Category Archive: Latest from the MethoBlogoSphere

Oct 23 2014

Begin Again: SETI and Religion: Why We Need Little Green Men

Original post at http://beguineagain.com/2014/10/23/seti-and-religion-or-why-we-need-little-green-men/


skepticWhen I was … I dunno … maybe 9 or 10 years old, I encountered someplace a few creepy little verses of poetry that, because of the “creepiness coefficient,” I hesitate to call a “nursery rhyme”. (Of course, many nursery rhymes and kids’ fables would make Quentin Tarantino look like Jane Austen.) The lines rather creep me out even today when I read or recite them: Yesterday upon the stair, / I met a man who wasn’t there. / He wasn’t there again today; / I wish, I wish he’d go away! At least in the popular imagination, this little doggerel could also describe the public’s fascination with the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). By any rational estimate, the lack of evidence in favor of the existence of intelligence outside of Planet Earth, combined with the stern application of Ockham’s Razor, would entail the most conservative conclusion: we simply do not know whether there is intelligence besides ourselves in the Galaxy. The physicist Enrico Fermi condensed this issue into a three-word question: Where is everybody? I propose that the reason the “little man” – green or otherwise – won’t go away, despite almost no evidence of his existence, is because Western culture, having largely ceased to believe in a god “out there,” converts its frustrated nostalgia for faith into a yearning for god-like intelligences “out there” to replace the gods we have discarded. Having alienated ourselves from belief in a god, we henceforth are more predisposed to believe in aliens.

Enrico Fermi Images

Enrico Fermi

The usual statistical argument for the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy actually cuts both ways. You know the drill, of course, even if you have only watched a couple of episodes of Cosmos. (In the following, reproducing the math is left as an “exercise for student”. Trust me:  it’s quite easy. Junior-high geometry suffices.) In round numbers, the Milky Way is a disc 100 thousand light-years (ly) in diameter and 1,000 ly thick: a volume of about 7.8 trillion ly. The Galaxy comprises, at a low-ball estimate, 100 billion stars. So each star occupies a space of about 78 cubic ly, which means the average distance between stars is 5.3 ly … which tallies nicely with the sun being about 4 ly from its nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri: we live in a pretty average galactic neighborhood. But this is for all stars. I have read estimates of between 8 billion and 60 billion stars with planets capable of supporting any form of  life. I repeat: those estimates are for any form of life from bacteria to Beethoven, from viruses to Vivaldi, from mildew to Mozart.  So let’s pick a number in the middle of that range – 34 billion stars – and re-run those numbers. That yields a space of 230 cubic ly per star, so that the average separation of stars with planets capable of supporting any form of  life is 7.6 ly. As for intelligent life … given that we only have a “sample size” of 1 to work with, that’s anyone’s guess. Let’s suppose that, of those 34 billion stars capable of supporting any form of life, that 1/1000 of 1 percent, a proportion of .00001, are capable of eventually evolving an intelligent species. In that case, there would be only 340,000 stars with planets capable of harboring intelligent life, each one occupying a space of 23 million cubic ly and an average separation of about 350 ly. But these are stars that have planets capable of supporting intelligent life, not that actually do support intelligent life.  Let’s take another wild guess and say that 1/10 of 1 percent of those 340,000 stars have planets that actually support intelligent life, i.e., 340 stars with planets having life of some level or other of intelligence.  That means each of those 340 stars occupies a volume of space comprising 23 billion cubic ly. This means that the average distance between worlds actually hosting intelligent life is 3,500 ly. This is still pretty close on a galactic scale:  on the basis of those (admittedly and shamelessly seat-of-the-pants) estimates, intelligent species would be separated by distances of only roughly 1/30 the diameter of the Galaxy. Even under fairly pessimistic assumptions about the abundance of stars capable of supporting intelligent life, the conclusion is that, in terms of sheer distance and using the Milky Way galaxy as our yardstick, such civilizations need not be terribly distant from each other, on average.

