Friday, March 26, 2021

Pondering Christ’s Passion During Passion Week

When you think of Palm Sunday, what images or words come to mind?   Many of us have vivid mental pictures etched there from our childhood experiences with crafts, skits, or video portrayals.   We may have a picturesque image of Jesus riding on a colt, and with His followers cheering along His procession while waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! and “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD…” (Psalm 118: 26; Luke 19: 38).  But do our mental images of Palm Sunday accurately portray the passionate heart of God on that Sunday before the crucifixion of Christ and His Resurrection three day later?  

The “Passion” of Christ is often rightly focused on His suffering and death on the cross.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word passion can also mean “an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.”  This more deeply defined passion arises when one's conviction toward a belief or purpose, or love for a person is so intense that he or she is willing to suffer and die if necessary.  

According to the Scriptures, God’s love for the world was so passionate that He was willing to suffer and die to provide for its redemption and restoration (John 3: 16).  Below, you will find seven short devotional meditations that focus on the passion of Jesus Christ leading up to and including Palm Sunday.  We hope these meditations will deepen you love and passion for God as you use them during the coming days of Passion Week.

Day 1
“Jesus Was Going On Ahead”
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden [of Eden] in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 8-9).  
Adam and Eve chose the promised pleasure of eating the one forbidden fruit which resulted in broken fellowship with their Divine Creator.  But immediately, God’s passionate love moved Him to open a Way to restore mankind from the slavery of sin and death.  Hebrews 1: 1-3 summarizes how God…spoke long ago to the fathers [e.g. Abraham and the other patriarchs, and the nation Israel], in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son[Jesus Christ] through whom God created the world.   Jesus is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  God’s loving plan to redeem mankind was the driving purpose of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Even as a boy twelve years of age, when His parents, Mary and Joseph, thought they had lost Him, Jesus asked, Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business (Luke 2: 49)?  His Father’s loving pursuit passionately compelled the ministry of Jesus throughout His life.  As His death was drawing near, Jesus stopped in the city of Jericho where He transformed the life of the chief tax collector, Zaccheus (Luke 19: 1-10).  There, Jesus repeated His mission:  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19: 10).  God’s mission through Christ is still to restore lost people and His broken creation.

Consider:  When they were leaving Jericho, Mark 10: 32-34 and Luke 19: 28 reveal that Jesus was walking on ahead of them… walking resolutely to the place where He would be crucified.  Imagine that!  Three days later, Jesus rose again to provide  Eternal Life for all who would believe (John 3: 16).
Ask Yourself:  Can I imagine Jesus walking ahead?  Do I understand the depth of God’s love as shown in these verses?  Have I received God’s Gift of Eternal Life?  If so, am I “on mission” to know and do my Father’s will?

Day 2 “Ascending to Jerusalem”
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40: 3)

It was customary in the eastern culture for servants to prepare the highway for a visiting king and his entourage.  The prophet Zachariah had written 5 centuries earlier, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9: 9).  But the highway that Jesus chose to travel to Zion was anything smooth and pleasant.  After His ministry to Zaccheus the tax collector, Jesus led the way out of the city of Jericho.  Interestingly, Jericho is the oldest city on Earth and is located west of the Jordan River at an elevation of 860 feet below sea level!  This means that for Jesus to “ascend to Jerusalem” (Luke 19: 28) He would need to walk approximately 17 miles on a steep, winding, and often dangerous road through desert terrain leading upward through an elevational change of 3,500 feet!  If that were not enough, Jesus was bearing the weight of comforting his disciples while knowing His suffering and death were immanent (See Mark 10: 32-34).
Video of a Jericho Road Trip:  See link HERE
Consider:  What steep and challenging path are you walking today?  Why are you on this path?
Ask Yourself:  Am I walking the path on which God has placed me?  Am I relying on His Spirit, my Helper and Comforter, to guide me along?   See John 14: 15-17; 26-27.


Day 3 “You Will Find a Colt”
Jesus said, Go into the village opposite you, in which as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it, and bring it here (Luke 19: 30).
Our two meditations so far have focused on how purposeful Jesus was in setting out a long and difficult ascent to Jerusalem, the “city of God” on Mount Zion.  Now we learn from the Scripture above that Jesus had already planned ahead for His “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem.  He had prearranged to borrow a colt on which to ride.  When He asked His disciples to go bring the colt, Jesus, our Messiah, was fulfilling a prophecy from centuries before (Zechariah 9: 9).  At the same time, Jesus reveals that He is a God of order, planning, and purpose.  The God who planned and created the universe is the same God who revealed His plan from the beginning of human history to redeem us and restore all of His creation from the ravages of sin.
Consider:  Have you realized that God is not only purposeful but that He knows the future and is now bringing about His plans and purposes just as He did on the first Palm Sunday?
Ask Yourself:  Is my relationship with God such that I am assured of His love, plans, and purposes for my life?   See God’s promise in Jeremiah 29: 11-13, For I know the plans that I have for you ….


