Friday, February 14, 2020

Does Theology Trump Science
in the Pursuit of Truth?

When discussing truth and reality, a question that often arises is, “How do the truth claims of the Bible compare to the claims from philosophy, science, and history?”  Which has the higher authority?

Most Christians believe that God reveals Himself in two major ways-- through the special revelation of Scripture and through the natural revelation of creation.  For instance, some Christian theologians support a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 as a major part of biblical evidence for a "Young Earth," estimated in the thousands of years since creation.  Some scientists interpret their geological research on fossils to suggest that these once-living creatures were preserved under relatively rapid catastrophic conditions, not over millions of years.  Thus, scientific interpretation of the natural revelation would seem to corroborate Scripture to support a "Young Earth" position.

Other theologians interpret the Scriptures about creation in a more figurative or allegorical manner.  In their view, the "days" of creation in Genesis 1 refer to long ages of time.  Likewise, some geologists may interpret the fossil-bearing layers of rocks as having been laid down over long periods of time, suggesting an "Old Earth" dated in billions of years.  Evolutionary biologists view the fossil record as traces left behind as life evolved through natural selection acting upon gene mutations.

When there is apparent conflict between special revelation and natural revelation, adherents to the Judeo-Christian faith claim that the authority of special revelation trumps natural revelation.  Meanwhile, many in science claim that the power of human reason through the scientific method can or will reveal the total extent of reality with an superior authority over any revelations from God.  Which side is correct in this age-old confrontation between two views of how humans can know truth and reality?

In a recent article by Jacob Brunton, entitled “Revelation and Responsibility,” appearing on the website For the New Christian Intellectual, the author asserts that both special revelation and natural revelation are equally authoritative because both are God's revelation, equally backed by His authority.  In defense of this claim, Brunton opposes the belief of those who claim  that “all other sources of truth must be submitted to Scripture; that general revelation, at the end of the day, must be submitted to special revelation; that philosophy and science and history must all ultimately “bow the knee” to the Bible.”

Does Jacob Brunton sound heretical?  Maybe so.  But let me invite you to read his article for yourself.  There, Brunton explains that the difference between special revelation and natural revelation is not that one source carries more truth or authority than the other source.  Instead, because the nature of the special and natural revelation of God are different, and both require interpretation, the means of understanding each will be different.  Both inspired Scripture and the created order are authoritative, but the interpretation of Scripture by theologians and the interpretation of the natural world by scientists and philosophers requires reason—and reason enlightened by faith. 

Yes, both theological interpretation of God’s revelation and philosophical-scientific understanding of the natural order are enhanced by the submission of intellectual reasoning to the Spirit of God as teacher and guide (John 16: 13).  From the special revelation, we read in Romans 1: 20-22 that the evidence of God as omniscient Creator can be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… so that they are without excuse…  But, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools  When scientist and philosopher deny God and the authority of His Word, the futility of their thinking blinds their vision of creation, leading to distorted “faiths” such as deep ecology, pantheism, and animism.

But, lest theologians deny that misdirected faith and reason can cause equally grievous distortions of the special revelation of Scripture, let them be reminded of the history of biblical heresies that have caused disruptions of local churches and whole denominations; or, to the development of religious cults.  The biblical revelation is inspired by God and carries authority, but, like the humble, honest, and inspired scientist, so must the theologian be dedicated to the humble, honest, and inspired labor of correct exegesis of Scripture.  Both scientists and theologians are stewards of the manifold grace and revelation of God.  Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German astronomer who discovered three laws of planetary motion humbly acknowledged to God his stewardship of both God-given faith and reason:

I give you thanks, Creator and God, that you have given me this joy in thy creation, and I rejoice in the works of your hands.  See I have now completed the work to which I was called.   In it I have used all the talents you have lent to my spirit.

How do we deal with the apparent contradictions between Scripture and science?  Where apparent contradictions occur, such as with regard to interpreting the age of the Earth, humble inquiry and reverence must guide both theologian and philosopher-scientist toward all of God’s revelation.  It follows that the resolution of apparent contradictions or conflicts between special and natural revelation becomes the intellectual responsibility of both the theologian and the philosopher-scientist.  As Brunton states, “rather than submitting one form of God’s revelation to another, we must instead labor to submit our understanding of each to both.”  For a more detailed study of how “submitting of each to both” can be carried out, I refer you to an article by Leonard Brand (below) which contains a helpful integrative model, and which is included here for your consideration.

How About You?
May I encourage you to read Jacon Brunton’s article, “Revelation and Responsibility.” I welcome your insights using the “
Comments” link below. 

Further Reading:
Brand, Leonard.  2004.  A Biblical Perspective on the Philosophy of Science.
Pearcey, N.R. and C.B. Thaxton.  1994.  The Soul of Science:   Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy.  Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL.

