Monthly Archives: July 2012

Disorientation and the Death Spiral

English: The tail of a Lufthansa Airbus A319 i...

English: The tail of a Lufthansa Airbus A319 in flight. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone at London (Heathrow) Airport in 2003 and released to the public domain. Category:Aircraft parts en:nl:Afbeelding:Stabilizer.arp.600pix.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never will forget my first experience with “simulated instrument conditions.” For some bizarre and as yet unexplained reason, in many flight schools a student pilot is exposed to “simulated instrument conditions” during their second flight lesson. What this means is the instructor places a “hood” or a “view limiting device” over the head of the student and the student must maintain straight and level flight, or maybe make a gentle turn, strictly by use of the flight instruments in front of him or her. I guess the purpose is to drive home the importance of learning to trust your instruments and also to learn how to read them correctly. In reality I think it is simply a legalized form of torture.

Anyway, so I am up in the air on my second lesson. My primary instructor could not fly with me, so I had another instructor, a Spaniard who spoke with a heavy accent and, at least over the roar of an airplane engine, only the most rudimentary English language. Toward the end of the lesson he explained what he wanted me to do and I nodded that I understood. Big mistake. I took the controls of the airplane and immediately got the plane in a pretty steep turn.

Now, to explain what happened next you have to understand a little about airplane construction and flight dynamics. On the tail of the airplane there are two control surfaces. One, the “vertical stabilizer” has a moveable surface called a “rudder.” It is used along with the ailerons on the wings to turn the airplane. The other major surface of the tail is called a “horizontal stabilizer” (profoundly clever names, by the way) and on the trailing edge of the horizontal stabilizer is a part  called the “elevator.” As you might imagine, the elevator makes the plane go up and down. (I am not making this stuff up. You have to pay many thousands of dollars to learn these mind boggling facts of aviation in order to get your certificate.)

Everything works just fine and dandy if you keep the shiny side up and the oily side down. But, as you turn the airplane the forces of flight begin to shift. The closer you get to a full 90* bank (and really, only specially designed planes can hold a 90* bank for very long) the vertical stabilizer becomes the horizontal stabilizer and the horizontal stabilizer becomes the vertical stabilizer. That means the rudder becomes the elevator and the elevator becomes the rudder. Which means that if you get the sensation that you are in a dive, and you pull up, you simply tighten the degree of turn and the plane loses lift and the dive that you started to feel becomes a very tight death spiral.

six flight instruments; basic-T, basic flight ...

six flight instruments; basic-T, basic flight instruments (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to my story, that is exactly what was happening. I was in the air with an instructor that I could not communicate with, trying to control an airplane that was doing exactly what I was telling it to do even though I thought I was telling it to do something else. The instructor is yelling at me to let go and I am pulling back on the yoke with everything that I had. I could see nothing but the control panel and the instructor could see nothing but the flat landscape of central Oklahoma spinning around and getting bigger and bigger with each passing rotation. Finally the instructor managed to wrest control of the airplane away from me and we flew back to the airport in silence. I was fuming, the instructor was no doubt terrified and I even think the airplane was pouting. I flew the airplane many times after that, but I don’t think I ever flew with that instructor again.

What in the world does this have to do with theology? Only this: if we are not prepared to handle the situations in which our lives become “disoriented,” the control inputs we make may actually serve to destroy us rather than keep us sane and healthy.

I have one very personal and potentially tragic example. I recently was engaged in a months long search for a new ministry position. On one interview with a congregation that will remain nameless, I was questioned about my devotion to taking care of the congregational members who were sick, absent, or just hurting. The previous minister had trained the congregation that he would be anywhere for any reason at the simple ring of a telephone call. The reason he was the previous minister and not the current minister was that he had experienced a transition in his own moral and spiritual life from straight and level to a 90* bank and the more he tried to correct the problem the tighter the turn became and finally he flew his ministry, his family, and a good portion of the church right into the ground. The amazing, and quite honestly the inexplicable thing to me, was that the congregational leadership wanted to know if I was willing to go anywhere and do anything at the simple ring of a telephone. In other words, they wanted to know if I could put my airplane in a death spiral and manage to come out okay.

Um, NO!

The more experienced you become as a pilot, and certainly by the time you earn your instrument rating, you learn how to recognize a deepening spiral and you learn how to correct the problem and return to straight and level flight. (In aviation speak it is called “recovery from unusual attitudes.”) But the most important lesson you learn is to NOT get yourself into a situation that slips into a descending spiral. In other words you learn how to maintain straight and level flight.  Turns are made gently and smoothly. You keep a constant cross check of all your flight instruments. If you have to turn you head you do so smoothly and gently. If you have to reach for something in the airplane you let go of the yoke first. You learn to fly the airplane every second of every minute that you are in instrument conditions. You never take anything for granted because your senses can deceive you and you can become disoriented and never have the faintest clue.

