was about 1,500 acres until parts of it were sold for community development or deeded to conserve green space in and around Akron and the Cuyahoga Valley.

In addition to the Manor House are the Gate Lodge and the Carriage House.  All three structures were part of an elaborate landscape plan that integrated the natural landscape with the buildings in order to accentuate the quarry and adjacent rolling hills.


Frank Seiberling, in partnership with his brother Charles, founded the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, named for Charles Goodyear, the man who had invented vulcanization of rubber in 1839.   Although Goodyear developed a number of rubber products, his business misfortunes and poor health left him penniless at his death, in 1860.  On the other hand, F.A. and Charles Seiberling, were very successful as a result of F.A.’s 19 patents.  The most famous patent was his Seiberling State Tire Building machine which was patented in 1908.  The machine mechanized tire building and eventually made Akron, OH the “Rubber Capital of the World.”

The inventive and entrepreneurial success of the Seiberling’s are impressive.  But I am most impressed by the way in which they exercised stewardship of the massive wealth they acquired.   For example, by 1910 F.A. Seiberling and his wife Gertrude began to discuss the construction of a larger home for their growing family.  But when they began land acquisition and plans for the Estate, F.A.’s elderly mother, Catherine, prevailed upon her son and daughter-in-law not to change residences so that their beloved family traditions could continue until her passing.  So, out of respect for their family, F.A., Gertrude, and children rented a house next door to his mother on E. Market St. in Akron.  They delayed creating Stan Hywet until after Catherine’s death, in 1911.

Another example of “Seiberling stewardship” became evident to me when our tour leader pointed to the crest above the Manor House entryway.  The phrase in Latin expressed the attitude of the Seiberling family  toward  their guests:  Non Nobis Solum (“Not for Us Alone”).   Throughout its existence as a family home and in the years since then, Stan Hywet has been a symbol of warm and gracious hospitality to friends, the Akron community, and visitors from all over the world.  According to Wikipedia, “ a 1937 Akron Beacon Journal article, stated on behalf of the Akron community, ‘One reason we all like the Seiberlings is because they never went ‘high hat’ on Akron…’” 


Not only did the Seiberling family open their great home to visitors, but F.A. exercised exemplary stewardship of his great wealth toward the Akron community and beyond.  According to the Akron Beacon Journal article cited above, F.A. Seiberling “used his fortune and influence to create fair housing, build a hospital, improve transportation both locally and nationally, preserve green space for the community’s enjoyment and fund countless arts and culture programs and organizations.  F.A. believed true prosperity was gained through the enlightenment and improvement of every citizen.  …perhaps no other local family ever enjoyed greater prosperity and achievement . . . yet they were never so busy as to turn a disinterested ear to any pleader for Akron’s future or civic welfare . . . No man in Akron ever had a broader conception of Akron’s civic problems than Frank Seiberling.”  The list of F.A. Seiberling’s philanthropic affiliations is extensive and varied.

As our family enjoyed the beautiful Tudor-style architecture and lovely landscaping which afforded wonderful avenues of ripening grapes, birches, and sycamore trees, my belief in the free enterprise system was renewed.  In spite of the positive role of free market economics in American history, we now live at a time when many young Americans are soured against capitalism in favor of the hollow promises of socialism.  Thankfully, the history of F.A.  Seiberling and family demonstrates the explosion of benefits to family, community, and nation that occurs when a successful entrepreneur creates and shares his wealth out of an understanding that his or her success is “Not for Us Alone,” but for the benefit of many.  This is the essence of good stewardship.

Like the sandstone rock foundation beneath Stan Hywet, many of the values of the Seiberling family were supported by a foundation of Christian faith.   According to the Stan Hywet archives, F.A.’s wife, Gertrude, was a devout Christian, raised in the Methodist faith.  After she married F.A. and they moved to Akron, “the Seiberling’s joined Trinity Lutheran Church where Gertrude was active in the choir.  …In 1933, like her daughter Irene and daughter‐in‐law Henrietta, Gertrude became interested in the Oxford Group, a spiritual group that sought enlightenment and self‐improvement in companion with organized religion.”


