Friday, August 5, 2016

Remembering My Mother

On Monday, August 8, we will gather to remember my mother’s life.  Esther Silvius died, August 4, at the age of 94.  When we gather there in Sugarcreek, Ohio, all will recognize one thing that no one can escape – death!  As the Bible implies in 1 Corinthians 15: 56, death has a painful “sting.” And today, as I write this, the sting hurts.


Esther M. Silvius (1922-2016)
But on Monday, I hope the focus will be upon LIFE—Eternal Life which is a gift to all who put their trust in Christ.  My sister Margie, my brother Dan, and I have lots of memories of our mom—some are joyful; and some, not so much. 

My mother not only gave Margie, Dan, and I our physical LIFE.  She gave us each something else--something she never had–siblings.  Many have said that growing up as an only child can be hard—both as a child and during one’s adult life.  But Dan and I each had the blessing of both a sister and a brother.  Margie was stuck between two brothers!

I am thankful for my mom for three reasons.   First, she gave me life which began when I was conceived, in August, 1946.  That was exactly 7 decades ago this month!

But mom gave me a second gift:  As a boy, she and my dad, Bert Silvius, gave me a love for learning. Mom’s love for wildflowers and trees was contagious and, as a little boy, she led me on my first “field trips.” Sometimes, she had to carry me, especially when we encountered a thick patch of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) in the woods.  I was afraid because I couldn’t see what lie under the thick stands of umbrella-like leaves.  Nevertheless, my growing love of plants resulted in a career in science teaching and research spanning 50 good years.

But the third gift I received from mom and dad is the most valuable and enduring. From the farm, the natural landscape, and science—I learned about the wisdom and provision of God through His “natural revelation.”  But, because mom and dad took us to church faithfully, I also learned about God’s “special revelation”—His Word of truth in the Bible.

As a growing boy, I was anything but a saint.  I “lived” in the Old Testament, tried to keep the 10 Commandments—and failed every day.  I was the Prodigal Son--the one who stayed home and tried to be good--and failed!  Case in point: My mom had a tradition when my birthday rolled around each May.  She would mail in a request to radio station WJER the week before my birthday to have it announced on the air, on May 9.  Then, on my birthday she would call me to the radio around noon to hear my name announced.

One year, when I was romping in the yard with my cousins, mom called me in to listen.
She had made the request, and had looked forward to our tradition.  But this time, I said,
“I’m busy, I don’t want to hear it this year.”
I don’t remember her reaction, but my independent spirit must have hurt her.  When I became a man, I apologized for my insensitivity.  There was a reason for this-- My heart, my values and my character were changing.   As a young man, I came to realize another invitation to “come in and listen.”  It was from God Himself Who had created the world that I had learned to love all around me. 
With my parents, Bert and Esther Silvius (~1963)
He said, “Listen, I am your Creator, and I have prepared an invitation to you at great cost--
The cost of my only Son, Jesus Christ, Who paid the ultimate price by dying on a Roman cross to buy you from the slave market of sin as manifested in your pride, selfishness, and self-righteousness (Romans 5: 8; Ephesians 2: 1-8).

I had hurt my mom by rejecting her invitation to come and listen.  Now, I realized that I had been doing the same thing to God every day, rejecting His even greater invitation.  Jesus invites us all:

Come unto me, all of you who are weary and heavy laden.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me (pull together with Me in my yoke), for I am gentle and humble in heart; And, you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  – Matthew 11: 28-30.

I’ve borne some heavy yokes in my life because of my stubborn pride and self-righteousness. 
I am prone to take up other heavy yokes, and I need to practice daily the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reading/study of God’s Word in the Bible. 

Today, multitudes of people bear heavy yokes – socially, financially, and medically.  Many have turned to substance abuse to help lighten their load.  In fact, so many are on drugs today that employers are struggling to fill positions with drug-free applicants.
How about you?  Are you bearing a heavy yoke?  Jesus offers us an easier yoke with Him, because He has already born the ugly yoke of a Roman cross.


With Mom (2003)
For God so loved the world that He gave His unique Son, that whoever believes in Him [recognizes their “poverty of spirit” and comes humbly to the Cross] should not perish [be separated from God forever], but have everlasting life. – John 3: 16

I have felt sting in my mother’s deterioration and death.  But, I am thankful for the comfort from friends and from God’s Word that speaks through His Spirit so that we don’t have to grieve as do the rest who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4: 13).  Comfort and hope are part of the blessed gift of salvation, possible only when we surrender our pride, confess our need of forgiveness of sin, and trust in Christ Who will wrap His arms around us, enveloping us in His Eternal Life.

Faith in God through Christ can take the fear and the sting out of death.  Thank You, God for my mom.  And, thank you mom for pointing me to God.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Considering the Flowers... and Fruit

Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) [Click to enlarge.]
This month, our garden has displayed the brilliant red flowers of the Royal Catchfly (Silene regia). We enjoy the regal flowers and their colorful avian visitor, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird visiting flowers.

The Royal Catchfly is named for its habit of “catching” flies and other small insects that visit to feed on its nectar.  The calyx or floral tube of the Royal Catchfly is covered with tiny glandular hairs.  These glandular hairs secrete a sticky fluid that traps flies and other small would-be pollinators that are too weak to escape.  However, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird does not land on the flower but instead it hovers as it draws sugary nectar from each flower to support its high metabolic rate.  This relationship illustrates how different plant species can “select” which animal species they will attract (and release) in order to allow pollination necessary to complete sexual reproduction through fruit and seeds.