I believe that far too many church leaders, and therefore the congregations that they lead, are in some stage of a death spiral. Some are simply in the beginning stages, and there is plenty of time for the leaders to catch their mistakes and recover. Some are further into the spiral, and it will take some radical corrective measures to save the congregation. Some, sadly, are so far advanced that if anyone is to survive spiritually they are going to have to bail out and trust their parachutes.

It is truly terrifying to be in a situation where you cannot understand your instructions, and you are trying to do what you think is right, but the very thing that you are doing will cause your death. There is only one thing you can do, and it is the very thing that you are the least inclined to do. You must let go and let your instructor, your mentor, your leader, your spiritual guide, take over. Go to someone who can see the outside world you cannot see. Go to a leader, a mentor, another spiritual guide who has the vision, and the courage, to tell you what you are doing wrong. And take their advice. Let them fly your airplane for a while. At least until the fog clears and you can see once again.

And, for crying out loud, if you are going to fly in the clouds make sure you get your instrument rating first. You will enjoy the flight so much more!

A Huge Loss and (Maybe) a Small Win

Gallows

Gallows (Photo credit: fractalznet)

Growing up I was never a huge Penn St. or Joe Paterno fan. I would root for them to win if they were playing one of my lesser liked teams, or if they were huge underdogs. I remember the game when they were playing the University of Miami and everyone said Miami would just steamroll the Nittany Lions. Well, Penn St. put together a whale of a ballgame and won. I respected Paterno and felt like he was a good man.

Then, a couple of years ago the school tried to get Paterno to retire. He basically told them that he would leave when he was ready, and they could not force him out. The regents just basically rolled over and played dead. I lost a lot of respect for Paterno at that point. No coach, no professor, no president, is bigger than a school. Paterno clearly thought that he was.

Then, when the whole Jerry Sandusky affair broke out and a lot of fingers started pointing at Paterno, instead of immediately stepping down he simply said he would “retire” at the end of the season. He was summarily fired. He was given a diamond studded golden parachute. He has been referred to as a god on the campus of Penn St. He did not just run the football program, he ran the school. The president was simply a figure-head who answered to Paterno. All respect I had for Paterno had long since evaporated.

So, the news today that all of Penn St.’s victories since 1998 had been vacated, and that the school was being fined 60 million dollars and that scholarships would be cut was a very small victory for decency in the corrupt world of college sports, and college football in particular. Maybe, just maybe, all of this has sunk in to a few administrations and maybe, just maybe, they will stop treating football coaches and players as demigods. I pray the money is put to good uses, that victims of sexual crimes are helped, and that perpetrators are reported to law enforcement agencies so that more young children will not become victims.

I was also encouraged to read that the administration of Penn St. is accepting the penalties without contest. Maybe, just maybe, we can put this whole sordid story behind us and move forward, whatever that means. To the young men that Sandusky abused I hope that means closure, and I hope that means a huge financial settlement, both from the school and the Paterno and Sandusky families.

I would have preferred to have the NCAA give the “death penalty” to Penn St., because I believe that only the loss of the football program for a year or two would have communicated the right message. But everyone in the business seems to think that these punishments are equal to, or possibly more severe, than the “death penalty” so I will hope they are correct. But I hope that Penn St. is on a very short leash, and that any other violation that occurs will bring a swift and very public end to their football program.

But as encouraging as this news was, it was dwarfed by the huge loss that humanity suffered in the massacre in Aurora, CO. In another case that absolutely screams for the death penalty to be used, and used quickly, America was once again shocked by the brutality and evil that one person can inflict on others. Sadly, I seriously doubt the death penalty will be used here either. Or, even if it is suggested by the prosecutor, the perpetrator will not be executed until a person will have to go to the history books to find out for what crime he is being executed.

This killer should be the first to be buried. Period. There is no question as to his guilt. The “two or three” witnesses required by God in the Old Testament are multiplied. He rigged his apartment to kill or injure many others. He planned the event for weeks, if not months. Every day that he lives is a blight on a justice system that is bent on favoring the guilty and punishing the victim.

A culture that legally protects the process of murdering an unborn child, while at the same time nurturing and protecting a mass murderer is doomed to collapse, and collapse it should. We have lost all respect for human life. We live in a “throw away” society and the lives of innocent human beings are just the latest in a long list of things we have decided it is okay to discard.

Even before the shooting in Aurora, I was pondering why it is that Christians, and Jews as well, can cope so well in a bent and broken world. The answer, it occurred to me, is because Christians understand the concept of evil. Christians know that evil exists, that humans can be evil, and can perpetrate evil. Jews know this fact times ten. It is the secular humanists, the atheists who believe that mankind is in the process of evolving toward perfection that cannot handle the question of “why do bad things happen.” I know that bad things happen because there are evil people in this world who make meticulous plans to inflict their evil deeds on others. Although it sickens me, and angers me, and disturbs me at the core of who I am, events like Columbine and Aurora do not surprise me. Mass murders committed by someone wielding a pistol and an assault rifle are no different from mass murders committed by men and women wielding scalpels. When you lose the concept of  the sanctity of human life, you end up exactly where we are.