Consequently, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that, at some point during the 4 billion years required to evolve intelligence on Earth, (at least) one of those 340 intelligent species would have either discovered a way to modify the local spacetime metric so as to travel faster than light in the non-local reference frame — think some form of Star Trek-ian “warp drive” here — or, failing that, would have built “generation ships” that would leave their home planet and that would be piloted and navigated by successive crews comprising the original occupants’ remote descendants. All that pertains to physically visiting other stars and star systems.  But if we relax that requirement and content ourselves with communicating instead using coded plain-vanilla electromagnetic signals, then some form of travel, physical or “virtual”, begins to seem not only possible but inevitable, given the time-frames involved.  Human beings are capable of “virtual travel” now, and have been since about the middle of the last century. Milky_Way_Galaxy_Top_View But I said earlier the statistical argument “cuts both ways”. That’s because Enrico Fermi’s disarmingly straightforward question intervenes. One more time … Where is everybody? Think of it this way: if alien civilizations are separated by only (i.e., “only” on the scale of the galaxy), say, a few thousand light-years, then within time scales imposed by the age of the galaxy (around 13 billion years) and the ages of stars therein and the time scales involved in the evolution of star systems and of life, it would be difficult to justify the conclusion that there has not been enough time for non-terrestrial life to evolve to the point of being able to communicate with, however accidentally — or perhaps even physically travel to — other intelligences … in other words, us. (You also have to remember that, in the above calculations, I am assuming that there are “only” 100 billion stars in our galaxy.  While this number is realistic, the literature suggests that 100 billion may well be low.  There may be 2 or 3 times that number of stars in our galaxy, and if so, the mean distance between stars, including stars that host intelligent life, would be significantly less. More stars in the same volume of space would mean that the Milky Way would be more “congested” than I assume.) Consider that in less than a hundred years, humans’ ability to transmit electromagnetic signals has evolved to the point that, to name just one example, the great radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, can send signals that could be detected by intelligences roughly on a par with us – and receive signals from others, even if those signals were sent hundreds of thousands of years ago and were not even aimed at us. Who knows? Maybe advanced civilizations are both vanishingly rare and tend toward self-destruction after a time. (Nobody knows what the “shelf life” of an intelligent species is. Species homo sapiens sapiens has been around for, at most, just shy of a million years.  A million years is less than 800-thousandths of one percent of the life of the Milky Way Galaxy. We arrived fashionably late to the Party.) The point of all this is not – repeat: not – that there is categorically no other intelligent life in the galaxy, but that the matter is still completely unsettled. The existence of ETI is still very much an open question.

At least, it is an open question as far as the science of SETI is concerned. But belief in extra-terrestrial intelligence in the popular culture has long ago transitioned from SETI to just ETI: the belief that the search part — the “S” in SETI – is pretty much over because … well … of course the last three letters “ETI” exist, because there is extra-terrestrial intelligence “out there”. Doesn’t the above statistical argument prove it? Of course, it does no such thing. And actual scientists – Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Seth Shostak (senior astronomer at the SETI Institute), UCLA galactic astronomer Andrea Ghez, et al. – say as much. In fact, Sagan coined the concise maxim that guides scientific SETI: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (Sagan made this remark originally in the context of religious SETI:  justifying his skepticism about alleged alien abductions by citing the lack of hard evidence.) Practitioners and devotees of the religion of SETI, as distinct from the science of SETI, would do well to have this maxim tattooed on the inner surface of their eyelids so they see it constantly. But how did SETI end up becoming a de facto incipient religion?

Seth-Shostak-720x540

Seth Shostak

The short answer is that there is a cottage industry, especially in the United States, that is determined to systematically misinterpret and misapprehend virtually all major developments in science. (Similar misinterpretations and misapprehensions continue to attend relativity and quantum theory. Ditto evolution. The misinterpretations attending SETI stem from a desire to believe; those attending evolution, from a desire to not believe.  But that is another rant for another time.) SETI is just the latest such. We in the US are especially prone to this tendency because the United States is, by a country light-year, the most religious of any technologically advanced First World country. So the religious subculture of the US is always looking for ways to bolster religious faith – some kind of religious faith, virtually any kind of religious faith – against what are often regarded as the insidious corruptions of secularity. So it is far from accidental that, if we step back and look at religious SETI from a distance, it begins to look suspiciously like conservative evangelical Christianity transposed into the key of Star Trek or Star Wars. To wit …