Royal Catchfly:  Note green, sticky floral tubes
As I sat admiring the array of lovely Royal Catchfly flowers, I was reminded of how God’s creation often reveals or underscores valuable spiritual lessons.  There is one lesson for us in the beauty of the flowers.  In Matthew 6: 28-33, Jesus  points to the wildflowers in a nearby meadow and notes that, though they do not “toil and spin” they are more spectacular than King Solomon in all of his glory.  Hence, the flowers teach us the lesson not to be like unbelievers who tend to view the material world as their total reality, and therefore, are often anxious about accumulating wealth and having security.  Instead, we are to seek after the eternal priorities of our Heavenly Father Who already knows our needs and will supply them as we wisely do our part.

Our main focus will be upon a second lesson from the flowers; namely, that flowers are always very dependent on the leaves in order to acquire their attractiveness necessary to produce fruit and seeds.  Although leaves can make a garden flower or tree look lovely, leaves and stems are only a means to the end that each plant is able to reproduce itself lest it become locally or totally extinct.

The Royal Catchfly is a perennial plant, meaning that it can live year after year because roots and sometimes parts of the stem can survive during an unfavorable season like winter.  Each Spring, when the new growths emerge from the ground, energy stores from the rootstalk are used to launch the leaves and stems.  The plants become self-sufficient through photosynthesis as long as sunlight, water, soil nutrients, and carbon dioxide are available.  During this “vegetative” phase, perennial plants give priority to growth of leaves supported on stems that can hoist the leaves high enough to insure sunlight absorption and gas exchange.  For Royal Catchfly, this height is from 2 to 5 feet.

Once the leafy stalks differentiate to produce flowers in July, the priorities shift.  Now, the vegetative parts of the plant actually become “sources” of nutrients, water, and organic constituents.  Fruitful plants are those in which the leaves and stems transport food to the reproductive parts so that flowers can flourish and attract pollinators by means of visual appeal, release of fragrant compounds, and provision of nectar as food.   After flowering is completed, the leaves will begin to turn yellow and then brown as chlorophyll-protein compounds are broken down and resultant amino acids and other organic constituents are transported from the leaves to the growing fruit and seeds.  This pattern is particularly noticeable in crop plants like soybean and corn which have been enhanced genetically so that the economically valuable seeds (soybeans) contain as much nutrient value as possible rather than allow these nutrients to be lost in the crop residue, the resulting brown leaves, stalks, and chaff.
Evidence of flowers being preferred over leaves (arrows)
Of special interest this year was my observation that one of the Catchfly’s flowery stalks was partly severed from its roots. The severed condition obviously limits the supply of water and nutrients available to both the leaves and the flowers.  But, interestingly, the damaged stalk responded with an earlier than usual shift in priorities in order to favor the flowers at the expense of the leaves. Notice the wilting leaves (arrows) in stark contrast to the firmly opened Catchfly flowers.  Considering the importance of fruit-bearing and the spreading of seeds, we can infer a logical benefit to the Royal Catchfly in how the damaged stalk hastened its shift tp favor flowers and fruit/seed production at the expense of the leafy part of the plant.

The second lesson, teaching the importance of being fruitful, is underscored from Scripture.  Matthew 21:19 records an instance in which Jesus encounters a tree with lush leaves but no fruit:

Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.

Fruits (capsules) of Royal Catchfly at time to collect seeds
Jesus intended this particular fruitless tree to represent the nation of Israel which He regarded as fruitless in their role of representing His glory on Earth.  Adam and Eve had already rejected God’s authority and His plan that they, along with all creation, would be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth (Genesis 1: 22, 28).  Now, God’s chosen people, Israel, had refused to live as a glorious testimony of His goodness in a fallen Earth.

Like the nation Israel, and the fruitless fig tree, no plant can be fruitful unless the leaves become subservient to the flower, fruit, and seeds.  Instead, the leaves must have the same relationship with the flowers and fruit that John the Baptist had with God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

The Apostle John tells us about the mission of John the Baptist, in John 1: 6-7,

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to testify about the Light
(Jesus Christ), so that all might believe through him.

John the Baptist was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and all the country of Judea was going out to him (Mark 1: 4-5a).  We know from modern experience how pride and corruption can plague the lives of preachers who acquire large followings.  But in spite of his great following, John the Baptist remained faithful and directed the “spotlight” onto the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  John 3: 39-30 records John’s stewardship as “friend of the bridegroom” (emphasis mine):

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.  He must increase, but I must decrease.

After John pointed his followers to “the Lamb of God” (John 1: 29), many of John’s followers followed Jesus.  John eventually ended up in prison and was later beheaded (Matthew 14: 3, 10).  Like leaves and shoots that spring up in the good soil and flourish for a time, their glory must give away to another, greater purpose—the nourishing of flowers which produce fruit with seeds in them to ensure future growth and reproduction.

Combining the biology of how leaves must submit and give up their life in support of flowers, fruit, and seeds with the example of John the Baptist who “decreased that Jesus might increase,” we have a major principle:  biblical leadership requires “submissive steward leadership.”  In other words, LEADERSHIP without STEWARDSHIP will SINK the SHIP.”  Pursuit of power and glory at the expense of submissive steward leadership does not accomplish an enduring result, but can end in ruin.   Instead, a disciples of Christ must be so in love with Him through the power of His Spirit that he or she can deny himself, take up His cross, and follow” Him (Luke 9: 23).

