Tuesday, May 29, 2012

No Greater Joy

I've been involved in a perfect storm of encouragement lately.

Fourteen years of my life was spent in what was known at my summer camp as Vocational Christian Service. I was employed by a series of churches to oversee the spiritual education of young people...this is commonly referred to as Youth Ministry.

A common issue that most youth ministers/youth pastors need to deal with is partially a result of the above phrase, "employed by a series of churches." With the average length-of-stay for a youth ministry professional sitting at around four years, the average youth ministry professional is doing a lot of planting, with very little reaping. In other words, you give and give and give...invest yourself in the lives of young people...and then move on before you can see any real, long-term results of your investment.

Now, as to the encouragement storm in which I have found myself:

First, there was a Facebook friend request from someone I didn't even remember, but who told me that I made a difference in her life when I was a dorm dad/summer camp counselor.

Then, a series of notes and emails from a few members of a couple of the youth groups I led back in the day, thanking me for things I had done or said or for the way I loved them no matter what.

The capstone of it all was spending a week with a guy who was a Wild Child when he was in my youth group in Southern Indiana and is now preaching at a congregation in Northern Idaho. When he stood up to read Scripture and pray...he didn't even get to his sermon yet, mind you...my wife (Beloved) and I both lost ourselves in joyful tears.

The cherry on the top of this sundae was when I read Hebrews 13:7 in the New American Standard Bible: "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." And I thought, "Yeah...that's what these guys have been doing...wow."

Truth is...I completely agree with Third John 1:4: "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Two Lectures" by C. S. Lewis

In reading the collection of magazine articles and papers by C. S. Lewis titled God in the Dock, my brain was stimulated by the piece, “Two Lectures.”

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“And so,” said the lecturer, “I end where I began. Evolution, development, the slow struggle upwards and onwards from crude and inchoate beginnings towards ever-increasing perfection and elaboration – that appears to be the very formula of the whole universe.

“We see it exemplified in everything we study. The oak comes from the acorn. The giant express engine of today comes from the Rocket. The highest achievements of contemporary art are in a continuous line of descent from the rude scratching with which prehistoric man adorned the wall of his cave.

“What are the ethics and philosophy of civilized man but an elaboration of the most primitive instincts and savage taboos? Each one of us has grown, through slow pre-natal stages in which we were at first more like fish than mammals, from a particle of matter too small to be seen. Man himself springs from beasts: the organic from the inorganic. Development is the key word. The march of all things is from lower to higher.”

None of this, of course, was new to me or to anyone else in the audience. But it was put very well (much better than it appears in my reproduction) and the whole voice and figure of the lecturer were impressive. At least they must have impressed me, for otherwise I cannot account for the curious dream I had that night.

I dreamed that I was still at the lecture, and the voice from the platform was still going on. But it was saying all the wrong things. At least it may have been saying the right things up to the very moment at which I began attending; but it certainly began going wrong after that. What I remembered on waking went like this: “…appears to be the very formula of the whole universe. We see it exemplified in everything we study. The acorn comes from a full-grown oak. The first crude engine, the Rocket, comes, not from a still cruder engine, but from something much more perfect than itself and much more complex, the mind of a man, and a man of genius. The first prehistoric drawings come, not from earlier scratchings, but from the hand and brain of human beings whose hand and brain cannot be shown to have been in any way inferior to our own; and indeed it is obvious that the man who first conceived the idea of making a picture must have been a greater genius than any of the artists who have succeeded him. The embryo with which the life of each one of us began did not originate from something even more embryonic; it originated from two fully-developed human beings, our parents. Descent, downward movement, is the key word. The march of all things is from higher to lower. The rude and imperfect thing always springs from something perfect and developed.”

I did not think much of this while I was shaving, but it so happened that I had no 10 o’clock pupil that morning, and when I had finished answering my letters I sat down and reflected on my dream.