It was through the same Oxford fellowship of evangelicals that Henrietta Seiberling was instrumental in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.   When co-founders, Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, expressed reservations against including a biblical dimension in what became known as the “Twelve Steps” of AA, Henrietta replied,

Well, we’re not out to please the alcoholics.  They have been pleasing themselves all these years.  We are out to please God.  And if you don’t talk about what God does and your faith, and your guidance, then might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that.  Because God is your only source of Power.

In conclusion, our family was enriched to visit Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens together and to learn of the life and contributions of the Seiberling family.   Their example of hard work, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy has left a positive mark on the City of Akron and beyond because of their unselfish stewardship and commitment to something and Someone larger than themselves.  It was indeed fitting that the F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling Estate was named “Stan Hywet” or “rock hewn.”  In the Book of Isaiah, we read a reminder from Almighty God figuratively speaking that we should never forget the quarry from which we were dug, shaped, and given abilities to live a meaningful and fruitful life of service to God and to our neighbor as stewards.  The prophet writes,

Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance--all who seek the LORD!  Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined.

Non Nobis Solum…
Ad Dei gloriam,  “Not for Us Alone…To God Be the Glory”

*     *    *    *
Dedication: 
I've been inspired to dedicate this article to our friends Roger and Margaret Riffle who live not far from Stan Hywet Hall.  The Riffle's are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today, and I'm blessed to have served as Roger's best man on that special day, August 14, 1968.  Congratulations and much love to you, our dear friends.

Related Reading:
Stan Hywet Celebrates 100 Years 
There’s No Such Thing as Private Property, Oikonomia, March 28, 2015

For Further Thought:
Somewhat like the Seiberling family of the 20th century is the generous philanthropy of NBA star, LeBron James, of the 21st century.  It would be interesting to research the lives and the philanthropic impact of each upon the City of Akron and vicinity.  A somewhat related topic would be the potential danger when a community depends too much upon a relatively narrow economic base for its existence as was evident when the Akron community rose and fell in the 20th century in response to the economic well being of its rubber industry.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Making “Creation Care Connections”

It is a beautiful thing to observe relationships functioning in harmony as God our Creator desires.  We feel joy and satisfaction when we experience or observe the mutual enjoyment of a married couple in love; or the performance of a sports team functioning like a well oiled machine in an exciting contest.  Some of us find a similar satisfying beauty when we experience the interactions of creatures in a forest community or in a prairie landscape or in a colorful, undersea, coral community.

In this article, I will share a few inspiring examples of how a simple willingness to become involved in expressing the love of our Creator to our "human neighbors" and to our "creation neighbors" can help us to form “creation care connections”—i.e. connections that bring our Creator, His creation, and our neighbor together--"for good."

As humans, we experience joy and satisfaction from harmonious relationships because God is relational (i.e. perfect harmony among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and He created and equipped us to love Him and to love our neighbor (
Mark 12: 30-31) and to love and care for His creation (Genesis 1: 27-28; 2: 15).  Readers who have put their faith in God’s love gift of His Son as a sacrifice for our sins will understand the Apostle Paul’s words, Above all, be loving. This ties everything together perfectly (Colossians 3:14).  Pure faith in a perfect God provides the oil for well functioning relationships.
New kiosk constructed by Gospel Road 2018 and FMCPT

Now, allow me to share a few inspiring examples of how the exercise of “creation care” can allow us to form “creation care connections”—i.e. connections among our Creator, His creation, and our neighbor. My first example involves our wonderful national and state parks, preserves, and trails.  For many people, especially the majority who live in urban communities, these places may offer the only exposure to the soul-satisfying beauty of the creation.  But parks and trails require continual administration and maintenance in order to provide safe and accommodating services to hikers, equestrians, boaters, and cyclists.  As individuals and families, when we visit parks and natural areas, we can form a “creation care connection” by simply following park rules or by stopping to pick up litter.

Just this past week, approximately 150 high school students, grades 9-12, from all over central Ohio participated in a five-day, mission-focused, work camp called the Gospel Road 2018.  The students along with their adult chaperones and volunteers represent Catholic churches and schools throughout the Diocese of Columbus.   According to Wayne Roberts, Executive Director of the Friends of Madison Co. Parks and Trails (FMCPT), the workers devoted their time and energy to approximately 46 projects.