How about you?   How about me?   Are we all leaves and little fruit, like the fig tree that Jesus rejected?   Leaves make great hedges to divide property and hide people from one another.  But submissive stewardship honors God, family, community, and nation.  It begins in a child who honors his father and mother, the first commandment with a promise (Ephesians 6: 2), and is a basic foundation for social behavior.  The child who learns to submit his or her desires to the authority of parents and siblings within the family, and enters a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is preparing to be a steward leader as an adult in marriage and family, church ministry, civic responsibility, and place of employment.

Like the leaves that literally “give up” their organic constituents to supply the fruit and seeds, and like John the Baptist, the “friend of the Bridegroom” who lived and died while casting the bright light of hope on Jesus, so our Father in Heaven calls us as His beloved children to deny self and to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence… (1 Peter 3: 15).  But, unlike leaves of Royal Catchfly or Soybean that eventually wither and die, we can live on as submissive stewards and friends of the Bridegroom, perpetually drawing our sustenance through our obedience by abiding in the vine which is Christ.  For he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15: 5).

Thursday, June 30, 2016

When an Atheist Longs for a “Higher Love”


Atheists reason, and some profess, that God and other deities do not exist.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a hunch that many self-proclaimed atheists remember being offended and perhaps deeply hurt by one or more well meaning persons of faith.  Some Christians may act toward unbelievers out of ignorance, others out of arrogance, and yet others out of a sincere but carnal desire to “win” a God-denier to faith in order to claim the atheist as a trophy of a hard-to-win pagan.  By the way, I have probably already unintentionally offended at least some atheistic readers who argue that their belief is based on sound logic, not emotional scars.  No offense intended as you will hopefully see by reading on.

The Bible teaches that those who deny God are on the road to eternal judgment (John 3: 16; Romans 3: 10,23; 6: 23).   God does not “clear the guilty” (Numbers 14: 18) just because they can point to a Christian who offended them sometime in their life.  Yet, it ought to be true that every sinner saved by God’s grace is constrained by Calvary’s love and desirous of sharing the Gospel of God’s love with unbelievers—and, in a way that is not disrespectful (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15; 1 Peter 3: 15).

I cannot deny that there has been selfishness in my motivation to communicate with atheists in recent years.  Therefore, it has been good medicine for me to read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (Nelson, 2016).  I discovered this title in a book review by Benjamin Wiker, Senior Fellow at the Veritas Center for Ethics and Public Life, Franciscan University.   The book’s author, Larry Taunton, director of Fixed Point Foundation, refers to Hitchens in his subtitle as “the World’s Most Notorious Atheist.”  I was immediately intrigued upon learning that Taunton is an evangelical Christian who writes from his experience as a close friend of Hitchens between 2007 and 2011 when Hitchens died of cancer.

Readers of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens are humbly and respectfully introduced to the man whom reviewer Benjamin Wiker describes as “a real, lovable, cantankerous, flawed, hilarious, foolish, brilliant, sinful, and multi-faceted human being.”  But more fascinating and valuable is the way in which an evangelical Christian, Larry Taunton, respectfully and lovingly earns the right to become a friend of Hitchens.  Though reluctant to publish many aspects of their unusual friendship, Taunton finally agrees with a publisher that he should write the book.  What resulted is a captivating narrative that recounts the tumultuous boyhood of Christopher Hitchens in England during the 1950’s, his rejection of the notion of God as a teen, and his development of a separate public and private “set of books” that governed his thinking, communication, and behavior in his adult life.  As Taunton explains, the growing chasm between the public and the private Christopher Hitchens is a key to understanding how an atheist could drastically change his allegiance from the Left to the Right following the 9/11 attack on America, and eventually gain new respect and friendships with evangelical Christians.

Christopher Hitchens and brother, Peter Hitchens
As further incentive for you to read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, I will provide a list of questions the book has caused me to ask, each one dealing with a facet of the larger question, What can I as an evangelical Christian learn from Larry Taunton about building a friendship of mutual trust and respect with those who have a different view than I of the natural world and beyond (if they acknowledge such?  Hopefully, this article will motivate you to read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.  And better yet, maybe some of my questions will promote  a more in-depth reflection and discussion.  If so, I’d love to read comments posted to me from the link below.

1.   Am I cultivating friendships with people who deny the existence of God, or reject His claim on their lives?  If so, how well am I representing the love of Christ to them?

2.   Hitchens’ favorite song was Steve Winwood’s, “Higher Love.”  He admitted to Larry Taunton’s son, Michael, “I do long for a higher love (p. 4).”  With all humility, do I recognize that within the heart of every man and woman is the need to experience God’s redemptive love, and that God might use me in some way as an important channel of His love?

3.   What can I learn from the accounts of the boarding school experience of two English boys—one, Christopher Hitchens who found in its harsh and often unreasonable discipline what became for him “metaphors for rejection of God and church;” the other, C.S. Lewis, who found an equally harsh experience what became for him “a metaphor for how faith, patience, and anticipation is built into life.” (p. 12-13)

4.   How many pre-adolescent and adolescent children today experience a roadblock to conversion to faith in God, often resulting in a hatred of God and Christianity, because of a failure of parents and teachers to help them acquire a truly Christian view of God’s gift of   sexuality?  
Michelangelo's "The Awakening Slave"

5.  Is each human being “self-made” as illustrated in Michelangelo’s The Awakening Slave, pictured 
as a man writhing to get free of the marble block restraining him?  Hitchens denied that his father’s lack of faith had anything to do with his own becoming an atheist; instead, seeing himself as a “self-made man” who came to atheism purely out of rational means.  But, Hitchens’ father had two sons, both “Bible-burning atheists and communists.”  The fact that God works in the affairs of fathers and sons is evidenced by what eventually happened--one of the sons becomes a Christian (p. 48)!

