Eclipses, Hurricanes, and the God Who Is

The last few weeks we have have stood in awe as the world surrounding us has displayed it’s power and beauty in the form of a total eclipse and a series of devastating hurricanes. Even as I write this, Hurricane Irma takes dead aim at my home state and potentially my actual home city. This same Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm in recent history.  We will not know the extent of the damage until it passes, but I now pray for the safety for all in the path of this storm.

Even as we brace for Hurricane Irma in Florida, there are millions more recovering from Hurricane Harvey just across the Gulf in Texas.  I pray for all of them as well.

On a lighter note, we also had the opportunity to “witness” a total solar eclipse (that is if you had a pair of those cool glasses that you won’t need for another several years).

Through all of this I observed something that humans have done since the beginning of time: the worship of nature.

There were claims of awe at Mother Nature/Mother Earth. Expressions of adoration for how amazing our world is etc.

Worship.

Paul talks about this in Romans 1:25 when he says –

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

You see, there is a pull in the human heart to praise and worship things we cannot fully comprehend. Because surely if it is beyond our comprehension, it must be praise worthy right?

It amazes me how we can just stop at the awe of nature and not investigate further at the Creator of this nature.

Consider the following –

  • The light from the eclipse could damage your eyes from over 90 million miles away
  • Hurricane Harvey dumped 33 TRILLION gallons of water on Houston
  • Hurricane Irma 185 mph winds fell just shy of the 190 mph record set by Hurricane Allen in 1980 for Atlantic hurricanes.

Amazing.

How do we miss it? How do we miss Him?

We miss Him because we don’t want to see Him. The REAL Him that is.

We don’t want to see and know God as He truly is. We prefer a God made in our image, denying that we were made in His image.

We reject the God Who Is for the God we want and this manifests itself in many ways, in this case I just seemed to notice it in the praise of nature.

Our arrogance blinds us, but it won’t be able to blind us forever. One day we will have no choice but to face the God Who Is.

This quote from Luke Walker captures the point pretty succinctly –

“The sun will burn your eyes out from a distance of 92 million miles. Do you expect to casually stroll into the presence of its Maker?”

Our lives change when we begin to know the God Who Is. My prayer is that we would know Him.

 

 

 

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness

Did you read the Heart of Darkness in school? Probably so. I think it is one of those “classics” English Lit teachers love to force people to read.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Not exactly an entertaining read but I don’t believe it was intended to be entertaining in the way we view entertainment today. This novel is famous for the deeper meaning present in the storyline. The surface story is set in Africa and discusses the European exploitation of the Congo region through any means necessary (including the brutal treatment of locals and harvesting of resources). However the greater storyline and the theme I took away from this novel is the inclination of man’s heart towards evil.

It seems that man has been exploring this question for quite some time.

Where does this inclination come from?

In light of recent events, our society seems to struggle with answering this question.

Take today for example – Charlottesville, VA.

Based on my understanding of the situation, a white supremacist extremist group gathered in protest and was met with backlash. The protest/riot turned violent resulting in at least one death and dozens more injured.

As I review social media, I see numerous people beginning to parcel out blame for the current state of affairs in our nation. Blame President Trump, blame President Obama, blame Black Lives Matter, blame the alt right etc.

The battle lines are drawn, largely divided between Left and Right. There is strong consensus that the events of today were evil, but there are very few answers when it comes to explaining evil.

Why are we so confused on this? How can we not see what is so plainly apparent about the human condition?

No Moral Reference Point

This seems like a recent phenomenon to me. The confusion over right and wrong in the public sphere. Good and evil etc.

Honestly, I think it is a recent phenomenon.

Our culture has sought to remove God from the conversation with little thought of the consequences. This effort has become more pronounced recently, but has been occurring for quite some time.

 (And before you write me off as one of those people saying “you remove God from our schools and this is what happens!” just hear me out. My personal conviction is that the Lord is present even in the midst of those circumstances. My belief in an all-powerful God convinces me that He is present whether we reject Him or not.)

For a good portion of my life, our national conscience was slowly drifting away from the awareness of a higher power. I am not even talking about the God I believe in. I am merely talking about a Creator of a moral framework that we just take for granted. A reference point for morality.

