Saturday, November 22, 2014

Are we alone in the Cosmos...?

Religion column for Timesnews 11/21/14
Have you seen the recent youtube video featuring Boyd Bushman?  Bushman supposedly was a retired Lockheed Martin research engineer with insider access to the infamous Area 51.  His “deathbed” confession exposes intimate details of aliens from the planet Quintonia.  According to Bushman, a handful of these intergalactic travelers (who live for about 200 years) are among us, helping us learn about UFOs, anti-gravity, and space travel.  Sadly, the pictured aliens Bushman holds up as evidence can be purchased at Walmart.  Shucks.  

I don’t know when we started asking about aliens from outer space.  For thousands of years, people thought the earth was flat and it was the center of the universe.  The brilliant Renaissance thinkers Copernicus and Galileo enlightened humanity, teaching us the universe does not revolve around our planet.  Through Galileo’s telescope, we would learn other planets in our solar system have moons too, and the sun has spots.  Less than 100 years ago, Hubble would peer into the night’s sky and discover our Milky Way wasn’t the only galaxy.  

It’s an awfully big universe after all, and it’s hard to imagine we are all alone.  Our galaxy has 300 billion stars, and there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe.  Suddenly, asking, “Are we alone in this extremely vast Cosmos?” seems more legitimate.  What’s at stake if we aren’t alone?  

On the one hand, it seems like God should create other life forms on other planets, since it would be a big waste of space otherwise.  Then again, if we are alone in such an enormous ever-expanding universe, wouldn’t that make us extremely special?  We’d be like God’s crowning achievement in creation then.  And of course, some evolutionists think extraterrestrial life would instantly disprove God’s existence.  But, life on other planets would not disprove God, you still need a Creator for a creation.

I don’t see any Biblical evidence claiming there is or isn’t life elsewhere.  In other words, I think the Bible is silent on this subject.  The Bible isn’t a science textbook and it would be hard to prove the existence or the absence of extraterrestrial life from the Bible -- though some people try to force space alien allusions on Ezekiel chapter one’s wheels of fire and strange looking humanoid creatures.

So, is God wasteful with His universe or does He highlight His love for us, reserving us as His sole created creatures in the Cosmos?  Let’s just say for the sake of this discussion that God has created life elsewhere.  I’m not promoting this as reality, I’m just saying let’s momentarily allow the possibility of extraterrestrial life.  After suspending doubt and imagining there are other intelligent life forms “out there,” I wonder, why on earth would God introduce us to each other?  

What am I talking about? There’s Isis in Syria/Iraq, Russia bullying the Ukraine, even here in America we have residual resentments from our Civil War, plus think about all the bombastic/divisive ads going into this month’s Midterm elections, there are inter/intradenominational squabbles, people have neighbors they can’t tolerate, and too many families languish in dysfunction.  

Thanksgiving is next week and while the pictures of the Pilgrims eating with Squanto are dreamy, decades later how did the story eventually end?  It’s shameful the way Native Americans suffer to this day.  So..., why would God introduce us to other planetary beings when we can’t even get along with ourselves?

Of all the many disappointments we carry as mankind, I can’t believe in this day & age ignorant people still judge others based on the color of their skin.  We are all equally created in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27) and we need to respect everyone,  “With it [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  (James 3:9-10 ESV)  I doubt any racist will be able to stand justified before a Holy God.

So, if you grew up like me with a wild imagination, dreaming of meeting ET and hoping for a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, let’s start in our own backyard.  Maybe when we get these two passages down, we just might...   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9 ESV)  “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10 ESV)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Getting up to speed on the book "Slow Church"

"Slow Church" IVP publishing, 2014

I had never heard of either C. Christopher Smith or John Pattison, the coauthors of "Slow Church," and I'm guessing you haven't either.  They aren't Seminary professors or famous church growth gurus. Yet, they are insightful writers with a timely message.  As the title suggests, this isn't a book with a recipe for microwaving your church on the fast track to becoming a mega-church... and that's quite okay, because Slow Church is not licence for mediocrity either. 

The book would certainly be useful in a seminary classroom, but I think it's written by "laymen" so well, every member of the body would be blessed by it.  You can look up the table of contents on Amazon or browse through a copy in your local bookstore to see for yourself the breakdown of the book; I'm more interested in sharing with you my impression of the book from my perspective as a Restoration Movement minister.  But, I will add here, each chapter stays on track, most of the book is filled with ample quotes from dozens of helpful books, and they conclude their chapters with "Conversation starters" that you could use in a small group study.

We are in our 3rd year of a church plant, and most weeks I feel tremendous pressure to be growing our church faster and bigger.  I've tried to read half a dozen church growth books with titles you'd more than likely recognize, and frankly I couldn't get through them.  I tried to read a few of the "organic" and "simple" church books from the last decade, and I had a hard time plowing through them as well.  With Slow Church, I had to pace myself, I wanted to savor each morsel.  It was so good, I didn't want to rush through it like a storm that washes away the topsoil, I wanted to let it soak in.  

