Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Conscience of Science: Part 3 Why March for Science?


Kaytlin Goodwin receives 2017 SFIS award from
Dr. Dennis Flentge, Chair of Dept. of Science and Math
One of the key issues facing the scientific community today is not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of communication between scientists and the general population. Although I am only an undergraduate, I have already experienced the frustration of trying to relate exciting scientific information to friends and family who do not understand basic biological processes and the jargon or importance of certain natural phenomena. Research scientists regularly face similar challenges. Although their work has vital implications for both the environment and human well-being, the general public often does not understand the importance of practices that are essential for the health of the environment.  
     – Kaytlin Goodwin, Cedarville University
        Science and Faith Integration Scholarship recipient (2017)

As I write this article, scientists and supporters of science are gathering by the thousands on the Mall in Washington, DC as part of today’s March for Science.   Many of these marchers and those who are likewise participating in one of 500 marches worldwide on this Earth Day are committed to the March for Science Pledge which lists ways supporters can advance science and science-based policies.  


Related to the advancement of science, recently Abby and I were privileged to attend Academic Honor’s Chapel at Cedarville University where Kaytlin Goodwin, a senior Environmental Science major was awarded this year’s Science and Faith Integration Scholarship (SFIS).  The above quote from the integration paper which Kaytlin submitted as part of her application for the SFIS captures some of the concerns held by some of today’s Marchers for Science.  The concerns expressed by Kaytlin and at least some of the Marchers stem from a long history.

American culture has been closely aligned and influenced by the growth of science and technology since the European colonization of the Western hemisphere in the 17th century. Today, most Americans would be unable to survive without the fruits of the natural sciences--the clean air, potable water, food, health services, transportation, and air conditioning.  Therefore, it is for good reason that Americans tend to be supportive of the sciences.
March for Science--and a march for your favorite cause?

March for Science participants aim to encourage respect for science and to encourage funding of research on issues such as global climate change, energy supply, information technology, and vaccinations.  These issues continue to be highly controversial on the political stage of an increasingly divided America.  Supporters of science who are concerned about one or more of these issues are urging scientists to use their professional prestige to take a more active role in educating and influencing policy makers and the general public.  But, is it appropriate for scientists to lend their reputations to political rallies?

Instead of joining the March for Science I am reading and thinking about the nature of science and the proper role of scientists in political organizations and rallies.  In this article, Part 3 of my “Conscience of Science” series, I want to share some of the considerations and cautions that a scientist or member of the public at large should entertain before joining the March for Science, or other political movements.  When one considers joining in pubic demonstrations in support of science or science-related issues (with some unrelated issues often included), it is essential to understand (1) the nature of science, (2) science in today’s news and entertainment media, (3) the responsibility of scientists in public education, and (4) the importance of the ethical conscience in science.

1.  The Nature of Science
We will assume that most supporters of the March for Science have at least a secondary school understanding of the nature of science.  Do you remember having to memorize a definition of science?  Most definitions include two parts, one that emphasizes the method of science, and the other, the management and communication of scientific information.  Science is a method—a systematic study of something—e.g. the natural world, living organisms, humans, human behavior, and so on.  Each field of science has a name (e.g. natural sciences, biology, psychology, theological sciences) and each has its own methodology or variation of the scientific method. 

When the scientific method is employed, the scientist obtains data that can be analyzed and used to determine the validity of a hypothesis. Repeated experimental testing contributes to the development of a systematic body of knowledge that results in the support for a scientific theory.  Theories provide the basis for understanding the scientific field in question and for continued scientific research.

Defining science is much easier than proper conduct of the process of science.  For example, scientists often find it difficult to gather data without perturbing the natural system being studied. Scientists must also avoid falling victim to error or bias.  Often the resultant theories attempt to account for abstract and complex phenomena that are difficult for the average person to comprehend.  Many of us find it difficult to comprehend the nature of a subatomic particle; or conceive of how matter becomes energy at the speed of light; or understand how scientists determine the temperature of planet Earth and use this data in complex models to predict climate trends. 

Although it is challenging to develop a scientific understanding of complex natural phenomena, it is even more challenging to communicate the resultant theories to students, policy makers, or laypeople.  Numerous studies have examined the growing influence of the internet, cable news, and the entertainment media on scientific literacy and opinions about certain hot button science-related issues like those listed above. 

2.  Science in Today’s News and Entertainment Media
According to a 2016 review entitled Americans' Attitudes about Science and Technology: The Social Context for Public Communication, commissioned by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), …despite intensive efforts at public education, science literacy has remained relatively stable for several decades.  The review cites a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center which used an index of 12 questions to measure basic scientific literacy and understanding of science as a process.  Out of the 12 questions, the mean score among respondents was 7.9.  Twenty-seven percent of respondents answered 8 or 9 out of 12 questions correctly, while 26% answered 10 or 11 correctly, and only 6% received perfect scores.  Respondents with college degrees answered 9 or more correctly, and those without degrees, 8 or fewer (Pew, 2015).

Although science literacy in America is low, it does not stifle interest in science-related news.  A National Science Board (NSB) survey in 2012 reported that the percentage of American respondents interested in news about medical discoveries was 60%, new scientific discoveries, 40%, and new inventions, 43%.  These percentages were comparable to those interested in local school issues (50%) and economic and business conditions (43%).  However, only 16% of Americans said they “very closely” followed news about science and technology, as compared to those who “very closely” follow weather (52%), sports (26%), local government (21%), and political news (17%) (NSB 2014).  Could it be that the increasing trend of Americans using social media as their favored news source has diminished our tendency to follow any topic “very closely?”

According to Brossard (2013), …with the rapid adoption of Facebook, Twitter, and smart phones, the nature of science-related news consumption among the public is changing, becoming more social, participatory, and incidental.  As of 2015, two-thirds of American adults say they use Facebook and 41 percent say they get news via the platform
Again, according to the AAAS review (2016), in recent decades …political leaders, activists, and the news media have increasingly packaged almost every major policy debate in terms of clearly defined ideological differences.   Republican and Democrat parties have become brand names, each standing for a distinct set of conservative or liberal positions.  This labeling strategy has apparently contributed to the growing ideological divide between the two major parties as reflected on issues such as sanctity of human life and climate change.  The divide is enhanced and sustained by cable news networks which cover science related topics with a decided conservative (e.g. Fox News) or liberal (e.g. CNN and MSNBC) slant.

According to Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, who was interviewed on PBS NewsHour,many Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict with each other, while knowing almost nothing about the subject they are debating. There’s a lot of blame to go around for all of this. The smartphones and tablets that we carry around all day that we think can answer anything are only part of the problem. The American educational system, from grade school to graduate school, encourages students to think of themselves and their views as special.  An A is now a common grade.

