Tuesday, June 25, 2019

That Sunday Evening


That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:19-22 (New Living Translation)

John’s Gospel tells us how it was the evening of resurrection day. Some of the women had told the other disciples a wild story that Jesus had come back to life. These followers of Jesus in a locked room that evening were trying to believe the story but they just couldn’t shake the fear. What if the Jewish leaders started rounding up those who had followed Jesus? What if they put each of them on trial like they did Jesus? Jesus was crucified. They saw him dead, not mostly dead, really dead. What would the soldiers and religious leaders do to them? They made sure the door was closed and bolted from the inside and prayed like crazy. This atmosphere would have created a strong desire to pray.

Suddenly, Jesus stood right there with them. John knew right away it was Jesus, but how did Jesus get into the room? You know that startled feeling you get when you don’t hear someone coming and suddenly they are there? I think that is how John felt? “Oh I didn’t hear you come in. Wait, how did you get in here? I thought we had the door locked. Who let Jesus in?”

I can just see Jesus smiling and saying, “Peace, man.” Okay, or maybe more like, “Peace be with you.” The Old Testament version of this greeting is “Shalom to you” and it was an everyday greeting, but here Jesus has loaded this word with theological significance.

The Hebrew word, shalom, refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ … Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.”[1] 

Jesus indeed brings Shalom to his followers. He reconciles all things to God. He is reconciling his followers to God and he wants his followers to be at peace. He shows them his hands and his side, to display to them that his wounds and his great love for them have reconciled them to God. The same is true for us. We have been reconciled to God by the wounds, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

This is the context of shalom within which Jesus says, his next words. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Jesus has done the work of reconciliation on the cross and brought us peace. Now we get to join him and his father in the work of reconciliation. We have peace and now we get to offer this peace to others. For you see, we do have something to offer to this world. We can offer them the unconditional love of Jesus reconciling the world by his submission to the cross. And let me assure you, this world is looking for unconditional love. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn will give you “likes” and even “loves” if you give the world the right things. But Jesus will give us real love, unconditional love.

Not only does Jesus invite us into reconciliation with God and invite us to join him in his Father’s work, but he gives us the power to do it. John tells us that Jesus’ next words were, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and then he breathes on them. Practically speaking, this empowerment by the Holy Spirit means that, they – and we - don’t need to be scared of passing on the faith to others. We have the same power in us which raised up Jesus Christ from the dead.

Certainly, the world needs more unconditional love. We all want more unconditional love. Our friends want to hear more about unconditional love. They no longer know that there is such a thing as unconditional love. They have gotten so used to Facebook likes and loves and they think they are the major kind of love that is out there in the world. We can show them what Jesus has done for them, mostly with our lives, and also with our words. The unconditional love of Jesus that we have experienced and the faith we embody will be passed on to others as we simply allow ourselves to be our authentic selves. If we will be ourselves and be authentic and vulnerable with others, the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of others as they see faith lived out in us.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Modern Technology and the Human Future



I recently finished reading Craig Gay’s book, Modern Technology and the Human Future and found it to be a very balanced approach to many of the questions we find ourselves asking about the good and bad of contemporary technology. We all know how valuable our hand-held devices can be and Gay speaks highly of the gains in productivity and efficiencies afforded by such devices before citing some telling statistics. “‘On average,’ one recent study found, ‘people in the United States across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day’, roughly once every fifteen minutes. For people between the ages of eighteen to twenty four, that number goes up to seventy four times per day, or once every twelve minutes.”[1] Many might say that we are enslaved to our phones, but if that word seems a little harsh, let’s just say we are obsessed with our phones. What are we checking for on our phones? Well it could be all kinds of good information in the virtual libraries of information available to us. We could be exploring art galleries in distant cities, getting the latest facts on nutritional information, or following NASA’s ever curious explorations of the galaxy. More likely than not, we are checking our social media accounts to see how many people have liked our recent post or seeing what posts others have made that we can like, hate, find funny, or thumb-up.