Acknowledgement and Dedication:
I have dedicated this article to my colleague and friend, Dr. Allen Monroe, from whom I have learned much about integration of faith and learning; and, from whom I anticipate learning more if he were to offer his critique of what I have written here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Website Offers a Window into Wooster History

Have you ever wondered what you would see if you could view your neighborhood through a time tunnel?  How would the view from your front door or apartment window change if you time-traveled back beyond the era of the automobile, before forests or grasslands were cleared for farming and cities, and then even before the entry of European colonists, settlers, and fur traders?

Thanks to an article by Dottie Sines in our Wooster Weekly News/The Bargain Hunter-Wayne (01-18-20), I discovered the Wooster Digital History Project (WDHP).  The WDHP was launched by Gregory Shaya, professor of history at The College of Wooster, for the purpose of compiling and sharing a comprehensive history of the City of Wooster.  Sines quotes Prof. Shaya as saying that WDHP is providing “…a great research experience for the students, and it produces a tangible result.  It also connects the students to Wooster in some really neat ways.”  Sines describes resources available at the WDHP website as follows:

“Exhibits are categorized by early settlement, cultural and religious communities, agriculture, economic development, conservation and the environment, society and social movements, civic development, wartime Wooster, and the college itself. Rare photographs and video interviews enhance the material, and links are provided for further exploration.”

Three noteworthy historic glimpses which I found interesting from the WDHP website are as follows:  (1) The importance of historical records in any study of land use changes and associated effects on soil, water, and biodiversity; (2) the role of philanthropy in helping to salvage The College of Wooster following a fire, in 1901; and, (3) the unusual civility of the Wayne County community following the Civil War which had so horribly divided America.

Historical Records, Land Use Changes, and Stewardship

Every modern agricultural or urban community such as those which make up Wayne County and the City of Wooster have a history of prior land ownership, transactions when land is sold, and resultant changes in land use at the behest of subsequent owners.  The history of the changes in ownership and the way in which each owner managed the land determines its current ecological and biological condition.  We can see from this logic that the current state of a given landscape will tell us much about both its history and the extent to which the respective owners practiced good stewardship (conservation) of the soil, water, and biodiversity under their care.  Thus, land “owners” who view themselves as “stewards” (i.e. temporary caretakers with a long-term view) will manage the soil, water, and biological diversity (e.g. wildlife) as if they value not only monetary profit from their farm products but also the long-term sustainability of the soil and water so that it will be fruitful for the future.

Thanks to the Wooster Digital History Project, I have become interested in the history of one particular tract of land, known in 1873 as the Grandview Farm, owned by A.H. and B.C. Byers (see photo above).  Thanks to assistance from the Wayne Co. Historical Society, I was able to locate the farm pictured in a lovely artists rendition (pictured at left).  The farm buildings were located near what is now Parkview Elementary School.  The name “Grandview” will seem logical to any reader who has enjoyed the wonderful view while driving south on Oak Hill Road past the school. 

Site of the Byers (Grandview) Farm buildings, now Parkview Elementary
Grandview Farm eventually became a significant portion of what is now Country Club Golf Course.  Thanks to the historical and legal records, we can now gain insight into the history of past land stewardship and land use changes of a given parcel.  These data could then inform current ecological studies to evaluate the management strategies of the Country Club Golf Course to address storm water runoff, scheduling fertilizer applications to limit stream pollution, etc.  Interestingly, the WDHP provides a images and text accounts of the 1969 Flood.

Wooster Fire and Andrew Carnegie
Today, we often hear of the corruption and injustice of “big business.” According to Naomi Schaefer Riley, resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “The Givers and Their Attackers,” wealthy individuals and families are often the subjects of scorn and suspicion.  After all, they must have acquired their wealth through unfair business practice.  Indeed, there are many people who have amassed great wealth through unjust practices.  Yet free market capitalism is also responsible for raising millions of people from lives of limited opportunity and poverty to enjoy fulfilling lives that impact many others for good. 

The life of
Andrew Carnegie is one of many “rags to riches” stories.  Carnegie amassed great wealth through expansion of the steel industry in America.  Although Carnegie is criticized for building his fortune through unjust treatment of workers, he believed that “those with great wealth must be socially responsible and use their assets to help others.” If they refuse, they practice “the worst species of idolatry.”  Carnegie practiced what he preached, and gave 90% of his fortune, estimated at $301 billion in today’s currency, to worthy causes.

Visitors to the Wooster Digital History Project can learn of Mr. Carnegie’s impact on this midwestern city.  In fact, Carnegie may be largely responsible for the survival of The College of Wooster following the fire of 1901 that destroyed the main academic building.  What could have been disastrous for the young college turned out to be a blessing.  The fire and Andrew Carnegie combined to elicit a generous effort by the Wooster community to raise $100,000 to match a challenge gift from Mr. Carnegie.  According to the WDHP account, “Carnegie originally refused to give to a Christian college, because he was not a member of any church. Yet, even in his first meeting with [President] Holden, Carnegie declared that if he ever gave money to a Christian college, it would go to Wooster.  The great philanthropist made good on his promise, in 1902.