3.  The Responsibility of Scientists
In our society characterized by low science literacy, yet blessed with multiple sources of science news and the opinions of many political ideologues, the role of scientists and science educators becomes very important.  Scientists who step beyond their laboratory to address policy makers and the public are taking on at least two additional responsibilities.  First, they must objectively and clearly communicate the content of their findings and implications to policy makers and the public.  Second, they must convey the challenging nature of science as a process--one which is easily threatened by unintended bias and often deliberate “spin” by adherents to conservative or liberal ideologues.

Although sound scientific theories are supported by strong statistical probabilities, scientists must continually emphasize to the layperson that there is no such thing as “settled science.”  It follows that modern science and culture should greatly value and pursue good science, a claim that I have made in a previous article, Conscience of Science: Part 2 Do Museums Make Us Muse?  I have defined good science as the dynamic, self-correcting pursuit of truth that tries to avoid error caused by experimental bias, personal bias, or political influence.
International Prototype Kilogram (IPK)
housed in Sèvres, France
To briefly underscore that science is tentative and not “settled,” let’s consider one aspect of the natural sciences that has been “settled”--the standards of weights and measure. While science may argue about the precise speed of light in meters per second, there should be no argument about the precise length of 1 standard meter.  Because the precise units of distance, mass, temperature, etc. are considered universally “settled,” uncertainties attributable to error in quantitative measurement are minimized as long as measuring devices and statistical sampling are employed properly.  It follows that more attention can then be directed at the hypothesis-testing part of science which is not “settled” because hypotheses can never be “proven.”  Scientific claims are accepted only so long as another experiment does not falsify supporting data.

Because of the complexity of the sciences, the great influence of science upon the American economy and culture, and the controversial nature of our contemporary political arena, it is no surprise that not all scientists accept a role as advocates in the public arena.  This notion brings us to the ethical consideration, the last of my four considerations in deciding whether or not one should join in the March for Science.

4.   The Ethical Conscience of Science
Science must shape policy.  Science is universal.  Science brings out the best in us.  With an informed, optimistic view of the future together, we can (Dare I say it?) SAVE THE WORLD! 
These are the words of Bill Nye, host of the PBS children’s science show, Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Nye spoke this morning at the March for Science gathering in Washington, DC. 
Bill Nye, the Science Guy:  "...we can save the world"

I sharply disagree with Mr. Nye.  Science without ethics would more nearly destroy the world than save it!   Science and technology have given us sharp tools, firearms, atomic energy, and drugs.  Where technology has sought to apply these tools for destructive means, millions have died.

 As I have pointed out in Part 1 of this series, “good science” is conscientious about being objective, cautious, humble, and unbiased in a culture that can easily bring bias and elicit unethical behavior.  In short, “good science” has a conscience ((Latin, conscientia = “knowledge of right and wrong within oneself”).  David Resnick, author of The Ethics of Science: AnIntroduction (Routledge), lists as the first three principles of scientific ethics: honesty, carefulness, and openness.

Is it ethical for scientists to utilize their professional status to support a specific policy or political initiative?  For example, should climatologists agree to an invitation to add their name to a list of signatories in support of limiting human-caused climate change?  John Kotcher and colleagues at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia attempted to address this question with a randomized survey of 1,235 Americans. Most respondents did not rate a fictitious climate scientist as less credible after hearing the scientist advocate for specific public policies.  The researchers concluded that climate scientists who wish to engage in certain forms of advocacy have considerable latitude to do so without risking harm to their credibility or the credibility of the scientific community.

Robert Lackey, a former senior biologist with the US Environmental Protection Agency, now in ecological policy and natural resource management at Oregon State University, disagrees with Kotcher :  If your day job is science and your night job is policy advocacy, why would I trust your day job?  Having worked in the environmental sciences for 50 years, Lackey has seen a steady erosion of the credibility of scientists. Lackey agrees that scientists have an important role in objectively informing the public of the facts, but the scientist who advocates for a given policy threatens to take public policy from the hands of the people.  He adds, You have to be careful here, because you end up in a debate over a technocracy versus a democracy.

Hastening to conclude this article while it is still Earth Day, I believe I have at least begun to make the case that the role of the scientist is better served by doing what scientists can do best:  striving to conduct his or her research while being honest, objective, careful, and humble; then, publishing conclusions in an objective, clear manner through print and digital platforms that are suited to others with expertise in decision making and formulation of policy. 

Knowing that there are up and coming Christian scholars in science like Kaytlin Goodwin, I have confidence in a future for the sciences when influenced by individuals with godly wisdom and integrity.  As a young advocate for both environmental stewardship and the importance of improved communication between scientists and laypeople, Kaytlin offers a positive way forward as applied to her field, the environmental sciences when she writes, If scientists and environmental educators can find ways to effectively communicate the relevance and importance of environmental issues, lasting change will be possible.  As Christians, we are especially responsible to teach others about the God-given value of the environment.

References:
I realize that this subject undertaken here is beyond the scope of this article and extends beyond my expertise.  However, I hope we have raised some worthwhile points for consideration and provided some references for further reading.

Brossard, D. (2013). New media landscapes and the science information consumer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (Supplement 3), 14096-- 14101.

Nisbet, Matthew C., et al. "Americans' attitudes about science and technology: The social context for public communication." Commissioned Review (2016). To read, click HERE

National Science Board (2014). Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation.

Pew Research Center (2015).  A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science. Washington, DC.

“Will a March Help Science?”  The Scientist (Feb. 2, 2017)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Seeing the World in A New Light

Today, many of us pause to remember the sacrifice of God's perfect Lamb, His Son Jesus Christ, to bear the sins of all mankind.  All we have to do is surrender our pride, realize that we are not saved by our good works--being nice, going to church, or giving to the poor.  Instead, we are saved so that we can have a "true love relationship" with our Creator God; then, He will help us do those good works by giving us His love for Him and our neighbor.  As John 3: 16 teaches us, we need only to receive God’s gift of salvation by faith.  As the hymn-writer, Isaac Watts, expressed it,

At the Cross--The Burden of my sin rolled away.
At the cross, at the cross
where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

The Bible uses examples of blind people receiving their sight in order to teach us how God can heal our "spiritual blindness."  John's gospel, Chapter 9, is an excellent story of the man who was blind since birth, and whom Jesus healed so that he could see the world for the first time.  Then, it tells how the man received his "spiritual eyesight" when he realized Who Jesus really was.  Here is part of the conversation between JESUS and “the MAN” born blind:

JESUS:  "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
MAN:   "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?"
JESUS:  "You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you."
MAN:   "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped Him.