Day 4 “The Lord Has Need of It”
And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it (Luke 19: 33-34).”
To accomplish the plan for His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus evidently had arranged with the owner of the colt to lend it to the two disciples who would use the code phrase, “The Lord has need of it.”  Here, we see a glimpse of the God who planned, created, sustains, and owns the universe now has planned to borrow transportation to ride to His sacrificial death.  Here, the Mighty God empties Himself to the point of having to humbly borrow a lowly donkey on which to ride into the city where He would eventually give His sinless life in exchange for yours and mine.
Consider:  How wonderful and awesome is this God, Jehovah, Creator and Owner of the universe, that He “had need of a colt” for transportation?   How humble and unrecognized was the kindness of the colt’s owner to have said “yes” to those who came to get the colt?
Ask Yourself:  What current “need” might God be asking me to address, even “to the least of His brothers and sisters (Matthew 25: 40).”  What gifts and abilities has God given me to share as His steward?  See 1 Corinthians 4: 1-2.


Day 5 “Hosanna,” [or] ‘Save Us Now’
“Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD (Matthew 21: 9)
In a bold, preplanned move, God’s Messiah, the popular “prophet Jesus” enters Jerusalem, riding on a colt.  Meanwhile, He has a price on his head (John 11: 57).  But rather than slipping into the city unnoticed, or entering on a white horse like a conquering king, Jesus rides in on a lowly donkey.  His disciples join the odd procession, praising God, waving palm branches, and shouting, “Hosanna!”  To the nation Israel oppressed under the iron hand of Roman rule, “Hosanna” meant “save us now from the Romans.”  The Jewish leaders urged Jesus to silence His followers out of fear that the Romans would violently squelch the gathering.  But Jesus had repeatedly taught that, “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18: 36).”  Unknowingly, the multitudes were observing the beginning of the climax of God’s restoration of His groaning creation.  The meek leader on a borrowed colt was about to give His life, be buried in a borrowed tomb, then rise again to establish His spiritual kingdom.  This kingdom would outlive the Roman Empire and eventually inaugurate Jesus’ reign on Earth as King of Kings for 1,000 years, and then in the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21).
Consider:  If you had been in the Palm Sunday procession, what would you have been shouting?
Ask Yourself:  To what extent have I unwisely surrendered my hope in the rule of Christ to a hope and trust in political leaders?   How do I decide between my allegiance to government and to God?  (See Romans 13.)


Day 6 “He Saw the City and Wept”
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it… (Luke 19: 41)
This dramatic scene has Jesus pausing during the Palm Sunday procession as it descends from the Mount of Olives (Luke 19: 41-44).  From here, Jesus and His followers were afforded a magnificent view of the city of Jerusalem.  But shockingly, in the midst of the joyous procession in this beautiful setting, Jesus, seated on the donkey, weeps over the city.  Earlier, at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus had wept quietly and shed tears (John 11: 35).  But now, God the Son in all His humanity expresses His grief through audible sobbing.  The “high drama” of this scene becomes evident when we realize that Jesus will soon present Himself in the city of God for all to see.  On top of that, this first Palm Sunday is also “lamb selection day” when sacrificial lambs were customarily selected for sacrifices for sin as part of the Jewish Passover observance.  Jesus, the Lamb of God now enters the city to offer Himself as God’s perfect sacrificial lamb.  Each person must decide whether to receive Jesus, the Lamb of God, as their Messiah or to reject Him.
Consider:
 As you meditate on the Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry,” what praiseworthy character traits of God and His Son do you find?
Ask Yourself:  Have I ever been deeply grieved to the point of weeping at the awareness of how my sin grieves my Father in Heaven (Ephesians 4: 30)?  How does my relationship to the “sobbing Son of Man” affect my attitude toward God and my passion for lost family members and friends?


Day 7 “Who Is This?”
And when He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the multitudes were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21: 10).
How ironical and how sad that Jerusalem, the city of the Great King (Matthew 5: 35), was thrown into confusion by the entry of Jesus, the “King of the Jews,” riding in on a colt.  This was not the first time the Jews and others failed to recognize who Jesus really was. Nor was it to be the last time.  On Tuesday following His Palm Sunday entry, while Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Jewish leaders interrupted Him, saying: Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority (Luke 20: 2)?  They still did not believe Jesus’s claim to be the Divine Son of God.
Consider:  Jesus claimed to be One with God the Father:  He said, I and the Father are one (John 10: 30)According to C.S. Lewis, anyone who would claim to be God is either a liar, or a lunatic, or who He said He is—the Lord God.
Ask Yourself:  Who do I say Jesus is?  Have I confused Him with my own caricature of who God is and what He expects of me?  What do I need to do to know Him better?   See John 15: 1-17.


How Will You Respond?

We hope the “Palm Sunday ponderings” have stimulated a deeper appreciation and reverence for Jesus Christ who did not waver from His mission to “seek and to save the lost.”  We invite you to share a spiritual insight you have gained.  Please click on the  “Comments” link below to share or raise a question as the case may be.  Or, you may write to us at silviusj@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading.

Related Reading:   Palm Sunday: Don’t Miss Jesus Today!  Oikonomia, April 9, 2017

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Women in Science: Helen Purdy Beale

The timely development of the rapid COVID-19 test in 2020 is the result of many little-known scientists who helped to unlock the secrets of viruses. Within t
his history of discovery lies important lessons which are worthy of our consideration. 

In this article, we will see that
 science thrives in academic freedom where scientists are unfettered to explore and report their findings.  Advancements in the sciences are born out of
(a) faith in objective reality
(b) belief in an orderly creation which is
(c) governed by principles that are discoverable.  "Good science" as we define it dispels superstition and fear as Edward Jenner's historic discovery of the smallpox vaccination illustrates.  