g25943_u23447_Ghez2compressed1

Andrea Ghez

o The ETIs – “undocumented aliens” in the most literal sense – observe us from a distance … like the Christian God, indeed, any monotheistic god, and do so both with detachment and altruism

o The ETIs are powerful beyond all hope of merely human comprehension … rather like … well … again, just about any monotheistic deity – recalling Arthur C. Clarke’s assertion that the technology of any sufficiently advanced civilization would be indistinguishable from magic

o “They” may already walk among us, yet unrecognized as who “They” really are … rather as Christians say Jesus Christ did for roughly 33 years … except to a chosen few … again, rather like Christ is alleged to have done … see virtually any old episode of The X-Files for corroboration. Though he did not claim to be God — quite the contrary — Muhammad allegedly walked among his fellow Arabs initially unrecognized as God’s Final Prophet.  Etc., etc., etc.

o “They” are periodically thought to abduct people in order to work “Their” inscrutable will upon them, and to return them to earth – usually, though not always – to bear testimony of “Their” existence to others not similarly privileged … rather like St. Paul on the Damascus Road or Betty and Barney Hill in upstate NH (who returned to an earthly life), and Elijah in the Hebrew Bible (who did not) – and by the way, let’s not forget the “Rapture”, shall we?

o One of the more unsettling purposes of “Their” experiments on human beings is alleged to be the inter-breeding of ETI-human hybrids … rather like Zeus’s rape of Danae, who gave birth to Perseus as a result, or the Christian equivalent of the Virgin Birth

o At some unspecified time in the future, “They” will reveal themselves openly and publicly to humanity generally, privileged and unprivileged alike … rather like “the coming of the Son of Man,” which will be as “lightning [that] cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west” (Matthew 24:27, KJV) or the revelation of Shi’a Islam’s Twelfth Imam or the coming of the Person Jews would regard as the genuine Messiah.

o While “They” are generally benevolent, “They” are also capable of indiscriminate violence on an apocalyptic scale … so the movie Independence Day and the book of Revelation – to say nothing of much of the Christian Old Testament — unexpectedly sing from the same sheet music here

o Some in religious SETI like Erich von Daniken believe that humans are just too dumb to design and build things like the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Great Zimbabwe, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines, etc., without help from ETIs … they are the Augustinians of religious SETI … (If the ETIs want to claim credit for, say, Stonehenge, they are welcome to do so, as long as they get the blame for Trump Tower in Chicago. In fact, when I think of Trump himself, I am tempted to reevaluate my skepticism  about the “they-already-walk-among-us” school of religious SETI.) ancient_astronauts_in_north_american_west_by_lucemferre1776-d6tlgpd

In the Pensees, Blaise Pascal wrote hauntingly in reference to the immensity of the cosmos: Le silence eternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me”). He is not alone in that regard. There are many human beings, even among the superficially religious, who either no longer believe in any god, or in a god who is so remote as to be of no personal relevance. Indeed, where are the gods? Many fear that, as J. R. R. Tolkien’s King Theoden of Rohan says in The Two Towers:  They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow; / The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. Then there are cranky, cantankerous old  “contrarians” and avocational skeptics like me, who believe that contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, especially one far advanced beyond us, would be potentially catastrophic, if for no other reason than that it might give rise to fundamentalistic religious passion. Hey! What could possibly go wrong with that?

I close by again quoting Arthur C. Clarke Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying. The “little man” may be on the stairs.  Or in the stars.  He may not.  His presence and his absence are alike equally haunting. But even if he doesn’t exist, we will probably invent him.

James R. Cowles


Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/seti-and-religion-why-we-need-little-green-men/

Oct 23 2014

Thoughts of a Naked Alien: It’s a Trap!

Original post at http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/blogspot/WUYV/~3/nUqY7Rzx-zc/its-trap.html


The Judges gathered. The Prosecutor asked the Man a question to give him enough rope to hang himself: “Sir, which Law is most important?”

The Man raised his eyes from his dirty feet, and looked each Judge in the face: “Love God with every atom of your being.” But before the next question could be asked, he answered it: “Another Law is equally important: love everyone – you are all of the same atoms.”