6.   Is it possible that many atheists do not embrace atheism so much because it is logical and intellectually fulfilling as because it allows them the opportunity to legitimize their rejection of moral claims upon the lifestyle they choose?


7.   Hitchens embraced atheism because it allowed him to square the public and private “sets of books” that he kept.  And, he chose words as his weapons to defend his position, “rather than loving words insofar as they lead to truth (p. 22-23).”  Do I fall into the same trap when I give priority to eloquence and scholarship over pursuit of truth, understanding, and respectful discourse with those who do not share my beliefs?

8.   For Hitchens the atheist, the logical political allegiance was to socialism which is antithetical to Christianity.  As Dostoevsky wrote, “Socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question….”  Do we realize why socialism today is increasingly popular in spite of its dismal history of economic failure and the deaths of millions of people?  Socialism is increasingly popular because many are deceived into believing that “our generation” will avoid the “Stalinist perversion of an otherwise perfect system” and will “get it right” in the attempt to “set up heaven on earth?” (p. 24)

9.   Do some atheists see Christian attempts to relate to them as trophy-hunting expeditions?  Taunton suggests that Hitchens often found the efforts of Christians who sought to “convert” him as intellectually stimulating and entertaining.  But, he also loathingly considered other professing Christians like Rev. Al Sharpton as “intellectual frauds” when he learned that they held little or no allegiance to the authority of the Bible.  Read how Hitchens exemplifies a God-denier or God-hater who warms to some conservative evangelicals who displayed intellectual competence integrated with warmth and respect.

10.  What happens when an atheist like Christopher Hitchens is confronted with a horrific event like 9/11?  Hitchens could not help but judge the terrorist act as “simply evil” and not, as liberal progressives often claim, the result of some outside injustice--economic, social, political, or cultural?  If instead, murderous acts originate by “human free will” out of an evil heart, it becomes “freely chosen evil.” It follows that our whole “human family” is morally corrupt and in need of an outside Deliverer—the God an atheist claims does not exist!  Read how Hitchens came to see the contradiction.  Psalm 49: 7-9:  No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him-- For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever--that he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

11.  How did the gradual warming of Christopher Hitchens toward Christianity come about by a Gospel witness grounded in the authority of Scripture as the sole arbiter of what defines Christianity, and not (as Hitchens often encountered) personal testimonials and human opinions?   How many times does my witness for Christ become diluted by too much emphasis on “my experience” as opposed to presenting the objective claims of the Gospel message?

12.  How did Larry Taunton, upon first meeting Hitchens, in 2007, avoid getting stuck in a “cart-before-the-horse” misunderstanding over how their lifestyles differed (e.g. smoking, drinking), allowing Taunton to say, from almost the beginning, “I knew I liked him…our rapport was immediate (p. 96).”

13.  How does a Christian friend of an atheist locate the moral limits (if any) beyond which the atheist will not go?  For example, was Hitchens’ atheism consistent enough (as was Peter Singer’s atheism) that he was comfortable with the Godless conclusion that there is no moral basis for treating human babies any differently than piglets or peeps?

14.  How did the adoption of a Russian girl, Sasha, by Larry and Lauri Taunton; and, Sasha’s vibrant Christian testimony to Christopher provide him with a glimpse of the “higher love” which he longed (see #? Above)?  Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him (Isaiah 30:18 ).

15.  Finally, does an increasingly warm and tender friendship of mutual trust and respect between an evangelical Christian and a professing atheist lead the latter to bow his knees at the altar of repentance and faith in God, and to take hold of that “higher love” he had longed to find?  You’ll have to read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, but please don’t start with the last chapter.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day: Time to Remember…and Realize

Somewhere in France
June 20, 1944

Dear folks,                              
Glen Silvius (R), somewhere in France (1944)
Will write you a few lines from my fox hole position to let you know everything is going as well as can be expected.  We have plenty to eat and plenty of time that there is nothing moving, but the din of battle is always present.  I am limited as to what I can say but just the same this is war and I have seen some action.  I got mail twice since I have been in France.  We will have no trouble receiving mail but you may not get so much so don’t let it cause you any worry.

Letters such as this from my Uncle Glen Silvius to my grandparents and family in the days following the Normandy Invasion, in June, 1944, cause me to consider the great sacrifice by both members of the armed services and by their loved ones during World War II.  Even though communications between the battlefield and home were more primitive at that time than they are on this Memorial Day, many believe that Americans today tend to be more disconnected from those who serve in our military.
Gala True, a medical anthropologist and folklorist with the Department of Veterans Affairs and contributor to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project was interviewed by Megan Rigger and Laura Santhanam of PBS News HourMs. True noted that whereas 12% of the population were in military service during World War II, now “less than 1% of our population has served.”  She adds,

The experience of going to war and coming home—we don’t have as much awareness.  We have a disconnect in our society about what’s going on, [about] who has served and what they experienced. In many ways, Americans today feel removed from the Global War on Terror and military conflict. So few have served, and [so] it’s very easy for people say now that ‘I didn’t want these wars,’ but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t all part of this.