Gay is not a technophobe or luddite, his confessions in the chapter entitled “A Personal Conclusion” make this clear, but what he is saying is that we must consider every advancement in light of the good it will do and what we will give away as we embrace the technology. He points out that one of humans’ early advances was going from an oral culture to a written culture and to a culture of the printing press. Socrates expressed concerns that increasing literacy rates would have a debilitating impact on memory.[2] Of course he was right! Oral societies must commit all important information to memory, but as soon as one adapts to a written culture, much can be stored in lists, recipes, personal journals, and text-books. However, without literacy, one could well argue that we would never have the kind of understanding of who we are and what we can do.

Gay does lament that contemporary technology tends towards seeing all of nature as a machine.[3] Photosynthesis in the hands of a scientist can become nothing more than physics and chemistry. Similarly, the human body and mind can also be viewed as a complex machine that could, given enough time, be converted into a mechanical device to house our consciousness. He also calls us back to remembering who we are. “The church has long recognized that if the eternal Word of God ‘became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” as the apostle John declares (Jn 1:14), this confers staggering value upon ordinary fleshly existence.”[4] “While the Christian church always stands in need of remembering its theology, the need today is particularly acute, given how rapidly automatic machine technology is trending away from ordinary embodied human life.”[5]

In this book, Gay calls us to “repent of our hubris” and recognize that the “principle precept of Christian discipleship is that we are not our own” and that our “task, therefore, is primarily one of stewardship.”[6] He speaks of a proper place for technology where it “starts great conversation” and an improper place when it “prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.”[7] Proper uses of technology will lead to greater harmony of people, animals, plants, and rocks rather than dis-harmonies. Gay calls us back to our theology of being, incarnation, and eucharistic embodiment and prompts us that the eucharist or communion meal is to be a place where we reorient ourselves around what is important: God and his people embodied in flesh.

There is much more that could be said, but I leave it to the reader to take the time to purchase and read this book for yourself. It is readily available wherever books are sold.

Works Cited

Gay, C. M. (2018). Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.




[1] 2015 data; (Gay, 2018, pp. 31, 32)
[2] (Gay, 2018, p. 25)
[3] (Gay, 2018, p. 101)
[4] (Gay, 2018, p. 133)
[5] (Gay, 2018, p. 165)
[6] (Gay, 2018, p. 169)
[7] (Gay, 2018, p. 177)

Stark Raven Mad

 
In other blog posts, I have told of the intelligence of ravens, crows, and other corvids. These birds have been shown to use tools, create tools, and communicate danger to others in their area. Recently, another study has shown greater detail on the communication abilities of these remarkable birds. The study shows that when one raven dislikes its food choices, this mood toward food can be passed along to others such that they have a negative expectation of their food choices as well, even before the naive ravens had any idea of what might be in a food box. Thus, the “glass half-empty” attitude was communicated and transferred to other ravens who had not yet had a reason to be pessimistic. The “how” of this empathy transference is unclear but it is likely the same mechanism used to warn fellow crows about dangerous individuals on a university campus. More studies are needed to bring light to the amazing social communication of these birds. Watch this blog and Science News for more developments.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Great Beyond Trailer


The Great Beyond is a novel with spiritual insights. It is the story of Ray, a man who has done much wandering and is now on the greatest journey of his life. Through out the story, Ray must make choices that impact his future and his ultimate happiness. The book trailer is available here and the summary appears below.

Ray did not expect his life to take the turns it did. He had always been a simple man who enjoyed modest pleasures and a few travel experiences. In fact, he thought he might have travelled more. But life just sort of happened and he never got around to the things he wanted to see. Now, on the biggest journey of his life, going places he could only imagine in his dreams, he is not sure he wants to be on this path. He is not sure how he got on this path or where it will take him next. Perhaps the biggest question is, "Who is in control?"
The Great Beyond is available at Amazon.ca: https://amzn.to/2VbVu6c; Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2DnEVtY; and Indigo: https://bit.ly/2UOieK3



Thursday, March 28, 2019

Miracle Girl



In my family, I have developed a tradition. With the arrival of each grandchild, I write a song. Whitney arrived nearly five months ago in November. So, I am a little behind on getting her song written. Her parents, Lauren and Dean, have been very patient. So, I give you "Miracle Girl."