Gospel Road 2018 workers at refurbished kiosk (London, OH)
Of particular interest to me are two of the projects completed by the Gospel Road 2018 teens involving the FMCPT.  First, they constructed a kiosk for the Little Darby State Scenic River Preserve north of London, OH, in Monroe Twp. of Madison Co.  The teens also contributed their “elbow grease” and skills to sanding and staining the kiosks near and around the Prairie Grass Trailhead at London, Ohio. 

According to Roberts, “both the student volunteers and the instructors-adult leaders were generous, good-hearted people.”  Needless to say, these teens and their leaders formed a “creation care connection” with their neighbors from the FMCPT, with bicyclists and other users of Madison Co. parks, and with the living creatures that reside in the parks and trials and give them structure and beauty.  Through their hard work, the Gospel Road 2018 group left an aroma of the “good news” for the benefit of both God’s creation and future park visitors through the caring connections they formed.

My second example to illustrate the formation of a “creation care connection” has a more expansive scale; one that spans two continents.  Beginning June 20, a small team used their skill of stand up paddle boarding (SUP-ing) to travel from Cooperstown, NY on a 444-mile trip down the Susquehanna River.  The paddle boarders were led by Peter Savard, assistant professor of nursing at Cedarville University.  The team included Savard’s daughter, Ainsley, a high school student; Jared Mitchell, a 3-D modeling and design teacher at Troy Christian School, and students from Cedarville and Wright State Universities. 

#SUP4WATER paddlers and portable clean water equipment
Prof. Savard is founder and chairman of Global Water Consortium which supports sustainable clean water projects in remote areas of the world.  As quoted in the Wyoming Co. Press Examiner in Tunkhannock, PA., Savard stated, “Throughout the trip, we will carry the same water equipment used to establish clean water projects in developing countries to showcase its mobility in remote locations.” 

The #SUP4WATER paddle board trip was completed last week.  During the time devoted to this 30-day trip, Water Consortium statistics estimate that 126,540 children in Kenya and India will die due to unsafe water.  According to Savard, “The goal is to raise $1 for each of these children and to bring increased awareness for sustainable water projects around the world.  Those who wish to donate to #SUP4WATER may do so at the Global Water Consortium website.  Additional details of the Susquehanna trip are provided through social media:  Facebook.com/GlobalWaterConsortium, Instagram.com/global_water_consortium, and Twitter.com/@peteGWC Global Water Consortium.

#SUP4WATER member, former student, and friend, Jared Mitchell
Both of my examples of “creation care connections” have featured a common invitation rooted in the biblical commands to be stewards of the Earth.  Stewardship of the creation is the fundamental context within which we express through our actions a supreme love for our Creator and love for our neighbor.  While we find satisfaction and “re-creation” in beautiful parks and along scenic trails, we should also look for ways that we can contribute to the stewardship of these places. 

Local park districts and allied citizen’s groups often invite volunteers to join in work day efforts while many states have the Adopt-a-Highway program.  As in the case of stand up paddle boarding to improve water quality in needy areas of the world, the steward first sees the need; then, is convinced of the importance of that need; and finally, becomes involved in making a “creation care connection.” Here, the connection was prompted by love for our “human neighbors” on another continent and the expression of that love through caring for the “creation neighbor,” in this case, the water quality upon which our human neighbor depends for life.  When environmental stewardship done for the glory of God, the connection is complete because God, humanity, and creation are all served—a beautiful and satisfying result.
Co-Leaders of the Prairie Grass Trail Ride at a remnant prairie

Immediate Application:
If you live in Eastern U.S.,  I would welcome you to make your own “creation care connection” by joining us on Saturday, July 28 at the trailhead of the Prairie Grass Trail in London, OH at 8:00 am for a leisurely bike ride through some scenic remnants of the original prairie in SW Ohio, preserved along a former railroad right-of-way.  Here, you can connect with members of the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails, and representatives of other local public and private organizations who are interested in management of these prairie wildflower and grass communities.  Of special emphasis this year will be how to connect with creation by learning to collect seed and grow native wildflowers and grasses in your garden or on other land over which you exercise stewardship.  See Prairie Grass Trail Ride online poster and I hope to see you there.