I applaud the decision of the NCAA to hammer Penn St. I think the death penalty was deserved, but I will hope that the football program never fully recovers. We might say the NCAA’s harshness was a small victory for humanity. The way we are treating the mass murderer at Aurora is a huge loss for humanity. Innocent human life is worth more than treating a cold-blooded killer to a warm, safe, and protected existence for the rest of his life.

Maintaining Sanity in an Insane World

Tears

How do you discuss insanity in a sane manner? I do not mean academically (it happens in every university) or therapeutically (it happens in every hospital). I mean realistically, in a world that is bent on self destruction. How can we even begin to defeat the demon that has us by the throat if we refuse to admit our oxygen supply is being choked off and our eyesight is growing dim?

Our western, technologically advanced and morally superior society has once again been rocked by a lunatic with enough fire power to defeat Picket’s brigade at Gettysburg. With all the predictability of the sun rising in the east, all of the other lunatic fringe elements in our society began braying their increasingly meaningless drivel.

Within hours an “investigative reporter” with a national broadcast corporation linked the name of the suspected shooter to a member of the Tea Party in Colorado. Oh really? Never mind the ages were not even anywhere close to each other. Never mind that the name of the shooter (as was suspected at the time) is a common one. Give me a break. How much investigation did it take to “Google” a name and “Tea Party?” But that is what passes for “investigative reporting” in our sick society.

It did not take much longer for the gun-control crowd to start heating up the airways. Oh really? Like, making it illegal to purchase guns is going to stop these mass murderers? Memo to the lunatic left – discharging a weapon in the city limits is illegal. Shooting in a crowded theater is illegal. Shooting human beings is illegal. Did any of these illegalities stop this gunman? From the most recent news reports (okay, are any of them trustworthy?) the gunman planned this event for months, amassing huge amounts of ammunition and all of his weapons legally. Unless you absolutely ban the purchase of any weapon, how exactly are you going to stop someone like this? And if you ban the legal purchase of weapons, how are you going to stop the illegal trade of firearms? But, it makes for compelling television and a good sound bite for your next re-election campaign.

No sooner had the gun control advocates hit the airways the lunatic NRA crowd was hammering back. It is our God given right, apparently to these folks, to carry around assault weapons whose entire purpose is to kill and maim people. Not only that, but we also need magazines (ammunition holding devices) that hold 100 rounds of ammunition. Yea, I usually carried 100 rounds of ammunition to go hunting. Thanks to these people I can no longer take my daughter to a movie theater and sit comfortably knowing that some other lunatic who is bent on killing and maiming as many people as he can will show up with full body armor, three guns and several hundred bullets. I hope you can go to sleep at night.

Then there are the concealed carry fanatics. One of the most incredible statements I read about this whole incident was that if there had been two or three individuals in the theater who were armed there would not have been as many deaths. Let’s parse this one out. A dark theater with a noise level approaching deafening. A stranger who many think is a part of the promotion of the movie. A canister of tear-gas or smoke. Multiple gunshots. Mass confusion. And three or four other people who start shooting at who knows what with who knows what kind of accuracy and exactly how is this supposed to be a good thing?

Politics and human tragedy rarely make good companions. Politicians and political groups are going to try their best to spin this event to their advantage. It has already been announced that President Obama is going to travel to Colorado to meet with the survivors and families. To do what? To campaign for re-election, that is what. It is disgusting. It is repugnant. It is insane, and that is exactly what our culture has become. Never pass up the opportunity to take advantage of a good tragedy.

Lost in all of this media hype is the fact that (at the time of this writing) 12 precious people lost their lives. Twelve people who only wanted to watch a movie. Twelve people who deserve much more than President Obama or Governor Romney trying to convince Americans to vote for them using a mass shooting as a pretext. The families of all the victims deserve more than to have this event turn into a media and political circus over the right to own guns or the power of a society to ban those guns.

But, like I said, these are insane times, and it is difficult to discuss insanity in any kind of a sane context.

This should not be a debate over guns. What it needs to be is a discussion over morality and the depths of depravity to which our culture has sunk.

I note with a considerable degree of irony that the movie that was being viewed was “The Dark Knight Rises.” In a perverse way, that is the most sane thing that has come out of this whole experience. The “Dark Knight” has arisen – and he has blinded our eyes and ears to the message of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who are hurting today. As I write this it is Sunday, the Day of our Lord’s resurrection. I pray that the Lord who used the light of the first day of the week to reveal his resurrection will shine on these families. I pray for their peace. Soon the politicians will forget them and move on. I pray there will be someone in their lives who will not forget them, and will continue to hold them both physically and spiritually.

And I pray for our insane world. The dark knight has arisen, but that does not mean we have to pay attention to him. Let us return to the Prince of Peace and the Father of Light.

A Thank-you To My Readers

Walkway outside Golden Library at Eastern New ...

Walkway outside Golden Library at Eastern New Mexico University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About a month ago I placed a special request on this blog asking my readers if they knew of any ministry positions available. I did get a couple of responses to that request. I want to thank all of those who read that post and who responded or prayed for me and my family.