As I read Slow Church, I thought of the people I personally minister to, and I wondered how they would respond to the material I was reading.  Instead of hawking the book, I mentioned I was reading it, and I did use some of its topics as I preached.  I wove in some of Slow Church over a couple of months (in my sermons as I preached & in several tweets on Twitter), and so far I haven't had to nail the back door shut.

Slow Church helped me relax my anxieties and it helped me to refocus my priorities.  Slow church isn't about giving you permission to forget about growth, it helps you to understand what real growth entails.  Slow Church defuses the toxic idea that has infiltrated many congregations, namely Slow Church refutes the accepted ideas that efficiency, consumerism, and control are what works best.  

We are disconnected from our neighbors, our communities, and mostly from the people we worship with Sunday mornings.  Slow Church reflects on the need to say no to the hyperactivity and slick ways of the world, and to slow down long enough to experience Christianity the way God intended us to, in community, in peace, and unrushed.  Slow Church calls us to reconnect with each other, and to reject the materialistic methodology that drives the fast food industry and most of today's culture. 

Slow Church challenges our craving for quantity over quality, and it gives us fresh ways to envision the Kingdom of God -- to not just measure success, but to aim for significance.  God wants us to partner with Him in His creation, and to expand His Kingdom, and for Slow Church this means we give up our narrow view of staking claim to the pitiful little empires we cling to.  And, Slow Church calls us to share life together.  We are not in competition with the world around us, and you can't stockpile manna, so be compassionate and connect with what counts most, people.

The heart of Slow Church is about having the right rhythm which brings true Shalom peace, and Slow church reveals our need to be intentional -- to realize our identities as disciples of Christ.  The industrialized culture of speed that we are immersed in has fragmented and warped us; it's caused tremendous relationship deficits.  Slow Church is a worthwhile read to help us reconnect with the heart of Jesus' message, to value people, and to see that nickels and noses are not the only or the best marks for faithfulness.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Take a stand

My own standing desk
After reading a few good posts on the health benefits of using a standing desk, and the dangers of sitting for several hours at a desk, I build my own standing desk.  It took me less than a 1/2 hour to put together.  I found a piece of shelving board out in the garage we hadn't used, it was nothing more than a one by ten inch pine board, about 8 feet long, one that might've cost us $6.00 or $8.00 at Lowes.

I measured the board and divided the length up roughly into equal dimensions so I knew how much I had to work with, and after measuring the height from my desk up to where my hands rested comfortably, I had my starting point for the vertical sides.  With a little dab of carpenter's glue and a handful of drywall screws, I build my own standing desk and I've been using it for almost a year now.  I will add, after a few days of using it, I felt the need to buy an antifatigue mat to stand on... 

I like the space in between the sides of my standing desk, because this has given me a place to store my composition books.  Most of my 1st drafts for all I write, columns, sermons, articles, etc., I initially write out by hand.

I'm sharing this because for one, I hope you'll consider using a standing desk for health reasons.  Someone online said, "sitting is the smoking of our day."  Second, I'm sharing this to help people see that you don't have to spend an arm & a leg to have your own standing desk.   

Friday, November 7, 2014

Was the movie Interstellar "Out of this world"? or did it rest on solid ground?

(No plot spoilers planned here)
Few trailers get me choked up, but the trailer for Interstellar did; that's why I had to see Interstellar.  I'm not really a huge Matthew McConaughey fan, but that might be changing.   Last night Tammy and I arrived at the theater about 30 minutes early so we could get good seats, and as Tammy said afterward, the movie kept us on the edge of our seats.  It was long, nearly 3 hours.   

From the previews you already know that planet earth is turning into a dust bowl.  Our days on earth are limited, and so farmer, former engineer "Cooper" (McConaughey) will trade in his tractor for a spaceship to find a habitable planet to save mankind.  How do you get a good plot line out of that?  You add in he's leaving his family behind, the theory of relativity that indicates time passes differently for space-travelers and earth dwellers (so if he ever returns his family could all be long dead) and, you add the uncertainly the crew could end up like the 80's song "Major Tom."  Will they succeed, what's driving them, and can they cooperate, all make for a great plot.  

The movie is filled with popular level Newtonian and Quantum physics.  Several terms and concepts hold the plot together, but don't worry, you don't have to be a nerd to keep up with the science of the plot.  Still, I think at some level we all find space travel, wormholes connecting galaxies, and black holes interesting.  

Most movies along these plot lines have love stories built in, in the case of Interstellar love is the story.  Not romance or cheesy nostalgia, but a love that transcends space and time, and can't be explained away by the scientific method.  The strength of love is teased out from start to finish, and by one of the astronauts love is attributed to "evolutionary" instincts.  Though the movie doesn't try to pit love, humanity, evolution and faith against themselves, these topics certainly come center stage.  There are great subplot themes of loyalty, sacrifice,  and dedication that truly brings value to the story.

The plot is great, and the movie well worth seeing.  Without the typical Hollywood shallow use of sex & violence or extreme foul language to carry a plot, Interstellar puts together great acting and a very good story, it's so clean you could take an adolescent or grandparent to it and not be embarrassed, unless a shedding a few tears embarrass you.