Friday, September 30, 2016

Am I Being Offensive?

I have been thinking a lot about how Christians can speak of their faith in a pluralistic culture that views truth-claims as suspect. Some Christians would say that if we are not offending anyone we are merely being “nice Canadians” who want to stay on good terms with everyone. These Christians believe that we are supposed to offend others with our faith and our approach to life. They will quote passages of the Bible that speak of us being hated because we follow Jesus and say, “There, get out and offend others because that is what is supposed to happen!” (See especially Matthew 5:11.)

Let’s take a closer look at this. First, the message of Jesus Christ is offensive. (So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. 1 Corinthians 1:23) Jesus came into the world proclaiming that he is “the way, the truth, the life.” He said that no one can get to God except through him (John 14:6). Those are bold, offensive statements in the culture of his day and in our culture today. The good news, or gospel, of Jesus Christ is offensive exactly because it challenges us to follow the ways of Jesus (justice, truth, and love) rather than our own ways. It takes ourselves off of the throne of our lives and puts Jesus squarely in control. So yes, the message of Jesus will offend.

Secondly, even though the message will offend, we need not be offensive. It is Jesus and his message that offends, not us. Because we believe an offensive message, we must, all the more, seek to be gracious, loving, humble, and truthful. It is not good for me to say that others are sinners in the eyes of Jesus without also speaking the truth that I too am a sinner who fails daily to live up to putting Jesus on the throne of my life. We need to humbly recognize that living by the truth of God is difficult and that all of us struggle to put aside our own desires and place the values of Jesus foremost in our lives.

Thirdly, as Wendell Berry said in The Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays, “We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true.” There must be a recognition in our lives that, although we are seeking to know what is true, we do not yet know the whole truth. We must recognize that our understanding of Jesus, and the way he is explained in the Bible, is incomplete. We must choose, like others to whom we speak, to seek an ever more complete understanding of Jesus.

When we come to others with sensitivity, love, and humility, the gospel will indeed still offend, but it will be Jesus who offends and not us. Jesus came into the world full of grace and truth; we must seek to do the same.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Mystery of Jesus

Regarding the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible, Bruce Milne had this to say.

“The mystery of Jesus Christ is the theme of this gospel; always beyond us, yet always summoning us to explore it more fully. . . . the Godhead will be our endless, though blissful task in the world to come; but we can begin it now.”[1]

An “endless but blissful task in the world to come;” here and now, we struggle to understand who Jesus is, the place of God the Father, and the person of the Holy Spirit. Many times we are challenged by new religious movements like Oneness Pentecostalism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses as they seek to explain the Godhead in other than orthodox and traditional ways. Yet, most of us have, at one time or another considered the conclusions to which they have been drawn. The mystery of Jesus is “always beyond us.” None of us can say that we have this mystery worked out perfectly in our mind, none of us have completed the blissful or difficult task of exploring the mystery fully. Perhaps a good place for us to start would be to study and meditate upon the simple, yet sublime, words of the Nicene Creed from around 325 CE.

Nicene Creed[2]
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

(Hear more on October 2, 2016 as this will be the theme for the sermon at Bow Valley Christian Church, Calgary.)

Works Cited

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John: Here is Your King. Downers Grove, 1993.
Wikipedia. "Nicene Creed." Wikipedia. September 16, 2016. (accessed September 23, 2016).

[1] (Milne 1993)
[2] (Wikipedia 2016)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Thermophilic Bacteria as Great Wonders of the World

Lewis Thomas[1] was an award winning author and physician who had a way of explaining complex science in simple ways. In his essay, “Seven Wonders[2],” Lewis relates how he was once asked for his list of contemporary “Wonders of the World.” He is careful to say that he thinks it would be impossible to create a new list of the seven wonders of the world before giving a qualified list of naturally occurring wonders.

The “second” of his list (if you read the entire essay[3] you will understand why I put “second” in quotations) is a particular species of bacteria which thrives at extremely high temperatures. Prior to their discovery in the 1980s, many would have suggested that life as we knew it would not be possible in the severe environment of deep sea vents where temperatures exceed 250 degrees centigrade. Yet, these bacteria were found to be living and contributing to the ecosystem in just such a place. As Thomas says, it was thought that “Proteins and DNA would fall apart, enzymes would melt away, anything alive would die instantaneously.” On this basis, “the possibility of life on Venus . . .” and many other places was long ago ruled out.

Then came the discovery by B. J. A. Baross and J. W. Deming “of thriving colonies of bacteria in water fished directly from these deep-sea vents. . . . [that], when brought to the surface, encased in titanium syringes and sealed in pressurized chambers heated to 250 degrees centigrade, the bacteria not only survived” but reproduced themselves enthusiastically. They [could] be killed only by “chilling them down in boiling water. And yet they look just like ordinary bacteria. Under the electron microscope they have the same essential structure—cell walls, ribosomes, and all.”

I was later to learn of the great value of these bacteria in the work I would do in the Molecular Diagnostic Lab at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary. After this discovery by Baross and Deming, other researchers went on to isolate particular strains of bacteria from thermal vents. One species, Thermus aquaticus (abbreviated Taq), contained a DNA polymerase (an enzyme which makes more copies of a strand of DNA) that could be isolated and used in certain biochemical reactions to amplify regions of DNA. By the time I joined the lab in 1990, it was possible to use Taq DNA Polymerase for routine scientific investigation and molecular genetic testing of clinical disorders. The use of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) greatly accelerated laboratory practices and led to the rapid development of clinical testing for molecular DNA mutations. I would echo Lewis Thomas in his recognition of these bacteria as one of the great wonders of the world.