But Isn't Loving My "Creation Neighbor" a Distraction?
I'm glad you may be asking this question.  I have written more on this topic in a previous Oikonomia under the title, Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 3 "Serving with Our Neighbor"  That article includes reference to my friend Lynn Holtzman's master's thesis entitled “Nature as Neighbor: Aldo Leopold’s Extension of Ethics to the Land.”  I would urge you read more on this important subject, beginning with my previous article.  For now, allow me to summarize my point about our responsibility to both "creation neighbor" and "human neighbor."

God revealed His design for relationships in the Genesis 1 account of the origin of creation where we read of His mandate to Adam and his offspring to exercise dominion over creation (Genesis 1: 27-28).  Genesis 2 elaborates on the nature of the Dominion Mandate.  We are to live as “servant rulers,” or stewards, of creation (Genesis 2: 15).  Indeed, servanthood was to be the primary occupation through which humans would demonstrate their obedience to 2 other fundamental commands –to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12: 30-31).  These three commands form a tri-unity because God asks us to (1) choose carefully our activities as stewards of His material creation in light of whether or not they (2) express our love to Him and (3) love to our neighbor.  Conversely, we demonstrate our love for God and for our neighbor by the way in which we exercise “creation care” through proper handling of the material gifts God has entrusted to us to manage and use for the greatest good.  Indeed, we cannot love “our human neighbors” without proper love and respect for “our creation neighbors,” the soil, water, air and creatures, upon which “our human neighbor” depends for life.  Hopefully, the two examples cited in the main article above illustrate how volunteering our time, energy, and resources can express our love to God through acts that help both our neighbor and the creation context upon which his life depends.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What to Do about ‘Fireworks’ in America

When I was an elementary school student, in the 1950’s, we were regularly asked to stand and participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I do not remember ever saying the pledge without the words “under God.” These words had been added by Congress in 1954 in the face of the threat of godless communism.


Today, the words “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” are still recited by all who are willing to make this pledge.  However, it has become clear that many Americans no longer submit to God, and many no longer consider America a “godly nation” if indeed it ever was.  Our nation is deeply divided, particularly over competing visions of what America ought to be with respect to “liberty and justice for all.”

On this Fourth of July, the deep moral and ideological divisions are manifested in social and political turmoil that centers upon President Donald J. Trump and his administration.  Mr. Trump is one of the most controversial and, some would say, divisive and even hated presidents in modern history.  Many on the political left despise him because they believe he stole the presidential election of 2016.   They have resorted to attempts to tarnish and disrupt the Trump presidency by convicting him of collusion with the Russians.  There are also attempts to trap him in regard to inflammatory social issues, most recently his now cancelled policy of separating illegally immigrating children from their adult “guardians.” 

Meanwhile, many in the evangelical community disrespect President Trump because they believe he falls short of God’s moral and spiritual standards for the office he occupies.  Evangelical mistrust and moral criticism of the president continues in spite of his successful appointment of one excellent Supreme Court justice, and his intention to appoint a second.  In addition, President Trump’s policies seem to flow from his genuine respect for America, his emphasis on free enterprise and a good work ethic, and his respect for the sanctity of human life.

It is clear that the "fireworks" of political division in America will continue long after this Fourth of July.  Instead of arguing over competing visions of what America ought to be and the best ways to get there, I believe that Christ-follower’s, those who have surrendered their lives to the Person of Jesus Christ and His Word, are called to pray.   I do not see praying as a convenient cop-out from the “real world problems” we face.  Instead, those who have studied American history will know the vital part the providential hand of God played in the birth of our nation. 

Today in the midst of storm clouds of disruption and division, it is only fitting that Christ-followers pray for America and for her leaders.  The commands in Scripture to pray include those from the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth (1 Timothy 2: 1-4 (NIV)).

Paul is urging Christ-followers to enter into spiritual communication with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Our access to God is made possible by the shed blood of Christ who sits at the right hand of God.  Christ is glorified when we enter worshipful prayer in His Name.  [Click on box, “What Happens When We Pray?”] 

When we commune with God in prayer, we ought to realize that we are not in a position to inform Him of what He doesn’t know.  Rather, as Gordon T. Smith (The Voice of Jesus, IVP 2003) writes (p. 163):

in true prayer God has a “privileged voice,” one might say.  And the final objective of prayer is not experienced in our speaking so much as in our allowing God to speak, to have the final word, but more, to have THE word that speaks into our lives. It is this word that empowers, liberates, sustains and guides; it is the word we long to hear.