Civility after the Civil War
There was a third snippet from Wooster history that reminded me of the importance of knowing more about our communities in years past.  This one was also of interest to Dottie Sines, the Wooster Weekly News article’s author.  She notes that patriotism ran so strong in Wooster following the Civil War that it became a force for unity between factions that had been at odds during the war.  This demonstration of post-Civil War unity as highlighted in the Sines article and quoted below ought to be a valuable lesson from American history for today’s divided America to consider:

“The Wooster Republican newspaper published letters sent home from Wayne County soldiers. At times even the Wayne County Democrat, which was never shy in displaying its opposition to the war, chose to put patriotism first. When praising the deeds of two returning officers, the paper guessed that they must have felt proud of both parties welcoming them home and doing honor to them as soldiers of the Republic. More unity of this kind would work miracles in the cause of the country, where the prosperity of all the people is contingent upon the unity of the country.

Thank you for “time-traveling” back in history with me to consider a couple of historic chapters out of the history of our town, Wooster, Ohio.  Maybe if you are curious enough to visit the
Wooster Digital History Project, or a similar history resource from your geographic location on this Earth, you will gain a better appreciation for the ways in which your community has been shaped by past cultures, people, land uses, conflicts, and triumphs.  We ought not be ignorant of our history and the lessons we can learn from it, and from evidence of God’s providence through it all.

How About You?
May I invite you to respond using “Comments” to inform readers of  available resources on local and American history you would recommend?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Burdens of Believing in God

My boyhood impression of God was very positive.  I learned about Him from my parents and other adults; and from the Bible.  Jesus seemed like a kind man with gentle, assuring words like, “I am the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11).  However, as I grew older, I began to view God’s commandments as burdens that restricted my freedom.  I was particularly wary of Jesus’s stern principle:  If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me (Luke 9: 23).  Was Jesus my Friend or was He a cruel taskmaster?

Whoever He was, Jesus was patient—and persistent.  I could not dismiss the Gospel claims about Jesus dying on a Roman cross for the sin of humankind; then, being raised from the dead on that first Easter morning.  Maybe Jesus had every right to invite me to “take up my cross daily” and follow Him.  After all, He had left me an example—He obediently carried His cross to His death by crucifixion.

As an adolescent, I learned to associate “cross bearing” with the love of God for all people.  That God’s love is expressed through “burden bearing” became more real to me one Christmas when we received stamps from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town.  Each stamp pictured a boy carrying his younger brother on his shoulders to school in the deep snow.  On each stamp were the words of the older brother expressing his burden-bearing love: “He ain’t heavy, Father.  He’s m’ brother.”

God continued to affirm His love and patience toward me as I finished high school and college.  Then, as a graduate student, I repented of my sin under the Power of Christ’s cross.  I felt the burden of sin and guilt roll off of my shoulders.  Then, through prayer, I invited Jesus to become Lord of my life, and willingly began to live as His servant.  Since then, I have been making it my priority to follow Jesus’s invitation in Luke 9: 23, noted earlier.  In seeking His path of self-denial and cross-bearing, I am moving ever closer to what the Apostle Paul described as knowing Jesus intimately, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3: 10).  But, please don’t think I have “arrived spiritually.”  I gladly identify with Paul’s humility when he wrote, Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on… (3: 12).

Being a Christ-follower (disciple) requires disciplines that take years to develop.  Thankfully, God does not ask His followers to “go it alone.”  Instead, each obedient Christ-follower (those who “keep His commandments” as explained in 1 John 2: 4-6) “abides in Christ” and Christ abides in him or her (1 John 4: 16).  Therefore, Christ-followers are spiritually united with each other in the body of Christ.  And so, we who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12: 5).  Like embers of a fire that maintain their glow by staying together, so each Christ-follower can keep his or her faith ablaze by following God’s plan to regularly gather together for worship, study, and relationship-building in Christ (Hebrews 10: 23-25).

John the Baptist--Burdened and Alone
In spite of my growing faith, I was still puzzled with the apparent contradiction between the blessed life God offers and the burdens He expects His children to bear.  Matthew 11 addresses this apparent contradiction.  Here we learn that John the Baptist was languishing in prison like an ember from the fire separated from the fellowship of other Christ-followers.  John’s faith was apparently faltering.  So, he sent his disciples to inquire whether Jesus was really the “Expected One.”  After all, John had been sent as a forerunner of Jesus to call his listeners to repentance and to point out the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1: 29).  Could it be that John had been mistaken?  If not, why was Jesus requiring him to bear such a burden of lonely imprisonment and impending death (Matthew 14: 1-12)?

F.B. Meyer writes in Great Verses through the Bible (Zondervan, 1966): 
“The Baptist was tempted to take offense with Christ, first, because of His long delay in asserting Himself as the promised Messiah; and secondly, because of His apparent indifference to his own welfare. "If He be all that I expected, why does He leave me in this sad plight, extending to me no word of comfort; making no attempt to free me from these dark, damp cells."