Notice that the man's experience was just as the hymn-writer recorded, “by faith I received my sight.”

Most people have what is considered "normal vision."  However, according to Looking Glass Optical, people who have Color Vision Deficiency (CVD) "may go through their lives not quite understanding the perception of color.  While they may be able to distinguish an array of shades, they will not be able to see specific colors."  Likewise, from God's perspective, human beings are spiritually blind until they are individually transformed by the power of His Spirit (Read 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6).  Like many who have CVD, their view of reality is diminished and they don't even realize it.

Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, "If you were blind [to spiritual things], you would have no sin [and would not be blamed for your unbelief]; but since you claim to have [spiritual] sight, [you have no excuse so] your sin and guilt remain (John 9:41 Amplified Bible).  Just as it is possible to be "spiritually blind" and not realize what it means to have the joy and peace of God in their lives, many who have CVD do not realize what they are missing in life.

Interestingly, Looking Glass Optical has now developed EnChroma glasses which have specialized lenses that filter out specific colors based on computer simulation"models that simulate colors and the extent of color vision deficiency."
  The result--people with CVD can experience color in a new way using these glasses.
Noll Stafford and family when his color vision was restored.

Perhaps you have seen the YouTube video of the 66-year-old Lakeland, Florida man, Noll Stafford, who recently received EnChroma glasses so he could see color for the first time.  Seeing the glorious colors of the world around him was overwhelming to him and he could only weep for joy. 

This Easter, many will receive their "spiritual sight" and see Jesus for Who He is for the first time--the Lamb Who took our punishment for sin, and then rose from the dead to give us joy, peace, and Everlasting Life, beginning now.  Like the blind man of John 9, some see Jesus as only a good man who does nice things like healing people.  After awhile, the man began to realize that Jesus was a great prophet (John 9:17).  But, eventually as the man’s conversation with Jesus above records, he came to “see” Jesus as his Lord and Savior (John 9: 35-38).  Jesus had given the man  not only his “physical eyesight” but his “spiritual eyesight.”  His life would never by the same; and, neither is ours when we personally meet Jesus.

How About You?  Maybe you would like to know more about how Jesus restores “spiritual eyesight.”   God’s “Good News” is summarized in a simple outline called “Steps to Peace with God” which explains God’s love, our predicament (sin and separation from God), what Jesus has done to address our predicament, and what you can do by faith to receive God’s righteousness (right standing with a Holy God).  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at silviusj@cedarville.edu  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday: Don’t Miss Jesus Today!

It’s Palm Sunday, the day many will once again celebrate an event approximately 2,000 years ago when Jesus rode on a donkey from the Mount of Olives down and across the Kidron Valley and up into the city of Jerusalem.   Crowds gathered along the rocky road to watch the spectacle of One Who had become known by many as a prophet.    Others saw Jesus as a miracle worker; and, still others as a heretic and trouble-maker within the Jewish religious establishment. 

Jesus, humbly riding on a donkey's colt
Sadly, most who gathered to watch the strange parade missed the significance of this special day; and, many misidentified the man riding humbly on the young donkey.  Some thought Jesus might be the One sent by God, the Messiah, to deliver Israel from oppressive Roman rule.  To them, this procession signaled that a political revolution was about to begin.  John 12: 13 records that many grabbed branches from nearby palm trees and began waving them.  Matthew, Jesus’ disciple who had been a tax collector for the Roman government records in his gospel that many in the crowd began crying

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
(Matthew 21:9)

As Jesus rode by, some took off their outer garments and placed them on the road in front of the donkey and rider as they would for a king.

Others in the crowd, especially the religious leaders, heard the “Hosanna’s,” saw the royal treatment and viewed it as a threat to the Jewish establishment which was already on shaky ground under the Roman rule.  They realized that this song, recorded in Psalm 118: 26, had been sung on many occasions over the past centuries of Jewish history as pilgrims made their way into Jerusalem.  Under Roman rule, such gatherings were viewed as attempted insurrections and were sometimes addressed with a violent show of force.  Therefore, the Jewish leaders called out, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ (Luke 19:39).  But, Jesus replied, I tell you . . . if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.(Luke 19:40).

How silly!  Who would dream that a man humbly dressed, riding on a donkey, could bring a new era of freedom from oppression?  Yet how many times in recent history have Christ-followers made the same mistake?  Many in the “Moral Majority” a few decades ago and others within the more recent “Tea Party” movement have placed their hopes for righteousness and peace in the rule of a political party, or in candidates who professed to be Christ-followers.  But, Jesus said within a few days of His triumphal ride into Jerusalem, My kingdom is not of this realm (John 18:36). 

Jesus had come to set up a spiritual kingdom within human hearts and minds—a kingdom in which we would worship and serve Him out of love for Him and for what He has done as the One Who died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit… (I Peter 3: 18).  Jesus came to deliver, not from political oppression but from spiritual oppression caused by the rule of the god of this world (i.e. Satan who) 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).

Jesus Christ came to Earth as Messiah, the “sent one” to become the ruling king of our very lives.  To accomplish that, Jesus came as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, just as John the Baptist had proclaimed when he introduced Jesus before His baptism (John 1: 29).

This Palm Sunday, let’s not miss Jesus for Who He really is—the coming King.  Jesus came seated on a donkey’s colt on that first Palm Sunday, just as the prophet Zechariah had prophesied centuries earlier (Zechariah 9: 9).   The crowd waving palm branches didn’t realize that they were watching the Lamb of God coming on “lamb selection day,” the day in which faithful Jew would select their spotless lambs to offer as a sacrifice for their sin.  His timing was perfect!   After all of these centuries of Jewish history and all of the blood of lambs, bulls, and goats that were offered to take away the sin of the world, we must now realize that, as Hebrews 10: 3-4 states,

in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

As the familiar song asks, and then answers,

“What can wash away my sins? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

This Palm Sunday, let us not be as so many in Jerusalem were on the first Palm Sunday, causing Jesus to pause along the procession, and from His humble donkey say through His tears,   Luke 19:41–47).

Jesus is still tenderly calling us.  Don't miss Jesus today!  Don't miss Him this Easter Season!