On this Memorial Day, as I remember the millions who have served and are now serving our country in uniform, I am gaining a new appreciation of the importance of “remembering” and being thankful.  Unlike the 1940’s, we have almost instantaneous communication from battlefield to the home front in a war that has extended over three times as long as WW II.  If what Gala True has said it true, we need to be more devoted to making connections with current military personnel and their families as well as to our veterans and their families, many of whom face physical and emotional scars of war.
And so, I’m asking myself, “Am I thankful for the political freedom I enjoy today, purchased at great price?”  And, perhaps more importantly, “Am I thankful for the spiritual freedom purchased by God’s provision of the Divine Son, Jesus Christ, Who is God come to Earth in the flesh to live an exemplary human life, and to die on a Roman cross to provide a way of reconciliation between sinful humanity and a holy God?”  After all, it is Jesus Christ Who, more than any other single Person, has changed history.  His death and resurrection launched the Gospel message that the war between God and each sinful human being can come to an end through confession of sin and surrender to God’s loving invitation to peace (Romans 6: 23).

The light of the Gospel of Christ has shown in the hearts of men and women down through the centuries, reflected in the formation of representative governments based on rule of law designed to protect individual freedom and reward individual responsibility. Consequently, although America has fought in many wars, there has been a general understanding that war is a last result, something to be avoided if possible, and not an occasion to conquer other lands but to bring freedom and restoration to people otherwise destined for enslavement and/or death. 

We can all point to morally questionable actions of America in war.   The Vietnam War comes to mind in this context.  When civilian or military leaders deviate from the biblical foundation upon which America was founded, our nation risks losing her distinction from terrorists and other warring groups who have no moral foundation.

In America and in the world, Christianity is being marginalized by those who deny biblical authority and place their faith in human reason.  American leadership in the world is losing its distinction and justification in both war and peace.  This Memorial Day, we need to REMEMBER, but also REALIZE our role in preserving freedom through responsibility. 

So, as I remember those who have sacrificed for our political freedom today, I must also realize that our political freedom is fragile and is being threatened by those who “preach” a “freedom” instituted by human efforts alone apart from the Gospel of Christ.  This is true because true freedom and America’s exceptionalism has been possible because of the moral and spiritual foundation that Christianity has provided through its influence upon our Founding Fathers and the founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

On this Memorial Day, I remember my Uncle Glen and many like him who served, with over a million Americans giving their lives for the cause of freedom.  Won’t you join me in thanking God for over 1.3 million Americans in active duty military, plus another 1 million serving in the reserves (by Department of Defense estimates).  Also, please join me in praying for our military chaplains who have an increasingly difficult job of providing spiritual leadership and guidance in the midst of stressful situations no matter where they are serving.  Most of all, let us pray for peace in the many war torn parts of the world today where whole ethnic groups are being threatened with destruction or being displaced from their homes and way of life.

We need holidays such as Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter to REMEMBER and to REALIZE how much we have to be thankful for, and how important it is that we have responded to God’s offer of His Peace through the Cross of Christ.   Peace begins when we surrender to the great Peacemaker.  In Christ, we can gain a correct view of past history, a realistic view of our present world, and a positive outlook for the future. 

In Colossians 1: 19-20, the Apostle Paul writes, For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

According to the Bible, one day, all wars will cease. The Apostle John wrote in Revelation 21: 4-5a about the future time when Christ’s kingdom will come,

There will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

God Speaks through Nature & His Word: Do We Hear?

Recently, a former student and friend1 shared a link to a video featuring the work of Bartholomaus Traubeck.  Interestingly, Traubek, an Austrian media artist, has modified a traditional turn-table record player to generate music from thin sections sliced from the trunks of trees.  At first, I wondered how the needle of the record player scraping over a wood surface would make anything but a noisy “GrrrrChikkKrrrKtttKkkkTTtttUUuuu.”  But then, I read that Traubeck has replaced the needle of the record player with a camera which scans the anatomical “landscape” of the sliced wood sections as they rotate.  You may want to listen to Traubeck’s music for yourself before you read on.

Traubeck's modified record player and a slice of wood.
There is no doubt that Traubeck can bring music out of the wood.  But there is no evidence that trees or other parts of “Nature” or “Creation” each have a characteristic voice or song waiting for us to record and broadcast.  Therefore, we must ask, “How much of Traubeck’s music is an objective expression of the anatomical properties of the wood, and how much is merely a subjective result of Traubeck’s method of translating wood anatomy to sound?”  The answer to this question requires that we understand two key elements of Traubeck’s music-making method. 

First, we can agree with Traubeck that each tree species has its own unique wood anatomy—its unique fingerprint.  Each species differs from another according to the width of gaps between annual rings, representing the radial growth (from center outward) for each year.  Some species have large diameter vessels and more slender tracheids (elongated microscopic tubes that carry water and nutrients upward within the trunk of trees).  Gymnosperms, including pines and spruces, have no vessels at all, only tracheids.  Species may also differ in wood color and texture. Traubeck’s scanning camera “views” the rotating wood anatomy of each tree species and creates a dynamic digital profile of the characters he has chosen to include in his algorithm. 
Ttree trunk cross section
with annual growth rings.
The second element we must consider is how Traubeck translates his chosen wood parameters into music.  Although the wood anatomy of each tree species is unique, it is Traubeck who ultimately composes the music that emanates from each species.  His modified record player with camera and a computer algorithm is designed to “see” only a selected number of traits of the “landscape” of the wood sections.  If you or I were to design a similar system with our programming, the music we bring out of the wood slices would be different from Traubeck’s music.  As Matt Weesner writes about Traubeck’s music in Colorado Public Radio, a fir tree grows quickly, therefore has larger gaps between the rings, which means the resulting music is more minimalistic (Traubeck chose the key of C minor for firs). Throw a slice of ash tree (with rings very close together) on the player and the music is more compressed and complex.

