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

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pope Francis, the Christian Life, and Social Justice

Pope Francis used his Vatican radio address from the Feb. 23 Mass to express his concern about the “fakeness” of so many Christians.  The Pope’s rebuke was harsh and was intended to cause Catholics and evangelicals to seriously reflect on the genuineness of their faith.  At least some listeners ought to be asking themselves, “What makes a ‘good Catholic’?” Or, “What does it mean to be a ‘real Christian’?”  As one of the Pope’s evangelical listeners, I am now reflecting on Pope Francis’ broadcast while also being aware of the “gulf” between the faith of my Catholic friends and that of evangelicals like myself.

Speaking from in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis said,

The Lord teaches us the way of doing: and how many times we find people – ourselves included – so often in the Church, who say, ‘Oh, we are very Catholic.’ ‘But what do you do?’ How many parents say they are Catholics, but never have time to talk to their children, to play with their children, to listen to their children.  Perhaps they have their parents in a nursing home, but always are busy and cannot go and visit them and so leave them there, abandoned. ‘But I am very Catholic: I belong to that association,’ [they say]. This is the religion of saying: I say it is so, but I do according to the ways of the world.


Pope Francis supported his challenge to the Catholic Church by referring to Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the Jewish leaders recorded in Matthew 23: 3-5.  Jesus encouraged his listeners to 

do all that they tell you to do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.  They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.  But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men…

In perhaps his sharpest rebuke, the Pope applies the teaching of Christ when he declares, “Being Christian means doing — doing God’s will.”  On judgment day, he said, “what will the Lord ask us?  Will he say to us: ‘What have you said about me?’ No!  He will ask about the things we have done.”

Although evangelical readers will likely agree that there is a theological “gulf” between evangelicalism and Catholicism, it is hard to ignore Pope Francis’ solid Scripture-based rebuke—one that recognizes the authority of Scripture and that attempts to define the “true Christian.”   The Apostle James gives us his definition of the genuine, saving, Christian faith (emphasis mine):

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.   – James 2: 14-17

From my perspective, Pope Francis has chosen a humble, uncluttered lifestyle and has a compassionate commitment toward the poor and needy of the world.  Therefore, unlike the Jewish Pharisees, the Pope has a legitimate right to challenge Christians to put their profession of faith into works that benefit others—family, neighbor, and all of those within their ability to assist.

Readers who are familiar with Pope Francis’ past homilies, encyclicals (letters on Catholic doctrine), and actions that promote social justice for the poor and the disenfranchised will notice the connection between the “faith that shows through works” and the Pope’s emphasis on social justice.  It is here that I believe both Catholics and evangelicals should be asking about the role of “good works” and “justice” in God’s plan of salvation.  I say this while emphasizing that whether or not my Catholic friends, or evangelical friends for that matter, have been saved is for God to Judge.  But at the same time, if the Bible is God’s revelation of the way to salvation by faith in Christ, and if Christ has commissioned believers to be His evangelists (evangel = “give the Good News,” the Gospel) (Matthew 28: 19-20), then it is essential that Christians know how to use the Bible to “point the way” to saving faith in Christ.

Thankfully, there are several fundamental core beliefs that evangelicals and Catholics share, including respect for the authority of Scripture and the claim to basic faith and trust in Christ as Savior as expressed in the historic creeds and confessions of the church.  Out of these common beliefs, evangelicals and Catholics now stand side by side to defend biblical marriage and the sanctity of human life.  However, as Albert Mohler writes in “Standing Together, Standing Apart: Cultural Co-belligerence Without Theological Compromise,” (Touchstone Magazine, July-August, 2003), “Evangelicals, Catholics, and the Orthodox do not share a common understanding of how the work of Christ accomplishes our salvation—and this is the heart of the gospel.”

