Saturday, July 4, 2015

Censoring Vocabulary, But Not Virtue

During my boyhood years in the mid-20th century, I quickly learned that the English vocabulary could be sorted into two major groups -- “acceptable words” and “bad words.”  I encountered an unending stream of acceptable words on spelling lists, and I received many positive incentives to use them in polite conversation. I am now thankful for both the spelling lessons and the positive incentives.
I was also allured into using certain “bad words” that were expressed by unseemly characters who apparently felt bigger or more masculine when they spewed them out.  Fortunately, the positive examples and high expectations of men and women of godly character in my life won out over the more limited influence of “bad characters.”

Since the days of my boyhood, we have witnessed a major change in the realm of acceptable and unacceptable words.  For example, the code phrase for “sex” during my adolescence was “the birds and the bees.”  Although in retrospect, it would have been helpful to have had more instruction on sexuality as an adolescent; today we are exposed to a broad vocabulary complete with visual “aids” on the subject of sexuality including all manner of sexual perversions and classifications.  One would think that there are no longer any “bad words.”  But that is not true.  Instead we have a whole new class of “bad words” that represent the forbidden vocabulary in secular American culture.

Dylann Roof
Today, when anyone uses a “new bad word,” our secular culture is at least twice as perturbed as our mothers and grandmothers were when we let “bad words” slip out as adolescents.  Witness the current media discussion of what would lead Dylann Roof to burst into a South Carolina church and murder nine people meeting together for a Bible study.  “Acceptable words” in the current discussion of causation include gun access, drugs, video games, racism, negative talk radio, and Fox News.  These words have become code words for political agendas including the passage of gun control legislation, increased role of the federal government in local law enforcement, retaining support of minority voters, and the censorship of conservative media.  Taking the politics of gun control, for example, in an earlier article, No Gun Control Without Self-Control (March 30, 2013), I posited that violent crime is not simply a result of access to firearms.  Rather,
Whatever "weapon" Cain used, murder started in his heart.
"Our protection from both tongue and gun is rooted not in civil law but in the moral code.    The moral law is grounded in Jesus’ teaching that it is out of the heart [that] come evil     thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (Matthew 15:19).  Therefore, the answer to a safe and civil society is not found alone in “tighter controls” on guns and speech.  Instead, there must be a revival within institutions that nurture a godly disposition of the heart; namely, the family and the local church, both within the context of caring communities."

Many who reject “band-aid approaches” to reducing gun violence may wish not to hear the vocabulary of this argument-- “new bad words” like moral, evil, revival, heart, self-control, and church.  Add the words, sin and forgiveness, and the liberal media often turns a deaf ear or cries “foul!”  In fact, the word evil was already headed for “bad” in the 1980’s when President Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”  Today, liberal progressive culture includes sin in the vocabulary of “hate speech.”

But occasionally, liberal media and the progressive culture are caught off guard as for example, at the events on June 17, in Charleston, SC.  On that Wednesday night, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old allegedly entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, attended a Bible Study for an hour, and then opened fire on those who had welcomed him.  Even before all the gruesome details were reported, the mantra began—the sour lamenting of “white-on-black” crime with all the expected vocabulary--
gun access, racism, negative talk radio, and the Confederate flag permeating the airwaves.  President Obama challenged the nation to confront the “terrible toll of gun violence.”

The AME church in Charleston, SC has had a long and troubled history beginning before the Civil War.  In the 1820’s, it survived its building being burned.  After the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, AME church members worshipped in secret because all-black churches were outlawed.  But the June 17 shooting was not just another violent event in a region having a long history of racial unrest.  This time the media was faced with reporting a different message, complete with a vocabulary of “new bad words” like mercy, forgiveness, and enduring love.  Yes, in Charleston, SC, under the Confederate flag, and near historic Sullivan’s Island, the location where nearly half of the enslaved African people were brought ashore and auctioned to slave owners, came an eruption of an entirely different sort.