Meyer then applies John's suffering to the lives of burden bearers today:
“Are there not such hours in our lives still?  We say, if He really loves us and is entrusted with all power, why does He not deliver us from this difficult and irksome condition? Why does He not hurl these Prison Walls to the ground? Why does He not vindicate and bring me out to the light of life and joy?”

Jesus answered John's plea with this encouraging reply to the messengers John had sent:  Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me (Matthew 11: 4-5).

In the words of F.B. Meyer, Jesus was saying to John the Baptist,
“’Tell him to trust Me, though I do not deliver him.  Assure him of the blessedness which must accrue to those who are not offended at My apparent neglect.  I will explain all to him some day.' Thus, he speaks still.  He does not attempt to apologize, nor to explain--He only asks our trust and promises blessedness to those who do not stumble at life's mysteries.”

Jesus-- Perfect Burden Bearer
Today, many people bear heavy burdens.  Those who reject God’s claims on their lives and live under the penalty of sin may encounter unbearable burdens that lead to depression, drug addiction, and even death.  At the same time, obedience to Christ does not guarantee an easy path.  Statistics reveal that more and more Christ-followers are suffering greatly for their faith.  At least 327 million Christians are enduring persecution according to
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  Approximately “245 million Christians in the top 50 countries on Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List experience high levels of persecution (i.e.: torture, rape, sex-slavery, forced conversion, murder and genocide), an increase of 14 percent from 2018.”

Many people who have been and are still suffering for their faith have been encouraged by the words of Jesus to the imprisoned John the Baptist.  First, Jesus’s words contained no hint of condemnation of John’s weak faith and doubt.  Instead, we see a God who allowed John to suffer the burden of rejection and persecution now come alongside through His Son Jesus with words of love and encouragement (v. 4-6).

Second, we see Jesus’s response when His ministry faced the burden of ridicule and rejection: He sought comfort in the Spirit of God and in fellowship through prayer with His Father in Heaven (v. 25-26).  And finally, Jesus, as if He is strengthened in His own resolve, lovingly invites all to come to Him by faith to receive relief from heavy burdens He knows we are carrying, and invites us to share in His “easier yoke.”  Jesus says,

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (v. 28-30).

When we submit to Christ’s “easy yoke” in faith and in recognition of the great burden He bore to purchase our freedom from the curse of sin (2 Corinthians 5: 17), we gain access to His love and strength to bear our own cross for Him.  Jesus reveals Himself as gentle and humble in heart, willing to understand our limitations and to give us a reasonable yoke to bear.  As we submit willingly to His strong presence under His “yoke,” we will actually find “rest for our souls.”  What an amazing truth!  Jesus makes our burdens lighter because He helps us carry them.

Burden Bearing Benefits of Abiding in Christ
The Apostle John as a young disciple of Jesus experienced close-hand Jesus’s great love for His Father in Heaven and for all mankind.  John’s Gospel includes Jesus’s most thorough teaching on burden-bearing obedience to God as an expression of our love for Him (John 15: 9-13).  In his first letter, John explains in warm, personal terms the blessed result of saving faith in Christ:  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5: 3).

The aged Apostle John who penned these words had learned the answer to the apparent contradiction of how a person could find blessedness in burden bearing.  John’s answer, in a word, is “love.”   John wrote in 1 John 4: 19, We love, because He first loved us.  He wrote in 1 John 3: 1, See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. 

How do Christ-followers respond to such great love?  By offering their willing obedience.  Jesus described obedience as “abiding in Him” like branches connected to the True Vine (John 15).  Just as the branches of a grapevine produce fruit from nutrients supplied by the vine, so our abiding in Christ produces in us the fruit of righteousnessi.e. expressed qualities of right-living that please God.  These qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, etc. (Galatians 5: 22-23) are formed in us as we yield to the work of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.  He is our Helper, Teacher, and Counselor (John 15: 26; 16: 13-15).  As we abide in our Savior, love our Father in Heaven as Jesus loves Him, and rely on God’s Spirit to empower us, God’s love in us becomes blessedness in the midst of the burdensome. 

Remembering the words of the boy carrying his little brother, I can say, “Jesus’s commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5: 3), He’s my Brother.  He’s shown His love for me by dying on His cross, then rising from the dead and sending His Holy Spirit.  Thanks to His Spirit, my Helper, Teacher, and Counselor, I can find His yoke easy and His burden light (Matthew 11: 30).”