The Judges huddled to see if they could turn these answers into a conviction, but the Man was not done speaking: “Whose son is the Son?”

They were aback. People did not ask questions back. Yet, their rabbinical training compelled them: “The Son of David!”

“Then why,” asked the Man, “did the Spirit of God speaking through His servant King David, call the Son ‘Lord’?”

They forgot their attempt at entrapment, and never asked him a question again.

 

(Retelling of Matthew 22:34-46)

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/its-a-trap/

Oct 22 2014

The Painted Prayerbook: Love Is the Most Ancient Law

Original post at http://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/10/23/love-is-the-most-ancient-law/


Love Is the Most Ancient LawImage: Love Is the Most Ancient Law © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 25/Ordinary 30/Pentecost +20: Matthew 22.34-46

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with
all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the greatest and first commandment.”
– Matthew 22.37-38

Love Is the Most Ancient Law
A Blessing

Open to it
and you will know
how love is
its own blessing
and most ancient
of laws.

Pursue it
entirely
with everything
in you—
your heart
(all)
your soul
(all)
your mind
(all).

Spend it
all—
this love
so generous
this love
that goes out
to each
it finds
this love
that gives itself
in lavish and
unimagined measure
everywhere and
to all—

yourself
not least.


For previous reflections on this gospel passage, visit Crossing the Country, Thinking of Love and Heart of the Matter.

Now open!

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that draws you into Advent without feeling like it’s just one more thing to add to your schedule? I would love for you to join us for this all-new online retreat that easily fits into the rhythm of your days. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey toward Christmas from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Love Is the Most Ancient Law,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/love-is-the-most-ancient-law/

Oct 22 2014

UMR: Bishop D. Max Whitfield appointed director of Center for Religious Leadership at Perkins School of Theology

Original post at http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2014/10/22/bishop-d-max-whitfield-appointed-director-of-center-for-religious-leadership-at-perkins-school-of-theology/


Perkins squareDallas, Texas – Southern Methodist University Provost Paul Ludden has appointed Bishop D. Max Whitfield as director of the Center for Religious Leadership at Perkins School of Theology. The Provost made the appointment upon receiving the nomination of Bishop Whitfield from Perkins School of Theology Dean William B. Lawrence. In addition to his work with the Center for Religious Leadership, Bishop Whitfield will continue serving as Bishop in Residence at Perkins.

“Bishop Whitfield’s considerable experience and longstanding interest in leadership will enhance the work of the Center for Religious Leadership here at Perkins,” Dean Lawrence said. “We are excited about his willingness to share his gifts in this important role.”

Bishop Whitfield believes Perkins School of Theology has much to contribute in the field of religious leadership. “The resources at Perkins specifically, as well as its context as a leading school of theology related to Southern Methodist University, position us well to help develop leaders – both clergy and laity – through spiritual growth and personal development,” Whitfield said. “Leadership can too easily be separated from our biblical, theological, cultural fields of study, as though leadership is somehow ‘different’ from the real work of the church,” he added. “Part of what I hope to facilitate is an exploration of ways to strengthen these connections.”

Prior to coming to Perkins as Bishop in Residence in 2012, Whitfield served as Bishop of the New Mexico and Northwest Texas Conferences for 12 years. Before his election to the episcopacy, he served as Superintendent of the Batesville and Fayetteville Districts in the Arkansas Conference UMC, after serving as senior pastor in various United Methodist congregations in Arkansas for more than 30 years. Whitfield’s distinguished ministry with the church and the larger community also has included serving on the Board of Trustees, Hendrix College; Conference Board of Ordained Ministry; Board of Directors, General Board of Global Ministries; Board of Directors, General Commission on Religion and Race; and numerous other positions. He served as a General Conference delegate for three quadrennia and a South Central Jurisdictional delegate for four quadrennia.

Whitfield was ordained deacon (1967) and elder (1970) in the North Arkansas Conference. An alumnus of Perkins, he earned a B.S.A. from Arkansas State University (1966), M.Div. from Perkins School of Theology (1969), and D.Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1983).