It appeared to me that the Dream Lecturer had a good deal to be said for him. It is true that we do see all round us things growing up to perfection from small and rude beginnings; but then it is equally true that the small and rude beginnings themselves always come from some full-grown and developed thing. All adults were once babies, true: but then all babies were begotten and born by adults. Corn does come from seed: but then seed comes from corn. I could even give the Dream Lecturer an example he had missed. All civilizations grow from small beginnings; but when you look into it you always find that those small beginnings themselves have been “dropped” (as an oak drops an acorn) by some other and mature civilization. The weapons and even the cookery of old Germanic barbarism are, so to speak, driftwood from the wrecked ship of Roman civilization. The starting point of Greek culture is the remains of older Minoan cultures, supplemented by oddments from civilized Egypt and Phoenicia.

But in that case, thought I, what about the first civilization of all? As soon as I asked this question I realized that the Dream Lecturer had been choosing his examples rather cautiously. He had talked only about things we can see going on around us. He had kept off the subject of absolute beginnings. He had quite correctly pointed out that in the present, and in the historical past, we see imperfect life coming from perfect just as much as vice versa. But he hadn’t even attempted to answer the Real Lecturer about the beginnings of all life. The Real Lecturer’s view was that when you got back far enough – back into those parts of the past which we know less about – you would find an absolute beginning, and it would be something small and imperfect.

That was a point in favor of the Real Lecturer. He at least had a theory about the absolute beginning, whereas the Dream Lecturer had slurred it over. But hadn’t the Real Lecturer done a little slurring, too? He had not given us a hint that his theory of the ultimate origins involved us in believing that Nature’s habits have, since those days, altered completely. Her present habits show us an endless cycle – the bird coming from the egg and the egg from the bird. But he asked us to believe that the whole thing started with an egg which had been preceded by no bird. Perhaps it did. But the whole audience accepted it as something natural and obvious – depended on his slurring over the immense difference between this and the processes we actually observe. He put it over by drawing our attention to the fact that eggs develop into birds and making us forget that birds lay eggs; indeed, we have been trained to do this all our lives: trained to look at the universe with one eye shut. “Developmentalism” is made to look plausible by a kind of trick.

For the first time in my life I began to look at the question with both eyes open. In the world I know, the perfect produces the imperfect, which again becomes perfect – egg leads to bird and bird to egg – in endless succession. If there ever was a life which sprang of its own accord out of a purely inorganic universe, or a civilization which raised itself by its own shoulder-straps out of pure savagery, then this event was totally unlike the beginnings of every subsequent life and every subsequent civilization. The thing may have happened; but all its plausibility is gone. On any view, the first beginning must have been outside the ordinary processes of nature. An egg which came from no bird is no more “natural” than a bird which had existed from all eternity. And since the egg-bird-egg sequence leads us to no plausible beginning, is it not reasonable to look for the real origin somewhere outside sequence altogether? You have to go outside the sequence of engines, into the world of men, to find the real originator of the Rocket. Is it not equally reasonable to look outside Nature for the real Originator of the natural order?

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Truth is...By posting this piece, I am not at all pretending to Make The Case, once and for all, of Creation over Evolution. Rather it is meant to simply suggest that logic and reason do not necessarily rule out the concept of a non-natural creator. There is reason to doubt on both sides of the fence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breathe Deep

The first time I heard the song, Breathe Deep, by the group, Lost Dogs, it was part of a "let's all sing this together" teen worship service, and I cried.  I didn't cry because it was sung badly, but because I was overwhelmed by its message of calling all people, no matter their background or current situation, to fully experience the presence of God. It just seemed like the perfect time to express a welcoming inclusion to "everybody everywhere".

Several years later, I was listening to the 1996 recording on my way to work...and it brought me to tears again.  The message is still powerful; still meaningful; still vital.

In the following video, I'm not sure what the videographer's thing with pigeons is all about...maybe a symbol for the Holy Spirit...but I like that it includes the printed lyric.

Truth is...I'll be a little sad if this song ever stops choking me up.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Abortion

While I am a man of faith, and my commitment to follow Jesus Christ colors everything I do (at least, that is my desire), my firm pro-life (anti-abortion) stance is not dependent on my faith. There are solid, scientific, "secular" reasons that convince me that the yet-to-be-born entity is indeed a human being endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And make no mistake about it, this is the only question that matters: Is it human? If your 5-year-old son comes up behind you with a paper bag in his hand and says, "Can I kill this?" wouldn't your first thought be, "Well, that depends on what it is"? In the same way, we better be sure of what we're doing before we determine that terminating a pregnancy is a choice needing to be protected. If that "product of conception" is human, then killing it would be murder.