Traubeck’s method of producing music from wood sections is a fitting metaphor for the way we view the landscape of the world around us.  Every corner of nature, whether the tree rings of an old oak tree or the landscape of a forest ecosystem, represents an objective reality that invites us to observe and explore with our five senses.  However, as we observe real objects and landscapes of nature, we assign meaning and significance based upon how our particular “spectacles” filter and color our interpretation.  In other words, our worldview determines how we interpret the world around us.  For example, an artist, an ecologist, and a lumberman each view a forest from a different worldview—one sees aesthetic qualities; another sees energy and nutrient relationships; and another sees economic gain.

Let’s look at some examples of how our “worldview spectacles” are at work scanning the world around us, selecting and filtering parameters that we allow us to define our reality.  First, let’s consider how a person’s worldview influences their understanding of the origin of the universe.  Second, we will see how special or divine revelation influences worldview of those who acknowledge the existence of God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

How many objects of "intelligent design"
can you see?
Many of us differ in how we account for the complexity in nature or creation.  For example, relatively few people who accidentally find a music CD lying on the ground in the wild would listen to the music it contains and then attribute these complex, highly ordered sounds and the CD itself to random chance events, or undirected natural causes.  We may not understand how the CD was formed and imprinted to produce beautiful music, but we would agree that what we heard is not noise.  Instead, beautiful music is the result of design as expressed through the deliberate, purposeful, action of an intelligent agent responsible for both the original musical score and the technology of the compact disc and CD player.

If we can agree that a music CD and related broadcast technology are the results of intelligent design, then it should follow that the complex wood anatomy of a slice of tree trunk is also the result of intelligent design?  We are only beginning to understand how the specified complexity of the coded sequence of nucleotides of DNA within each living cell can produce the characteristic genetic traits of each organism including the wood properties of each tree species.  But if genetic theory is correct, Traubeck’s music based on wood properties is an expression of the unique DNA sequences of each species. And behind all of this there appears to be an intelligent designer.  I believe God through His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Intelligent Designer of creation (e.g. Genesis 1-2). 

Not all readers will agree that music from a musician, or from a songbird or Traubeck’s wood slices, owes its existence to the God of the Bible.  But all of us must recognize that our opinions are ultimately influenced by our worldview--our way of interpreting the world around us and our place and purpose (if any) in the world.  It also determines the quality of our life on Earth and the destiny of our eternal souls.  Thus, a theistic worldview is based on faith in a “higher power” and divine revelation.  The Bible represents the divine revelation from the Judeo-Christian God (Yehweh) and affirms that “nature” is God’s creation which represents a general revelation of His truth and existence.

The atheist and the agnostic are also persons of faith.   Instead of divine revelation, their faith rests on human reason which either denies the existence of God or simply dismisses the notion of a divine being.  The Greek philosopher Protagoras summarized the atheistic worldview when he proudly stated, Man is the measure of all things.  Much of current thinking in the natural sciences today is based on atheistic, naturalistic philosophy which acknowledges no reality beyond the bounds of the five senses.  In contrast, Martin Luther King Jr. articulated the Christian worldview when he wrote2:

Christianity affirms that at the heart of reality is a Heart, a loving Father who works through history for the salvation of his children. Man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of all things and humanity is not God.  Bound by the chains of his own sin and finiteness, man needs a Savior.   

Why should we think it odd that a human artist like Bartholomaus Traubeck could produce inspiring music from the “anatomical landscape” of a section of wood?  Even without the aid of camera and computer, the landscapes of creation have from the beginning been inspiring those whose spiritual and aesthetic senses are attuned to our Creator.  The psalmist David wrote, as recorded in Psalm 19: 1-3:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.

But God’s Voice also comes to us through the inspired words of Scripture—words that speak of human origin, the fall into sin, and the only Way of reconciliation through the shed blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  Consider the following words from 1 Chronicles 16: 30-34 and notice the powerful Voice of God and how creation responds—indeed, how we ought to respond:

Tremble before Him, all the earth;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
And let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD;
For He is coming to judge the earth.
 O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

The Voice of God in creation and His inspired Word through the Bible are continually streaming toward mankind from every corner of His creation.  So evident is God’s revelation that the Apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 1: 20:  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Expounding on John 1: 1 (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”), A.W. Tozer writes, The whole Bible supports the idea.  God is speaking.  Not God spoke, but God is speaking.  He is by His nature continuously articulate.  He fills the world with His speaking Voice. …The Voice of God is the most powerful force in nature, indeed the only force in nature, for all energy is here only because the power-filled Word is being spoken. (The Pursuit of God (Regal, 2013), p. 72).

God is near unto all of us.  Creation itself awaits His coming as the Righteous Judge of all the Earth and mankind (Romans 8: 19).  How then is it that many do not “hear” His Voice in creation and respond when even creation responds as we have just noted:  the sea roars, the field exalts, and the trees sing for joy before the LORD?  Tozer answers,

Scanning electron microscope view
of wood vessels & tracheids
I venture to say that the one vital quality which [men and women of faith in the past] had in common was spiritual sensitivity…they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives (Pursuit…p. 66).

The “landscapes” of creation from the genetic and epigenetic structures inside living cells to the microscopic anatomy of tree wood, to the landscapes of forest and woodland; all proclaim, without the hindrance of language translation, that God is Creator and Designer, and that He is and has been speaking with a powerful Voice since creation. 