The Center for Religious Leadership of Perkins School of Theology provides training in the theology of leadership and practical skills for leadership. This training is based in an understanding of leadership as a spiritual vocation cultivated, strengthened, and lived out within communities of faith and the other contexts in which the church exists – including legal, business, political, social and cultural contexts. The Center draws on the skills of the SMU faculty from Perkins School of Theology, Cox School of Business, and Dedman School of Law along with church leaders (both lay and clergy), and business and non-profit leaders.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/bishop-d-max-whitfield-appointed-director-of-center-for-religious-leadership-at-perkins-school-of-theology/

Oct 22 2014

Rev. Brent L. White: Sermon 10-12-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 9b: Elijah”

Original post at http://revbrentwhite.com/2014/10/22/sermon-10-12-14-bible-heroes-part-9b-elijah/


superhero graphic

In today’s scripture, a drought has caused widespread famine. A widow is worried about having enough food to feed herself and her young son. In spite of this, the prophet Elijah asks her to feed him first—and then feed herself and her boy. This was a major test of faith. The question she must have asked herself was: “If I give what the Lord is asking me to give, will I have enough left over for me?” This sermon explores some ways in which that same question is relevant for us today. This is the second of two sermons on this text.

Sermon Text: 1 Kings 17:8-24

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

In the early 2000s, when I was working as an engineer, I traveled frequently. And once I was slated to go to Toronto, Canada, where I was going to be working at a Coca-Cola plant. It just so happened that there was an outbreak of a potentially deadly virus in Toronto called SARS. Remember SARS? And on the news, they showed people walking around the streets of Toronto wearing surgical masks out of fear that they, too, would catch SARS. And I was worried, too, frankly. I didn’t want to fly to Toronto and catch SARS while I was there. But I was also way too vain to go to Toronto and walk around wearing a surgical mask like the people I saw on TV. I didn’t want to look dumb. So I had pretty well convinced myself that I was going to go to Canada and get this deadly disease. Oh well…

As it turns out, the trip to Canada got canceled anyway. So I didn’t end up getting SARS.

But I’m reminded of that same kind of fear when I follow the news today. Because now, once again, we face a new public health crisis—a deadly new contagious disease that some of us are worried about: Ebola.

In fact, I sense that we’re living in a new season of fear… And our fear is way out of proportion to the actual threat. When it comes to Ebola, for example, from what I’ve read, it is very difficult to contract the disease. An Ebola sufferer doesn’t become really contagious with the disease until they’re really, really sick. So of course doctors and nurses have to take great precautions when treating someone with Ebola, but it’s unlikely that Ebola could be spread on a subway car… or out in public.

And we’re afraid And if we’re not afraid of Ebola, there are plenty of other things to worry about: like the renewed fear of Islamic terrorism. So we’re trying to contain the threat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. And there’s even fear that the Secret Service can’t protect the President and the first family—there have been break-ins at the White House!

Fear!

In today’s scripture, the people of Israel were afraid. It hadn’t rained in over a year with no end in sight. As God had communicated through the prophet Elijah, God was withholding the rain from Israel and the surrounding nations as punishment for God’s people turning away from him and worshiping Baal instead. Baal was considered the god of rain. Baal supposedly controlled the weather. So our God, the one true God, wanted to prove to his people that he was actually in control. So God keeps Elijah alive by sending him out of Israel, about 90 miles north to a city called Zarephath, in Sidon. God tells Elijah that there’s a widow there who will feed him. We talked about how Elijah answered that call to go there in last week’s sermon. This week, I want look at the widow herself.

When Elijah finds her, she is also desperately afraid. Because just like down south in Israel, her people also haven’t had rain in over a year. Food is scarce—and as a widow she has a hard time making ends meet anyway. And now this complete stranger—a foreigner no less, who worships a different God—is asking her to feed him! And we know she’s afraid because what does she say in verse 12? “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Do you hear the fear in her voice?

She’s telling Elijah, “I’ve only got enough flour and oil to make one last loaf of bread for me and my son. I’m about to do that, and once that’s gone, I’ve got nothing. We’ll starve.” So in addition to dying herself, she believes that she’ll also watch her young son, the person she loves more than anything else in the world, also die. Can you imagine?