Sadly, our culture t
oday has become obsessed with discrimination, identity politics, and political wokeness related to ethnicity and gender.  This obsession is stifling education and scientific understanding of the physical creation. Such distorted thinking even contradicts the biological theories underlying the distinction of male and female, and of the rich ethnic diversity of the human species. While affirming gender and ethnic distinctions, we can also encourage both men and women to pursue excellence in the sciences as judged by their individual academic merit and not according to their ethnic or gender classification.  

During this March, Women's History Month, we want to celebrate the achievement of women in the sciences.   
 What follows is a brief history lesson in how one woman overcame cultural obstacles to contribute to our understanding of the viruses.  First, we will provide some background on viruses.

Making Viruses "Visible"
Viruses have been around since the beginning of creation.  We associate viruses with disease, but many viruses also play beneficial roles (Click
HERE for more detail.).  Their submicroscopic size helped viruses to elude discovery until the invention of the electron microscope in the early 1930’s.  Until then, viruses wreaked havoc on human and animal lives through diseases like smallpox and rabies.  They also reduced crop yields by interfering with photosynthesis and other plant processes.  Both medical and agricultural pathologists were helpless in efforts to combat this invisible enemy.


Imagine if you are a scientist one century ago who is pursuing an invisible pathogen known to cause a disease:  What would you do to identify it?  Here’s a brief history in which each of three scientists  major discoveries, one by each of three different scientists who contributed toward making an “invisible pathogen” become “visible:”

1) Viruses are transmissible agents -- In 1882, the German scientist, Adolph Mayer, had been studying in Holland what he termed “tobacco mosaic disease” (TMD).  He named the disease from the mosaic pattern of brown mottling of tobacco leaves.  Mayer demonstrated that the disease could be transmitted by rubbing sap from diseased tobacco leaves onto healthy leaves. 
2) Viruses are smaller than bacteria – In 1892, Dmitri Ivanovsky, a Russian microbiologist, concluded that the agent causing the TMD was smaller than bacteria because it passed through a sterilizing filter that could trap bacteria

3) Viruses multiply in dividing cells -- In 1898, Dutch microbiologist Marcus Beijerinck observed that the agent responsible for TMD could multiply only in dividing cells, and proposed that the agent is a “contagious living fluid,” or virus.  As a result, TMD was attributed to the “tobacco mosaic virus,” or TMV.

Helen Purdy Beale:  Her Contribution
In spite of these pioneering discoveries and others in the early 20th century, by the dawn of the 1920’s, viruses still remained largely a mystery.  Our fourth major researcher is Helen Purdy Beale (1893-1976) who graduated with her doctorate from Columbia University in 1929.  Max Koslov, writing in
The Scientist (February 1, 2021), describes how Beale’s research contribution led to the first successful serological approaches to studying viruses:


“After graduating from Columbia, Beale returned to the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) in Yonkers, New York, where she’d previously worked as a plant pathologist for a few years.  She postulated that a substance in animal serum—today known as antibodies—could be used to study plant viruses. Indeed, Beale found that the serum of rabbits that were injected with TMV-infected sap could then be mixed with samples of sap from other plants to test whether they were also infected:  only TMV-infected sap would form a heavy precipitate (made of antibody-bound virus) when mixed with the serum. Different plant species infected by the virus yielded similar precipitates, indicating that the disease did not arise from a defect of the plants themselves, but was caused by an infectious agent. Beale subsequently found that the precipitate formation was specific to TMV, and she devised assays to determine viral concentration—methods that were among the first serological techniques in virology.” [Click on image to enlarge.]

Beale’s research on the binding of TMV by rabbit antibodies demonstrated that antibodies can neutralize a virus.  She further revealed that binding specificity exists between antibodies and viruses such that the specificity can be used to distinguish and purify specific strains of the TMV.  Dr. Beale’s distinguished research career spanned over five decades. Kozlov cites Karen‐Beth Scholthof and Paul D.Peterson (2006) who describe Helen Beale as the “mother of plant virology and serology.”     

After her retirement, Dr. Beale compiled an extensive bibliography of more than 29,000 references entitled
Bibliography of Plant Viruses, and Index to Research.  As noted above, Beale’s gifted dedication and publication of her research into serology and virology makes her an unsung but major contributor to our current war against COVID-19 and many other microscopic pathogens.   

Helen Purdy Beale:  Her Challenges
On every Ada Lovelace Day, there is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  On October 13, 2020, Helen Purdy Beale was posthumously honored by the Boyce Thompson Institute.  She was described as “one of the first researchers at BTI in 1924, “and hailed as “a pioneer in serology and virology.”  (See Video HERE.)  But a surprising backstory accompanies the scientific achievements of Ms. Beale.

After graduating from Barnard College in 1918 with an A.B. in botany, Helen Purdy Beale enrolled in Cornell University to pursue her Ph.D. in plant pathology.  She conducted her research in the laboratory of Dr. Herbert H. Whetzel, the creator and chair of the department of plant pathology.  By 1919, according to Kozlov, it appeared that Helen was “on track to become the first woman to graduate with a doctorate from Cornell University’s plant pathology department.”  Unfortunately, as Helen’s outstanding competence in research became evident, Whetzel began to discourage her efforts out of a lack of confidence in her future prospects as a woman in science. 