Lately it seems we are content with moving away with a little more speed. A little more purposefully.

The lines of justice have become blurred, the standard for love has been compromised, our morality as a nation has become relative.

I believe we are now beginning to see the consequences of the removal of a singular reference point for morality. It is as if we removed the skeleton from a body and expected it to stand.

And just like the skeleton, we are collapsing in on ourselves.

Self-Evident Truths

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Our nation was built on the existence of “Self Evident Truths”. What is a “self-evident truth”? I suppose it is a truth that is discernible without proof. In simpler terms, It is what it is.

The self-evident truths of our nation are spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and include equality and a certain set of rights that are not to be infringed upon (aka unalienable rights).

Where do these come from? The founders believe they came from a “Creator” and this idea has informed our society up until recently. The ideals we take for granted as Americans are built on this foundation. This fact is inescapable. You cannot appeal to the self-evident truths of equality and unalienable rights without a reference point. You cannot appeal to morality at all without a reference point. There has to be some sort of starting point for the creation of these self-evident truths.

How can we honestly define good and evil without some sort of official standard? You can’t. And we are seeing this play out before our eyes. The battle lines are drawn and we are seeking someone, anyone, to blame.

My Heart of Darkness

So, who is to blame?

Me.

You.

We are to blame.

Present in all of us is a Heart of Darkness.

Left unchecked by a moral reference point, we will bend sharply towards evil with very little understanding of why and the events of today will continue to happen.

We will act in ways we don’t understand because we continue to suppress the only way of understanding the condition of our heart.

You cannot comprehend darkness without the presence of light.

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

The World Needs Fathers

6.19.17

Father’s Day was yesterday. A celebration of Fathers is warranted for all that they do, not just for their kids but for society. The presence of a good father is celebrated for a day, but the absence of a father has nearly immeasurable impacts on the individual and then society. Our society is changing and one of the alarming changes is the indifference given to the powerful role that fathers play in society. Popular media rarely show fathers as strong figures to be admired. Generally you see a man that is aloof, someone to be laughed at. (Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin come to mind).

There are some within our culture who downplay the role of fathers by suggesting communities can raise children properly. Or relationships that lack a father can somehow replace the role of a father. I question these assertions in light of the evidence.

I won’t go much further on this point, but I fear we are making a significant societal error by diminishing the role of fathers.

Who is to teach boys how to be men if not their fathers? Certainly there are mothers who do their best to fill the gap, and I applaud them. But the fact is, they shouldn’t have to. Fathers should be there. But, in increasing numbers, they are not.

I know there are people who will read this (maybe), or at least people asking this when it comes to this topic – “How bad can it be?”

See for yourself –
– 33% of the 72 million children in America will go to bed tonight without their biological father in the home.
– Fatherless children are 5 times as likely to live in poverty, repeat a grade, and have emotional problems.
– 93% of all people incarcerated are men, and 85% of them have no father figure.
– 50% of children from broken homes have not seen their father in over a year.
– the United States leads the world in single parent families.
Source

The absence of fathers is an epidemic. An epidemic receiving very little attention.

If there was an epidemic impacting millions of Americans, costing billions of dollars, and inflicting unimaginable amounts of pain in our society… how do you think we would respond?

We have the answer. Silence.

How is that working out for us?

Personal Note:

Candidly, this frustrates me.

I carry a certain passion about this topic. Why? Because for all of the social justice advocacy going on right now, the church seems too quiet on this topic. This simply cannot be the case anymore.

I am reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14

 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.

Act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Where is the promotion of this ethos? Why is there not a chorus of people proclaiming this to our men? I am a man, I have been listening, and I have not been hearing this.

The Church needs to lead on this, and fast. Continued silence would be truly tragic.

Final Note:

I have a father. He wasn’t perfect and he would even tell you that, but he did the best he could. Honestly, what more could you ask for? Thank you Dad.

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To all of the Fathers out there. Happy Father’s Day.

Observations on the Passing Scene – 6.4.17

I do a lot of thinking about human behavior.

Many people say they love “people watching” for whatever reason, but I am more of a “people understanding” aficionado.

Why do people do what they do?