How About You?  If you would like to know more about the“Good News” or Gospel of Jesus Christ, 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





Monday, March 13, 2017

Life as It Ought to Be - Part 3: Set Free…to Lift Up Our Neighbor

Theme:   After investing over 50 years of my life as a student and teacher in the life sciences, I have been reflecting on how important it is for a teacher to help students realize their potential and then encouraging them to work toward professional maturity.   Spiritually speaking, we can learn much from the example of Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher.  Instead of “looking down” on people, Jesus aimed to “lift up” men and women toward spiritual maturity.  As a Christ-follower, I want to learn more about how to "lift people up." On that note, I will conclude this article with some detail on a ministry God has given me to three generations of men.
--------------
God saw His creation was "good" because it fulfilled His plan.
When I was a little child, I learned the wonderful truth that “God is good” (Psalm 73: 1).  Since then, I have been learning that all of God’s works are good (Psalm 107: 1).   In the very beginning, before God created the heavens and the earth, Jesus Christ Who is the Word of God, existed.  Within the mind of God the eternal “blueprint “of a “good creation” already existed.  Thus, when God had completed His work of creation, He saw it was good because it was the exact representation of His preconceived “blueprint.” Note that Genesis 1: 31 contains the last of seven affirmations recorded in Chapter 1 in which God proclaims the goodness and completeness of His creation.

Sadly, Satan’s intrusion into the Garden of Eden and the wrong moral choices of Adam and Eve brought sin and death, or separation from God (Genesis 3).  But God did not give up on His creation.  Since the fall, God has been doing another “good work”—the restoration of fallen humans.  The biblical narrative immediately after the fall records the first of God’s promises that “the seed of the woman” would deliver mankind from the bondage of sin (Genesis 3: 15). 

Today, we can proclaim the good news that “the Deliverer has come!”  His Name is Jesus Christ.   Jesus died on a Roman Cross and rose again to deliver from the dominion of sin and death all those who believe in His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 1-8).  But Christ came not only to deliver believers into Life Eternal, but also to offer them an Abundant Life here and now—i.e. “Life as It Ought to Be.” This Life is available to all believers who by the power of God’s Holy Spirit are saved to love and serve Him (“
Part 1: Set Free…to Serve”).  Spirit-led, Scripture-fed living also leads to renewal of the way we think (“Part 2: Set Free…to Renew Our Minds”).

In Part 2, I referred to a claim by Dr. Caroline Leaf that, next to God, the most powerful thing in the universe is the human mind.  How we think has major impact on our own lives and on how we relate to others.  One specific aspect of how we think about others relates to how we serve God and our neighbor.  Therefore, Part 3 of this series will combine the points made in the first two articles.  When we are “Set Free…to Serve” and “…to Renew our Minds,” we will respond to the Spirit’s call to “Lift Up Our Neighbor.”

Christ-followers who see others through His eyes and who love them as God loves them will be God’s instruments in their spiritual restoration.   Too often, we tend to “pigeon hole” others based on our estimation of their economic status, or education, or physical appearance.  As Christ-followers, we must realize that Jesus never viewed people in this way.   Just as He did before He created the heavens and the earth, Christ envisions each person not as they were but as they would be once they were following in His steps.

The Gospel accounts are full of instances in which Jesus lifted and transformed people into what He knew they could be as a Christ-follower.  Perhaps the best example is the transformation Jesus produced in Simon Peter.  The Gospel of John records that Simon’s brother, Andrew brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).
Jesus inspires people to strive to a higher level. (e.g. Simon Peter)
In giving Simon the name, “Peter”, meaning “the Rock,” Jesus was inviting Simon to view himself in a new light as a Christ-follower.  According to Mark Nelson, Senior Pastor of Crossroads Community Church, Auburndale, FL in his March 5 message, the name, “Peter” was a nickname something like today’s “Rocky.”  Simon’s new name required him to explain to his peers why he was suddenly being called “the Rock.” In the process of explaining his new name, “the Rock” would begin to grow into the strong, faithful leader Jesus foreknew Peter would become.

But Peter the Rock would have his faltering times like we encounter along our way.  After Peter’s bold assertion that he would lay down his life for Him (John 13: 37), Jesus told Peter that
a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times (John 13: 38).  Knowing all about Peter from the beginning of time, Jesus also lovingly explained to him that Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;  but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32)Jesus saw beyond Peter’s faltering faith to what He would become through the Spirit’s power as for example when Peter preached his powerful sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2: 14-47).

But what about people who reject any claim of God’s love in their lives?  Surely, there would seem to be no hope of their redemption and restoration.   However, we must remember that any person who is spiritually lost is infinitely separated from God regardless of their lifestyle.  Thankfully, God’s redemption plan has no limit.  For example, John 4 records that when Jesus and his disciples visited Jacob’s well in Samaria, his disciples saw a Samaritan woman.  To the Jews of that day, she was a member of a disdained ethnic minority to be avoided.  But, Jesus knew even more about her.  He knew she was living an immoral lifestyle.  In spite of what He knew of this Samaritan, Jesus saw her as a person who was very “thirsty.” So, He offered her “living water” (John 4: 10) and by faith, she allowed Jesus to quench her thirst.  Within a short time, this woman who had been hiding in shame from the public eye had left her water pot, and went into the city and said to the men, "Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?"

Psalm 107 reveals how God longs to redeem the “hungry soul” and the “thirsty soul:”

They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region...
They were hungry and thirsty;
Their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble;
He delivered them out of their distresses…
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul,
And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.

Jesus had another way of inviting people to “life as it ought to be:” He said, come unto Me all of you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest… (Matthew 11: 28).  A.W. Tozer comments that

“…Jesus was referring to the burden of the tuneless heart, the burden of the voiceless nightingale.  It was the burden of the heart capable of tremendous, infinite love, which could not find an object for that love.  It was the burden of the man whose tongue was made to praise God, but has been silent in his mouth for all these years.”  My Daily Pursuit. Regal, 2013. p. 72

The Bible repeatedly conveys God's aim of restoring prodigals.
The message of Scripture is clear—the redeemed who realize that they have been bought from the slave market of sin will want to share the good news.  In 2 Corinthians 5: 20, the Apostle Paul writes (emphasis mine), Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.   Paul himself was far from being a pagan, but when he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and was converted, he acquired a new zeal, driven by two motivations.

First, Paul had fallen in love with Jesus Christ and wanted to make Him known.  In 2 Corinthians 5: 14, he proclaims, …the love of Christ controls us...  Like many first century believers, Paul responded to Christ’s call-- you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). 

Second, I must remember that God is sovereign over the lives of men and women.  I must submit to His timing and His leading as to how and when to share the claims of Christ with my neighbor.  The passage quoted from Psalm 107 above teaches us that each person must first realize their hunger and thirst, and then cry out in repentance to God before he or she can be transformed.  The Psalmist is grieved when he considers people who are focused only on this life and have not yet made provision for their eternal existence after death:

For he sees that even wise men die;
The stupid and the senseless alike perish
And leave their wealth to others.
Their inner thought is that their houses are forever
And their dwelling places to all generations
… (Psalm 49: 10-11a)

During the past year, I have been privileged to share the message of Christ’s love in two different families, each representing three generations of men—a grandfather, his son, and his grandson.  By regularly committing these men to God for His work in their lives, I have received both a burden for their souls and at least some vision of what they could be once restored in Christ.  I know that I cannot pretend to know all of God’s ways as He works in the hearts of people, but I still pray that He will give me a glimpse of what they can be when complete in Christ.