It is beyond my theological knowledge and beyond the scope of this article to go into detail concerning the differences between evangelical and Catholic theology.  I refer the reader to Mohler’s article for an excellent discussion of these differences.  Suffice it to say here that evangelicals have historically recognized Christ alone as the Head of the Church (Colossians 1: 18).  And, salvation is through faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone (Galatians 3: 6-11; Ephesians 2: 8-9).  Although the sacraments of baptism and communion are important in the life of both the evangelical and the Catholic Church, they are not recognized as saving acts by evangelicals no matter in what church they are offered.

Having recognized key theological differences between evangelicalism and Catholicism, we can now revisit Pope Francis’ challenge to Christians to “prove their faith by their good works.”  On the surface, it appears that both the Pope and the Apostle James would agree…faith, if it has no works, is dead (James 2: 17).  But, the Scriptural view of the role of faith in salvation taught in the Book of James and elsewhere reveals that salvation is not merited by any works of the sinner.  Salvation is granted through saving faith alone which merits God’s grace alone through Christ alone

Every unsaved sinner on the way to eternal judgment is regarded as dead spiritually (Ephesians 2:1) and considered darkness (Ephesians 5: 8) and an enemy of God (Romans 5: 10).  This fact is very clear, and can be very unsettling!  Corpses cannot partake in holy sacraments.  Nor can the spiritually dead perform any good works.  Until salvation of the sinner by faith and God’s grace alone, each person is like a spiritual zombie.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Ephesians 2: 4-5). While we were still sinners, (and enemies), Christ died for us (Romans 5: 8, 10), and He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures (James 1: 18).
Demonstrating faith in God's love and mercy

Christians are saved by faith alone, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…(Titus 3: 5).  What then is God’s purpose for good works?  Once again, just as evangelicals differ from Catholics in our understanding of saving faith, so also we differ in understanding of the purpose of good works.  Both James and the Apostle Paul would disagree with Pope Francis regarding both the nature of good works and God’s intention for good works. 

James (James 2: 18-24) and Paul (Romans 4: 1-5) refer to the great patriarch of the faith, Abraham, to teach the intertwining roles of saving faith and good works.  Abraham’s saving faith was pleasing to God because Abraham was obediently willing to complete the good work of sacrificing his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22).  And, the “work” that Abraham did as he bound Isaac on the sacrificial altar and prepared to plunge the knife was regarded as a “work of faith” because Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Genesis 22: 5).  His faith was focused on God’s mercy, power, and grace alone.

From Abraham, we learn that works acceptable to God must be performed in faith and out of love for God, not primarily out of a perceived human need.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13 that any work we do is worthless if it is not performed out of unconditional love for His Son, Jesus Christ.  Oswald Chambers says, “If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and broken-hearted for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men than we would from a dog…”  Instead, our works must be motivated from what Christ did for us.  Paul wrote, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor… (2 Corinthians 8: 9). 

The Scripture reveals an unexpected benefit to us when our works are Christ-love-motivated.  Speaking of the generous giving of the church in Macedonia, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8, …their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality (v. 2) and, …they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God (v. 5).

Pope Francis is right to challenge Christians to do good works, but our works must have a Christ-love motivation and a Christ’s-kingdom trajectory.  Although Jesus sees the needs of the downcast, His aim is not an end in itself to meet physical needs, redistribute wealth, and bring social justice.  Instead, Jesus wants our good works to be the means God uses to bring others into His kingdom, the “city of God,” not an “earthly city.”  Hebrews 11: 10 records that Abraham was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  In 1 Corinthians 2: 11 we learn that the foundation of this “city” must be Christ, For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

The “kingdom builders” God desires are first of all saved by faith alone, motivated by Christ’s saving grace alone.  Then, as redeemed children of God, they do good works, directed by a focus upon God’s “kingdom ends”i.e. the reconciliation of our neighbor with God which can be facilitated through the means of generous works in the Name of Christ. 


