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The Other Man

The plane glided smoothly over the wood boards, birthing perfect curls of shavings. It would be a table fit for a king’s palace, but was crafted for the Levite who led the local synagogue. Sturdy and large enough for feasts and councils, with some adornment of abstract design along the legs and edges, consistent with the prohibition against graven images in Law, yet elegantly simple, it’s artisanry understated.

Twenty-seven year old hands, muscular, with remarkable dexterity, gripped the plane with the confidence of a skilled tradesman. They had gripped tools for nearly all of their days, and formally for fourteen years, since the hands’ owner’s apprenticeship that began after he celebrated his bar mitzvah. At twenty-one he began to cultivate his own style and clients, while still in the family shop.

If all went well, another few months would see him established sufficiently to wed his fiancée. He wondered as he whistled over his work a tune from the synagogue service, where did the fourteen year training period for crafts and trades come from? Did it originate with Father Jacob, who labored fourteen years for his two brides, a week of years for each? If so, why did one these days have to work fourteen years to just get the one wife? Not that he wanted more than one! No, no! He’d observed that one was plenty for most men. He just wished it could be seven for the one, and then get on with life.

The ‘Mundaneness’ of the Divine

I strongly suspect that one reason folks either don’t submit their lives to Christ or fall away is because it is boring.

Yeah, that’s a provocative statement. Hang with me for a minute, though. After every spiritual ‘high,’ daily life has a nasty way of rearing its, well, daily head. It’s routine, it’s boring, it’s mundane, it’s a distraction from the glory of the resurrection. It’s trials, it’s pain, it’s frustrations, it’s carnal, it’s ordinary.

When we read about the abundant life, we expect flowers blooming in our footsteps, angels singing as we pass, the feeling of Christ’s closeness uplifting us and constraining us from our natural selves, and in that freedom from falling to temptation, we will draw people to the Gospel like a lodestone.


An All-Consuming Parable

There was a society that was extraordinarily gifted in making things. Most people created what they needed themselves. Some of them developed the ability to make certain things much better than others could make the same items. Over time, they not only could make them better, but also could make them faster and cheaper, even at scale.

While this was quite the accomplishment, the problem was that these producers began to have their warehouses filled with their goods. Creative members of this group found ways to tell large number of people about their wares, and how if folks would buy their products instead of making the items themselves, they would save time and have better products.

All of these ideas caught on. The people began to specialize in what they produced best, and sold them to each other in order to buy others’ products. Life got easier.

As people grew to enjoy consuming each others’ products, a dynamic equilibrium was approached between production and consumption. However, as people learned to consume ready-made items, they became interested in newer and more types of products, which increased demand for new producers. So growth occurred instead of reaching equilibrium. This was good.

Why Penn State’s NCAA Penalty Hits Us So Viscerally

{RJW Note: I appreciate everyone’s patience and expressed concern over the last several months as I took a much needed writing sabbatical. There is much about which to write as my heart has refilled.}

Joshua 7 tells the story of Achan, who kept some of the treasures of Jericho in direct violation of God’s command. It is not clear how many knew of it, but his disobedience caused Israel to be defeated when it attacked a small hamlet. When confronted by Joshua and the elders, he readily confessed. His punishment was not only loss of the treasure, but to be stoned along with his sons, daughters, and all of his livestock. Finally, their bodies, the treasure and all of his possessions were burned and buried.

One man’s “little” private sin impacted an entire nation, before they even knew of it. Once they found out, he was tried and convicted, with a punishment that spread beyond his own complete ruin, to that of his entire family, and innocent livestock. Scripture does not indicate if his family knew of his theft or not, so I will not make an argument from silence.

The corporate impact of Achan’s sin was the topic of Sunday’s sermon at church. As I and many in the nation wrestled this week with the NCAA’s punishment of Penn State for the coverup of Coach Sandusky’s pedophilia, the similarities to Achan kept resonating in my spirit.

A principle in Scripture is the longer sin occurs and is hidden, the deeper and more far-reaching the consequences. Achan’s sin was discovered relatively quickly whereas Sandusky’s lasted over a decade. Yet both devastated a nation, not just the immediate victims.