Miracle Girl

A miracle even before she was born
Coming into their life, it soon was clear
She would be one who would change their world
Always keep growing, and lead us from here

Miracle Girl making a believer of me
Every time I greet you, new miracles I see
Telling the world that you believe
Miracles will happen when God is near

Light in her eyes, as this little one grew
Her face had a charm that welcomed you
More than the trait of eyes of blue
You knew that this was a Godly hue

Miracle Girl making a believer of me
Every time I greet you, new miracles I see
Telling the world that you believe
Miracles will happen when He is near

Her life won’t be easy, time takes a toll
There will be moments, of scoffs from the crowd
The Spirit inside gives her strength to stay whole
Determined to keep living her faith out loud

Hey, Miracle Girl, you’re a wonder to see
And you are bringing miracles to be
Follow her, and you will soon believe
Supernatural things are easy to see

As the years wear on and life takes its course
Her face will always stay tuned to the light
She’ll take each moment for better, for worse
Leading many to change wrongs to right

Miracle Girl making a believer of me
Every time I meet you, new miracles I see
Telling the world that you believe
Miracles always happen when He is near

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Raise a Hallelujah


I have been very intrigued by a song recently recorded by Bethel Music. Bethel Music is the music publishing and recording arm of the Redding, California, Bethel Church. The church is large and has a theological stance that leans heavily toward expecting healing miracles. They are a non-denominational charismatic church.

The song that has caught my attention is called “Raise a Hallelujah” and was written by Jonathan David Helser, Melissa Helser, Molly Skaggs, and Jake Stevens. (One name of note in that list is Molly Skaggs, the daughter of famous Bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs.) Jonathan David Helser found inspiration for the song in a dark time that resulted in a healing miracle. Helser and his wife are worship leaders at the church and work alongside Joel Taylor, CEO of the Bethel Music worship ministry. Joel’s two-year-old son Jaxon became grievously ill when he contracted a dangerous E. coli infection. Jaxon’s sister, Addie, also became ill but not to the same dangerous degree.

At one point, Joel Taylor called David Helser deeply concerned that Jaxon might die in the hospital. Helser remembers the pain and fear of this moment and then the song began to form. Right there in that quiet moment he began to “raise a hallelujah” and the song began to form in his heart. The song speaks of praising God in the midst of great darkness, fear, and many enemies. Word was sent out and the whole Bethel Church community began praying for Jaxon.  Jaxon recovered and walked out of the hospital a healthy two-year-old. Was this truly a God miracle or a medical miracle? We cannot be sure because God always leaves room for us to believe and room for us to doubt. By all that I have read, I would say that God healed this little boy and inspired the song to proclaim his love for his people.

This type of miracle can raise many questions and can inspire our hearts. In my own life these types of questions have led me to begin writing a book about the supernatural and God’s miraculous interventions in life. Pray with me that we might come to have an even better understanding of God’s work in our natural and supernatural world. The lyrics of the song follow.

Raise a Hallelujah

I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies
I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief
I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody
I raise a hallelujah, heaven comes to fight for me

I'm gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you're gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!

I raise a hallelujah, with everything inside of me
I raise a hallelujah, I will watch the darkness flee
I raise a hallelujah, in the middle of the mystery
I raise a hallelujah, fear you lost your hold on me!

I'm gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you're gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!

Sing a little louder (Sing a little louder)
Sing a little louder (Sing a little louder)
Sing a little louder (Sing a little louder)
Let's sing a little louder (Let's sing a little louder)

Sing a little louder (In the presence of my enemies)
Sing a little louder (Louder than the unbelief)
Sing a little louder (My weapon is a melody)
Sing a little louder (Heaven comes to fight for me)

Sing a little louder (In the presence of my enemies)
Sing a little louder (Louder than the unbelief)
Sing a little louder (My weapon is a melody)
Let's sing a little louder (Heaven comes to fight for me)
Sing a little louder!!