I wanted to let everyone know that I have accepted a position with the 3rd and Kilgore congregation in Portales, NM to serve as the Director for their Student Center at the Eastern New Mexico University, and I will also serve as an instructor in the department of religion at the university.

This will be a significant change for me. I am used to preaching, and all of the duties associated with being the pulpit preacher. I am going to have to learn a new set of skills, and dust off some others. It will be an exciting time, no doubt. Of course, I plan on maintaining this site and I hope that my work with these wonderful young people will give me fresh insights into the text of Scripture, and I hope to continue providing thought provoking (or just provoking) articles.

inside Golden Library at Eastern New Mexico Un...

inside Golden Library at Eastern New Mexico University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is, however, one additional request that I would like to share, and some of you out there in the cyber-world might be able to help me further. This transition will be expensive for me and my family. If you or your congregation would like to assist us, please respond with a method we can communicate with you confidentially, and I will provide all of the information you need to make a decision as to whether you can help us or not. Our first year will be especially problematic. One of the many “hats” that I will be required to wear is that of fundraising, and we do have plans in store for that process, but it will take at least a year to bear fruit. During those 12 months my wife and I would appreciate all of the help that we can receive, even if it is a one time donation and what you might consider to be small. Our Lord took 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed a multitude, so do not think that he will not do the same with any gift, regardless of size.

If you can help us, please give me your contact information and I will provide all the information that you would like. You can reach me confidentially at my personal email, abqfr8dawg at msn dot com.

We now return to our regular programming…

A Time of Intent Watching

The Israelites Leaving Egypt

The Israelites Leaving Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to a suggestion from a good friend of mine, over the past couple of years my daily Bible reading schedule includes reading all the way through the text in two translations each year. That way I can choose a “literal” or more formal translation and a “thought for thought” or more dynamic translation. So, this year in the first 6 months I read through the NKJV, and now I am reading through the Common English Bible. If you can withstand the occasional whiplash, it is a very profitable practice of daily Bible reading.

A couple of days ago I read the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt. When reading a new translation your eye is prone to pick out different phrases or wordings. Some I really like. Some are like gravel in your transmission. Every translation has hits and misses, good points and bad points. So it is with the CEB. So, I was reading along in Exodus 12 and the instructions for the first passover. Moses is instructed that each Israelite family is to select a male yearling, from either the sheep or goats. The family is to select this animal on the 10th day of the first month, and then in v. 6 they are told, “You should keep close watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month.” (Ex. 12:6, CEB)

Now, that phraseology is a little different from other translations I have read, and I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder about that ‘keep close watch over’ aspect. Why were they to ‘watch’ over it for four days?” As I continued reading in the chapter I got to vv. 40-42. Of particular interest was v. 42, “For the LORD, that was a night of intent watching, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For all Israelites in every generation, this same night is a time of intent watching to honor the LORD.”

Lambs

Lambs (Photo credit: freefotouk)

I have not done the requisite Hebrew word study here, I am simply reading this as a devotional reading and not a esoteric, profound academic research project. I know that the Hebrew language is a beautiful one, and the Hebrew scriptures differ from English writings in many ways. One of them is the repetition of certain words or thoughts, and also the echo of certain words or thoughts. So, here in v. 6 the Israelites are to keep a close watch over, or to intently watch over, their selected yearling animal for four days. Then in v. 42 we are told that God watched intently over the Israelites on the night of the first passover, and that the Israelite people were to keep an intent watch on that night for all generations in order to honor the LORD.

I do my best thinking through the avenue of questions. I do not just have “bolt from the blue” profound observations or direct revelations from the Almighty. I get slapped upside the head with a question and then spend the next however long it takes me to figure the answer out. Exodus 12:6 provided me with a question. “Why did the Israelites have to choose their ‘sacrificial’ animal four days before it was to be killed?” Was each day supposed to equal 100 years of their captivity? That would make sense, although that idea is nowhere mentioned as a possible reason in the text. Is it because they are to attach some kind of significance to the purity and innocence of the animal? Why only four days? But why four days at all? Why not simply find an animal on the fourteenth day and kill it that night? My mind sees the questions, and then works to solve the problems.

But then in v. 42 there seems to be an answer – at least for me the repetition of the similar English words pointed me toward an answer. On that night the LORD watched intently, or protected, or shepherded his people. The one male yearling animal the family chose was killed, the nation survived and was delivered. On the anniversary of that night, for all generations, the people were to ‘watch intently,’ or remember, or to participate in by way of symbol, the Passover and so honor the LORD.

Does this resonate with anyone else the way it resonated with me? Does this not speak to the importance of our Christian “Passover” meal on the Lord’s day each week? Should this instruction not bring us down to our knees when it comes to the almost flippant way we observe the “death, burial and resurrection” of Jesus in the fastest, most efficient way possible? I mean, really! The Israelites were to spend days focusing on the death of a little lamb and we spend maybe all of 10 minutes focusing on the death of the Son of God?