What about you?  What do you see and hear as you walk in creation, view the intricacies of God’s creatures, read God’s Word, or hear it proclaimed?  May the God Who gives us physical life and (by faith in Christ) Eternal Life, enable us to become more spiritually aware of His love, plan, and purpose.

----------------
Footnotes:
1 Thanks to my former student and friend, Dan Delancey, for referring me to the work of Bartholomaus Traubeck.

2 From:  M.L. King, Jr. “How Should a Christian View Communism?”

Monday, April 11, 2016

Supporting Integration of Science & Faith II

While scientific research develops strategies to advance medical health, no advancement would take place without the application and instruction of the new strategy.  By this, I mean that health professionals need to use the new development in practice, but also must be able to explain what is happening to their patient.  Patient interaction is a key component of this advancement, especially in intercultural situations in order to advance healthcare throughout the world.

Honors Day with Chandra Swiech (c) and Kaytlin Goodwin (r)
This statement summarizes the thesis of a science-faith integration paper presented to the Cedarville University Science and Mathematics Department by Chandra Swiech, 2016 recipient of The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship (SFIS).  Abby and I were privileged to have lunch with Chandra after the April 5 Honors Day Chapel in which she was awarded the academic scholarship.  During lunch, Chandra explained that she believes God is calling her into a vocation that will fit her aptitudes, interests, and spiritual gifts.  Specifically, she believes that God is calling her into the field of medicine. 

Since her enrollment in Human Structure and Function, a year-long biology course, Chandra has been fascinated with the form and function of the major systems of the human body.  But she is also beginning to understand that serving Christ in medicine goes much beyond learning about the human body, as important at that is.  Indeed, as Chandra now sees it, advances in scientific research that have relevance to human health have limited value unless careful attention is given to clinical applications.  Chandra explains with an example: …there are people throughout the entire world dealing with cystic fibrosis and the supplemental biofilm formation.  If an antibiotic was found to combat it, it is important to be able to explain this to patients, other doctors here, and other doctors around the world.  She adds that doctors have a responsibility not only to prescribe drugs to make their patients feel better, but to help the patient make life changes.  This is normally thought of in the physical realm, but it is also involves the spiritual realm.

We were excited to hear Chandra’s perspective on medicine in the context of the “whole person.”  She is learning to view human health holistically.  She believes that “human health” involves not only health of the body, but also of the mind and spirit.   According to her view, helping others improve their quality of life through medicine is a unique opportunity to pour into their lives spiritually as well as physicallyChandra anticipates that she might play an interdisciplinary role by helping insure that new medical breakthroughs are properly integrated into medical practices.  She is concerned that doctors and other health care professionals are sufficiently informed as to how best to use new medications and procedures for the benefit of their patients with attention to both physical and spiritual well being.


Chandra (center) teaching in a soccer camp, Costa Rica
Chandra also explains in her integration paper that she is developing a cross-cultural perspective on ministry to human needs.  Short-term mission experiences in Spain and in Costa Rica have taught her the importance of listening, and intentionally talking with others.  Shandra has been learning these social skills in part as a member of the Cedarville University Yellow Jacket women’s intercollegiate soccer team.  Regarding an experience when her soccer team participated on a short-term mission ministry in Costa Rica, she writes: …my host family demonstrated to me the importance of being considerate of cultural boundaries while not being afraid to reach out to others.

Finally, Chandra is learning to be attentive to the fact that God can use health care professionals in ministries to the millions of people who are displaced or migrating across our borders.  She writes that …opportunities for intercultural interaction are also waiting in our own backyard.  Given the number of immigrants and refugees entering the United States, there is a unique opportunity for medicine to be used to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

An Invitation to You:
Abby and I are excited about the interdisciplinary perspective that Chandra Swiech is developing, and we pray that God will continue to develop her profession of both faith and science.  Maybe you too have been encouraged by this example of how God is using The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship to foster the heritage of science-faith integration through the Department of Science and Mathematics at Cedarville University.  If so, then why not become a fellow investor? Perhaps you gratefully attribute your own profession of faith and of science to the teaching and mentoring of department and university faculty during your days at Cedarville. If so, we invite you to pray about how you might participate.  If God leads you to invest in this way, you may send your check to Cedarville University with “Science and Faith Integration Scholarship” on the memo line.  Or, you may contribute online at http://cedarville.edu/giving. Just click on “Scholarships” and follow directions to “The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship.” Thank you for considering how you can steward a portion of God’s blessings to you by honoring your faculty mentors and by encouraging leaders for tomorrow.

Related Article:  Supporting Integration of Science & Faith

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tears for Good Reasons…At Least For Now

A great diversity of land animals can secrete tears which lubricate the surface of their eyes against the dehydrating action of dry air around them.  Tears also contain antibacterial agents that can prevent eye infections by destroying at least 90 percent of bacteria on the surface of the eye within 10 minutes. However, it is generally believed that only humans can produce emotional tears.  The shedding of tears, either in response to sadness and grief or from sheer joy and elation, is unique to humankind.  

In his article, “The Miracle of Tears,” Dr. Jerry Bergman explains two important functions of emotional tears.  First, weeping and shedding of tears cause an emotional release that improves the physical and physiological state of the person afterwards.  This greater sense of well being after weeping is associated with the excretory function of the tear glands, or lacrimals.  Emotional tears contain a higher concentration of toxic excretory products that have built up in the body fluids during the period of emotional stress than reflex tears, tears produced in response to eye irritants.  Studies have shown that emotional tears compared to reflex tears contain up to 30 times more manganese, and higher concentrations of other compounds related to mood and temper.