Many have complained that the penalties are too harsh—they unnecessarily punish the students, alumni, players, and even the Paterno family. I feel terrible for each of these groups, especially the players, the Paternos, and also the Sandusky family. Watching JoePat’s statue come down was difficult, and I’ve never even been to Happy Valley. The scandal is devastating to one of the most sterling reputations in our nation. The sanctions rub salt and vinegar into still bleeding wounds.

The Atheist's Nativity

What does the love of Christ really look like? What does it do to real people when it is truly expressed? Would it, could it, possibly cause an atheist to provide a star for the very nativity scene he nearly sued to have taken down?

Ridiculous, I know.


Rez Week

Nearly 20 years ago, a friend of mine, Justin Christopher, had a vision for ministry when he was a student at UT. What if all of the campus Christian groups got together and put on a full week of activities during Holy Week right on the center of campus—prayer, worship, concerts and so on? How would that impact the campus for Christ?

He made it happen. And has been making “Rez Week” happen every year since. In the process, he helped found Campus Renewal Ministries, which has now spread to several states. He created CHOP, the Campus House of Prayer where students from across campus can come 24 hours a day to pray for the campus. He has become the clearing house and focal point where all campus ministries can interact, pray and work together.

Since its inception, Rez Week has actually moved from Holy Week to whatever week he can get outdoor space for an entire week, but it is usually shortly before Easter. This year, it is this week.

If you are in Austin, please come check it out in person in front of Gregory Gym. The schedule of events is on the website. If you are not in Austin, visit the website to learn more. Consider having a Rez Week on your campus. Contact Justin for ideas—he would be thrilled to see Christ proclaimed there.

You never know what a little campus celebration of the resurrection might produce over 20 years!


Taking Sides

As I get older, something claiming to be wisdom keeps intruding into parts of my life where opinions are born black and white, demanding that the gray of discerning grace settle over outrage in a calming insistence that I wait.

So often, we hear of some horrible event, and it demands that we root for the victim and curse the perpetrator, as portrayed by the one relating the awful occurrence. We want to rush to seek out cause and blame, that punishment and retribution may be parsed out.

More often than I’d like to admit, the moment I close my mouth after its issuing of my ‘considered’ opinion, more information comes out that either reverses who was really the victim and perp or that both were one or the other. The egg on my face tastes vaguely of some monstrous prehistoric ostrich. My personal opinion is that it goes rather well with the boiled sock lint left over from having my foot in my mouth.

Who is Doing the Lord’s Work?

Today, I came across Laura Leigh Parker’s missionary blog where she apologizes on behalf of missionaries and chastises them for how often there is a subtle (or sometimes not so) message in their communications “back home” about how they are ‘finally’ being the hands and feet of Christ now that they’ve left their secular job to enter the world of the full time Christian worker.

Parker expresses her regret at how such messages are self-elevating and in effect put down everyone holding down the fort and supporting those self same missionaries. To her, I express my deep, heartfelt thanks for her awareness, her humility to admit the issue exists, and boldness to confront it. Such an address best comes from someone in her shoes.

Sadly, I have been aware of the tendency since college. There, I was heavily involved in an excellent parachurch campus group throughout my studies. Yet, an integral part of my life story is a bit of rebellion and even resentment over the constant and not-so subtle pressure put on by the staff members for us to all go, or at least consider going into “full time Christian work.”

My actual, literal thoughts in those days were, “If all Christians went into full-time Christian work, who would run the post office?” It made me bound and determined not to go into full time Christian work, but to engage in such “FTCW” in the context of my secular, academic career.

The Legacy of Thomas

John 20:24-29 relates the story of “doubting” Thomas:
  But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!”
   But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!”
  After eight days His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!”
  Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop your unbelief, but believe.”
  Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
  Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Note that at the beginning of the passage, the other eleven disciples repeatedly urged Thomas to believe them, but like a good scientist, he refused to believe something so outlandish without direct observation of the critical details.

And so Jesus, in an act of extraordinary grace, obliged him. The Resurrected God Almighty condescended to reveal Himself personally to one of his twelve closest disciples when he couldn’t believe his compatriots.

Why did Jesus do it? 

Student Ministry

As mentioned yesterday, I meet individually with each of my students to discuss their future plans. What has surprised me is how many of them are shocked and thoroughly grateful that a faculty member would take the time to do that and really listen, care and discuss them, their lives, concerns, hopes, and dreams.