Referring back to 1 Timothy 2: 1, the Scripture commands us to pray in several ways.  First, we are to petition (make requests of ) God according to His character and purposes.  Then, notice Paul also calls us to intercede (pray on behalf of the needs of others) and offer thanksgiving to God for others and for the blessings (and trials) He brings our way.

How then should we pray for our nation and specifically “for kings” on this Fourth of July, or on any other day?  After all, we do not have a king ruling over us as was the case when Paul wrote to Timothy around AD 63.   In fact, when Paul wrote the command to Christ-followers to pray “for kings and all who are in authority,” the godless Roman emperor Nero was in power.  The date of Paul’s writing was approximately one year before the Great Fire in Rome.  Nero, who many believe may have been involved in starting the fire, laid the blame on Christians and ordered the execution of many innocent believers. 

Instead of an unelected, godless emperor, we have a president who was elected to serve as the executive of a democratic, republican government.  Historically, presidents elected by the will of the people have been shown respect even among those who did not vote for him.  By all indications as I have already indicated, President Trump is sincerely trying against much opposition to keep his campaign promises for the benefit of our nation.  However, hatred of Mr. Trump and his conservative policies is continually expressed by vicious personal attacks as well as verbal attacks upon his wife, family, and members of his administration.

Christ-followers ought to expect a disregard for authority from those who disregard the authority of God’s Word.  But the souls of both nonbelievers and believers are worth much more than winning political arguments.  Therefore, Christ ought to be honored in all of our conversations and actions.  If we return to the Apostle Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy we can find Paul’s basis for showing respect for authority and being civil in conversation.

Immediately preceding Paul’s command to “pray for kings,” he writes, “I urge, then….” which may be translated “I urge, therefore...”  If we back up to 1 Timothy 1: 15-16 (NASB), we can see what the “therefore” is there for.  Paul reveals his own humility in the face of Christ’s patience toward him.  He writes (emphasis mine),

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.   Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

As Christ-followers perform the important work of praying for our nation and all those in authority, including President Trump and his administration, we ought to meditate on Paul’s testimony as the “foremost of all” sinners.   Like Paul, we should never forget that we were also forgiven an infinite debt of sin.  Then, as we confess our own sin and take the log out of [our] own eye…so we can see clearly to take the speck out of [our] brother's eye (Matthew 7: 5), perhaps our prayers will be heard and answered for the benefit of our own personal relationships, our families, and our nation,  that by God's grace it could be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Application -- What About You?
If you are like me, you read lots of articles and books but fail to make specific applications to your own spiritual life as a believer and Christ-follower.   For example, you may have just read my article, "What to Do about 'Fireworks' in America" and are asking, "What will I do?"   If you are asking this question, here's a suggestion. 

The heart of this article is a call to PRAY.  If you re-read or scan the article, you will notice some thoughts on what prayer is and how to pray.  My thoughts on prayer are derived from what Daniel Henderson calls "Scripture-Fed, Spirit-Led Prayer."  For the past 20 months I have been blessed to pray in a small group at our church in which we use Henderson's approach, led by a former student and now brother in Christ, Kirk Fairhurst.  May I encourage you to read more about "Scripture-Fed, Spirit-Led Prayer" by checking out the following links, and then beginning to practice praying in this way individually and, as God allows, with other Christ-followers.  To God be the glory, great things He has done!
Links from Daniel Henderson's Strategic Renewal website:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A New Hunger for Rules We Hated?

In those days* there was no king in Israel. 
Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
   *1300-1050 BC  -- Book of Judges 21: 25 ESV

I am a member of the high school graduating class of 1965.  The 1960’s greeted us baby-boomers with the Beatles, the Beach Boys, sporty cars, and many opportunities and invitations to become breakers of moral and social rules.


Now that I am in my seventies, I have lived through the transition from the “modern” to the “postmodern” era.  During the modern era which included the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the scientific revolution, many believed that all major truth claims about reality could be harmonized through the lens of the natural sciences and mathematics.  Revelatory truth from a supreme creator God was supplanted by a belief in the supremacy of human reason.  Many accepted humanity as being the most highly evolved species on the Darwinian tree of life, destined to transform the natural world into a utopia.