How About You?
Maybe you are now carrying heavy physical or emotional burdens.  If we are honest, we have to admit that we all bear burdens of one sort or another.  Some of us bear burdens of our own making by our wrong choices.  Christ-followers remember Jesus’s promise that in the world you will have troubles (John 16: 33a).  Many Christ-followers experience God’s loving nearness most when the burdens are greatest.  In those times, we realize the remainder of Jesus’s promise:  …be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.   Have you experienced peace, relief, and even blessedness during times of heavy burden bearing when you surrendered to Jesus’s yoke?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Regrets and Resolutions

The arrival of another year’s end and the New Year holiday is an important transition in time.  The Romans worshiped Janus as the god of beginnings and transitions.  Janus, from whom we get the name of the first month of each year, was depicted with two faces, one looking backward, the other looking forward.   

The image of Janus represents me today.  I’m thinking about the past and wondering about the future.  My natural tendency to look backward with regrets, and to look forward with a combination of doubt, fear, and determination to “do better.”  But today, I’m seeking a clearer understanding of how to “look both directions” in an emotionally and spiritually healthy way.  First off, I’m especially concerned about regrets from the past.

Last Sunday, our senior pastor, Zach Swift, in his message, "Immeasurably More," cited an interesting study.  A large chalk board was placed in lower Manhattan’s Petrosino Square with an invitation to passersby to “Write Your Biggest Regret.”  A camera was positioned to make a video recording of the interesting responses.  As you can see from the video, most respondents expressed various regrets including:
        Not getting involved
        Not being a better friend
        Never going after my dreams
        Not saying “I love you.”
        Not making the most of every day
        Not staying in touch
        All the self-hatred I put myself through

For every publicly admissible regret like these, there are dozens we tend to keep to ourselves.  Regrets emerge within us when we look backward into the silence of time gone by.

How do we dispel the regret, loneliness, helplessness, self-loathing, and even despair that erupt in our sad memories?  As time-bound humans, we are no match for the accusing voices from our past or the uncertain future that looms ahead.  Yet, it is during our low points that we must face a fundamental question: “Is there really a God who loves us and has shown His love and plan of redemption from our sins through His Gift of Jesus Christ?”  Each of us have already answered this question, if not by deliberate faith response, at least by the way we think and live.  Either we have believed in God and are learning to put our trust in Him, or we have rejected Him out of disbelief and have placed ourselves on the throne of our lives.  If we have “enthroned ourselves” as “god,” we are “on our own” in a stark, physical world governed by chance encounters and purposeless outcomes?  At one time, I experienced this reality.

King Solomon is noted for his outstanding wisdom (1 Kings 4: 30-34).  But later in life, Solomon fell into despair when he failed to find meaning and purpose in any of his wealth, pursuits, and pleasures “under the sun” (apart from a God-centered worldview).  He repeatedly cried, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 12: 8)!  However, when Solomon viewed time and eternity from God’s point of view, he wrote, Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3: 11).

The Eternal God has created us to live in a time-bound world but He has also enabled us to imagine eternity.  At Christmas, many celebrate God becoming incarnate man in the bodily form of Jesus Christ.  God became man and stepped from Eternity into our finite world of time.  According to the Bible, our only hope against sin and regrets of the past is to accept Christ, God’s Gift of salvation from sin and death.  Then, we can develop a personal relationship with Christ through daily communion with Him by prayer and reading His Word, the Bible. 

When I abide in Christ (obey His commands for my good; John 15: 1-10), I can look backward and face my “chalk board of regrets.” Then, I can take each regret to God through a humble prayer of repentance where sin was involved (1 John 1: 9; Romans 7: 14-25).  Christ can also give me the humility, grace, and power to go to a person I have offended (Matthew 5: 23-26) or to a person who has offended me (Matthew 18: 15-17) to seek or give forgiveness and become reconciled.  Christ can also help me to forget my failings or turn them into lessons for victory in the future.  In these ways, as I appropriate the provisions of my loving Heavenly Father, my chalk board of past regrets can become a “clean slate.”

Returning to my “Janus” metaphor, when my backward-looking face (and my heart) sees real progress and victory over regret from my past, my forward-looking face (and heart) is encouraged.  With God as my strength and guide, I am encouraged to press on with purpose and courage. 

The Apostle Paul’s life is a testimony of how we can deal with past regrets and make resolutions for a victorious future.  In Philippians 3: 4-6, Paul “looks backward” and reveals his legalistic past as a Pharisee of the Jewish faith which included zealous persecution and imprisonment of Christians.  Then, in verses 7-11, Paul boldly contrasts the reputation he had treasured in his old life with the greater treasure of knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death….  In case his readers would think that he had arrived at perfection, Paul hastens to say (v. 12), Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

From my study of Paul’s experience, humility, and balance, I find real encouragement to look back into 2019 at my regrets, to repent of my sin, and seek reconciliation where necessary.  Then, I can look ahead into 2020 with particular resolutions, or better yet, spiritual goals.  I have written out my spiritual goals on a file card as a ready reminder, and I share them here in case you may benefit from them.  Please realize that I share them very much in the spirit of Paul expressed in Philippians 3: 12 above.  