Vessels Of The Lord's Supper

Vessels Of The Lord’s Supper (Photo credit: Mike_tn)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians and chastised them for the way they were abusing the Lord’s Supper. He said, “Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died.” (1 Cor. 11:30, CEB) Wow. Harsh stuff. Abuse the Lord’s Supper and you die. Of course, we spiritualize that verse to mean some of the Corinthian Christians had died to their faith. I’m not so sure that is what Paul meant. God took lying pretty seriously when it came to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Why would he take the desecration of the Lord’s Supper any less seriously?

I like the wording of the CEB in this story. The repetition of thoughts gave me an entirely new picture of the event. I think I need to adjust my thinking of the Lord’s Supper. I think I need to include a time of “intent watching” into the remembrance of my spiritual Passover.

Ministers, Missionaries, Ministries and Missions And Money All Need Each Other

English: dollar,symbol,money,shadow,3d,render

English: dollar,symbol,money,shadow,3d,render (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am away from my usual place of ministry today visiting with some folks about an entirely different type of ministry. As can be expected, the topic of finances came up. This is a good ministry. It has been in existence for many years, and there are many people who have been touched by its services and the men and women who have served it.

And like virtually every other ministry or mission it is struggling for financial support.

Everyone needs money. Every ministry or mission needs money. Finances are one of the ugly truths of ministry. Jesus relied on people to assist his ministry. Paul certainly spent a fair amount of time discussing the collection of funds and their intended uses. He talks about receiving funds to help his ministry.

On the other hand, I firmly believe there is a lot of money available “on the sidelines” as our pundits like to say, that is waiting for a good mission, ministry, missionary or minister to explain how it could best be put to use. I see and hear a great amount of wailing and woeing about finances being tight and outgo exceeding income. For a large number of Americans that may be true. But, I go to Wal-Mart and I see an awful lot of new vehicles. I see shopping cart after shopping cart full of toys, electronics, and other very much non-essentials leaving the store. I see cases of beer and cartons of cigarettes being purchased with virtual abandon. Football stadiums and basketball arenas are full to overflowing. Movie theaters are doing just fine. Our politicians are raking in donations by the millions. Do not tell me that there is a shortage of finances out there.

What we have in the church today is a lack of connection between ministers, missionaries, missions and ministries with the available money. And, on the flip side, there are many who would like to support a viable work who are looking for a reputable destination. There are fewer and fewer men going into the ministry these days. Missionaries are leaving their fields of service. Much of this has to do with retirements, but some of it has to do with the frustrations of ministry.

Somehow, we have got to stop and reverse this vicious cycle. We need to create opportunities for young men and women to serve, and we need to open the flow of financial support to these men and women who are dedicating their lives to the service of Christ.

One very powerful slogan in a public service announcement a few years back said, “It should not hurt to be a child.” I could modify that to say, “It should not mean financial hardship to be a minister of Christ.” Some faiths require their leaders to take a vow of poverty. Other faiths simply impose poverty upon their ministers by proxy. Many young men (and women) who might otherwise consider a life of ministry or missions look at the financial hardship of their mentors and decide that business, law or medicine is a much more appealing career choice. At the same time there are men and women who have achieved success in their career field who would like to help a young minister or missionary, but they do not know where to turn. The are discouraged about giving to their local congregation because they never see their contributions used for expanding the kingdom. It is nickel and dime’d away for this and that, but there are rarely any results reported, and those that are, are very frequently disappointing.

I’m not sure I have an answer here, but I do see a real problem. I have been (actually, I still am) on the “minister” side of the coin (pardon the pun), but I have also been on the other side of the pew. I know the frustrations on both sides. One side complains about the other not giving, the other complains about the first side not sharing needs and results.

Brighter minds than mine will have to work on an equitable solution. But the problem is real and we need to fix it.

Let’s work on getting these 5 m’s together!

Never Run Out of Altitude, Airspeed and Options at the Same Time

Boeing cockpit instruments

Boeing cockpit instruments (Photo credit: AviaFilms)

Of all the “old timer” advice given to new pilots, the title of this post has to be the most valuable. If you are flying an airplane the two most critical components of your flight are altitude and airspeed. The third, options, increases considerably with the increase of the first, and the maintenance of the second.

In life we all find ourselves “up against a rock and a hard place” from time to time. When I was flying, especially as a newbie, those rocks and hard places seemed to occur entirely too frequently. But, I learned a lot through those experiences. One, I learned that just because it looked like there was a hole between two clouds, or between two thunderstorms, that did not necessarily mean that there was a hole where I thought it was. Two, I learned that the FAA rules and regulations were there for a pretty good reason. Follow the rules and you stay out of a lot of stressful situations. Three, I learned that when you did make a mistake, or if the fog got to the airport before your airplane did, there was virtually always someone on the other end of the radio who could help out. This is not to say that sometimes a pilot did not have to get, let us say, “creative,” in the description of his or her problem, but hey, creativity is the mother of invention. (It is just not appropriate to report over a public radio frequency that one must find the nearest restroom!)