The grandfather in one of the families is the man of whom I wrote in an earlier Oikonomia article entitled, Taking in the Treasures on the Towpath Trail.  In that article, I had described some of the botanical, cultural, and historic treasures I found along the Towpath Trail in my bicycle trip from Massillon to Bolivar, Ohio.  That particular trip was my third out of six visits with this man over a period of five months.  During each visit our friendship grew and he allowed me to present the biblical claims of God’s love and provision for forgiveness of his sin and subsequent peace with God through faith in Christ. 

After several visits, it became increasingly evident that this grandfather had not allowed any place for God in his busy life as a hard-working farmer.  Nor would he acknowledge his need of a Savior Who, according to Scripture, died on a Roman cross bearing the sins of us all.  When I asked him if he had a Bible in his home, he said his wife had had a Bible but must have put it back somewhere because he has not found it.  He apparently had not been searching for the Bible because his wife has been dead for over 20 years.  Nevertheless, during my next visit, I brought him two Bibles, both marked with sticky notes to highlight passages that present the Gospel of salvation.  On the next visit, he apologized for being too busy to read the verses I had marked.

On December 23, I visited this grandfather for a sixth time.  I read to him the account of the first Christmas from the Gospel of Luke.  I also explained how Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection is God’s greatest Gift to mankind to save us from our sins.  Then, I presented a fruit basket to him, explained that it is a gift from me, and asked him to receive it gladly just as God asks us to receive His Gift of salvation through Christ.  The hardness of his heart remained, even at this time when the spirit of Christmas was all around us.  Afterwards, I decided to end my visits to this man and to continue my prayers that He would reach for the Bibles and allow the message of God’s love to transform him.

After a period of over three months, on April 1, I decided to visit my friend again.  I found his home locked up and no one answered the door, so I called his son and his grandson.  I was stunned to learn from the grandson that his dad had found the grandfather (his father) lying dead in his home on Easter morning.  I also learned that the funeral service was scheduled for that afternoon just a couple of miles from the grandfather’s home.  I decided to attend.  I also hoped that God had used my ministry or that of another person in this man’s life since my Christmas visit.  If this had happened, the pastor in charge of the service would be able to report that my friend had humbly called upon God to clothe him in His righteousness in Christ before he faced eternity when he died on that Easter morning the week before. 

I thanked God for making it possible for me to attend my friend’s funeral in spite of the fact that I had been unaware of his death until that morning.  I was also thankful for the opportunity to greet his family, including his son and grandson.  Unfortunately, the pastor gave no indication that my friend had trusted Christ to lift his burden of sin and present him spotless before the throne of the Father.  Although it is not possible for me to be sure of his eternal destiny, I was not encouraged by the pastor’s “assurance” that my friend had earned his place in heaven because he was a good farmer and cared for his family. 

I must remember that my friend’s eternal destiny is in God’s hands.  Was my bicycle trip down the Towpath Trail months earlier to share the Gospel all in vain?  Were my five other visits all in vain?  I don’t think so, but only time will tell.  Certainly, I realize that it is ultimately God Who transforms lives.  Our role is to humbly share God’s treasure, the light of His glorious Gospel which we have in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…(2 Corinthians 4: 7).  Meanwhile, I am building friendships with my now-deceased friend’s son, grandson, and family.   With God’s help, I am learning to view these men and their family members through the eyes of Christ Who can transform us all into His image according to His plan so that we can each live “Life As It Ought to Be.”

How About You?   I welcome you to share your favorite characters or events from Scripture to illustrate God’s transforming work for good.   Or maybe you have your own personal experience of being present when God transformed the life of one of your family or friends.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Shaping the Future of America

 
Last night another history-making announcement came to us when President Trump announced his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant position on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Thus begins what may be weeks or months of deliberation and bantering between those who approve and those who oppose his nomination.  

As I have thought about President Trump’s pick, I began to wonder if there are any points on which most supporters and opponents could agree.  Here is what I have come up with so far, and feel free to add or comment:

1.   Americans should agree that President Trump’s pick is really his attempt to keep his promise to voters who elected him to the presidency in November.  NOTE:  Those who still deny Trump’s legitimacy to hold the office of the presidency because he did not garner a majority of the popular vote should remember that he was legitimately elected according to the Constitution.

2.  Americans should not be surprised by the president’s nominee because Justice Gorsuch’s name was on Trump’s list of possible nominees which he provided early in the campaign.  Indeed, President Trump’s promise was to nominate a justice like the late Justice Antonin Scalia  who would interpret the Constitution and not legislate new law from the bench.

3.   Americans who take time to read up on the education and experience of Justice Gorsuch ought to agree that he is imminently qualified to serve on the High Court.  If you agree, you are joining the ranks of U.S. senators including Democratic senators Biden, Clinton, Schumer, Feinstein, and Obama who participated in a unanimous confirmation of Gorsuch to serve on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2006.

4.   Americans who have studied the history of our nation’s founding and who understand the importance, even the brilliance, of having a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government, ought to agree that in recent years we have witnessed an erosion of the intended authority of the Supreme Court.  Justices of the High Court are supposed to objectively interpret the Constitution and not be swayed by personal preference or the will of the people.  Instead, our Founding Fathers intended that the will of the people be expressed through elected legislators and senators.   But in recent  years, liberal justices on the Supreme Court have viewed the Constitution as an evolving document that ought to be subject to the changing morality of American society.  Result: rulings from the Court have foisted moral and social changes upon American culture against the will of the majority of Americans.  These include rulings that affirmed the right of the mother to dismiss the rights of her unborn child through abortion (Roe v. Wade, 1973) and the ruling in 2015 that redefined marriage to include marriage between two individuals of the same gender (Obergefell v. Hodges).  In both cases, the Court decision left behind the muddy, stormy waters of division and angry protests across our land.

5.   Americans ought to agree that the notion of “legislating from the bench” is not always easy to define or detect.  While conservatives who usually support “legislating from the bench” generally define it as overriding the will of democratically elected representatives in the legislative and executive branches, Mark Bennett, Houston criminal defense lawyer and author of the blog, Defending People claims he has a more objective test when he writes:

The test for real judicial activism is this: absent judicial review, would the result have been different? This definition and this test have the virtue of not being in the eye of the beholder. Whether the courts have allowed the other branches to do what they want is easy to determine.