“What are my motives?” is the question that brings instant clarity to the condition of my heart when I am honest with myself or someone else.

What is the thought or emotion engine to the action undertaken?

With that being said, I have made some observations recently worth investigating further.

Run, Hide, Lie:

Have you ever been caught doing something wrong? (yes)

Have you ever caught someone doing something wrong? (certainly)

It occurred to me recently that humans will instinctively do one of three things when they are caught doing something wrong: run, hide, or lie. In time we may choose to confess or admit wrongdoing, but this is certainly not our instinct.

I think back to the story of Adam and Eve when sin entered the world. After committing the very first sin, they proceeded to run, hide, and lie.

They ran from the Lord and hid their shame

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:9-10

 and lied about their actions by blaming (as if the Lord didn’t already know, the irony there is rich).

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Genesis 3:11

We see this play out all of the time in our own lives, the lives of friends, the media, etc. How can we possibly deny the depravity of man and thus the existence of sin when such a universal instinct to run, hide, and lie is so clearly evident?

The Irony of American Liberty and Tolerance:

I just finished reading If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty

And I am currently reading The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists

 These books are obviously very different. One addresses the idea of American Liberty and its importance to our history as a nation while the other is an attempt to refute modern atheist thought proposed by Sam Harris in his book The End of Faith.

 I recommend both, but something else really struck me as I was reading these books.

We take so much for granted without understanding the foundation or origin for the very things we take for granted. If you were raised in America, you breathe free air without even thinking about it. You have protected rights to do some things that would still get you killed in other countries (especially other countries in different eras). Rights enshrined in our governing documents. Rights that we just accept as fact. Some may call them unalienable rights (see Declaration of Independence).

You see, as Americans, we are fond of pointing to our rights. Raise your hand if you ever said “oh yeah, well it’s my right to do this!” when you were trying to defend some sort of action requiring justification by appealing to a law we would all recognize.

What is this law though? We appeal to this law as if it is just there without stopping to ask why it is there, where it came from, or whom it came from? Perhaps its Natural Law, given by a higher power. Maybe they are endowed by a Creator as Thomas Jefferson said (again, see Declaration of Independence)

Now here is where the irony comes in:

We live in a culture that routinely belittles Judeo Christian values, while simultaneously raising the banner of tolerance… all while not recognizing the very liberty they DO have and tolerance they speak of were SECURED by a government built on the radical concept of individual liberty.

A concept drawn directly from Judeo Christian values…

To me, this is the height of arrogance and an abuse of Liberty that is undermining the fabric of our nation. We need to recapture the radical idea that America was founded on: Liberty.

Uncertainty:

If “Nature abhors a vacuum”, then humans abhor uncertainty. Recently the idea of certainty vs uncertainty has come to mind. Media, conversations, personal reflection.

Even if the situation is certain to be bad, it is better than not knowing. How else do we explain the desire to know the status of a loved one who is lost in a tragic accident? We hear the refrain time and time again that people just wish they knew what happened to their loved one.

In my experience, things that were certainly bad were better than not knowing.

Yesterday was the 6 year anniversary of my Mom’s death. I was thinking about that time and when my mom was dying, the certainty of her death was horrible. But the uncertainty of the timing was agony as well.

Uncertainty is like walking in the dark without an end in sight.

We take shorter steps in the dark.

You probably use GPS when driving in an area you have never been before, and nobody goes sprinting through their house in the dark for fear of losing a toe on a piece of furniture.

So why do I mention this, what’s the point?

Well the point is, the only certain thing in life is uncertainty. You really don’t know what tomorrow holds.

You have to make peace with uncertainty, which is against your nature.  Yet, we all try.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

We ALL cope with uncertainty through faith. I submit that we all place our faith in something. We all have a confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 

What explains this? Perhaps we were designed this way. Regardless of what you believe about the presence or absence of God, you have to contend with this reality.

I have made my decision. As a follower of Christ, I have placed my faith in Jesus.

Where are you placing your faith?