Then, in the 1960’s, the rule-breaking baby boomers “matured” into post-modern “thinkers” of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  This period saw major upheavals in the global economy (Think “oil.”), growing environmental deterioration (Think “endangered species.”), and a loss of confidence that America was a rightful leader on the world stage (Think “Vietnam.”).  Our society began to move away from a respect for time-honored virtues to a rejection of rules which were viewed as stifling of individual freedom. 

Postmodernists dismissed the notion that truth is a “transcendent, timeless, universal absolute that is present everywhere and applicable everywhere (Matt and Rachel Taylor).”  Instead, postmodernists consider truth claims as relative to the community to which each individual belongs (e.g. national, tribal, or ethnic).  A virtuous person is defined as one who is tolerant of people in other communities who may define truth differently and does not to use personal truth claims to wield power over other individuals or groups.

Today, the USA is divided and confused for want of truth and structure for life.  We see evidence of moral relativism in many of the controversial issues that divide our nation—gender and reproductive rights, attitudes toward law enforcement, national sovereignty, immigration reform, religious liberty, freedom of speech, and right to bear arms.  In many cases, political pressures combined with legal and moral ambiguities have caused much distress and even death to people normally protected by objective legislation and law enforcement.

But a strange thing is happening on the way down the path of postmodernism and moral relativism—many are beginning to hunger for “rules for life.”  Books are popping up that are offering just that.  Jordan B. Peterson has authored 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House Canada, 2018).   His YouTube video with the same title boasts 1.5 million views.  In the Foreward to 12 Rules for Life,  Norman Doidge, MD, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself offers his explanation for the sudden interest in rules, particularly among millennials:

…what [Peterson] is saying meets a deep and unarticulated need.  And that is because alongside our wish to be free of rules, we all search for structure.

Doidge continues:  The hunger among many younger people for rules, or at least guidelines, is greater today for good reason. In the West at least, millennials are living through a unique historical situation. They are, I believe, the first generation to have been so thoroughly taught two seemingly contradictory ideas about morality, simultaneously-- at their schools, colleges and universities, by many in my own generation.  This contradiction has left them at times disoriented and uncertain, without guidance and, more tragically, deprived of riches they don't even know exist.


The first idea or teaching is that morality is relative, at best a personal “value judgment.” Relative means that there is no absolute right or wrong in anything; instead, morality and the rules associated with it are just a matter of personal opinion or happenstance, “relative to” or “related to” a particular framework, such as one's ethnicity, one's upbringing, or the culture or historical moment one is born Into.  It's nothing but an accident of birth.  According to this argument (now a creed), history teaches that religions, tribes, nations, and ethnic groups tend to disagree about fundamental matters, and always have.  Today the postmodernist left makes the additional claim that one group's morality is nothing but its attempt to exercise power over another group.  So the decent thing to do-- once it becomes apparent how arbitrary your and your society’s “ moral values” are-- is to show tolerance for people who think differently, and who come from different (diverse) backgrounds.  That emphasis on tolerance is so paramount that for many people one of the worst character flaws a person can have is to be “judgemental.” And since we don't know right from wrong, or what is good just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live.


And so a generation has been raised untutored in what was once called, aptly, “practical wisdom,” which guided previous generations.  Millennials, often told they have received the finest education available anywhere, have actually suffered a form of serious intellectual and moral neglect. The relativists of my generation and Jordan’s, many of whom became their professors, chose to devalue thousands of years of human knowledge about how to acquire virtue, dismissing it as passé, not relevant or even oppressive. They were so successful at it that the very word “virtue” sounds out of date, and someone using it appears anachronistically moralistic and self-righteous.

Norman Doidge concludes his Foreward to 12 Rules for Life with a hopeful assessment of the millennial generation:

One might think that a generation that has heard endlessly, from their more ideological teachers, about the rights, rights, rights that belong to them, would object to being told that they would do better to focus instead on taking responsibility. Yet this generation, many of whom were raised in small families by hyper protective parents, on soft surface playgrounds, and then taught in universities with safe places where they don't have to hear things they don't want to-- schooled to be risk-averse-- has among it, now millions who feel stultified by this underestimation of their potential resilience and who have embraced Jordan's message that each individual has ultimate responsibility to bear; that if one wants to live a full life, one first sets one's own house in order
(Peterson’s Rule #1); and only then can one sensibly aim to take on bigger responsibilities.