Sensing the lack of support from her mentor, Helen decided to postpone her doctoral research.  Meanwhile, the newspapers of 1919 were regularly reporting the progress of the Woman Suffrage movement, and Congress was deliberating on a proposed 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  By the time the amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified a year later, Helen had redoubled her determination to succeed in her scientific pursuits.  Her resume includes a teaching stint at Vassar College and the continuation of her research in diverse locations including the University of Copenhagen, the New York City department of health, the New York Botanical Gardens, and the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association before beginning her long career as a researcher at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI), in 1924. 

At BTI, Helen applied her growing expertise in microbiology to her research under Louis O. Kunkel who, in 1925, encouraged her to resume her graduate studies in Whetzel’s lab at Cornell.  Helen Purdy Beale’s final hurdle toward obtaining her doctoral degree was to gain the approval of her adviser, Herbert Whetzel.”  However, he returned Helen’s thesis “heavily marked up with red ink.”  And, if her advisor’s response was not discouraging enough, she soon learned that Whetzel had predetermined that women should not be awarded doctoral degrees, believing that they would have no chance of becoming employed.    

Helen had every right to mount a protest against a clear case of gender discrimination by crying foul and bitterly turning away from her effort to earn a doctoral degree in plant pathology.  But in 1927, once again with the encouragement of her colleague at BTI, Louis Kinkel, Helen resumed her quest for a Ph.D., this time at Columbia University where she completed her work in 1929.  Because of her unwavering determination coupled with the encouragement of male colleagues like Louis Kunkel and her faculty mentors at Columbia, Helen was able to publish her dissertation containing the first of her groundbreaking discoveries that have since made her famous.

Legacy to “Good Science”

St. Catherine of Siena, co-patron saint of Italy with St. Francis of Assisi, is quoted as saying, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”  Many of the great contributors to both the sciences and the Christian faith are testimonies of this principle.  Helen Purdy Beale was no exception.  An illustrious career and contributions by this gifted woman would not have been possible without her personal determination and endurance in the face of unfair gender discrimination.  

It is unlikely that Helen’s unfortunate experience at Cornell was the only encounter in which her credibility as a female scientist was questioned.  Her scientific findings may have received less attention in her field than if they had been published by a male researcher.  However, as women were able to make increasing inroads into the sciences, and as respect for women grew among their male colleagues, scientific publications by women received their deserved attention.

Scholthof and Peterson marvel that “plant pathologists were still using the tools and methods of the early 20th century as late as the 1960’s before they rediscovered Beale’s experiments and began using her assays, the fundamentals of which are still used today. Frederick Charles Bawden, a plant pathologist, wrote in 1970: “I still remain puzzled to understand how it was that so many virus workers long remained reluctant to use these invaluable techniques. With hindsight, it is very evident they were even more valuable than those of us who used them appreciated.”

Discoveries in the natural sciences have never come easy.  The natural world, or “creation,” is wonderfully complex.  At the same time, we humans are fallible in our ability to observe, think, measure, analyze, and unselfishly cooperate in unbiased research.  What we have called “good science” is threatened when any or all of these are absent.  Previous articles in Oikonomia have addressed the importance of “good science” with respect to the following:
Science Museum Collections -- See HERE
Ethics and Accountability -- See HERE     
“Follow the Science” -- See HERE
“Settled Science” and the career of Barbara McClintock -- See HERE
Science and Culture – See HERE

Thanks to women like Helen Purdy Beale and her mentors, we have yet another context in which to realize the essential requirements for scientific pursuits to be successful in formulating accurate claims about the creation.  Just as a baby chick requires the environment of a warm incubator, so the sciences require a culture that values science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.  Included in these curricula are objectives that aim to teach students to develop the skills needed for the conduct of “good science” as shown (SEE ABOVE "Essentials for 'Good Science'").

Beyond the more obvious essentials of “good science,” there must be a political and cultural environment of civility and respect that encourages freedom of expression and rigorous discussion.  Finally, the role of Helen Purdy Beale’s encouraging mentors, including Lewis O. Kunkel of BTI, highlights the valuable and often unsung role of dedicated teachers and faithful mentors in nurturing future contributors to the sciences.

Dedication
Abby and I want to thank God for the honor of teaching and mentoring many fine young men and women during the years between 1969 and 2011.  We especially dedicate this article to the women students who have pursued God’s calling into meaningful careers in science or other vocations. Many women, including women faculty at Cedarville University with whom we have served, have had to balance their careers as wives, and in many cases, mothers of one or more children.  We honor women faculty members and former students for their testimony of faith in God, including women who may not be in the sciences at present but are having a positive role in raising up young scientists for tomorrow.

Response from Readers
We invite you to share your responses to this article, particularly as related to your challenges and blessings as a professional scientist or educator; or, as a wife and mother who participates in science education of your children, family members, or community.  We would love to read your “Comment,” question, or a helpful reference you choose to share.  Just click on the “Comment” link below to enter your message, or write to us at silviusj@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Pursuit of God in Troubled Times - DWELL 2.0

On April 15, 1970, Abby and I were blessed with our first child, a sweet baby boy that we named Bradley.  Meanwhile, 248,000 miles from our delivery room in Dover, Ohio, the crew of Apollo 13 was partway through its "slingshot maneuver" on a path around the dark side of the Moon.  This maneuver was chosen when a fuel cell failure prevented their planned second lunar landing.  Many of us remember the message from Apollo 13 Astronaut John ("Jack") Swigert to NASA Mission Control, “Houston, we have a problem.” 
 