I'm gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you're gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!

Oh, I'm gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you're gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!

I raise a hallelujah
I raise a hallelujah
I raise a hallelujah
I raise a hallelujah!

Just begin to raise your own hallelujah
I can't do it for you
There's a song written on your heart only you can sing
And when you sing enemies flee

When you sing prison walls come falling down
When you sing heaven invades the earth
So just begin to lift up your hallelujah

Raise it like a banner
Raise it like a flag
Raise it in the middle of the storm
Let it rise, let it rise

Like a symphony to the King
Everything to You, Jesus
We raise it all
Sing a little louder!

I raise a hallelujah
I raise a hallelujah
I raise a hallelujah
I raise a hallelujah

I raise a hallelujah (In the presence of my enemies)
I raise a hallelujah (Louder than the unbelief)
I raise a hallelujah (My weapon is a melody)
I raise a hallelujah (Heaven comes to fight for me)

Songwriters: Jonathan David Helser / Melissa Helser / Molly Skaggs / Jake Stevens
Raise a Hallelujah lyrics © Bethel Music Publishing

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Good-bye Opportunity


About three weeks ago I wrote about the Curiosity Rover that has been functioning on Mars for six and a half years. Today we say farewell to the Opportunity Rover (2004 – 2018) which was formally pronounced dead at a news conference yesterday. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, said, "I'm standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude to declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it, the Mars Exploration Rover mission as complete."[1]

What a run this little rover had. NASA has a webpage[2]dedicated to the travels and images of this rover from more than fourteen years of roving. It was last heard from on June 10, 2018 when a dust storm caused it to begin to lose the ability to harvest electricity from the sun. Yesterday’s announcement emphasised the technological triumph of this rover staying active far beyond the days of its original 90-Martian-day (90 sols) mission.[3]Of course NASA’s Curiosity Rover is still expected to continue sending back data for the foreseeable future and NASA has plans for a Red Planet: Mars 2020 mission that includes another rover.

So, this Valentine’s Day, we send our love to Oppy, the little Rover who gave us so much more than we asked. We look forward to the next series of explorations of the Martian landscape.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

With God as Our Father


The Bible repeatedly refers to God as father and his followers as his children. Dependent upon our relationships with our earthly parents, this can either be a calming thought or one that leads to tension. Some of us were taught that our heavenly father was mostly a judge who showed his disappointment and anger when we made mistakes. Most of the time when I think of the relationship between father and son, my mind goes to how I feel as an adult, but perhaps the better way to imagine the concept is between a wise father and a very young child. The Bible tells us that God is far superior to humans in reasoning and love (Isaiah 55:8 is only one place we find this truth) and we can readily see that as the creator of this vast universe in which we live, he is far beyond us. When we are mere babes-in-arms or toddlers, and our fathers are given the responsibility to care for our needs and train us up in the ways that we should go, perhaps that is when we are most like the relationship between God the father and we the children.

Pastor Steve McMillan at Bow Valley Christian Church recently used an illustration that points to the truth in this. When a child reaches that age where they begin to walk (usually within a few months of their first birthday) we see the pride of the father in the child. The child manages to get up and hold onto some piece of furniture and walks along it before coming to the end of safety. At some point, they must launch out on their own and so they stretch a leg and arm out and take those first halting steps. Soon the awkwardness of legs, body, and heavy head get in the way and the child thumps down on the forgiving cushion of a nicely padded bottom. At this point we don’t see the father berate the child for falling. We don’t hear him say, “What is wrong with you? You only took three steps!” No, instead the father is ecstatic. He cheers the babe on and says, “Wonderful, you did so well. You took three steps before falling." He pulls out his cell phone and tries to capture the next steps on video. He calls his wife into the room and says, “Honey, come in here quick, see what our daughter has just done!” He calls his parents on the phone and acts like his child is the most brilliant and coordinated child on the planet. He jumps around and hoots like a mad-man, all because this child took three steps and fell hard.