And what does Elijah do? Does he say, “Hey, I understood. No problem. I’ll go ask someone else for food”? That’s what we would do. But not Elijah. Instead, he doubles down and says, “Don’t be afraid! Go and make the bread, just like you were planning, except… feed me first, and then feed your young son and yourself.” He’s not being selfish; he’s exercising faith in God. He believes what the “word of the Lord” has told him. He believes that if she takes this frightening step of faith—and disregards her maternal instinct to keep her son alive, and disregards her human instinct to keep herself alive—somehow, somehow, somehow God will ensure that she’ll have all flour and oil she’ll need to last her not only for the next meal, but for for a couple more years worth of meals—until the rain falls and the drought ends… If only she’ll overcome her fear and trust in the Lord!

Oh, brothers and sisters, it is hard to trust in God like that, isn’t it? My faith has never been so badly tested yet.

Speaking of which, it is with great sympathy that I read last week—along with many of you—the story of a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Maynard, who is dying of a brain cancer in Portland, Oregon. She announced publicly through CNN that with the help of a doctor, she will end her life on November 1st. She says she wants to die with dignity, on her own terms, without going through painful cancer treatments, without lingering for weeks or months in hospice, without losing her dignity, without putting her husband, and family, and friends through the heartache of watching her die. And she’s advocating for the cause of physician-assisted suicide.

Brittany Maynard has announced publicly that she'll end her life on November 1.

Brittany Maynard has announced publicly that she’ll end her life on November 1.

I promise I feel great compassion for her. I watched my own father take his last breaths in hospice care many years ago. And in my job as pastor I’ve seen people of all ages succumb to cancer and other terrible diseases, and I’ve ministered to them and their loved ones with a heavy heart and sometimes with tears. In spite of that, I’m deeply troubled by her decision to end her life like this—and since she’s made it a public issue in order to convince us to change our minds and change our laws regarding suicide, I don’t mind sharing with you why I think she’s wrong.

Whatever else her decision may be, it is deeply un-Christian. It denies the fact that God gives us every moment of life as a gift. It denies the possibility that God could give her a better quality of life than she currently expects—either by working a miracle directly and physically healing her or through medicine. It denies that God could have any reason for permitting her to go through this trial. Remember James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God can use even suffering for our good. And in my limited experience of personal suffering, God has made me a better person through it.

All this is incredibly easy for me to say, I know! I’m a big coward who doesn’t want to suffer, either. But when suffering comes—and it will come to all of us in one form or another if it hasn’t already—God expects us to endure it and bear witness to our faith in the One who suffered far worse than we ever will. No matter how bad our suffering, it can’t compare to the suffering that our Lord suffered for us on the cross—not just the physical pain, which was as bad as anything we’ll face, but also the spiritual separation from God that he suffered on our behalf—so that we won’t have to.

Viktor Frankl, a renowned 20th century psychiatrist who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, used to counsel his fellow inmates who were contemplating suicide. It was apparently very common for prisoners to kill themselves by walking into electrified fences. He told them, “You want to kill yourself because you expect nothing else out of life, but life still expects something out of you: even if it’s only to walk into the gas chamber with your head held high.”

Life still expects something out of us, which is another way of saying that God expects something from us—for as long as he gives us life. If God didn’t expect anything more from us, he would stop giving us that life.

Again, I say this as a coward who never wants to endure that kind of trial. But make no mistake: it is nothing less than a test of faith that I hope I’ll pass if—God forbid—suffering of that magnitude comes my way.

We follow a Savior, after all, who asks us to lay down our lives. That might include laying down our dignity as well.

You know, I’ve preached a lot recently about all these contemporary Christian martyrs who are suffering and even dying for their faith all around the world. And I speak of them with a sense of wonder and amazement at how courageous they are—that they can stare death in the face and simply accept it, as a consequence of their faith in Christ. And I speak of them as if their example and courage and witness are something unusual and exotic—something to which most of us would have a hard time relating. But that can’t be right. Because I’ve been privileged enough to be at the bedside of dozens of Christians who’ve faced their own death not with fear, but with this same kind faithfulness, and courage, and equanimity, and hope. They teach me—they teach us—how to die as a Christian.