Not convinced that the preborn entity is a human? Think about this. There are basically four differences between the preborn and an infant. Those differences can be represented by the acrostic “SLED,” representing Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency. (Are there any other significant differences between the preborn and the born?) I don’t think a person can honestly say any of those things determines whether something is human.

Let me explain. [Full Disclosure Note: This was first developed by Stephen Schwarz in his book The Moral Question of Abortion. This pro-life defense has since been adopted by prominent pro-life writers such as Francis Beckwith, Scott Klusendorf, and Stephen Wagner. In fact click here for a short clip of Scott Klusendorf explaining the acronym...the way I first heard it.]

SIZE: The preborn is obviously smaller than, say, a two-year-old child. But a two-year-old child is smaller than a 17-year-old. Does that mean the two-year-old is less human than the teenager? Most professional basketball players are taller than I am. Are members of the NBA more human than me? So you see, size has nothing to do with whether something is human.

LEVEL OF DEVELOPMENT: The preborn is obviously not as physically, emotionally, or mentally developed as a two-year-old child. But again, neither is that two-year-old as developed as a 10-year-old, or the 10-year-old as a teenager past puberty. But all of these people are still people. They are simply in different stages of their individual development. From the time an egg is fertilized, that entity has all the genetic make-up that will determine so many things about his/her life. All that is needed is time and nourishment. And the same can be said for the toddler and the teen. Degree of development has nothing to do with whether something is human.

ENVIRONMENT: The environment of the preborn is obviously different than the environment of those of us who have been born. But since when does our environment determine whether we are human? Am I more human when I am inside a house than when I am in my car? Does going from one store at the mall into another make a teenager more or less human than he/she was before changing location? It’s silly to even ask the question.

DEGREE OF  DEPENDENCYThe preborn is obviously completely dependent on the pregnant woman for his/her well-being and nourishment. But so is the 3-month-old baby, and no one has attempted to argue that a 3-month-old is not a human being. (So you see, talk about viability as determining when the fetus becomes a human is moot. Even a born human being, fully recognized as such, isn't independently viable for quite some time.) I am more independent and self-reliant than my 10-year-old niece. Does that make me more human than she is? Some people are physically disabled and dependent on others to clothe and feed them; some elderly people cannot take care of themselves; and yet, these people are no less human than you or me. Level of dependency has nothing to do with whether something is human.

Notice that I have not appealed to the Bible. I have not threatened damnation for any who have a differing view. I'm just saying that this makes sense. This is logical. This isn't sign-toting screamers (from either side).

Truth is...I am pro-choice. I am in favor of giving every human a choice.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Come to the Dark Side

It's always a dicey thing to try to simplify a complex scientific idea, but here's my roll of the dice on the subject of dark matter.

With the given that stuff in the universe is held in proximity to other stuff by the force of gravity - a force inherit in all stuff - scientists have been scratching their collective heads for a while because there appears to be more gravity than can be explained by the amount of stuff.

A quote from schools-wikipedia.org:

The first to provide evidence and infer the existence of a phenomenon that has come to be called "dark matter" was Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1933. He applied the virial theorem to the Coma cluster of galaxies and obtained evidence of unseen mass. Zwicky estimated the cluster's total mass based on the motions of galaxies near its edge. When he compared this mass estimate to one based on the number of galaxies and total brightness of the cluster, he found that there was about 400 times more mass than expected. The gravity of the visible galaxies in the cluster would be far too small for such fast orbits, so something extra was required. This is known as the "missing mass problem". Based on these conclusions, Zwicky inferred that there must be some non-visible form of matter which would provide enough of the mass and gravity to hold the cluster together.

Translation: We can't explain why the universe doesn't just blow apart. There isn't anything natural/physical there that we can detect, so for now, let's call it "dark matter" and say that we haven't found a way to determine exactly what it is...but we can see its effect in the gravitational forces that are evident.

Okay...I read all that...then I turn to Colossians 1:17...

"[Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

Truth is...I think maybe the Apostle Paul has had the answer all along.