A Universal Problem
The now popular version of Astronaut Swigert’s message is a summary of our current situation on planet Earth.  It is hard for us to imagine the emotional state of the Apollo 13 crew, separated from their life-supporting Earth and suddenly faced with more limited energy supply.  No one on board denied it—“We have a problem!”  Because of the current pandemic of confusion, mistrust, fear, division, and frustration, one thing that the entire “crew” of planet Earth should agree on is this-- “We have a problem!” 

Everywhere we look, we can see evidence of this universal human problem.  We can see evidence of the problem in any list of what is necessary for our culture and society to flourish.  If you follow the daily news, each of these items will remind you of some way in which the “universal problem” is “infecting” our society and culture: 

Many of us will have to confess that we are frustrated and disgusted at the current corruption, lawlessness, double standards, hypocrisy, and lack of due process in both government and the private sector.  To combat my own negativity, I say to myself, “You mustn’t dwell on this?”  To avoid my tendency to “be overcome by evil,” I have been studying what it means to “DWELL.”

A Suitable Dwelling
In our recent Oikonomia article, “Pursuit of God in Troubled Times –DWELL 1.0,” (Click HERE), we noted that all living creatures including humans require a place in which to dwell:  a place, or habitat, that is suitable for their survival, reproduction, and flourishing.  We considered more specifically the “Essentials for Dwelling.”  Then, we looked at what the Bible says about dwelling and how God yearns for us to seek Him and dwell with Him.

 For humankind, “Essentials for Dwelling” include the need for “spiritual awareness” so that we can maintain meaningful social and spiritual relationships.  When these “essentials” are met, our lives are purposeful, rewarding, and pleasing to God our Creator.  One thing is certain: All of us are being tested and will be tested by an increasingly disordered social, political, and economic landscape around us.  To make our point, we will first take a hard look at our world through the eyes of a character portrayed in a noteworthy movie.  Then, we will consider whether God’s invitation to dwell in Him can actually help us overcome the onslaught of our current world.

Recognizing the Problem
Recently, we watched the movie, The Verdict (1982), starring Paul Newman who plays a defeated, alcoholic lawyer, Frank Gavin.  Frank’s fortunes seem to turn when he discovers a new purpose in life:  providing legal counsel for the family of a comatose patient whose condition was allegedly the result of medical malpractice.  Eventually, Frank’s chances of winning the case dwindle in the face of powerful and corrupt opposition from his opponent, Ed Concannon (James Mason).  But, when it seems that all is lost, Frank Gavin rises to the occasion with a heartfelt closing statement to the jury.  [Click on text box below to enlarge.]

Click HERE to watch a video clip of Frank Gavin’s forceful closing statement to the jury.

Can you sense Frank’s frustration?  Sadly, our “universal problem” is not a new one.  The prophet Isaiah recorded the following lament nearly 3,000 years ago to the corrupt nation of Israeli (
Isaiah 59: 11, 14-15):

All of us growl like bears,
And moan sadly like doves;
We hope for justice, but there is none;
For salvation, but it is far from us.
Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands far away;
For truth has stumbled in the street,
And uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking
And one who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey
.

If we are honest, we can identify with the frustration and hopelessness expressed in these Scriptures.  Isaiah describes the state of America and the world perfectly:
• Emotionally – “we growl…we moan sadly…”
• Legally – “We hope for justice, but there is none…”
• Spiritually – “…righteousness stands far away”
• Ethically – “…truth has stumbled…Truth is lacking…”

If these conditions of our culture are not bad enough, Isaiah prophetically drives the point home:  Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.  Even the renouncers of evil are singled out for attack.  This is Frank Gavin’s assessment exactly.


Root of the Problem
We may all agree – “We have a problem!”  But where do we go from here?  Not to pessimism, nor optimism, but let’s have some realism.  Again, we look to the ancient prophet Isaiah to point us to the root of our problem—our sin (Isaiah 59: 12b-13):

And our sins have testified against us;
For our wrongful acts are with us,
And we know our wrongdoings:
Offending and denying the LORD,
And turning away from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving and uttering lying words from the heart
.

Isaiah points us to the root of the problem!  And the problem is sin, conceived out of our pride.  What’s more, according to the Bible, we are convicted when we do wrong because God has given us a conscience to judge “right and wrong.” The Apostle Paul wrote (Romans 2: 15), They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.

Frank Gavin realized this inner sense of right and wrong when he spoke to the jury (emphasis mine):  You are the law, not some book, not the lawyers, not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. See, those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a prayer. I mean, a fervent and a frightened prayer.

What a sad commentary on every one of us!  Aren’t we all frustrated at the evidence of sin and its infection of our society and government—and of our own hearts?  Abby and I both feel it.  We are weary and impatient at times from the COVID pandemic, from conflicts and misunderstandings between us, or within our family and our church, and from the corruption in our government.  Many of us feel at times like we're on a spacecraft that has lost connection with "mission control." 

Untethered or Dwelling? 
We have seen that John (“Jack”) Swigert’s message, “Houston, we have a problem,” fits the situation of all of us on planet Earth.  Imagine the fear and hopelessness you might feel as a member of the Apollo 13 crew faced with limited fuel, 248,000 miles from Earth.  Facing the reality that you may never see the life-supporting environment of your dwelling on Earth again, you would likely see clearly—"We have a problem!”