I pray that Brittany will find this same courage, this same peace, this same hope, which comes from our Lord Jesus, before she makes this irreversible decision to end her life.

We don’t have to be afraid. Or even if we are afraid, we don’t have to let that fear control us. And, as the widow’s story shows, if we can only face our fears and do what our Lord wants us to do, well… we can receive a great blessing!

The question that the widow had to ask herself was this: “If I give this man what he’s asking for, will I have enough left over for me?” If I give… If I give the way the Lord is asking me to give, will I have enough left over for me?

Don’t you think that when it comes to being faithful to Jesus, we often have to ask ourselves a question like that? If I give the way the Lord is asking me to give, will I have enough left over for me? In a way, that’s what someone like Brittany Maynard is asking: If I take this risky step of faith and face this trial that life, or God, has thrown my way—if I find the courage to face this thing, no matter how frightening it may be—will I be O.K.? Will I find the strength to endure it? If God exists at all, she may be wondering to herself, will he really take care of me? Because I’m afraid he won’t. Can I really trust that he will?

I think a lot of us—in trials that are far less frightening than the trial that Brittany Maynard is enduring—a lot of us have to ask ourselves that same question: If I give what the Lord is asking me to give—of myself, of my life, of my time, of my financial resources, of my talent, of my energy—if I take the step of faith and do what the Lord is asking, will he take care of me? Do I trust him to take care of me? Will he give me what I need? Does he love me enough to take care of me?

Brothers and sisters, friends, the answer to that question is yes. How do I know?

I know because of what the Lord shows us in second part the widow’s story. Her young son dies. And she’s convinced that her son dies because God is punishing her… for her sins. She says to Elijah, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” That’s a strange way of putting it, but what she’s saying is: “When you came here, you brought God with you. I was safe from God before you got here, but because you came, and God is so close to you, God has has now become aware of how sinful I am. My sins which were hidden are now laid bare before God, and now that he knows what a sinner I am, he’s obviously going to punish me. So thanks a lot, Elijah, for bringing God into this house, because that means I’m in trouble! And God is surely punishing me.”

That’s what the widow is saying, in so many words. And in a surprising way, she’s right… I mean, not in the sense that God didn’t know that she was a sinner before Elijah got there. That’s silly. But she’s right in the sense that none of us is able to be in a right relationship with God—none of us is righteous enough, holy enough, good enough to stand in God’s presence without being utterly destroyed. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah when he has a dramatic encounter with God: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Isaiah encounters God, and he’s afraid he’s going to die. Why? Because he’s a sinner and he knows it. What does the Bible say: “The wages of sin is death.” And we’re all sinners. Like the widow, like the prophet Isaiah. And as the widow knows perfectly well, our sins deserve punishment.

Now here’s the good news: God came to us in the flesh, in his Son Jesus Christ, and received the punishment that our sins deserved.

And now, instead of being lost in our sins, instead of dying in our sins, instead of being punished eternally for them, what does God give us? Resurrection and eternal life.

Just as Elijah stretches out his arms over this child and spares him the consequences of sin, which is death, so our Lord Jesus “stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.”

God did that for you… out of love… so that you could be saved. If you’ve never before decided to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and received this gift of eternal life that he offers—the gift that enables us to overcome our fears—I pray that you won’t let this hour pass without doing so!


Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/sermon-10-12-14-bible-heroes-part-9b-elijah/

Oct 22 2014

Holli Long: The Kid in Us All

Original post at http://www.hollilong.com/2014/10/22/the-kid-in-us-all/


I had the pleasure of spending last Saturday with four lovely families for our Fall Mini Sessions.  Despite some chilly weather, the scenery was beautiful…only to be outdone by these gorgeous families.

Fall Leaves I

After a quick shoot in the autumnal wildflower fields, we had just enough time to play in the leaves.

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Fall Leaves II

After all, what good is a fall day at the park if you can’t play just a little.

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And the best part is it wasn’t just the kids having fun.

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One of nature’s many ironies – the aging foliage reminding us somehow of our youth.

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And there’s just enough time left to play before the sun sets on yet another season…

Happy Fall!

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/the-kid-in-us-all/

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