[1] “Lewis Thomas,” Wikipedia,, accessed 2016-09-12.
[2] Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth; Lewis Thomas, Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1983.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Mighty God" by Key of Zed

Mighty God
(Music and Lyrics by Mike Charko and Keith Shields; SOCAN 2016)

You are worthy of our praise oh holy God
And our hearts are open to your eyes
We put aside things of this world
Ancient gates are open wide

The light breaks through
The light breaks through
Nothing can separate us from love
Your light breaks through
Your light breaks through
Oooh ooh ooh ooh

We give you all of our hearts
And everything that hides within
Trusting you with every part
We confess all of our sin

The light breaks through
The light breaks through
Nothing can separate us from love
Your light breaks through
Your light breaks through
Oooh ooh ooh

Shattered by the power of Your light
No one remains the same
Exposed by the absence of night
Your all-consuming flame

The light breaks through
The light breaks through
Nothing can separate us from love
Your light breaks through
Your light breaks through
Oooh ooh ooh ooh

If my people, call my name
Humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways,
Seek my face, repent, and pray
I will hear from heaven and forgive

The light breaks through
The light breaks through
Nothing can separate us from love
Your light breaks through
Your light breaks through
Oooh ooh ooh ooh

Sacrifices you’ve not desired
Our gifts could never be enough
You will not demand our tithes
All you seek is our trust

The light breaks through
The light breaks through
Nothing can separate us from love
Your light breaks through
Your light breaks through
Oooh ooh ooh ooh

The light breaks through
The light breaks through
Nothing can separate us from love
Your light breaks through
Your light breaks through
Oooh ooh ooh ooh

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

There is Nothing to Match it Anywhere

Perhaps as a follow-up to my post of a few days ago, these words of the great science writer, Lewis Thomas would be appropriate.

Of all celestial bodies within reach or view, as far as we can see, out to the edge, the most wonderful and marvelous and mysterious is turning out to be our own planet earth. There is nothing to match it anywhere, not yet anyway.

From Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth by Lewis Thomas, copyright © 1983 by Lewis Thomas.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Proxima b

There has been much speculation in recent days about the possible discovery of a habitable planet in the Proxima Centauri solar system. Just as our star, called the Sun, has a collection of planets in orbit around it, the closest star to our Sun may have planets in orbit around it. In the August 25, 2016 edition of Nature, a team of researchers presents evidence suggesting that a planet with mass slightly larger than Earth (1.3 times the mass of earth) is cozied up to the Proxima Centauri star in a tight 11.2 day orbit. Think about how fast a year would go by on that planet. (Personally, I am glad that I was born on Earth rather than this planet since an orbit like that would make me more than 1,800 years old.) The new planet has been given the uninspiring name “Proxima b.”

Now, of course, many other planets, have been discovered around other stars in our universe and so Proxima b is not novel in that sense. What makes this planet particularly notable is the fact that it might exist within a narrow window of conditions known as the habitable zone. Initial evidence suggests that the temperature on the planet might be suitable for liquid water on the surface. It may have an atmosphere and there may be portions of the planet on which it may be a reasonable temperature for life (as we know it) to survive. The tight orbit suggests that it may be tidally locked[1] (meaning that it always shows the same face to the sun – as our moon always shows the same face to the earth) and so one side of the planet is in perpetual day and one side perpetual night. This is certainly a strike against it being a habitable world.

Of course news like this caused quite a stir and led to a lot of conjecture about how we might visit or colonize Proxima b. But, let’s make a few things clear, in astronomical distances, this potential planet is very close: only 4 light years away. This means that a photon of light traveling from Proxima Centauri takes only 4 years to get here. Some stars are so far away that they take thousands or billions of years to get to us. But, using todays propulsion methods which can achieve speeds of 0.005% of the speed of light, if you launched a very fast ship toward Proxima b, it would get there in about 80,000 years[2]. So, don’t let anyone fool you into booking your next vacation on an exotic planet in the Proxima Centauri system. You won’t live long enough to get there and your rocket would not have sufficient fuel to make the trip. Other, faster, modes of transportation have been proposed but those are still in development and right now are closer to science fiction than true science.

Still, a science nerd can dream. Such discoveries do spur the imagination. Imagine if we could find a way to travel at 20 percent of the speed of light and get there in a few decades. Could this be a place where humans might extend our reach and colonize another planet? What might we find on such a planet? Or, are the distances just too great to ever get a good look at Proxima b?

Works Cited

Crockett, Christopher. "Signs of planet detected around sun’s nearest neighbor star." Science News. 08 24, 2016. (accessed 08 29, 2016).
Siefried, Tom. "Visits to Proxima Centauri’s planet are probably millennia away." Science News. 08 25, 2016. (accessed 08 29, 2016).
Wall, Mike. "Found! Potentially Earth-Like Planet at Proxima Centauri Is Closest Ever." 08 24, 2016. (accessed 08 31, 2016).

[1] Wall, Mike. "Found! Potentially Earth-Like Planet at Proxima Centauri Is Closest Ever." 08 24, 2016. (accessed 08 31, 2016)
[2]Visits to Proxima Centauri’s planet are probably millennia away;” Science News, August 25, 2016,; accessed 2016-08-29.