If you think I am overdoing it, “overly spiritual,” or in any way high-minded, just realize that the more I become aware of my own bent toward sin and rejection of God’s rule in my life, the more I find the need to be “filled with His Spirit” (Ephesians 5: 15-21) and deliberate about feeding on God’s Word (Psalm 119: 9-12).  May you too, find joy, inspiration, and a real sense that God is abiding in you and using you through the power of His Spirit as you abide in His Word, commune with Him, and fellowship with God’s people in 2020.

How About You?  If you have never surrendered to the claims of Christ and asked Him to forgive you and be your Savior, I refer you to Steps to Peace with God which will explain how you can become a Christ-follower.  Without Christ, you are dead in sin and are facing eternal separation from God.  Romans 8: 6-7 states that without making peace with God, you remain hostile toward God [and your mind is not "tuned" to the Spirit of God].  In fact, according to Romans 8: 7-8, you are not even able to do so... With Christ on the thone of your life, and the hunger He can give you for His Word and fellowship with His Spirit, you can gain a new and clear perspective on your past (triumphs and regrets) and set fruitful spiritual goals for your future.  If you have questions, I'd be glad to communicate with you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Advent: Light Still Shines into Darkness

The people who walk in darkness
     Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
     The light will shine on them.
– Isaiah 9:2

This prophetic promise of God that Messiah would be coming as the “light of the world” was revealed through the prophet Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Christ.  Yet God’s promise at the time was only the most recent of many promises of a coming Redeemer dating all the way back to the curse and fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden.  There, God had promised while addressing Satan that the “offspring of the woman” shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3: 15).  Throughout the generations from Adam to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jews had lived with a sense of anticipated Advent (“coming” or “arrival”) of Messiah, the promised Deliverer, or Savior.

Today, believers in Messiah proclaim that He has come as our Redeemer.  The incarnation, God the Son, Jesus Christ was born, lived a sinless life, and became the atoning sacrifice for our sins through His death and resurrection.  Ours is but to repent of our sin and receive His Gift of salvation (Romans 10: 9-10). 

Today many Christ-followers observe Advent during the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of Christ as well as the “Joy to the World” He will bring in His anticipated return (John 14: 1-3).  In our home, we now observe the period of Advent by taking time regularly to read Christmas-related Scripture and to prepare our hearts for a spirit of anticipation and reverence toward God who kept His promises and sent His Son to rescue us from darkness.

Our celebration of Advent began about 15 years ago when Craig Miller, our senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville, emphasized the observance of Advent.  Given the impact of Advent in our home since then, it was a special blessing to read the December 16 post by Pastor Craig Miller in his blog, The Village Pastor, entitled “The Word Came…to the Sasak.”  I have included the link to this article here because, in it, Pastor Craig provides a powerful example of how God is still keeping His promise that The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  In this account, the light of God’s truth was brought through translation of the New Testament into the language of 3.5 million Sasak people who live on the Indonesian island of Lombok where 99.99% are Muslim.  Craig and his wife, Kathy, were privileged to be eyewitnesses of the translation ministry effort through their visits to the island of Lombok from 1990 to 2005.

As you read this short but powerful account of how the light of Truth came into darkness, I hope you will be inspired to praise God for the Advent of Christ who has come to us "full of grace and truth" (John 1: 17).  May God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4: 6)…stir your heart and mine to speak and live in such a way that we… sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us], yet with gentleness and reverence…(1 Peter 3: 15).  Let’s be ready, and let’s point others to Him!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving for Our “Family Tree”

As I look forward to our family gathering on Thanksgiving this year, I am filled with thankfulness when consider all the past circumstances that have clicked into place to make us “family.”  Like the pin tumblers on a lock that fall into place only in response to the right door key, so is the myriad of choices and circumstances that have unfolded to bring our family into existence.

The analogy of a “family tree” becomes more meaningful the more I think of it.  Like a large tree, our family has both branches and roots that have grown during the last fifty years since Abby and I were married on June 14, 1969.  We thank God for His salvation by grace through Jesus’s obedient sacrifice that has given us both Life in Him.  Then, He allowed circumstances to bring us together as students on the campus of Malone College.  Two first-born’s, each with our own self-centered wills and priorities, could never have “become one” and “remained one” for over one-half century without God’s grace and mercy.  Yet, Christ spanned the infinite gulf between God’s holiness and our sinful separation to redeem us, purchasing our forgiveness (Titus 2: 11-14).  Because of His loving sacrifice, we see the gulf of our differences as tiny and manageable as we lean on our Savior for our daily needs.

Our marriage has also produced a family tree with two wonderful branches, a son, Bradley Allen, and a daughter, Melinda Maetta.  They eventually married and their loved ones will now take their places at our Thanksgiving table.  As we gather this year, I realize that our two branches have grown and branched more to form a wonderfully diverse “international family” representing numerous nationalities.   But, in order to appreciate our international family, let’s refer to our “roots” derived from our parents and grandparents.