Mother’s Day, Magnolias, and the Final Stage of Grief Observed

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I have written a considerable amount on grief and loss over the last several years as a result of my Mom’s death in 2011. (Here and here for example)

This season has always been one of those painful reminders of the loss of my mother for three reasons. Magnolia’s, Mother’s Day, and the anniversary of her death. My Mom loved Magnolias and I used to pick them for her frequently. They are in full bloom this time of year. Mother’s Day was this week and of course that is a very “in your face” reminder that my mother is gone. Then June 3rd rolls around and the date just carries extra weight.

A strange thing happened this year though. It can only be described as the absence of the often dull but sometimes sharp pain of grief. In place of this emotion would be best described as acceptance. The final stage of grief (or so I have read).

Acceptance

Acceptance of death is a very interesting thing to experience. I think we all can intellectually accept death. To me this is better described as understanding. For example, I understand how planes fly but I would be a dangerous pilot. We all understand things, but I think experience makes acceptance mutually exclusive, especially in this situation.

For the past 6 years, I have sought to actively engage my grief and I believe it has been a very healthy effort. I would encourage you to do the same once you do experience loss or if you are currently dealing with it. Acceptance will come in time. And if it is anything like mine, it will surprise you.

Knowing Joy

In some ways, this acceptance has given birth to a new sort of joy. I experience joy by knowing what eternal life actually means. Joy through knowing just a tiny glimpse of what faith in Jesus Christ means. Joy through knowing my Mom walks healthy and free and I will see her again.  This knowing is like knowing someone as opposed to knowing about someone. This knowing is like knowing your closest friend. This knowing is like feeling the heat on your skin versus just hearing it’s 100 degrees outside.

With this knowing, you just feel it in your soul.

Viewing Life through Death

The acceptance of death informs my view of life. It shines a spotlight on my life and forces me to ask a very significant question:
Where or in Whom do I place my trust while living? Faith in Christ was made real in my Mom’s death, but what about in my life?

I read Psalm 25 this week and verse 1 exploded off the pages (amazing how that happens sometimes).

In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.

This verse captures the answers to the question perfectly. And I think in this season, this season of acceptance, I now know a critical truth of faith in Christ.

I place my trust in the Lord for my death, and I place my trust in the Lord for my life.

And just like before, with this knowing, I feel it in my soul.

What I Learned From A Few Hours of Kayaking

I went Kayaking a couple weeks ago with my Fiancee Sarah. She loves to Kayak. I love the outdoors and being with her, so kayaking is a win-win for both of us. We were joined by some friends of ours. A couple a little over a year into their marriage.

We arrived to the lake and met our guide. Loaded into the kayaks and set out onto the water. We then spent the next 2 – 3 hours exploring the area. As is the case in situations like this, I found myself extrapolating life lessons from the experience. Perhaps it was the struggle of kayaking against the wind, or coordinating our movements to advance the kayak forward. I am not sure, but the struggle seems to bring out some of the best lessons.

Anyway, in the midst of all this I realized something. This experience, kayaking with Sarah, is much like marriage.

Follow me on this:

I set out confident in my abilities to kayak. I mean, come on, I am an Eagle Scout. I have spent my fair share on the water with a paddle in my hand. (And by fair share, I mean a few trips with my troop and enough to earn a Merit Badge in Canoeing). I may not be Moana’s brother, but I felt pretty good about myself out there on the water.

Needless to say, there were times when we struggled. We struggled coordinating our pace and direction, navigating narrow canals, and often found ourselves off track as a result.

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Meanwhile, our friends seemed to cruise through the water. I want to chalk it up to the kayak or some other factor, but truth be told I think they were in sync much more often than we were. They navigated the same canals with relative ease and moved rather quickly over the open water, even into the wind.

We alternated positions in the kayak. One person taking the lead seat (which, according to our guide, was largely responsible for paddling their tail off to propel the kayak forward) and the other in the rear seat (largely responsible for direction while adding some paddling power when they could).  I started out in the rear seat, then transitioned to the lead seat. Both were challenging for different reasons, but I gained an appreciation for how hard Sarah worked as the “engine” shortly after assuming control of the lead seat. You see, it was easy for me to sit in the rear seat and think to myself “I bet we would be moving faster if I were up there…”

As it turns out, where I was in the boat had very little impact on our success.