If it were only Jordan Peterson’s book on rules, we might be guilty of overestimating the human yearning for rules and structure deep within the soul.  But, now a second new book is drawing much attention.  HarperCollins has just released 9 Rules of Engagement: A Military Brat’s Guide to Life and Success (2018) by Emmy award-winning Fox News anchor, Harris Faulkner.  Again, Faulkner’s rules rest upon the same, unapologetic challenge to her readers as expressed by Peterson--take responsibility for your lives.

Finally, allow me to refer you to a third example of a major personality who is offering “rules for life.”  I offer this example with a warning that the rules come in a format that is more informal and somewhat vulgar.  This week, Chris Pratt, star of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Parks and Recreation, received the coveted Generation Award at the 2018 MTV Music and TV Awards.  Pratt, a professing Christian, used the occasion of his acceptance to share some advice with fans by what he calls his “9 Rules Speech."  Pratt’s rules include:  breathe, care for your soul, pray, God is real.

I was encouraged to see these three significant personalities emerge upon the world stage to offer “rules for life” based on a foundation with two important principles.  First, each of us must take individual responsibility for our choices in life; and second, we are responsible to a Being that is more holy and powerful than we are—one Who has revealed the basis for moral standards that are intended to lend structure and fulfillment to life.

The Judeo-Christian Scriptures provide the sorrowful commentary of individuals and societies that have gone adrift in moral relativism as described in Judges 21: 25, quoted at the beginning of this article.  But the Scriptures also include individuals and societies that experienced joy and God’s blessing because they accepted His offer such as is stated in Deuteronomy 30: 19:

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!

Today, through His Word, the Bible, and through many other voices, God still calls us to repent, humble ourselves, and live by His moral commands in the power of His Holy Spirit.  The responsibility is ours to choose Life.

How About You?  You may have read this article and are left with a sense of confusion, uncertainty, and even fear.  If you have never encountered the “Good News” or Gospel, let me help.   The “Good News” is summarized in an outline called “Steps to Peace with God” which explains God’s love, our predicament (sin and separation from God), what Jesus has done to address our predicament, and what you can do by faith to receive God’s righteousness (right standing with a Holy God).  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at silviusj@cedarville.edu

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day

Today, I thank God for my father, Bert Silvius (1908-1987).  Dad's formal schooling ended following his completion of the 8th grade.  However, he continued to read and learn on his own and became an accomplished farmer, horticulturist, and community leader.  He lived his entire life near Dundee, Ohio. 


Unlike me, dad did not have the blessing of a loving, affirming father.  Dad was the eldest of three sons who lived to reach adulthood (an older brother died at a young age).  Yet dad was the least favored by his father. 

When I reached early adolescence, I became aware of some of the tensions in our family.  It was not uncommon for my dad to receive verbal abuse from my grandpa.  Yet, he continued to show respect toward his father because he had learned to commit himself to his Heavenly Father for wisdom and comfort.

Dad served for many years as Sunday School Superintendent at our church, Dundee Methodist Church.  Part of his preparation each week was to write out a prayer which he would then use to lead those in attendance before we divided into our classes.  On April 19, 1964, his prayer, entitled “Family Tensions” contained these words:
 
May all of us come to understand that right living alone ‘exalts a family,’ that only in Thy will can peace and harmony abound.   Help us to live together as people who have been forgiven a great debt—help us to be gentle, walking softly with one another.  Help us to be understanding lest we shall add to the world’s sorrow.

Help us to stand for what is right, not because it may yield dividends later, but because it is right now.  Help us to be as anxious that the rights of others shall be recognized as we are that our own shall be established.  Help us to be as eager to forgive as we are to be forgiven.   God help us all to be ministers of mercy and ambassadors of kindness for Jesus’ sake, in Whose name we pray.  Amen


Thank you, Dad, for your love for me and your faithful testimony as a husband, father, farmer, and community leader.  Thank you for giving me my first glimpse of the nature of God by demonstrating in your life the character qualities of unconditional love, respect for authority, patience, perseverance, and a great love of learning about God and His creation.  On this Father’s Day, I thank you, and I thank my Heavenly Father for the gift of you as my earthly father.  I also thank God for the assurance that, because of your faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ,  I will one day be with you again.  

Happy Father’s Day, dad.