By analogy, the entire “crew” of “spaceship Earth” faces a larger problem than the one Apollo 13 faced.  We have a problem, but many of us do not realize its true source. Multitudes of people in our global culture have become spiritually untethered from their Creator and are walking in darkness (1 John 1: 6).  Many of us can identify with Attorney Frank Gavin when he expressed his frustration over the lack of truth in our culture.  In “our desire to be just…[we utter] a fervent and a frightened prayer.”  In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “
uprightness cannot enter.  Truth is lacking.”  Today’s corruption and chaos in our society can knock the joy out of us. 

Is there hope for our lost, untethered culture?  Is there hope in God?  If there is, how can we as sinners draw near and dwell with a holy God?  


Righteous Hill: Who Can Climb?
God longs for us to dwell in His presence.  However, He cannot allow us into His presence unless we repent of our sin and pride.  The psalmist David asks, "Who can dwell in God’s holy hill [or] abide in His tent (Psalm 15: 1)."  Then, he answers his question in verse 2: “He who walks with integrity.”  Then, in verses 2b-5, David expands on what it means to have integrity (CLICK BOX to enlarge):


Look at the list of character qualities of the person God desires to dwell with Him.  Have you or anyone you know been able to perfectly master this list?  It is clear that no person by his or her own effort can achieve the holiness needed to “dwell in God’s holy hill.”  Therefore, God provided a way for those who wish to dwell with Him.  He did this through the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3: 18).  

Redeemer: “Way-Maker”
Now that Jesus Christ has come, died for our sin, and rose again, all who repent and turn to Him may dwell with Him.  If we confess our sins, God is just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 9).  Christ is the “Way-Maker” to open the way into “God’s holy hill" and into God's presence where we can achieve forgiveness and spiritual Life.  This truth applies to sinners who have never accepted God’s gift of salvation through Christ (Romans 6; Ephesians 2).  But it also applies to Christ-followers who need to respond in repentance when the Spirit of God convicts them (1 John 3: 21-22).

Because of their fallenness in sin, Jews of the Old Testament worshiped God from safe distance through their priestly order (See the last section of DWELL 1.0.).  But when God’s Messiah came, the “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14).  God, through Christ, drew even closer to His creation and to us.  Immanuel, meaning “God is [dwelling] with us, is the God Who, as we shall see in DWELL 3.0, yearns to dwell, not only with us, but in us as we dwell in Him (John 15: 5).  

Out of this dwelling or abiding relationship, Christ can empower us to be His ambassadors, or "way-makers."  In a world in which more a people realizing, “We have a problem,” God can use us to point our family, friends, and neighbors to the way that Christ, God’s “Way-Maker” has provided for the confused, frustrated, victimized, homeless, and hopeless?

In DWELL 3.0, we plan to discuss what it means to “abide in Christ and He in us” and how that should affect our lives and those around us.

Now It's Your Turn
We hope this article has helped you in your pursuit of a safe "dwelling" in our troubled times.  Maybe it has stirred questions or insights you’d like to share with our readers.  Maybe you have an article, book, podcast, or movie that readers would find helpful. We would love to read your “Comment,” question, or a helpful reference you share.  Just click on the “Comment” link below to enter your message, or write to us at silviusj@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Pursuit of God in Troubled Times – DWELL 1.0

All living creatures require a place in which to dwell:  a place or a habitat that is suitable for their survival, reproduction, and flourishing.  This “dwelling principle” is so universal that when we remove an individual animal or a population from their habitat they may be seriously harmed.  The same principle applies to humans.  There are over one-half million homeless persons in the United States, in 2019.  Alcohol and substance abuse, and mental illness, are the main causes of homelessness.  The spiritual roots of homelessness are evident in reports that those without connection to a faith community are 60 percent more likely to become homeless (Acton Institute).  

Essentials for Dwelling
It is impossible for humans or any creature to live and flourish if they have no suitable place in which to dwell.  Let’s explore the rich significance of what it means to “dwell.”

Many animals will modify a suitable habitat to create a dwelling—i.e. a den, hive, nest, or house.  Humans also depend upon suitable habitats in which to dwell.  There, we establish our homes, maintain our nutrition and health needs, and enjoy our family and friends.  Our homes are where we can recreate and relax, laugh and cry, enjoy and encourage our loved ones, greet the sunrise and find satisfying rest at the end of the day.  These blessings and many others are ours to share as we “dwell” in the place in God’s creation we call “home.”  There are at least five essential requirements for a creature to “dwell.”

Taken together, the five essentials for dwelling (see on left) —awareness, location, conditions, relationships, and submission encompass much of what it means to live in the fullest sense.  In fact, the word “live” is often used interchangeably with “dwell.”  A person who is aware of what it means to be spiritually alive will understand why God desires that humans “dwell with Him” and “He with us.”  God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a God of relationships.  To “dwell with God” requires all five elements of dwelling noted above.  As we shall see, God our Creator longs to have a relationship with us.  His Spirit draws us and participates with those who seek Him to secure each of the elements necessary for an intimate relationship of dwelling with Him.  As you continue to read about what it means to dwell in a place in the creation and with God, please keep the five elements in mind.

Dwelling Involves Stewardship (Oikonomia)
The Bible (NASB) contains the word “dwell” in some form 193 times.  According to Judeo-Christian teachings from Scripture, God places a deep significance on the word “home” and “dwell.” He created our earthly home (Genesis 1) and saw that it was good (Genesis 1: 18, 21, 25, 31).  Genesis 2 records how God specifically prepared a wonderful place, the Garden of Eden, suitable for humans to dwell.  Here, Adam and Eve dwelt in harmony with creation and communed in personal relationship with God (Genesis 3: 8). 