According to Oswald Chambers, “Jesus Christ out-socialists the socialists.” Bernie Sanders not withstanding, no socialist leader has ever been able to control human values, wants, and aspirations to produce a Utopian state. History records failed attempts that have ended in godless misery and the deaths of millions.  Christ demonstrated that the way up is down.  He came to become the Servant of all, stooping to serve even the poorest.  Toward the end of Matthew 23, the passage used by Pope Francis in his radio broadcast, Jesus is quoted as saying, But the greatest among you shall be your servant (v. 11).  Jesus indeed came to bring “social justice” but not for an earthly, economic kingdom.  He calls His followers not merely to eradicate “income inequality” or to join with those who stir up envy and guilt toward the rich.  Instead, Jesus, the Head of the Church, is building His kingdom with a very different approach:  If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me (Luke 9: 23). 

Pope Francis’ challenge to authentic Christianity invites us to take stock of our own faith.  What words will I hear from Jesus Christ when my life is judged?  It will either be, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME’ (Matthew 7: 23); or, 'Well done, good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25: 21).  Out of compassion for all humans, rich and poor, Jesus calls His redeemed followers who hear Him because they too are poor in our spirit (Matthew 5: 3).  We are to emulate Him in becoming what Oswald Chambers describes as “broken bread and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus for others.”  Chambers adds, “When we realize that Jesus Christ has served us to the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet with from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake.”

How About You? 
Thank you for reading.  I’d be honored to hear from you, particularly if you have a question or if you disagree with anything I’ve written.

Has God provided you with opportunities to share unconditional love in deeds and in words toward another person who may not be able to give you anything of benefit in return except a “Thank You?”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nature Speaks to Us, “Choose Life!”

Two of the most amazing relationships on Earth are sexual reproduction and the subsequent maternal nurturing of offspring.  Both processes involve complex coordination of form and function in both animals and seed plants.  To date, evolutionary biologists have been unable to provide a plausible explanation for the origin of sexual reproduction by time, chance, and random mutations.

Human sexuality is unique according to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures because it has both moral and biological significance. Moral commitment to marriage and responsible parenting within the family unit determine the character of each subsequent generation.  Indeed, many scholars argue that human civilizations have risen and fallen in accordance with their respect for the institutions of heterosexual marriage and family.

Shortly after conception, the developing embryo begins
sending a hormonal message as if to say, "I'm here mom."
Today, the foundation of heterosexual marriage and the family is being undermined by a growing disregard for the moral teachings of the Bible.  Our pluralistic society has increasingly viewed Christianity as only one  among many “religions” from which to choose.  Moral relativism has made it very easy for traditional marriage and family to become marginalized.  As a result, some scholars have pointed to the order and purpose within the natural world as a basis for establishing moral and ethical values and human choices apart from “religion” per se.  For example, the fruitfulness of the host of different species of vertebrate animals owes its success generally to the faithful nurturing of offspring by the parent generation.  Those who know this fact, regardless on their “religion,” conclude there is something inherently very wrong with wanton abuse or killing of animals or their young.

Natural law ethics is based on the belief that by observing the order, harmony, and beauty in nature, we can intuitively reason that we have a moral and ethical obligation to respond properly to it.  It follows that senseless abuse or killing of an animal or human being is a moral and ethical violation of natural law because such acts disrupt a purposeful, forward progression in nature.

In a previous Oikonomia, entitled Stewardship of Creation and “Natural Law” we emphasized that natural law ethics are consistent with what we learn in Genesis when it claims that there is order and purpose in the natural world, and that mankind is both capable and responsible for discerning this order and purpose.  There we also affirmed that application of natural law ethics can inform the biblical mandate for stewardship of God's creation (Genesis 2: 15) through transformation of our character. The steward who takes time to discern the order and purpose in nature (creation) will strive to learn more about her surroundings and how her actions will influence that order and purposeful progression.  Therefore, we believe that a robust environmental stewardship ethic can arise from a merger of natural law ethics and Judeo-Christian ethics.