Bennett goes on to evaluate landmark Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade and Dred Scott v. Sanford using his definition.   Although the tone of his 2009 blog article, “Legislating Policy from the Bench: Five Examples” was a bit harsh to me, I found it instructive, which leads me to my sixth (the number signifying “incomplete;” I know--and so is this analysis) and final point.

6.  Americans ought to agree that the U.S. Senate decision on whether or not to appoint Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court will have major influence on the landscape of American culture.  We ought also to agree that this time of senate deliberation ought to be a time for serious study of both the man and the role he is being appointed to play in our justice system.  We all ought to ask, “What kind of America do we want for the future?”  Furthermore, those of us who believe in the sovereignty of God Who is the Author of all rights and all authority ought to commit to regular and reverent prayer.  

Personally, as I consider our desperate need for integrity in all of our halls of government, I must recognize that my own heart is deceitfully flawed (Jeremiah 17: 9), rebellious by default, and in need of constant reproof, correction, and training in righteousness through the Word of God (2 Timothy 3: 16) and the instruction of godly friends, teachers, and mentors (2 Timothy 2: 2). 

As we pray for wisdom for our leaders and for ourselves, what better place to go than to the Book of Proverbs.  Here is just one relevant sample from Proverbs 14: 33-35:

Wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding,
But in the hearts of fools it is made known.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a disgrace to any people.
The king's favor is toward a servant who acts wisely,
But his anger is toward him who acts shamefully.


When I consider our need for wisdom as a nation of diverse ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, I want to try to empathize with those whose life is very different from mine; but who also seek representation in our great nation.  Here are some particular examples of those I want to remember and learn to possess more compassion toward:

1.    I want to remember those who are devastated because their presidential candidate did not win the November election and who are fearful of what their future holds. 

2.   I want to understand how many who feel forgotten in “the American dream” would see the need to change America into a society where they can have another chance at life, but possibly themselves forgetting that with rights come responsibilities to family, neighbor, and to God. 

3.   I want to try to empathize with the woman who has chosen to abort at least one child, or the father of that child, both of whom may bear a weight of guilt. 

4.  I want to love and encourage those who have never known the love of two parents, many of whom may be very confused about their sexuality either because they have not had mom and dad to love them into maturity or because they have been sexually abused.  

5.   I also want to understand more of the hate that weighs upon those who hate people of faith, including Christian leaders in our churches, schools, and government whom they blame for the guilt they bear.

In order to be more compassionate toward others and  “practice what I preach,” I must remember Micah 6: 8 (emphasis mine),

He [God[has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

How about You?  What about this article has helped you think more clearly about this momentous time?   Where do you disagree or wish to add your thoughts?   I’d love to read your responses—just  use the “Comment” box.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Born to Be Gardeners

Azalea planting at Secrest Arboretum, Wooster, OH
This past week, I fulfilled an invitation of The Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) Program to speak to a group of volunteers at the Secrest Arboretum on the campus of The USU-Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, here in Wooster, OH.   The mission of the MGV program is to educate others with timely research-based gardening information.  Qualifications of successful applicants are very clear:  One must

·         want to learn more about plants and gardening
·         be eager to participate in training
·         have a passion for sharing what you learn
·         have time/willingness to attend training and serve your community

Early arriving MGV's in the Miller Pavilion, Secrest Arboretum
This four-point progression provides an important message for qualifying MGV candidates.  The MGV program wants volunteers who are teachable, participatory, passionate, and unselfishly service-oriented.  These qualities were evident in the enthusiastic participation of the volunteers who composed my audience.  Knowing the spirit of Paul Snyder, program assistant at Secrest Arboretum, I was not surprised by the quality of these volunteers.  Their vocations, representing such diverse fields as education, law enforcement, farming, and industry made for interesting points of discussion during my presentation.

With Paul Snyder, Secrest Arboretum
Paul had charged me with presenting “my passion” for prairies, prairie plants, and prairie restoration.  Because of the mission and qualifications for the Master Gardener program, I devoted some discussion to the notion of how a robust environmental ethic can help us value the world around us and motivate us to invest our time, energy, and passion as gardeners or habitat restorationists. 

I began by explaining that my passion for prairies is based on the Judeo-Christian teachings about gardening and restoration.  [I’ll elaborate a bit more here than in my talk to the MGV.] The Scriptures in Genesis 1 and 2 provide the following foundation blocks for a biblical stewardship environmental ethic:

1.   What many call “the natural world” originated by God’s creative acts and it belongs to Him. 
2.   God, the Owner of creation, appointed humankind as stewards or managers (Gen. 2: 15).
3.   Because God loves His creation and has benevolent purposes for it, our stewardship must reflect our best attempts though good science and sound ethics to “serve with,” or con-serve creation so that God’s purposes for humankind and all of creation are realized. 
4.  A gardener or restorationist who possesses an awareness of God’s purposes at work in the intricacies of living creatures—nutrition, growth, development, reproduction, and adaptation to environment—possesses a more objective and comprehensive ethic or basis for valuing creation, loving God’s creation, and justifying efforts to promote the flourishing of creation and mankind’s relationship to it and ultimately, to God.


Prairie remnants can expand into set-aside farm fields.
After this introduction, I presented the past geologic and human historic factors that explain the origin and current condition of the North American Prairie (See “History is Important.”).   Sadly, the extensive prairies of North America exist now only as very fragmented remnants surrounded by extensive agricultural and urban development.  It is these prairie remnants that prairie restorationists attempt to conserve by managing against the encroachment of woody plants and agricultural weeds. (See “Serving with Our Neighbor.”)

Naturally, a discussion that disparages weeds and values native plants is based on value judgments.  So, why are native plants more valuable than weeds?  The short answer is that “native” animal and plant species are those that resided in the “natural” landscape prior to human settlement within the North American prairie system.  But, this answer raises another question—what do we mean by “natural?”  Did “natural” biotic communities exist until European-American settlers entered the land?  Or, had Native Americans already altered “natural” communities many centuries earlier by setting fires to promote grazing or to burn the villages of enemy tribes?
Considerations used to distinguish gardening from restoration
The discussion of what is “natural” led us to ask whether the typical practice of gardening is any different from the practice of those who manage prairie remnants or who attempt to restore prairie communities on “unnatural” landscapes.  For example, how is the effort we undertook at Cedarville University to restore a prairie on tilled agricultural land any different from the actions of a gardener or farmer establishing a garden of flowers or field of corn?  We used a graphic that lists considerations associated with gardening and prairie restoration to determine if there are substantial differences between the two.  Although some restorationists may suggest that the considerations toward the right side of the graphic are given higher priority by restoration efforts, some gardeners may employ these as well if they are ecologically and conservation minded. 