So, take it from someone who survived several thousand hours of flight time, mostly solo and with more than a few bumps and bruises to show for them. No matter how dark the clouds may look in front of you, don’t be afraid. The lightening and the hailstorm will make the dark clouds feel like nothing.

Here are a few of the lessons that I have discovered over the course of the past several years. I am still learning, still trying to master this thing called life. I am kind of up against a rock and a hard place right now myself. So, this is real stuff, not just theory. I still have a little altitude, my airspeed is not critical at this point, and I have at least a couple of options. I hope that if you are struggling right now you are blessed with the same good fortune.

1.  Recognize that someone else is, or has been, in a far more critical situation than you are. I know that this may not sound too terribly comforting. But my point is that they survived, so you will be able to get through this as well. Often we think that our situation is the worst that anyone could experience. This is just a subtle form of pride. Many has been the time I have gone to visit someone who was facing death in a very short time frame expecting to find them focused on their illness. When I arrived to visit with them I discovered that they were worried about someone else! They did not need my assistance, they wanted me to help their friend, child, spouse, etc. That taught me a lot about selfishness and selflessness. Other people feel it necessary to call 911 if they have a mosquito bite. They refuse to see the pain that others are feeling, choosing rather to make everyone else feel their own misery. Just ask yourself, which person would you rather spend an hour with? Make the decision now to look for ways to overcome your situation, not to let your situation overcome you.

2.  You always have some options available. They may not be the most favorable. They may require some humility. It is never fun to admit you made a little mistake, let alone a huge one. But, the only people who never make mistakes are those who never attempt anything. Life happens. Sometimes you try to play by the rules and then someone changes the rules in the middle of the game. It’s kind of like flying to a remote airport and a few miles away from your destination being told the airport is closed. What are you going to do? Sooner or later the gas is going to be gone. While you have some altitude and some airspeed it time to use one or more of your options. Telling the airport operator that closing the airport is NOT FAIR will not solve any of your problems. It may not be – but on the other hand if there is a disabled airplane on the runway wouldn’t you rather find out about it now rather than smashing into it when you attempt to land?

3.  Chances are there is someone on the other end of your “radio” who can either talk you down or give you some options you have not considered. Have you talked to someone who has already walked the path that you are on now? Chances are he or she has come up against your problem and can give you some advice. Maybe just hearing a calm and steady voice on the other end of you “lifeline” is all you need. When the lightening is flashing and the hailstones are smashing against your airplane, it is kind of nice to know that somewhere there is a person who is not drenching their shirt in sweat.

Flying an airplane is a tricky process of balancing several potentially dangerous and constantly changing components simultaneously. That is why I find the metaphor of flying to be so meaningful. Nothing is constant in life – except the idea of change. So, the question is not if we will manage change, but how we will manage change.

That little bit of wisdom given to me in my student training days has been a constant help to me. Never run out of altitude, airspeed and options at the same time.

Teaching Through Song

P treble clef

P treble clef (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been preaching through Paul’s letter to the Colossians recently, and in due course come upon 3:16. In the context Paul is teaching the Colossian disciples exactly what their baptism meant in terms of concrete changes in their lives. Without going into all the detail, I will say that Paul expected the Colossian disciples to spend a lot of time focusing on the “Word of Christ” and one way in particular that they could do that was in singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…” Which then lead me to ponder the question, “How many of us stop to think about the teaching aspect of singing?”

We sing to express our joy, our sorrows, to encourage one another and probably a number of other reasons. But teach? No, that is for Bible class. Teaching is for the sermon. Teaching is for the Tuesday night devotional or the Thursday morning coffee Bible reading. Singing is for, well, singing.

Some years ago I came across a quote that has stayed with me, even though I have long forgotten where I read or heard it, or who said it or wrote it. The thought is this – we sing far better theology than we teach. I absolutely agree with that statement. For my  rock-solid unimpeachable evidence I always point to the great hymn, “Rock of Ages.” Consider these lyrics:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee

Let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.

(A.M. Toplady, 1776)

Now, maybe not many take the time to ponder the significance of that last phrase, but in it you basically have the combination of the theological concepts of justification and sanctification. The blood of Christ cleanses us from the guilt of sin (justification) but also cleanses us from the power of sin, which is the process of sanctification. Entire books have been written attempting to reconcile those two concepts, and Toplady did it in one magnificent phrase.

I was reminded in the past couple of weeks about this power of teaching through song. As a preaching minister I sometimes have a  tough time “worshipping” during the worship service, especially if I have had a tough night, or if my sermon is particularly problematic, or if something occurred during the Bible class that set me on edge. However, from time to time the song leader will craft a worship service that simply transforms my whole day. This actually happened two weeks in a row recently. On both occasions I honestly felt like I should have apologized to the congregation for interrupting their worship with my sermon. Those services were transformative.