Like Genesis 1-2, Romans 1: 16-22 emphasizes mankind's responsibility as stewards of God's truth and righteousness (v. 16-18).  Here, we also learn that God has given us the ability to know Him personally (v. 19), to understand and be in awe of His great power in creation (v. 20), and to live with thankfulness and reverence toward Him (v. 21).  Instead, mankind suppressed the truth revealed through the order and unity of creation (v. 18) and followed futile speculations and false reasoning (v. 21-22).   This suppression of truth describes the actions of those who, in spite of the evidence of order and purpose in creation and what their conscience tells them, choose to defy and act contrary to both natural law and God’s divine revelation in Scripture.  In other words, mankind’s rebellion is demonstrated by his rejection of “two books of revelation”—the natural revelation and the divine revelation in Scripture.

Most agree that the divine revelation in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures clearly supports laws against murder.  But, even apart from the biblical teaching, we see that natural law ethics provide a strong moral argument against murder. Murder brings a crashing halt to the intricate order of life processes in the human body and smashes the purposes, hopes, and dreams of a precious, living being.  Unless his sensibility, reason, and conscience are seared, mankind's reaction to senseless killing of human and animal alike is to feel deeply the wrongness of it. Because of an innate sense of right and wrong, the one who kills needlessly may live in misery and regret even without knowledge of the Bible's command, "Thou shall not murder (Matthew 5: 21-22)."

Today, slightly more than half of Americans polled oppose the practice of abortion under most or all circumstances.  Opponents of the pro-life position argue that abortion is not murder because human life does not begin until some point in late-term or at birth. However, this argument is strongly opposed on the basis of natural law ethics.  Here, one can argue that it is wrong to interrupt the orderly and purposeful progression of human development which normally advances in a seamless fashion from fertilized ovum to a fully formed human in the mother’s womb.  There is literally no identifiable stage in human development other than conception to mark as the beginning of an individual human life.

Those who accuse pro-lifers of causing the guilt and misery in women who have chosen abortion often want to silence Christians and their moral stand.  But, if it is true that natural law ethics provides a strong case against abortion, then emotional and physical consequences may be expected even if Christianity could be erased from our culture.  In support of this notion, recent scientific findings are uncovering more subtle and unexpected consequences of the abuse of the natural order of human reproduction.

First, there is growing evidence that abortion tends to diminish and even jeopardize the life of the mother.  Lynn Vincent in “The Mourning After” (WORLD Magazine, April 14, 2007),  refers to U.S. House Bill RH 1457, the Post-Abortion Depression Research and Care Act of 2007 which cites evidence of "severe and long-term effects" of abortion on women, including depression, eating disorders, suicide attempts, intense grief, emotional numbness, rage, sexual dysfunction, and relationship difficulties.”  Another study reports similar emotional disruptions in the fathers of aborted children.

Those who blame the emotional consequences of abortion on pro-lifers who create a moral stigma against abortion cannot be totally disregarded.  After all, history reveals that voices of moral opposition have in at least some instances served to keep cultures from drifting into immoral practices.   However, scientific research from Scandinavia where there is even less social opposition to abortion than in America nonetheless reports that the suicide rate is 40 percent higher in the first year after an abortion (WORLD, July 19, 2016).  There are both emotional and biological consequences to interrupting the natural progression of human development.  Commenting on the same study, Dr. Camilla Hersh, American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, adds “For every abortion a woman has, her risk of having a premature baby goes up 30 percent. It’s 30 percent higher with the first one, 60 percent with the second.” 

What is the take-home message of these statistics?  It seems that when human development within the woman’s body is interrupted with an abortion, we encounter consequences that are deeply rooted in the natural order, design, and purposes for sexuality and reproduction in the female body.  When these processes are thwarted in their purpose, the consequences play out in the form of not only emotional imbalances but also biological disruptions as expressed in the tendency of premature births.  As ethically wrong as it is to take the life of an unborn child, we must also consider the apparently unavoidable biological consequences produced in the mother.  But first, I want to address some words of comfort and admonition to those who have chosen to abort a child.