Abby and I understand that her grandmother, Alva Mae (Kennedy) Bright, was one-fourth Native American, representing the Cherokee Nation of western North Carolina.   Alva married John E. Bright who was of English descent.  They settled and raised ten children in East Tennessee near their places of birth.  Alva’s oldest daughter, Marietta Bright, married Ralph Moser who was of German descent.  Marietta bore seven daughters, the oldest being Alvadell (“Abby”).

My grandfather, Earl Bauders, was a descendent of British and Irish lineages.  When Earl who was an Englishman “came courting” my grandmother, Naoma Troyer, he had a challenging time earning the trust and respect of her family.  The Troyer’s were part of the Amish culture of Holmes County, Ohio.  The Amish are of Swiss German Anabaptist origin.  Earl and Naoma’s daughter, Esther Mae Bauders, married my father, Bert Silvius, who was of German descent.  Although I have not explored Silvius genealogy back to the Revolutionary War era, the Silvius family is rumored to have come to America during the late 1700’s.  The Silvius’s may have been among the Hessians who fought against the Continental Army led by George Washington at Valley Forge.

Large trees depend upon hundreds of miles of roots!  Each major tree root is anchored and nourished by untold numbers of tiny roots and rootlets extending throughout the soil.  Likewise, our current family tree is rooted in a myriad of past choices, marriages, and circumstances that God has allowed to occur among our ancestors representing many nations and tribes that Abby and I have never met. 

If we are all able to gather together on Thanksgiving this year, the two branches that God allowed Abby and I to form; Bradley and Melinda, will have brought additional international flavor to our table.  Brad’s wife, Raquel, came to Ann Arbor, Michigan from Rio Grande do sul, the southern-most state of Brazil, South America.  According to historical records, Rio Grande do sul has had a gaucho culture like neighboring Argentina and Uruguay, and has since been influenced by Portuguese, German, and Italian immigrants.

Meanwhile, Melinda, married Steve Salyers.  The Salyers name is traceable to Anglo-Saxon tribes of Britain.  The Salyers may have come to America in response to religious and political persecution.  Melinda and Steve have three children, Caleb, Kiara, and Della Rose.  This year Caleb and his new bride, Gurvinder Mahi Salyers, will be the latest couple to form in our family.  Gurvinder (“Soni”) was born in America, a daughter of parents who emigrated from India.

And so, this Thanksgiving, our gathering will represent the newest branches of our “family tree” rooted in a wonderfully diverse international heritage and branching outward and upward in ways that only our Sovereign God can foreknow.  Abby and I thank God for His provision of our marriage and family, and we pray and hope for HIs blessing and provision for our offspring. 

Know that YAHWEH Himself is God;
It is He who has made us,
and not we ourselves;
We are His people
and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
And His courts with praise. 
Give thanks to Him;
bless His name
.   – Psalm 100: 3-4

Friday, November 8, 2019

Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie

Discovery and Renewal on the Huffman Prairie:  Where Aviation Took Wing (Kent State University Press, 2018) is a delightfully readable and colorfully illustrated book.  Its author, David Nolin, masterfully integrates Southwest Ohio geology, ecology, history, technology, and culture to tell the rich story of how Huffman Prairie State Natural Landmark near Dayton, Ohio came into being.  Aa a result of the land stewardship restoration efforts of Dave and partnering land stewards, Huffman Prairie is now blossoming as a resurrected expanse of colorful mesic prairie located on Wright-Patterson Air Force.

Readers will learn how Dave Nolin discovered the remnant of a historic native prairie and became engaged in its restoration as Huffman Prairie.  But readers will also learn how the prairie instilled within the author a land ethic based on love and respect for historic natural areas as treasures worthy of his professional attention and restoration.  Partly as a result of this early engagement with the land, Dave enjoyed a fruitful career as land stewardship specialist with Dayton-Montgomery Five-Rivers MetroParks and is responsible for negotiating and closing over 7,000 acres of newly acquired natural areas and easements during his 30 years with the agency. 

The story of Huffman Prairie is also an important thread within the early settlement history of Ohio in the 18th and 19th centuries.  A highlight of this history is the account of how the Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio used a nearby pasture field that was once part of a 3-square-mile open prairie grassland, to test and improve their “flying machine” in the early 1900’s.  But long before the Wright planes took wing over this remnant prairie, grassland birds like Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink were flying over this pre-settlement landscape, pouring their praises over a sea of beautiful prairie grasses and colorful native wildflowers.  Readers will wonder how the Dayton area was blessed with such an unusual treasure of beauty and diversity.   

The answer comes when Nolin takes us back even further in time, into the geologic history of what is now Ohio and the Midwest.  Here, he explains the forces that shaped the landscape and allowed for complex prairie ecosystems to form.  With the help of abundant maps, diagrams, and photographs, readers can learn how bedrock layers were formed by sedimentation under a great deluge, then uplifted, buckled, and eroded to form rivers and valleys.  Then, came the ice age in which glaciers shaped the landscape and left behind porous soil deposits.  The resulting complex of wetlands and prairies that developed on these glacial soils over time was a biological wonder that was much more complex than the Wright “flying machine.”