Fortunately, we improved with time. Communicated better, coordinated our movements, navigated the narrow canals with relative ease the 2nd time around. As a result, the 2nd half of our kayaking excursion was much better than the first. We were a team. As a result, we went farther, faster, together. The amazing thing is the fact that we accomplished this after hours of exhaustive struggle. We truly were better together. The main contributing factor was not our position in the kayak, but how well we coordinated our efforts. When in sync, we glided through the water. Out of sync, we slammed into the canal walls and zig zagged across the water like a novice sailor on the open sea.

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I think marriage is going to be a lot like that. I am going into this season confident in my skills, abilities, and experience. Much like with kayaking, I am sure I will be humbled VERY quickly when it comes to marriage. There will be times when we struggle to communicate, navigate challenging situations, and find ourselves off track. We will slam into canal walls and zig zag all over the place. We will be exhausted from our efforts if we do not work together as a team.

However, we will also experience the triumph of cruising through the water that comes from working together. We will go further, faster, together.

 

Observations on the Passing Scene – 3.4.17

I am constantly making observations about the world around me, but have rarely shared them in writing. I usually reserve them for candid conversations with those who help me process my observations to the point of understanding. I value this practice, because it seems like we can lose sight of the shifting environment around us.

And just like the frog slowly boiling in the pot of water, we can be surprised by how sharply yet subtly our surroundings have changed.

The current state of affairs in our nation has lead to some interesting observations.

Not-my-President’s Day:

Donald Trump is a polarizing President in already polarized times for our nation.

I voted for him. He was not my first choice, but nonetheless I voted for him. I was as surprised as anyone when he won (and I have my electoral predictions to prove it).

And based on our process, he was elected President. Now, nearly half the nation did NOT vote for him, so I recognize the sentiment behind rejecting him because he does not represent your vote.

However, he is still the President. He may not represent your values or your vote, but he is in fact your President.
This may be troubling to you, and I understand that.

This sentiment is widely expressed, but is there any room for this for us? (By us, I mean followers of Christ)

I would argue no. Because we know that the Lord establishes those in positions of authority (Romans 13).  We are all subject to the law and to the government officials placed in positions of authority.

I think it would be wise for us to take a step back and ask: Am I being a source of division, or a source of unity?

Our nation is divided enough as it is. This same nation needs to see a united Church, looking to Jesus for answers, because looking to Washington DC will leave us lacking every time.

Lawlessness:

Why have we become so comfortable with the breaking of laws?
Lawlessness is almost celebrated in our current culture. We have even had government officials allowing riots and the destruction of property to continue without taking action in a timely fashion.

Consider that: the very people elected to uphold the law allowing lawlessness to continue much longer than it should.

This is troubling to me.
Why? Because to me it reflects the subtle but steady moral decline of our society. This is not a social issue. This is not a political issue. It is a spiritual issue.

If you don’t believe me, at least take a quick look at your Bible and see all of the times lawlessness is mentioned.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
1 John 3:4

You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; this is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy rather than Your companions.
Hebrews 1:9

These are just a couple of examples pulled from the countless in Scripture. It is humbling to consider how the continual, ongoing practice of sin is tantamount to lawlessness.

Pretty serious stuff here.

Disagree without being Disagreeable

I was having a conversation with a few friends of mine who represent the opposite end of the political spectrum. We were having a candid conversation about the current state of affairs. I stated my positions, they stated theirs.
And in all of this, something amazing happened.

We didn’t fight, curse, snarl, character assassinate, name call, etc. We simple left the conversation and went on our way with a better understanding of opposing views.

It seems we are losing this art. The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

How do we regain this ability? Outside of just generally being respectful of everyone, I have discovered that it helps to practice empathy. A simple “Why?” can go a long way in aiding understanding.

Consider your background.
When I consider mine, it is not a surprise that I hold more conservative views.

I was

  • Raised in the Southeast
  • By middle class Christian parents
  • Including a father in law enforcement
  • And then I joined the military at age 20

I went to one of the most progressive universities in the country but that experience could not overwhelm the factors mentioned above.
My worldview was set. And the person you are talking to/disagreeing with, has the very same set of inputs influencing their views.

Disagree without being Disagreeable.