Many say that in their entire undergraduate experience, I am the only one to reach out to them like this. This really begs us to consider why we are in the university. Many of us have somewhere buried in the detritus of our minds the dream of the collegial university—faculty in scholarly fellowship with each other, grooming the next generations, molding and shaping them into pillars of knowledge to support the lamp of truth as they glide across the stage into the unknown of their futures.

To Make a Difference

Every semester, I meet individually with each of my students to discuss their plans and dreams for the future, and offer some personalized career counseling.

With many, I ask them a pair of questions to try to get below the surface, and for many, it is very difficult to answer them, even for those that have thought about them before.

1)      What are you good at? What are your gifts, strengths, talents, or skills? What do your friends admire about you?
2)      What are you passionate about? What energizes, motivates, or inspires you? What makes you exult or rage?

For many, if not most, the most common passion expressed is to make a difference in the world or to help people.

It is striking to me that this should be such a common refrain, as it seems independent of any spiritual tradition or other recognizable single factor. However, there are some interesting things I have either noticed or inferred from the sum of their comments.

Who Is In Your Class?

Let’s say you are teaching a typical large introductory lecture course to say 200 freshmen. On average, they are 18 years old. That is equivalent to 3600 years of experience.

Granted, much of that 3.6 millennia are common and fairly repetitive. Granted also, it comes from the least experienced end of the life spectrum. However, statistics demands that some of those years of life are truly unique and are in a powerful position to instruct us.

For example, in my labs just this semester, I have at least two students who, as children, fled with their families various civil wars and genocidal activities, one from Nigeria and one from Rwanda. In both cases, they desire to one day return to their native villages in some capacity to improve the lives of their former neighbors, one through pharmacy and one through chemical engineering, developing native energy resources.

The Big Picture

With all of the stresses in our lives, in or out of the ivory tower, it is important to stop from time to time and remember that our Lord is sovereign. He is bigger than anything we deal with. He has conquered (past tense) death. He knows the end from the beginning.

It ends well.


Ten Things About Science and Religion that Might Surprise You

Jewish physicist Gerald Schroeder brings a unique combination of expertise’s to the science and faith realm:  an understanding of ancient Hebrew and an understanding of quantum mechanics. That’s quite enough for two brains, but he’s got it in one.

While I don’t agree with him on all points, he does give me a lot to think about, and much of what he says is at the very least reasonable, if not revolutionarily and likely correct. On his website he has two articles you will find quite thought provoking. Check them out. (Note: you might notice that 5 + 5 = 9 in this case as one item appears on both lists like two sides of the same coin.)

(Thanks to Sarah Salviander at SixDayScience for the links!)

5 for 5

Of the other eight (or seven) planets in our solar system, five are visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This month ALL five are visible in the evening sky, though not quite all at once.

Shortly after sunset (45-90 minutes) Mercury is visible on the western horizon, just above or in the sun’s afterglow. It sets fairly soon thereafter.

Higher in the western sky are Venus and Jupiter. They are up all evening, eventually setting after midnight. As a matter of fact, they are in extremely close conjunction, with the closest approach being tonight, Thursday, March 15. They are about 2-3 moon diameters apart and the brightest objects in the night sky hands down. Venus is the larger, brighter one on the right and Jupiter on the left. During the close conjunction they should be on a nearly horizontal line with each other.

The Siren Song of Violence

I should have a mirror in front of me as I write this—I am a needed audience for these thoughts, which occurred as I wrote Monday’s Kony post.

Humanity is a brutal species, and we have known strife and warfare since Cain slew Abel. As society ‘advanced’ we began to develop philosophical reservations with our bloodlust, yet at an equal pace we found increasingly sophisticated rationalizations for it, and ways to enjoy the adrenaline rush of battle and conflict with less blood, or at least less on our own personal hands.

In this ‘development,’ something even more sinister emerged—violence became a spectator sport. ‘Bloodgames’ like the gladiators, public executions, jousting tourneys and many early sports allowed people in times of relative peace and ease to pretend they were part of great battles…and still be secure in their own beds that night.