According to the
Washington Post, “There was no yelling. There were no accusations. Instead, people who had lost the loves of their lives blessed the accused murderer.” Felicia Sanders, a hair stylist whose son Tywanza was allegedly killed by Roof, expressed this unexpected tone with a different vocabulary.  As we stared at Roof’s face filling much of our TV screens, she spoke directly to Dylann saying,

Tywanze Sanders
We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms.  You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know.  Every fiber in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same. . . . But as we say in Bible study, ‘We enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.’ “Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero,’’ she said, her voice trembling. “May God have mercy on you.”

The vocabulary of love, mercy, and forgiveness of Christians is seldom applauded in our secular culture. However, the words of the Charleston believers were powerful because their virtuous behavior affirmed their words sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness to Dylann Roof.  The same open arms that welcomed young Dylann Roof before he unleashed his violent hatred were now open to him in Christian forgiveness and in prayers for God’s mercy upon him.

I was also allured into using certain “bad words” that were expressed by unseemly characters who apparently felt bigger or more masculine when they spewed them out.
From where does this kind of strength and forgiveness come?   The prophet Isaiah uses the word strength over twenty times.  His words may resonate with the hearts of many black Americans, and all of us who are weary because of the curse of sin and its manifestations—selfishness, pride, divisiveness, anger, and violence.

You were tired out by the length of your road,
Yet you did not say, 'It is hopeless.'
You found renewed strength,
Therefore you did not faint.
– Isaiah 57: 10

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.  
– Isaiah 40: 31

As America celebrates another 4th of July, instead of saying “God Bless America” many of us
want to say, “God Help America” or “God Bring Repentance, Humility, and Revival to America.”  Again, these “prayers” are filled with the “new bad words” in the view of many in our secular progressive culture.  But, until we individually acknowledge our sin and repent, and then pursue mercy, forgiveness, revival, and holiness, neither we nor our nation will be blessed by God and experience His forgiveness and blessing.  Only then will be able to love lour neighbor regardless of his or her race or beliefs.  Only then will we respect authority and realize that violation of civil and moral laws begins with the pride-filled heart, not with weapons or even our words.   And finally, only then will Americans be able to do what black Christians in Charleston, SC did—look into the cold face of an alleged murderer and say words we so seldom hear, May God have mercy on you.

Perhaps America will soon enter a time when “word police” will prohibit the use of “the new bad words,” labeling them as “hate speech.”  Given prohibition of words like sin, repentance, Jesus, salvation, mercy, and forgiveness we may be left with no other recourse but to show the loving, forgiving, regenerated life that is possible in Christ.  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3: 18).  Indeed, many Christians today have a powerful and transformative witness in very oppressive Muslim and other authoritarian countries.  There is much we can learn from Christians under more severe restrictions as we pray for them and become prepared for likely hard times ahead.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Maya Angelou: A Trophy of God’s Grace


I dared to do anything that was a good thing.
I dared to do things as distant from what seemed to be in my future.

If God loves me,
if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees,
then what is it I can't do?


These are the words of celebrated civil rights leader, writer, playwright, poet, and teacher Dr. Maya Angelou in a 2013 interview with The Times-Picayune.  Many of us have respected Dr. Angelou for her grace, beauty, reverence, and wise, articulate manner.  My favorite encounter with this lovely woman was in the Tyler Perry movie, Madea’s Family Reunion.  Perhaps you remember Ms. Angelou from her role in the 1977 TV Mini-Series, Roots.

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014 according to her only child, Guy B. Johnson who released a statement confirming her death and honoring her life:

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Dr. Angelou's illustrious career testifies that it is possible to endure seemingly tragic experiences as a child and yet rise above them by the grace and power of the One True God.  According to Brownie Marie, writing in Christianity Today,  Ms. Angelou was born Marguerite Anne Johnson on April 4, 1928.   She and her brother were shipped between Missouri and Arkansas throughout their youth, and she was raped at the age of eight. The assault was life-changing, and it was in the dark years that followed that Dr. Angelou discovered her love of literature.

Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson in the Mini-Series, Roots
Today, when it seems that Americans are becoming increasingly divided over race, gender, socioeconomic status, and a host of other factors, we must remember that many Americans distain the politics of division and patronization being spewed by those seeking votes, power, and position. Although their disadvantaged beginnings are undeniable, many members of ethnic minorities like Maya Angelou have become overcomers.  Instead of surrendering to adversity and its frequent companions, fear, hate, cynicism, and blame, Maya found peace, restoration, and courage through the love and redemption of God. 

Again, according to Brownie Marie, Dr. Angelou authored several autobiographies including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  She rose to positions of leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, and had close friendships with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Nelson Mandela.” 

How is it possible for a little black girl without the benefit of a stable home and family, neglected and abused, to rise above great adversity?  Today, there all too many children facing similar circumstances and many will not be overcomers.  But, for Maya Angelou, victory over adversity came as she surrendered to a loving God Who rescued her and restored her dignity.  In the 2013 interview cited above, Dr. Angelou says it was God Who “allowed her to achieve such incredible feats.”

"I found that I knew not only that there was God
but that I was a child of God,
when I understood that,
when I comprehended that,
more than that,
when I internalized that,
ingested that,
I became courageous."

Maya Angelou has encouraged many a downcast soul to look up in faith to a God Who has overcome this world of division and despair.  And God does lead those who surrender to Him in a “victory parade” in triumph in Christ, and manifests through [them] the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Corinthians 2: 14).   May God help us to be mindful of the downcast and needy all around us each day. 

Perhaps as a reader, you are struggling with adversity and are discouraged or in despair.  Don’t bear it alone, but reach out to God through a local Bible-teaching church in your area.  Or go to one of many online resources that explain how to become a child of God by faith such as this link provided by the Billy Graham Association.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life (John 3: 16; Romans 5:8).

If you are a child of God through faith (John 1: 12), the teaching of the Apostle Paul can be a challenge to you and to me to be Christ’s ambassadors to a needy world.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  May God help the tribe of Maya Angelou to increase; and, may God help members of the body of Christ to be “ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 18).

Related Oikonomia article on overcoming adversity:  Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Stewards of Love and Compassion


Perhaps like you, I was surprised to learn of the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner as a trans-woman from the person we had known as Bruce Jenner, the decathlon winner in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.  The bold display of Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair has challenged millions to think about men and women who experience a confused or transgender identity.  How should Christians respond to trans-women and trans-men?  How will we respond to transgendered persons who profess Christianity?

Bruce Jenner          Caitlyn Jenner
As a Christian, I have more questions than answers.  I am trying to refrain from forming an opinion of Caitlyn until I have read and studied more.  Therefore, I will not write much more on the subject at this time.  Instead, I will refer you to an article that has been very helpful to me—one I selfishly wish I could have written.

In his blog, Kingdom in the Midst, Marty Duren expresses godly wisdom that suggests he has been spending time with Jesus in the Word of God.  In “For God So Loved Caitlyn Jenner” Duren doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.  But, he points me in the right direction.  Looking in that direction, I can see Jesus looking with His holy, all-seeing eyes upon the multitudes, seeing every possible physical and spiritual condition—all of the “weights and besetting sin” (Hebrews 12: 1) that plague us, in 2015.  According to the Gospel of Mark, When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things (Mark 6: 34).

What did Jesus teach them?   I would like to have listened. Yet, I am thankful for the Gospel accounts that reveal His great heart of compassion toward sinners that He came to rescue.  Indeed, it was Jesus’ compassion from the outset (indeed, from Eternity past) that enabled Him to see the people as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Consistent with a biblical view of Christ, Marty Duren challenges me to exercise compassion toward my neighbor who struggles with gender identity or identity in so many other ways in a society in which boundaries have fallen and truth is relative.  But seeing my neighbors as sheep needing a shepherd is only the beginning.  What if they understand my compassionate approach as judgmental and condescending?  My only hope is to see myself in the mirror of God's Word which reveals my shortcomings.  There, I can realize the infinite gulf across which God reached to rescue me.  Then, in humility, perhaps I can embrace others who are no less in need of God’s salvation and grace than I?