The second of these services included a new (to me) song. When a new song is led in our worship service I am usually pretty nervous. It is hard to “worship” when you are stumbling over a tune you don’t know, when you are unfamiliar with the lyrics, and when you do not know where the song is going. On top of all of that, we had a guest song leader. So, I am trying to focus on the tune, read and digest the words, and follow the leader when something transcendent occured. The words, the tune, the message all took over and I just stopped singing and was transported to a different place. What really got to me was the final verse. I’ll share it here:

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the pow’r of Christ in me.

From life’s first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand;

‘Till he returns, or calls me home, here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

(Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, “In Christ Alone”, 2001)

Now, I could have, and often have actually attempted, to spend 30 minutes explaining how the cross changes (or should change) a believer’s life. Here, in 8 short phrases, Getty and Townsend accomplish the same thing, and probably do so in a much more powerful manner.

Study is absolutely critical for the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. I am not denigrating that aspect of the disciple’s life. Nor am I saying that Bible class is unimportant, nor am I saying we should jettison the sermon. What I do want to emphasize is that sometimes, and perhaps often, we sing a far better theology than we teach. Now, to be sure, we can sing a wretched theology as well. Just because a song is popular or has a catchy tune does not mean we should sing it (whether it was written 100 years ago or last week). We need to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs we sing – for we may be hearing exactly what we need to hear at that point in our life.

For the moment, however, I believe I have a new motto for my life:

“‘Til he returns, or calls me home, here in the pow’r of Christ, I’ll stand.”

Religion’s Unanswerable Question

James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (4 January ...

James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (4 January 1581–21 March 1656) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last entry I discussed the question(s) that evolution and evolutionists are incapable of answering. And so, in the interest of honest disclosure, in this post I want to share what I believe to be the question(s) that religion cannot answer. I want to underline, in bold face, and in italics, that this is my opinion, and others may disagree completely or in part. I have come to this conclusion after years of study, and as my study is ongoing and ever developing, I am sure that in future days my conclusions will change somewhat. As the apostle Paul said, here on earth we all see as “through a mirror darkly.” So, I am in no way going to claim some kind of spiritual omniscience here.

First, specifically in regard to the question of the origin of life, religion can answer the questions of who and why and what, but the question of when is totally beyond the realm of religion. Our biblical text begins, “In the beginning God created…” That is as far as I, as a Christian, can go. How many years ago did that creating begin? The Bible is silent. The years that are given in the records of the genealogies are given to place certain individuals in certain time frames that the original audience understood. As an assignment in one of my college courses I traced the lineage of the priesthood of Zadok. That singular exercise convinced me that genealogies in the Old Testament are used in a far different way from the “scientific” way in which we used them today. Does Genesis 1-3 give us a photographic image of the creation of the earth? Not as I understand the Hebrew language, the Hebrew method of storytelling (poetry), and the theology that the Genesis author (who, in a large way I believe to be Moses) wanted to convey. Instead of a “photographic” image I prefer to use the idea of a “painting.” Compare a painting of, say, the Revolutionary War with the gritty black and white images of World War II or Vietnam. The paintings convey what the artist wanted us to see and learn about the battle. The pictures showed everything exactly the way it was, no glamour, glory, or rapturous elements looking down from heaven. Moses did not give us a photograph of the creation of the world, he gave us a mural. And, as with any other mural, we have to look at the whole painting to understand each little part.

The other question in regard to creation that religion cannot answer is “how?” Once again our text simply says, “God created.” The most specific it gets is when it says, “God spoke.” We are told God formed man from the elements of the earth, and that is confirmed by our sciences. We are also told that woman was formed from man. Beyond that we are given no details, because, quite frankly, nobody really cared about such things until about 100 years ago. The questions related to how our world operates are a legitimate exercise of the field of science. I happen to believe that a Christian scientist is in a far better position to answer these questions, but once again, that is my opinion. There are many other questions of “how” that the Bible does not answer, and therefore I believe are illegitimate issues for Christians to attempt to answer dogmatically. We can search for clues and work to learn how God has acted in our world, but all of our answers need to be provisional and suggestive.

By way of summary, I would simply like to suggest that somewhere along the way we as Christians have allowed our antagonists to set the agenda and we have surrendered our Spiritual birthright for a mess of scientific porridge. We got sucked into answering questions that we honestly do not have any firm evidence to use, and our own political infighting over these tenuous answers has only served to embolden our opponents. Just as one example, I cannot begin to hold the figure of a 6,000 year old earth. I cannot because (1) my understanding of the Hebrew language and aspects of the Hebrew historiography, (2) I studied about how Archbishop Ussher  [the source of the 6,000 year old claim] came to his conclusions, (3) my own [albeit limited] understanding of physics, astronomy and even archeology. However, Ussher’s chronology was incorporated into the printed text of some King James editions of the Bible, and soon it became sacrosanct. Therefore to challenge Ussher’s chronology was the same as denying inspiration of Scripture. Even today we are dealing with Ussher’s legacy, even though few even know about Ussher, and far fewer would subscribe to his methodology if they knew about it.