A Little Child Shall Lead

I’d like to introduce you to Riley Jane. However, as amazing as she is, you will now have to wait to meet her. This wonderful 10 year old was born to a couple at my church, and was gifted with profound disabilities, which required a permanent trach tube and oxygen. This prevented normal speech and activity, also leaving her wheelchair bound. Friends have described her as “very high maintenance medically, and extremely low maintenance emotionally.”

With her challenges, any bronchial illness is a terrible danger. And indeed, last week, she contracted a bug that proved too much for her poor stressed lungs to overcome.

Today was her memorial service. To get an understanding of the impact she had, understand that about 800 people came to honor her. Few adults after a full life are sent Home by so many well-wishers. Riley Jane changed lives with a look or a touch, and hardly a word.

It was incredible to see so many people there, including many of her classmates from Rosedale School (Austin ISD's school for medically fragile children with disabilities), one of whom did the Scripture reading from his wheelchair. Sure it was a little disruptive, but it was a joy to celebrate Riley Jane’s life with them. The congregation today was truly a spectrum of humanity, just as every congregation should be every time we gather to worship the King of all.

A close family friend (who works for a church) described Rosedale as a holy place, far more holy than most churches. She described how Jesus would be more comfortable there than in many a pew. The love and respect and ministry to those in need sanctified it more than any hymn or prayer could any other building.

A common theme today, apart from her sweet spirit and love, was the joy we have in knowing that now for the first time ever she is running, jumping, talking and singing free. We just wish we could be there to see those first joyful steps.

We enter this world with tears and are placed in loving arms.
We enter the next with a deep sigh as we fall into arms of Love.


Thoughts on Kony

It’s hard to be on social media and miss the buzz on the KONY2012 campaign. In all honesty, I have not watched the video. The LRA’s reputation precedes it. In October, President Obama announced that he was sending 100 soldiers to Africa as advisors, specifically to target the LRA. His announcement made a little noise in the newsmedia and then disappeared. It is a little odd therefore that less than five months later, this massive campaign ignites the social media. I see it as quite a testament to the ephemerality of news and both the awareness and memory of many who seem to spend more time on social media than the news media.

Joseph Kony has done horrible things. What makes his atrocities even worse is he claims to do it in the name of God (amid a strange mix of occult tribal faiths). I would dearly love to see him stop, preferably repent, or failing that, be removed from the scene permanently.

Yet, when I first heard of the KONY 2012 campaign, I had reservations. I guess the main reason was that I’ve been on the web long enough to be suspicious of any online movement or sensationalism. Thus, I didn’t rush to watch it or support it. Sure enough, as more information came out about the Invisible Children organization, there was reason to be cautious.

The iGeneration

When dad was growing up (and before), if his generation wanted something, they built it, repaired it and/or rebuilt it until it simply wore out. Starting with his generation and into mine, we could buy things, but we would repair them. Beginning with my generation, and now fully grown in the current one, complex expensive electronic equipment is considered disposable, not worth repairing.

Thus, students today are very good at using technology and scientific instrumentation, but most have absolutely zero ability in troubleshooting problems and no interest in learning it. In their minds, it is easier just to throw it away and buy something new.

They are very proficient and learn new technology quickly, but primarily as users, not tinkerers, or shade tree electrical engineers. Granted, the technology is geared to be very user friendly, and this is good. Yet, it seems to stifle curiosity about the man behind the curtain.

Keeping the Boss Happy

One of the best ways to keep your bosses happy with you long term is to actively work to prevent them from being blindsided with problems. They would much rather hear about it directly from their team than from rumor, their bosses, or worst of all, the media.

Even if it is directly your fault through utter and sheer incompetence, it is better to tell them directly and promptly. Whether or not a solution is in the works or even already completed, having the boss in on it early means they are more likely to protect you and work with you on it.

When boss hears about a problem in their area of responsibility through the rumor mill and is caught flat-footed, they look like an idiot at the same time they need to find a solution. This is not good. The demand for an accounting from subordinates is much stronger and less forgiving. Regardless of how a boss might feel, they are not God, but they don’t like having it revealed “outside the family.” A good team member works to make the entire team look golden to the outside while working from within to make the appearance and reality match.

A good boss works to make the team look good, and a good team ensures the boss looks good, and so on. This is a reputation loop, and thus it is in everyone’s best interest usually therefore, to keep the boss in the loop.