God commanded Adam to become a manager or steward of the Garden home in service to God, its Creator and Owner.  Adam’s responsibility is the first instance of the practice of stewardship.  God instructed Adam to till (or serve) and keep (preserve) the Garden (Genesis 2: 15).  In turn, Adam enjoyed fellowship and spiritual intimacy with God.  The Greek word for stewardship, oikonomia, is derived from oikos (house) and nomos (account, or management).  This well-chosen name portrays stewardship as management of the affairs of a house (or a business, industry, farm, etc.) as a functional unit by a steward, the person who is responsible to the owner of the house or other unit.

A Holy God Dwells with His People
When Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3), God expelled them from the Garden.  However, God’s great love for mankind caused Him to set in motion His plan to redeem, or buy back, mankind from the curse of sin.  The Old Testament of the Bible reveals how God chose Abraham to be the father of a special nation, the Jewish nation of Israel, through which He would unfold His redemptive plan.  He gave Israel a moral code summarized in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).  Then, God brought this nation to a suitable land in which to dwell—the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 27: 3).  God also gave specific instructions for the construction of a physical structure, a tabernacle, a transportable sanctuary within which He would dwell among His people (Exodus 25: 8).  Finally, God appointed a priestly order to intercede between Him as a Holy God and the rest of the people of Israel (Exodus 28: 40-43).

The Old Testament reveals what may appear to be a contradiction:  If God loves His creation and humankind, and claims that He wants to dwell with His people, then why does He distance Himself from His people?  The answer: God is Holy and cannot allow sin or those defiled by sin to dwell near Him.  The psalmist David affirms this truth in Psalm 15: 1 (See text box above.).  David answers his own question based on his knowledge of the holiness of God. 

The Old Testament made clear that God yearns to dwell with mankind.  He designated the tabernacle within which He would dwell and allow human access, but only under precise, physical, spiritual, social, ceremonial, and moral conditions.  In Exodus 25: 8-9 we read,

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it
.

Then, God instituted the Levitical priesthood to administer ceremonial festivals and sacrifices for an intercession between God and sinful man.  The moral and ceremonial laws given by God gave a forceful message: God is holy and we must abide by His laws if we desire to dwell in His presence.  The Scriptures support this principle as we can see by returning to our five essentials for dwelling:
(TAP on the table to ENLARGE.):

Although “the LORD would speak to Moses face to face” in the “tent of meeting” (Exodus 33: 7-11) and later manifest Himself to the High Priests within the Holy of Holies, most of the Israelites viewed God as a distant god.  According to Thomas Nelson Bibles, “The Spirit came upon certain judges, warriors, and prophets in a way that gave them extraordinary power: for example, Joshua (Num. 27:18), Othniel (Judg. 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Samson (13:25; 14:6), and Saul (1 Sam. 10:9, 10). However, the Spirit later departed from Saul because of his disobedience (16:14).”

Dwelling with God-- beyond Dwellings
If you were an Old Testament follower of Jehovah God, what would you think when you considered your relationship with Him?  What emotional and spiritual response did God desire from you?  We must understand that, as Jesus would later explain, God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4: 24).  Jesus spoke these words to a woman who thought she must go to the right “place” to worship God.  One thousand years earlier, King Solomon had exclaimed worshipfully:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? 
Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You,
how much less this house which I have built! –
1 Kings 8: 27

The prophet Isaiah conveyed a similar declaration from God:

Heaven is My throne and the earth is the footstool for My feet.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
So all these things came into being, declares the LORD.
But I will look to this one,
At one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at My word.


Although “place of worship” is important, the integrity of our hearts is most important.
Both David and Solomon demonstrated in their writings in the Psalms and Proverbs what it meant to dwell with God.  For example, consider how the beloved Psalm 23 touches on every aspect of what it meant to David to “dwell with God:”
(TAP on the table to ENLARGE.)


God's Most Intimate Dwelling
We have considered what it means to “dwell with God” and “He with us” through abundant reference to God’s Word in the Scriptures.  Yet before the coming of Christ, most Israelites had focused on only two of the five “essentials for dwelling with God”—namely, LOCATION and CONDITIONS.  Even in these, the Israelites were wrong.  Although place of worship, priestly intercession, and ceremonial cleanness were all important, God expected more. 

From the Scriptures above, we see that God desires people of integrity who worship Him in spirit from humble, repentant hearts.  Amazingly, through the Old Testament Scriptures beginning in Genesis 3: 14-15, God had already begun to reveal His plan.  He would draw even closer to His creation and to mankind through the promised coming of Immanuel, meaning “God is [dwelling] with us:”

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel.  – Isaiah 7: 15

Seven hundred years after this prophecy, the Apostle John wrote (John 1: 14):
  
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Law chiseled in cold stone came through Moses, but Jesus Christ came into the world, “full of grace (God’s unmerited favor) and truth.”  This Good News of the Gospel reveals our sin and alienation from God, and our need of Christ if we wish to dwell with God, and God with us.  In “Choices forTroubled Times DWELL 2.0,” we will consider how finding our dwelling with God is an essential "tethering" we need to face the troubled, uncertain, and unsettling times in which we live.