If you choose not to read “For God So Loved Caitlyn Jenner,” consider at least reading Duren’s conclusion:

We have no option but to love those so affected, so afflicted and so decided. There are among the gender confused and the gender reassigned future children of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever it is Caitlyn Jenner seeks, no amount of surgery, hormones or editing of a Wikipedia page will bring it.  Joy comes from the One who made us to find joy in Himself.  For God so loved Caitlyn Jenner. And you.  And me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Birthday and Memorial Day Tribute


Grave Marker, Dundee Cemetery, Dundee, Ohio
Today, my uncle, Glen Silvius, would have been 104 years old.  My tribute to him is appropriate because this beloved uncle had such a large part in my own development as a young man.  But also, I want to honor him at this time when Memorial Day is approaching because he served honorably in World War II as a member of "the greatest generation."

Discharged in 1945, Corporal Glen Silvius, U.S. Army, had served above and beyond that which was required of him.  To my recollection, he never mentioned that he was awarded a Purple Heart.  Uncle Glen, or “Shorty” as he was known in our family, participated in the Normandy Invasion and the subsequent liberation of France and Germany from Nazi domination.  He seldom spoke of what must have been some horrendous experiences in World War II, but his letters from the battle front which I was able to read after his death, in 1997, revealed much about this chapter of his life.

Glen Silvius, U.S. Army
Just two weeks after the Normandy landing on June 6, Uncle Glen wrote the following letter to his parents, Jesse and Edna Silvius, of Dundee, Ohio from “Somewhere in France.”  I publish it here with posthumous thanks to my uncle who understood and accepted the saving grace of God and won his greatest victory, the victory “over sin and self,” by faith in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For my earlier tribute to Glen Silvius, see “Memorial Day Tribute to a Rich Uncle,” Oikonomia, May 27, 2013.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Supporting Integration of Science & Biblical Faith


Recently, Abby and I were privileged to attend the annual Academic Honors Day Chapel at Cedarville University where we joined with the Department of Science and Mathematics in celebrating the announcement of a new academic scholarship.  The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship will be awarded annually to an outstanding student majoring in biology or environmental science.  According to the criteria for the Scholarship, each recipient should demonstrate exemplary academic achievement in the classroom and give evidence of a commitment to the development of his or her profession of faith and science through participation in opportunities to apply knowledge – i.e. scientific research or significant involvement in science-related travel study or short-term mission.

Both the name and selection criteria for The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship emphasize the aim of promoting biblical integration of science and faith.  The ultimate goal of biblical integration is to know God and display His wisdom and character.  Godly character is the fruit of internal consistency, or integrity—a wholehearted obedience to God’s Truth (Psalm 119: 9-11).   The submissive heart, at one time impervious to the wisdom and will of God because of pride, can begin to absorb and apply God’s Truth.  Hypocrisy of the divided heart and mind gives way to integrity. 

The integration of biblical Truth applied in every area of life is expressed in the virtue of love for God, love for neighbor, and love for the creation.  Biblical integration specifically applied to science and faith, means the Christian scholar highly prizes integrity in his or her pursuit of an accurate understanding of creation.  As a result, the Christian scholar gains insights into the workings of creation and exercises stewardship of creation based on “good science” and respect for the authority of God and His Word.

Perhaps our enthusiasm in support of The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship is moving you to consider investing in the scholarship fund for future students.  If so, please read on and consider two lasting benefits you would receive. 

First, you will share the personal satisfaction of supporting Christian higher education at Cedarville University and the heritage of academic excellence in science-faith learning that has characterized the Department of Science and Mathematics. As we watched  the first recipient receive her scholarship in Academic Honors Day Chapel and then became acquainted with her over lunch, our hearts were filled with joy in knowing we could have a small part in this university and departmental mission.

A second lasting benefit of investors in science-faith integration at Cedarville is the blessing from demonstrating our stewardship of God’s treasures by sharing money that in reality is “God’s money.”  Our March Oikonomia article, There’s No Such Thing as Private Property,” calls us to “possess property as though we didn’t possess it.”  We can affirm to ourselves that we are practicing stewardship instead of ownership by giving generously in ways that honor God and help our neighbor?  And, we can rejoice in God from Whom all blessings flow while we watch how He will use this scholarship for His glory in the life of each recipient.