As settlers entered the Miami Valley in the 18th century, impacts of agriculture and urbanization began to threaten the survival of the original forest and prairie communities.  Gradually, farmers drained and plowed up the prairie sod.  Others built roads, railways, and airport runways.   But, although readers like me are saddened by the gradual whittling away of the expansive prairie, Nolin does not present the history of Huffman Prairie as a woeful account of hopeless environmental degradation in the face of “progress.”  Rather, as Nolin tells us, the story of Huffman Prairie reveals how a few forward-thinking scientists, naturalists, and common citizens took steps to protect and restore remnant portions of natural areas in Ohio.

I was encouraged by what I perceive as my friend, the author’s philosophy of environmental stewardship.  Although we may differ in the exact presuppositions that form our respective worldviews, we agree that it is possible to address the potentially conflicting demands of human civilization while successfully conserving habitats and biodiversity. 

Page 135 (Kent State U. Press. 2018) 
The answer is wise land stewardship which not only conserves natural and biological resources but also provides inviting “places” where we can go and be refreshed in body, soul, and spirit.  Time spent working, restoring, and reflecting in these places all help us distinguish our wants from our actual needs in a consumer culture that so often has too little time to be quiet, reflective, and restorative.  If this is true, Nolin’s book is well named because although today’s Huffman Prairie is only a fragment of the original prairie ecosystems now largely transformed into agricultural and urban enterprises, this small remnant prairie will continue to be a place our generation and the next can go for discovery and renewal.

Nolin’s summary of the extensive historical and cultural scope detailed in Discovery and Renewal on the Huffman Prairie:  Where Aviation Took Wing, reminded me of the epic and thought-provoking television mini-series, Centennial, which portrays the history of several human ethnic cultures in what is now Colorado. The following excerpt (page 73) should encourage and challenge every reader who aspires to practice environmental stewardship in our fast-paced technological age:

The big prairie was gone, but the human and American achievements on this grassland in less than 80 years were unprecedented.  Here the first practical powered aircraft had been tested and flown, with a large impact on world history.  The prairie was an important part of an innovative flood control system that has protected Dayton and other communities along the Great Miami River from flooding.  Here the Wright Company School of Aviation trained the world's first generation of pilots.  The prairie land became an important part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, an important facility for National Defense.  Wright-Patt supports world-class aviation, engineering, and research facilities, and is a major employer for the region.

That these achievements resulted in the loss of the biologically diverse living systems that once thrived on the landscape was not widely known or considered except by a few.  Agnes Anderson Hall, John Van Cleve's biographer, reflected on the progress and loss at Huffman Prairie in
"Letters from John":

"The "wet prairie" has lost its fringed gentians, in deed, but in the first years of this [20th] century it's flat expanse recommended itself to two young men of the Van Cleve blood and tradition-- as a place well adapted to experiments with their new invention-- a machine that would fly!  A Government Flying Field now bears their name on the spot where one day a breathless crowd watched in tense silence while Orrville Wright soared three thousand feet into the air!  The Wright brothers led the way into the wilderness of the air as the Van Cleves had ventured forth on earth; they scaled the ramparts of the clouds as those, their forebears, had scaled the Alleghenies; they faced the scorn of unbelief, and beat back dangers and possessed their goal with the same courage, the same indomitable perseverance, the same effacement of self. Their lives were as full of peril and daring; their deeds were as replete with romance."

Nolin concludes:  Environmental awareness and general understanding of the complexity and value of living systems were a science and ethic that didn't start in a meaningful way until the early 20th century, but they grew swiftly in the 1970's and 1980's. This increased awareness and valuation of biodiversity and natural systems was to combine with a bit of luck to bring back a piece of Huffman Prairie in 1986.

 In Chapter 6, “A Prairie Renaissance,” the Nolin recounts how, as a graduate student at Wright State University, he was inspired by the growing conservation ethic of the 1980’s.  I was blessed to read Dave’s own personal account of how he and his father first discovered some native prairie plant populations that had survived after many centuries, now on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force base.  What followed was an organized effort to restore the prairie and acquire its current Natural Landmark status. 

Readers will want to visit Huffman Prairie after they see on the pages of Discovery and Renewal on the Huffman Prairie the dozens of color photos of animal and plant species that currently reside in the prairie.  Nolin also includes a current listing of common and scientific names of plants of Huffman Prairie and helpful notes and references, helpful for those interested in the history of the Dayton, Ohio area.  Why not treat yourself to this book and buy a copy for friends who love history, nature, and working in land stewardship efforts?  Who knows, reading Discovery and Renewal and taking a trip to Huffman Prairie might even capture the imagination of a few young people who will enlist in environmental stewardship efforts in the future.