Is a prairie restoration in a former cornfield a type of "garden?"
Stuart Allison cites the writing of Moore and co-authors in The Poetics of Gardens (MIT, 1988) and concludes there is no difference between restoration and gardening.  He writes (emphasis mine), I think that "gardening" is the perfect word to describe what restorationists are doing because it emphasizes the personal relationship between individual humans and the land. Allison follows with this conclusion:

The hangup some environmental philosophers express about whether restorations are natural or not, or even whether the natural still exists, misses the point.  The connection between humans and the environment is real and cannot be denied. The fact that the relationship is not working well cannot be denied, either.

Allison’s conclusion resonates with the biblical environmental stewardship ethic because both acknowledge the malfunction in the relationship between humans and creation.  The Scriptures explain this malfunction in Genesis 3.  Because of humankind’s rebellion against God, the fall and curse upon creation has marred human ability to follow perfectly the Dominion-Stewardship Mandate issued by God (Genesis 1: 28).  However, Christ, the second Adam, came to Earth, died for the sins of mankind and was raised victorious over death to redeem us from the wages of sin and provide reconciliation between God and mankind, and between mankind and creation (Colossians 1: 13-20). 

The “Good News,” or the Gospel, is the message that God now offers “spiritual restoration” to all who will accept by faith in Christ the free gift of reconciliation .  God has called those He has redeemed and restored by faith to become gardeners and “restorationists” through appropriate ministry in the lives of others who have not heard or believed the Gospel.  As Adam was commanded to “serve and keep the Garden” so Christian believers today are called to follow the second Adam in His Great Commission to make disciples from the fallen and dying (Matthew 28: 18-20).


Gardening in Great Commission
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8: 19-21 that the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God [and was] subjected to futility… in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  Whereas, Adam had rebelled against his assignment as a gardener, God reissued the gardening assignment through His Great Commission to born again disciples of Christ.  The Apostle Paul uses the “gardening metaphor” for the Great Commission when he writes in 1 Corinthians 3: 6:   I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the [spiritual] growth.

We have seen that gardening and restoration have similar aims in the physical world of creation.   They also make excellent metaphors for the human responsibility of submitting to God in the service of the Great Commission in which we serve as gardeners to sow seed and water it with the aim of bringing a harvest of new believers and nurturing them in the faith.  Because of the closeness of physical gardening to the notion of spiritual gardening, I believe the practice of gardening can teach valuable lessons in spiritual growth and maturity.  I can testify of the role of gardening in my life while I was growing up on our farm.


One of several cantaloupe fields on the Silvius farms
My father, Bert Silvius, was a farmer and a gardener.  Each year on our 200 acres of farmland, he would lead us in the planting, hoeing, weeding, and harvesting of about 4 acres of cantaloupes.  If you can picture 1 acre, you will realize we had one large garden!  Lots of hours of manual labor were required, but I am thankful for the spiritual lessons I learned in the process.  Early in the spring we planned for the dates of planting, tilled the soil, planted the seed in hundreds of “hills,” and then, depended on the weather to bring germination with the help of “hotcaps” that protected the young seedlings against frost.  When the seedlings reached an inch or more in height, we sliced open the paper hotcaps to allow adjustment to cooler temperatures, then eventually removed the hotcaps and thinned the seedlings several times, ending up with one healthy plant per original hill.  Then came at least two summer months of hoeing, weeding, and spraying while anticipating the first delicious ripe melons.  Throughout the sweaty and often tedious gardening effort, I leaned the character qualities of orderliness, patience, responsibility, cooperation, unselfishness, and dependence on God for the ultimate harvest.


Bradley & Mindy growing a prize pumpkin.
Gardening was not only spiritually rewarding in my own development as a young man but it became important in teaching a work ethic in my own family years later.  My wife and I who both gained from our gardening backgrounds were able to pass along the same character development experience in gardening to our children.  Even though our family garden was much smaller than the 4 acre-garden of my younger days, our children dreaded the labor no less than I.  However, we all have many good memories of those days of planning, planting, watering, harvesting, and enjoying the delicious fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden.

And so last week, many years after my boyhood days of gardening, and many years after our young family had gardened together, I stood and spoke to Master Gardener Volunteers in the Miller Pavilion of Secrest Arboretum.  As we discussed the benefits of gardening, not only to the landscape but to the gardeners themselves, I looked out of the pavilion and thanked God for my dad and mom who many years before had brought my siblings and I to Secrest Arboretum to enjoy the garden plants and trees. 

Speaking of the physical dimension of gardening and restoration, Stuart Allison writes,

There are many items on the plate of restorationists, but the most important item must be the restoration of that human-environment relationship.  Without that restoration, none of our other efforts will matter.

As we engage in wise gardening and restoration, we are acting out God’s metaphor for our stewardship responsibility to His creation.  All the while we are cultivating and restoring our relationship to God and creation.   Finally, as our family learned and as I have experienced in working with students over the years, gardening and restoration work provide an excellent opportunity to develop godly character qualities that will last for a lifetime.

Gardening and Restoration Websites:



   Ohio Prairie Association (Explore many helpful links) 
   God as Gardener (Psalm 80: 7-9); God like Garden Soil (Isaiah 61: 11)

How about You:   Perhaps you’d like to respond with a “Comment” about how gardening has played a role in your life or with your family; or, share more insights from Scripture on garden, gardening, and restoration metaphors.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Life as It Ought to Be - Part 2: Set Free…to Renew Our Minds

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day and many Americans will be watching as Donald John Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.  But indications are that America has never been more divided at any time since the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, in 1861, near the beginning of the Civil War.  Voices of opposition and distain for Trump are heard from people representing the sciences, politics, human rights groups, and the entertainment industry.  Here is a sampling:

America was also divided in 1861 at Lincoln's first inauguration.
I am literally on a remote tropical island and I, even I, don't feel safe. – Hollie Smith (singer-songwriter) 

Having a person in the position of U.S. President who does not acknowledge scientific facts establishing the clear reality of human-caused climate change is a disgrace
. -- Dr. Twila Moon, (University of Bristol)

We will fight to make sure that Planned Parenthood health center doors stay open, and that people in this country can get access to basic reproductive health care
…   Cecile Richards (president, Planned Parenthood)

The world will never be the same.  – Cher (singer-actress)

Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans.  If Trump wants to roll back the tide of hate he unleashed, he has a tremendous amount of work to do and he must begin immediately
.  -- Harry Reid (U.S. Senate, (D) Nev.)

We've let a hatemonger lead our great nation.  We've let a bully set our course.  I'm devastated
.  -- Chris Evans (actor—“Captain America”)

The battle of angry words and rude behavior between Election 2016 winners and losers has continued right up to Inauguration Day.  Thanks to the internet, these angry expressions are broadcasted far and wide.  Occasionally, President-elect Trump throws fuel into the fire with angry tweets of his own.