The first Science and Faith Integration Scholar is Grace Revenaugh, a junior biology major.   Although Grace grew up in Cedarville, Ohio, her family now resides in Butte, MT.  At the luncheon for award recipients and sponsors, Grace enthusiastically shared her student experiences with us.  Highlights included her opportunity to conduct research on the role of microRNAs in autoimmune disease pathogenesis and her experience as an EMT with the Cedarville Township Volunteer Fire Department.   It became clear to Abby and I that Grace loves people, the campus environment, and the opportunity to pursue God’s calling for her.  In partial fulfillment of her application requirements for the Scholarship, Grace had submitted an “integration scholarship essay” in which she reflects on her experiences during her short-term mission trip to Republic of the Congo.   After our luncheon discussion with Grace and then reading her essay, it became clear that she is committed to pursuing God, His creation, His compassion for people in spiritual and physical need, and His call upon her to serve Christ.

Below you will find two excerpts from Grace’s writing.  In “Miriam,” Grace reflects on her Congo mission experience, particularly her relationship to a young abdominal TB patient.  In the second excerpt, “Environmental Context,” Grace shares her observations of environmental health and nutrition within which medical missions in the Congo are being conducted.  She hints at the need for a comprehensive effort to educate the Congolese in the importance of adequate sanitation and nutrition.  In both of these accounts, Grace demonstrates that she observes God’s world with eyes of compassion and with insight into the interdisciplinary challenges Christians face in bringing the Gospel to those with both spiritual and physical needs. 

Grace and Miriam
“Miriam”
My seven weeks with Miriam and her family and many other patients at Pioneer Christian Hospital taught me about perseverance, the joy found in pain, and the good that a single person who longs to share the love of Christ can bring.  I was first motivated to join the medical field and subsequently go on this mission trip because I love science, especially anatomy and physiology, and because I am fascinated by the process of maintaining homeostasis; but, I have learned that so much of medicine is beyond science, dependent instead on caring for individuals and meeting their unique needs.  I believe that God has called me to use my life to illuminate the Gospel specifically through science and medicine by becoming a PA; but whatever His plans, I pray that God will use the lessons I learned in Congo to help me to bring glory to Him always.

“Environmental Context”
From what I have seen, environmental health is not something that even concerns the people of Impfondo with whom I primarily interacted.  On the other hand, the influence of western and eastern culture has brought with it a huge influx of imported products which have been integrated into the community.  These products, primarily portable, non-perishable items, are nutritionally degrading.  While we were visiting a patent at Pioneer Christian Hospital, Dr. Joseph M. Harvey said that products such as MSG, convenience goods, snacks, soft drinks, and processed goods in general are contributing to an exponential increase in diabetes, high blood pressure, and other western diseases now common in Impfondo.  Because the majority of people in Impfondo struggle to feed their families with any food that is available, no one really cares about the nutrition of food.  For example, if you told someone that they should not eat a certain root vegetable because of the high arsenic content they would most likely reply "it is this or nothing for our meal" and then eat it. The staff at Pioneer Christian Hospital are constantly working to educate people, but in my opinion the overall impact of this training has been rather small.

An Invitation to You:
In conclusion, Abby and I are are excited about the interdisciplinary experiences Grace is having, and pray that God will continue to direct her growth in profession of faith and science.  Maybe you too have been encouraged by this account and Grace Revenaugh’s testimony of how God is using the new scholarship to foster the heritage of science-faith integration through the Department of Science and Mathematics at Cedarville University.  If so, then why not become a fellow investor? Perhaps you gratefully attribute your own profession of faith and of science to the teaching and mentoring of department and university faculty during your days at Cedarville. If so, we invite you to pray about how you might participate.  If God leads you to invest in this way, you may send your check to Cedarville University with “Science and Faith Integration Scholarship” on the memo line.  Or, you may contribute online at http://cedarville.edu/giving. Just click on “Scholarships” and follow directions to “The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship.” Thank you for considering how you can steward a portion of God’s blessings to you by honoring your faculty mentors and encouraging leaders for tomorrow.