However, to continue the story, the evolutionists and atheists jumped on Ussher’s chronology and ridiculed it. Instead of saying that the chronology was just a human calculation and letting the theory rest on it own strengths or weaknesses, by defending it as a part of Scripture Christians bought into bad science and seriously weakened their case. I fear that now what most evolutionists ridicule about the faith of  Christians and our beliefs about the Bible are only a caricature of what the Bible actually teaches, but is itself a caricature that is actually defended by Christians themselves. In the immortal words of Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Is there a solution to the impasse between Christianity and science? Absolutely! We need to return to a serious and in-depth study of what the Bible actually does teach and the ways in which it teaches those truths. This means a return to the original languages and the original forms of teaching. It also means we must hold an open mind to the discoveries of archeology, physics and astronomy, as well as the other hard and soft sciences. If our universe is as ordered and as well planned as Christians have been arguing it is for the past several hundred years now, surely God will not mind if we explore how that order and plan actually works. And, scientists need to understand that a pure faith in God is not antagonistic to their life’s work. Science and theology can be, and must be, supportive of one another.

The fact is that science and theology are seeking to answer different, but inter-related questions. Let us work together to find all the answers.

Evolution’s Unanswerable Question

A hovering Rufous Hummingbird on Saltspring Island

A hovering Rufous Hummingbird on Saltspring Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope I am not repeating myself here. As my train of posts gets longer and longer I am finding it more difficult to remember what I have posted before and what I have not. For someone whose memory allows him to hide his own Easter eggs that is quite a problem. So, if I repeat myself, please excuse me. If I repeat myself, please excuse me.

I got to thinking after my last post (on the Higgs boson). I find it strange that in the discussion between Christians and atheists, or Christians and agnostics, the burden of proof always falls on the Christian. It is the Christian who has to defend his or her faith, answer the question of evil in the world, come up with a rational explanation for the crusades, and the list goes on and on. Meanwhile the atheist or the agnostic just sits back and tries to poke holes in the responses the Christian provides.

I just want to ask why? Why is it that the Christian is always on the defensive? Even among Christians, the focus is on “apologetics,” which makes it sound like we have to apologize for our existence or something.

I want to ask an evolutionist to explain – with absolute rock solid certainty – why he or she believes in the theory of evolution. I want them to explain why their theory is superior to all others (and there is not just one simple theory of evolution!). I want them to explain why, with so many thousands of bones and complete skeletons, there are so many gaps in their chain of evidence. I want them to explain why we do not see any form of evolutionary change going on today (surely there must be at least ONE life form evolving from a lower to a higher form today). I want them to explain to me why they ridicule my book of faith, which is geographically and historically accurate every time it is tested, when their book of science requires so much faith, and which has to be corrected and amended with every new scientific discovery. I want the atheist and the evolutionist and the agnostic to do some defending of their dogma, instead of just thinking that they are challenging my dogma.

But the thing that I really, really, really want the evolutionist or the atheist to explain is the existence of good in the world. Why is there love? Of what purpose or use is beauty? Why does poetry exist? Or why do songs exist? Explain forgiveness. Draw me a chart explaining the origin of charity. From what lower life form does sacrifice evolve? Show me the DNA that necessitates that a grown man will weep when he holds his newborn son or daughter. Not one of these things is necessary for the continuation of the human race, and quite a few of them are actually detrimental to the theory of survival of the fittest and the “evolution” of mankind.

You see, a Christian does not have to explain any of those things. And an atheist cannot.

The Christian knows that every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in Heaven. The atheist and the evolutionist must rely on chance and the absurd idea that somehow good can come from nothing, or even worse, from evil. As C.S. Lewis so devastatingly proved in many of his writings, the evolutionist must rely upon reason, which is by its very definition unreasonable if it is built upon the foundation of chance. The very ability we have to apply logic is evidence enough to disbelieve evolution. Order cannot come from chaos. If our thoughts ultimately depend upon the theory of chance, why do we trust them at all? How can we trust them? The law of the universe is decay and disorder, not organization and evolution.

If you would like to pursue these issues further, I highly recommend reading the non-fiction writings of C.S. Lewis. One book in particular is extremely valuable. It is entitled, “God in the Dock” and is a compilation of many of Lewis’ lesser known or smaller publications. (Yea! Through the wonder of Zemanta, I was able to find a link to Amazon for Lewis’s book. It is a great read! Several of the chapters are written debates Lewis had with non-believers and Lewis’ questions for atheists are amazing. Lewis was at one time an atheist, and basically taught himself out of that position. As he was to say later, an atheist cannot be too careful of the material he reads.)

P.S. – I chose the picture of the Rufous hummingbird above because he is one of my favorite visitors each year. He (the males are the most brightly colored) is an incredibly feisty little tyrant who attempts to own every feeder and flower in his territory. He is one of the most beautiful little creations I have ever seen. I marvel at the brilliance of his colors as much as his oversized ego. Along with the Black Chins and Broadtails he is just one more piece of evidence for me that our God is a great and amazing God, with a stunning sense of color and even at times a whimsical sense of humor.

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