Readers who have chosen to abort one or more unborn children may be experiencing emotional or biological effects right now.  If so, I do not want to add to your grief.  Nor do I want to treat you as a statistic.  Although I believe abortion is a violation of both natural law and divinely revealed moral law, there is comfort and forgiveness to be found in God’s mercy as revealed in the Bible.  I pray that you will read Psalm 139 and pursue God to find His answer for bondage to sin and guilt.  Christ will cleanse even your conscience from sin (Hebrews 9: 11-14) as you surrender to Him. Then you will recognize your sin as the cause of your anguish, and stop blaming Christians and their "moral hangups" for your guilt and unrest.  I would encourage you to visit Oikonomia, August 30, 2015.  Near the end of that article, start reading with How About It?  where you will find an invitation to consider the “Good News” (Gospel) of Christ.  There is also a link to a helpful outline, called “What Are the Four Spiritual Laws?” This resource presents the Gospel and invites you to consider the salvation and forgiveness of Christ that is available to all of us sinners.  You are also welcome to e-mail me if you have particular questions (silviusj@cedarville.edu).


Scientists are discovering a "beautiful cooperation" between
mother and the unborn child that lasts long after birth.
We have seen that interruption of the natural order of human sexual reproduction by abortion can have serious negative effects.  But, on a more positive note, science is discovering even more evidence of amazing benefits to mothers who “choose life” and do not disrupt the natural order of the processes of prenatal development.  Rheumatologist J. Lee Nelson, of the University of Washington, speaking to NPR Radio, explained findings from her laboratory that an unborn baby’s cells can move through the placenta and into the mother’s bloodstream where they can enter her heart, brain, liver, and other organs.  These cells can act like stem cells and transform into other cell types that can form collagen, participate in wound healing, and even reduce the risk the mother will develop cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.  The mother’s cells, including cells from previous pregnancies, can also cross through the placenta and into her baby, thus providing a biological linkage among siblings.  Dr. Nelson calls it “a beautiful cooperation” between a mother and her unborn child.

I close with two points for your consideration.  First, even if one doesn’t recognize the authority of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that defend the sanctity of human life, there is reason to consider the claims of natural law ethics.  Natural law ethics offer a robust defense of sanctity of human life and this ethic is strengthened as science continues to reveal the marvelous array of intricate relationships involved in prenatal human development. By providing both disincentives and incentives, nature  apart from the Bible calls out to us, "Choose Life!"

Second, we should take more seriously every aspect of our stewardship of the natural world.  The notion of “natural law” should humble us to realize our part in an amazing order of creation which speaks of order, design, and purpose.  We should avoid actions that thwart obvious purposes at work in nature, especially to needlessly jeopardize our own life or the life of another human or creature.  However, natural law ethics alone cannot inform us of the Great Cause of the order and design of creation.  Only the divine revelation of Scriptures can explain our moral depravity and our need for salvation through faith in Christ Who died as our atoning sacrifice (e.g. John 3: 16).  Creation displays an order, pattern, and purpose that points to God as Creator.  And this is the Creator Who is affirmed in the divine revelation of Scripture as the God Whose 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 (Romans 1: 20).   

God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation. 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.  (From:  A.W. Tozer,  “The Speaking Voice”, in The Pursuit of God (Regal)

How About You?

Are you sensitive to God speaking to you as you observe the "book of nature" with its display of the order and purpose of life all around you?  Do you also sense God's invitation for you to consider the "book of His inspired Word," the Bible, which assures you of His love and victorious life when you seek out and follow His plan and purposes?   Want to share your thoughts or a question?   I’d love to hear from you.  Just use the “Comment” box below.