What makes us act this way?  The cause is not Donald Trump.  Nor is it the two-party system; or, the internet.  The cause is not even fear of “losing our rights”—e.g. reproductive rights, gender rights, voting rights, health benefits, welfare entitlements, government job security, etc.  The ultimate cause lies deep within the human hearti.e. the mental frameworks of logic and values each person has constructed with their mind.

 
When we are honest with ourselves, we admit we have personal struggles with pride, lust, and deceit.  These in turn influence our moral beliefs and hence how we think about the social and economic issues listed above.  Regardless of our stand on these issues, many of us experience fear and angst over how the new administration will influence our future.  When we reflect on the violence and destruction throughout human history we realize that humans are not naturally “good-at-heart,” or should I say, “good-at-mind.”  The Bible states, there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3: 10).  And, the Apostle James asks (James 4: 1), What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?  Scripture answers immediately-- Because of your lusts that war in your members.
   
All of us have to deal with lust, an intense desire for something that is not rightfully ours to have.  Although many including Google mistakenly limit lust to “sexual desire,” it applies more broadly to any inordinate desire. We may lust for things like food, wealth, fame, intellectual prowess, or power.  The root of the problem is not that sex, food, guns, or fame are bad.  Instead, it is the way we think about these gifts of God.  What’s worse, we can use our minds and thought processes to deceive ourselves into believing that we don’t lust, or at least not very much.  As the prophet Jeremiah explains (Jeremiah 17: 9 NET), the human mind is more deceitful than anything else.  It is incurably bad.  Who can understand it?

Thankfully, God’s moral revelation in Scripture comes to us with the Spirit and power to help us attack the root of the problem within our minds.  In Part 1 of “Life as It Ought to Be,” we emphasized how God has power to “set us free….to serve Him.”  As the Apostle Peter writes (1 Peter 3:18), For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…  Sin, is rebellion against God as a result of the prideful, lustful, and deceitful ways of thinking in our minds.  But sin does not need to have dominion over us.  Paul writes in Romans 8: 10, If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

In Part 1, we explained how God sets the sinner free from sin’s mastery and gives the person of faith His Holy Spirit to reside within as a “New Master.” The “old master,” representing sin, selfishness, and Satan can now be brought under the righteous authority of God’s Spirit.  But, as a believer, I must submit to God’s Spirit as His Word tells me to …consider yourself dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus…[not allowing] sin [to] reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts...(Romans 6: 11-12).  Specifically, I must recognize that I cannot serve two masters.  My “death to the old master” representing sin, as expressed in pride, lust, and deceit becomes reality as I submit to my New Master, Jesus Christ.  Romans 12: 1-2 describes what God asks me to do daily (emphasis mine):   


present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not [let your mind and thinking] be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Notice that our responsibility is to continually allow God’s Spirit through His Word to renew our minds so that our wills are attuned to God’s will.  Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and audiologist has conducted research for years in the field of cognitive neuroscience.  She believes that God created our minds in His image and has given us the “free will” to choose how we will think and react to our circumstances.  Dr. Leaf writes in her book entitled Switch on Your Brain (Baker Books, 2013):   



Your mind is the most powerful thing in the universe after God, and indeed fashioned after God.  Free will and choice are real, spiritual, and scientific facts. Your mind (soul) has one foot in the door of the spirit and one foot in the door of the body; you can change your brain with your mind and essentially renew your mind.

Dr. Leaf rejects the view that the human brain is hard-wired and unchangeable, a view that gained popularity in the 1980’s.  She has based her research on her insights gained from the Scriptures such as Romans 12: 2 in which God commands us to be transformed by the renewing of your mind and Deuteronomy 30: 19 in which God lovingly invites us to choose life in order that you may live….  Dr. Leaf reasons correctly that God would not ask His image bearers to exercise choice if He had not created us with brains that have the neurological capacity to change, and with the free will to make right choices that in turn help build healthy brains.  



In a future article, we will address more specifically how our mind can affect the status of our brain and in turn how we think when we use our God-given free will to make right decisions through the power of His Spirit and the guidance of His Word.   But for now, notice how James 4: 5-10 reveals the blessed benefit of submitting our minds to God’s will.  When we submit to God, we realize that His Spirit is actually longing for relationship with us.  What’s more God wants us to turn our longings back to Him as our Creator.  Listen to God’s loving mind speaking out to our minds (emphasis mine):

Or do you think the Scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning”?  But he gives greater grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”  So submit to God.  But resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and make your hearts pure, you double-minded Grieve, mourn, and weep.  Turn your laughter into mourning and your joy into despair.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

How does a God Who created mankind explain the current division in America, and the divisions and strife around the world?  As we have explained, God’s Word tells us that our minds are naturally prideful, corrupt, and prone to lust or desire that which we do not have.  Therefore, God’s Spirit desires that each person submit to Him and allow their minds to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that each will know what God’s will is for them.  The above challenge from the Apostle James seems very pertinent to this year’s politics.  It is the prideful, lustful, deceitful mind that causes the outpouring of prideful speech and actions.  Our only remedy is to allow God’s Spirit through His Word to go deep into our system of thought, causing repentance (change of heart/mind), submission to God, and confession of sin.  These actions bring New Life in Christ for the unbeliever, and they bring regular renewal and spiritual growth to the Christ-follower. 

If all goes as planned, tomorrow Donald J. Trump will be our new president.  Life will not immediately be “as it ought to be.”  But, if we take to heart the instructions of the Apostle James to submit to God Who will help us resist the devil, God will enable us to replace our own tendency toward divisiveness, anger, and rudeness with the virtues like patience, kindness, and self-control.   We can then be a much-needed, fresh aroma in our struggling homes, schools, workplaces, and churches.  The inspired Word written in a letter by the Apostle Paul to Titus during harsh times of the Roman Empire ought to encourage us to be thankful for the privilege of watching the inauguration and then praying for the Trump family and his new administration (emphasis mine):

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.  For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that being justified by His grace we would be mad heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
– Titus 3:1-7
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How about You?   If after reading this article, you sense that you need to do some mind and soul searching, here is a suggestion.  Read Part 1 of this series and prayerfully consider and apply the “four disciplines” outlined there to assure our daily submission to the “New Master.”  They were (1) forging ahead for God while confessing and forgetting past failings; and, being disciplined to (2) feed on God’s Word, (3) adopt a lifestyle of prayer and repentance, and (4) seek fellowship regularly with fellow believers.  If you have particular questions or comments, please use the “Comment” box below or e-mail me at silviusj@gmail.com