Now It's Your Turn
We hope this survey of what it means to “dwell with God, and He with you” from the Old Testament Scriptures has been meaningful to you.  We also hope you will continue to study and meditate on this theme in the Bible.  Try a search using the word “dwell” in an online Bible study aid such as Bible Gateway.  Then read the verses (and their context) for a rich insight into how much God loves you and wants to dwell with you, and you with Him.  If you have a “Comment” or question, just click on the “Comment” link below, or write to us at silviusj@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Our 2020 Christmas Letter

Dear family and friends,

As we near the end of 2020, we hope you and your family are well and anticipating your celebration of Christmas.  We are writing this letter near a window which opens into the darkness of the predawn of a new day.  The darkness is punctuated with the light from our neighbors’ windows and colorful Christmas lights.  This predawn view reminds us of the year 2020, a year of darkness and uncertainty.  Still there are encouraging points of light, pleasant reminders of things good, right, and true.  We are thankful as we reflect on 2020.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, we were able to visit our son Brad and his wife Raquel in Michigan.  They are always thoughtful hosts and we enjoyed our two visits this year, once in early February and then in August.  In February, we all enjoyed a trip to the University of Michigan Museum of Art.  In August, Brad and I worked on a construction project to upgrade their patio area.

In late February, we were invited to travel to Iowa with Abby’s sister Mary and brother-in-law, Bob Johnson, to attend the graduation of their son, Trent who had completed his graduate studies at Palmer School of Chiropractic Medicine.  The new “Dr. Johnson” has since moved to Tennessee and joined several other chiropractic doctors in a practice in Nashville.

In May, we were blessed to join our daughter Mindy, her husband Steve, and our granddaughter, Della Rose to see our granddaughter Kiara graduate from Mogadore High School during a modified commencement service suitable to meet CDC safety standards for COVID.  Unfortunately, Kiara’s brother, our grandson Caleb and his wife who live in Pennsylvania were unable to attend, but they were able to join us for Kiara’s reception in June.  In August, Kiara enrolled in classes at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University and has achieved a good academic standing going into the Spring semester.  Kiara's sister Della Rose found a welcome reprieve by horseback riding with her friend, Lily, at Skyview Ranch.

This summer, we watched God answer prayer by opening the door for our daughter Mindy to be employed as a nurse practitioner at LifeCare Hospice here in Wooster.
  Mindy is already using her professional and compassionate skills to encourage the lives of her patients needing palliative care.  

In August, Abby and I were honored to comfort our friends Roger and Margaret Riffle as they entered the final stretch of their brave ordeal with Roger’s Alzheimer’s Disease.  Roger and I were fellow students at Malone College, and later we served as each other’s best man in our respective weddings one year apart. Our final visit near the time of Roger’s departure for Heaven was a tender time of encouragement and of reliance on our faith that Jesus, our Shepherd, was very near.  On the next day, August 12, the gentle Shepherd led Roger graciously away from his beloved Margaret, and through the valley of the shadow of death into Eternal Life.

We are sure the pandemic has disrupted your lives, family relationships, and plans for 2020 like it did ours.  The threat of the virus required that all of us adapt and be creative in order to avoid infection while planning creative ways to stay connected with family and friends.  When we were unable to eat inside a restaurant, we found creative ways to eat together outside.  When our small group at church could not meet inside and maintain social distance, a large driveway of one of our members provided a great environment for encouragement and learning.

Many of you have also had to say “Good-bye” to family members and friends this year.   In April, Abby’s aunt, Edna Lee Sperry died.  Then, Edna’s youngest sister Norma Brumbaugh passed on to Glory on October 23.  Norma’s memorial service was held in the country church where her and her husband, Lynn, had worshiped and served.  Both aunts were a great blessing to Abby and I for many decades, and they were preceded in death by brother, John Bright, in 2018..

This year has been a tremendous challenge to so many that we all know--people on the front lines in health care, education, first response to emergencies, etc. Our prayers have been with our friends in Cedarville including university faculty and staff during this challenging academic year. We also thank God for staff of senior health care centers as they care for our loved ones who are isolated from family and often confused.  

We could easily conclude our year-end, Christmas letter with a tone of death and despair as we reflect on the year 2020.  However, the predawn darkness outside our window has been chased away by the brightness of the sun on new fallen snow blanketing the landscape.  The dawn of a new day reminds us of the prophecy of the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World, when God revealed the promise of Isaiah 9: 1-2 that the people of the Earth “will see a great light.”  

Seven hundred years later, Jesus was born as a baby in a stable.  The Word became flesh and lived a godly live among people, was crucified for claiming He was God, and then He was raised to new life so that all who put their faith in Him and follow Him will have Eternal Life.  “The hopes and fears of all the years, including 2020, are MET” (satisfied, canceled, overcome) in Jesus.  We are glad He came and found us, and has given our lives meaning and hope.

We thank many of you who have already communicated with us in various ways, and we look forward to hearing from others.  Our e-mail address is
silviusj@gmail.com

Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year,


P.S.  Since posting the above 2020 Letter on Christmas Eve, we were able to enjoy part of Christmas Day in the home of our daughter Mindy with her husband Steve and our granddaughters, Kiara and Della.  The next day, we were blessed to enjoy an overnight in the Pittsburgh area in order to exchange gifts with our grandson Caleb and his wife, Soni. Afterwards, these two "grand-kids" drove grandpa and grandma on an excellent tour of the city, beautifully lighted for the Christmas season. We are thankful that we were able to be with all of our immediate family in spite of the restrictions of the pandemic.