Tears not only serve to wash away irritants and stress-related chemicals.  They also serve to communicate a heart-felt empathy, love, and concern to others who see our tears.   Likewise, one who weeps can more readily solicit the empathy of those who observe this outward expression of the inner emotions.

Evolutionary biologists used to assign tear glands to the list of vestigial organs, the useless anatomical structures left over from the time when they had survival value.  Now that we know more about the chemical, physiological, and psychological importance of tears in humans, we ought to conclude that they are much more than the result of random mutations and natural selection. Indeed, those of us who believe in a purposeful God as revealed in Scripture believe that He created Adam, the first human being, as a living person in His own image (Genesis 1:  26-27).   Even in our fallen state, we as image bearers have personality traits such as rationality and emotions that reflect our Creator.  As emotional beings, we can readily identify with our Creator Whose emotional dimension is revealed in Scripture.

The inspired revelation of the “Easter Story” in the Bible reveals how the great heart of God in the incarnate Christ was emotionally touched by events He encountered.  For instance, only a few days before Palm Sunday, the Apostle John explains how Jesus arrived too late at the home of His dear friends, Mary and Martha, to heal their brother Lazarus before he died.  John 11: 35 records Jesus’ response when He observed the grief of the sisters and their friends.  We read simply that “Jesus wept.” 

The English translation of the verb, wept, is “to cry silently.” Jesus Who, according to Hebrews 1: 3, is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, responded with tears as He identified with the tears and distress of Mary, Martha, and others.  Verse 36 reveals that, upon seeing how Jesus wept, the Jews responded, “Behold how he loved him!”

I love this wonderful account because it reveals the great empathy of God toward mankind, mired in the consequences of sin and the curse.  He shows the same empathy toward me when I am grieved and frustrated by my own shortcomings and sin.  Mary and Martha had faith in Jesus up to a point, but doubted that Jesus was still in control.  How many times do we view our circumstances through silent tears, needing only to remember that our Savior knows intimately and exactly how we feel?  King David, reveals his intimate understanding of God’s compassion and nearness toward us in Psalm 103: 13-14:

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust
.

I take great comfort in knowing that, as God’s child by faith in His Son, He is my loving Heavenly Father.  Indeed, God reveals Himself as our “Abba! Father!” (“Daddy”) in Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6.  God my Father welcomes me when I need His presence, comfort, or wisdom.

Jesus, the incarnate God, wept.
But, there is another account in the “Easter Story” in which Jesus Christ wept.  Luke 19:41 tells us that, during His Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding meekly on the foal of a donkey, when Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.  The Greek verb here for “wept” can be translated “to wail aloud.”  Jesus wept aloud, knowing the impending destruction of the rebellious city of His beloved people by the Romans in AD 70.  Jesus was also saddened that the Jews were seeking merely a political deliverer rather than one Who could deliver them spiritually for all eternity. 

In Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, we see the heart of God burdened for lost souls like many people all around us.  May we each share in Christ’s burden for the lost, mourning our own sin, and mourning the sin which binds our family members and friends in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4: 4).  Have I shed tears as I have earnestly prayed and sought to present Christ’s compassionate Spirit to my loved ones and friends?

Through her tears and confusion, Mary did not recognize Him.
Finally, John’s gospel gives us the account of Mary Magdalene weeping at the empty tomb of the risen Christ on the first Easter morning.  In John 20: 11-18,  we can meditate on the comforting truth that Jesus draws near at times when we wonder through tear-filled eyes where He is when we need Him.  Mary’s emotional turmoil, perplexity, distress, and tear-filled eyes prevented her from seeing Jesus standing near her, thinking instead that He was the gardener.  But, she recognized Jesus’ voice when He said, “Mary.” This was the comforting voice of her familiar Friend (v. 16).  Jesus then told her not to cling to Him (v. 17) and assured her as He does us, that He promises much more than we can imagine if by faith we look forward to His return and the establishment of His kingdom. 

Even though we often view our circumstances through tears today, in Christ’s coming kingdom on Earth, things will be very different, thanks to what He accomplished through His death, and then His resurrection in victory over sin and death on that first Easter morning.  The Apostle John, later in his life saw a glimpse of Christ’s coming kingdom, and wrote in Revelation 21: 1-4 of a time when there will be no more crying or tears:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth:
 for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away;
and there was no more sea.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down from God out of heaven,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying,
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people,
and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain:
 for the former things are passed away.

In this world we have reason to weep. Like the Apostle Peter following his thrice denial of Christ, or like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, we also shed tears at our own failings or the failings of our loved ones and friends.  And so it ought to be because Christ in us also weeps when our actions deny Him or when those we love reject Him. 

As Jesus wept over rebellious Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, so we ought to weep for those who may soon die without accepting God’s saving grace provided through His cross and His resurrection (John 3: 1-17).  While an end to crying and tears forever awaits those who have trusted Christ for forgiveness, those who refuse Him will be condemned to the place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13: 41-43).   For those I know who still sit on the throne of their lives which rightfully belongs to Christ, I pray that on this Easter, and Resurrection Sunday, they will surrender their lives and invite the King of Kings to take charge.  After all, tears of heart-felt repentance under conviction of sin now can give way to tears of joy; and, eventually no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying…but Eternal Life in God’s presence. 

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

Related Article:
“Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven”
http://oikonomiajes.blogspot.com/2015/10/recognizing-loved-ones-in-heaven.html