So too, our heavenly father is more interested in the steps we take than in the many times we fall. Sure, he does not want to see us fall and get hurt; there is pain in his heart when he sees us scrape our knees and bruise our muscles. Yet, he is more interested in the fact that we actually walked for a while. He is there to encourage us to get up, wince at the pain, bandage the scrapes, and get moving again. Fathers do not worry about the falls. Certainly, if the child keeps falling for the next several years there may be something wrong and the father intervenes to find a way to help the son walk, but that is not the usual case. 

So, what of my life here on this earth? Am I focussed on how many times I fall or on how much progress I am making? I would do well to set myself some goals and aim toward them rather than focussing on the time I spend on the ground. My heavenly father is certainly looking at foot-steps and progress, otherwise he could not be my loving father at all.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Six and a Half Years of Curiosity


About six and a half years ago on August 6, 2012, I got up early to watch NASA TV as they broadcast the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars. I remember the significant tension of this particular landing because NASA was employing some new technology that had never been used before. They used the usual heat-shield to brake through the upper atmosphere, then deployed parachutes to slow the lander even more. But, what was novel about this landing was the use of a “sky crane” which NASA engineers dubbed, "seven minutes of terror." The Curiosity Rover was much heavier than other craft that had been landed on Mars and so the usual airbag crash would not protect the heavy rover well enough. The sky crane was a rocket-powered descent device that separated itself from the Curiosity Rover with a bridle of three cables and an umbilical cord which allowed the sky crane and rover to communicate with each other. After separating from the rover but remaining attached by the cables, the sky crane fired its rockets to allow for a gentle descent to the surface. Once the rover was gently landed on the ground of Mars, Curiosity communicated this via the umbilical cord so that the sky crane could cut the cables and fly far away to crash elsewhere on the surface of Mars. Won’t humans one day have fun when we finally do travel to Mars and see the various landing and crash sites of such vehicles as the sky crane, Mars 2 (a Russian craft that crashed hard on Mars and did not respond to calls from earth), Viking 1 and Viking 2 (NASA landers that did manage to send back data to earth), Mars Polar Lander (a failed NASA lander), and Spirit (active from 2004 to 2010) and Opportunity Rovers (active 2004 to 2018 when a dust storm forced it into hibernation) two more successful NASA landings? 

What I find amazing is that the Curiosity Rover that I sat watching as it landed in 2012 is still active on the planet, roving over the surface and doing science. And of course, Opportunity Rover holds the record so far for the longest rover mission on the Red Planet. These technological feats of engineering stagger the mind. Once a rover has successfully landed on Mars it must then survive dust-storms that foul moving parts and cloud over solar power systems. Yet these rovers grind on in the cold. The average temperature on the planet is estimated to be around −63 °C, with highs of 20 °C and lows near −153 °C. To be sure, it is not a very hospitable place for a rover.

Yet NASA and other space agencies continue to plan more missions to Mars. Hope Mars 2020 is a United Arab Emirates launch scheduled for July of 2020, Mars 2020 Rover, a NASA venture, will collect samples that will be returned to earth by a later vehicle, and the Exo-Mars Rover 2020 which is a joint effort of the European Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos Agency, will also land in 2020. Japan and China also currently have plans to land landers in 2020 and the Indian Space Research Organization plans to land on Mars in 2022. It seems that all of the nations of the world are involved in this space-race to begin the process of colonizing Mars.

NASA, in collaboration with SpaceX and other private space companies have plans to put humans on Mars by 2033. Other countries around the world are making their own target dates for when they anticipate landing humans on Mars. In the 15 years from 2020 to 2035, what will this kind of competition and cooperation look like? Will this contribute to world peace or add fuel to many world-wide conflicts. Let us pray that the space race may truly be used to satisfy human curiosity rather than human greed. Here's to many more years of Curiosity!