The Rubber Ducky Argument

If you found a rubber ducky on a fence post you’d never assume it appeared there by a natural process, that there just happened to be the right elements of some petroleum based product on the fence post and that it was hit by an energy charge (maybe lightning?) which melted and molded it into the rubber ducky it is. Go ahead and allow for a few million years to increase the chance of something random like this happening, and the odds are still as near zero as you can get. At best, you’d get a blob that might look a little like a duck, with some imagination, but not with the details of the familiar rubber ducky, and certainly not with a working squeaker mechanism on the bottom!

The presence of a rubber ducky on a fence post means there was intentional human involvement in its creation, distribution and placement on the fence post. This is why I believe that life exists because of an intelligent designer. The very simplest life form is infinitely more complex than a rubber ducky, even with its squeaker on the bottom!

The popular view is that science is in opposition to a belief in God. The reality is that many scientists believe in God, and many of the early scientists did as well, including Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, and Newton.

Science is the study of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation and so cannot come to a certain conclusion about the existence of God, who by most beliefs has His being outside of the space-time continuum. For anyone, including a scientist, to deny the existence of God is as much a religious belief as to believe that God exists. Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God for the subject is outside the realm of what science is intended to study.

As both a lover of science and lover of God I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not enough evidence to compel belief in God, but that there is enough evidence to find belief in God compelling! For me to believe that life exists because of a “natural” process and by chance, without benefit of an Intentional Designer, is more difficult to accept than it is to believe that there’s no human involvement in a rubber ducky being found on the top of a fence post!

“He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” Jeremiah 51:15

(I owe the inspiration for my rubber ducky analogy to the famous Divine Watchmaker analogy.)

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Kintsugi

I had no idea what kintsugi was when I came across the word in a blog post I was reading. By the time I finished the post I was sold on the value of kintsugi. In fact, I realized it’s a concept that’s at the very heart of my faith in God!

Kintsugi is the repairing of broken pottery instead of throwing it away. The breakage and the repair of the pottery is viewed as part of its history. I like the idea of kintsugi! Instead of being tossed out the broken pottery is repaired and remains useful as well as possessing a new kind of beauty, with its jagged lines of repair.

The expression of kintsugi goes way beyond pottery, of course; it’s seen as a philosophy of life. But it’s even more than a philosophy; it’s the heart of the message of the Bible. Redeeming a broken piece of pottery is nothing compared to redeeming broken human beings, the theme of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, and the essence of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

During my nearly four decades of preaching I frequently talked of Jesus being broken on the cross, broken unto death, and then raised to new life. I also reminded folks that in Heaven Jesus will forever display the nail scars in His hands and feet and the spear scar in His side as reminders of what He did for us. No other scars will be seen in heaven, but His will. Back then I didn’t know about kintsugi, but Jesus’ crucifixion scars are the ultimate and eternal expression of kintsugi!

God’s ultimate expression of the art of kintsugi in Jesus is not just the reminder of what He did on a cross centuries ago and the hope of seeing this ultimate expression of kintsugi when we see Him in heaven; kintsugi is also for the here and now! Even now, while we yet remain earthbound, God is able and willing to take our brokenness, whatever it might be, and do some good with it, a lot of good with it!

What’s broken in your life and mine? Faith in God means believing He can work His kintsugi on us, that He can make something beautiful and something useful out of our brokenness!

“Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:3 and repeated in verses 7 & 19)

Photo is of kintsugi pieces for sale at THIS web site for $20 (if I’m going to use the photo I thought it only fair to provide the link where they’re selling the pieces)

The Ocean Shore and Other Boundaries

Every so often I get to walk along a sandy ocean shore, where waves and shore battle as to where the boundary should be. The roaring, rushing, and ragged edge of the ocean comes in, claiming new sandy territory, then goes out again, losing ground to the terra firma, then comes in again, reclaiming territory, and on and on the battle goes through eons of time. As vast as the ocean is it has its boundaries assigned to it; so does the land, the shoreline being the boundary for both. Study a globe or ponder a photo of the earth from space and you’ll see this boundary set all around the world. This is by God’s design; scripture talks of God assigning boundaries to the waters.

God has also set His boundaries for our lives. Often, we don’t like this! Children, when asked what they want to be or do when they grow up, will often rattle off a diverse list of achievements and careers, as if they can do it all. No one can. When we grow up we realize this, sort of, and sort of not. Graduation speakers generally do not help us here, declaring to those graduating that they can do whatever they can dream. Not so!

A sight-impaired person can’t be a fighter jet pilot. A person who has trouble with math will likely never be a great mathematician. A heavy weight boxer will probably not be able to switch careers and become a jockey competing in the Kentucky Derby. Health issues can limit us. Lack of financial resources sometimes are a limiting factor. Geography also limits us (you can’t enjoy snow skiing if living in Florida or swimming with the dolphins if living in Minnesota).

Life serves up limits, and we don’t like it. We bristle at boundaries, fixating on what we can’t do or can’t be, envious of those who can.

There’s a better approach and that’s to see boundaries as a way to define what we can be and should do, sifting out everything else that’s a distraction from our unique calling. We don’t possess unlimited opportunities and a vast number of gifts and talents, but we do have some opportunities and a mix of a few gifts and talents that help define God’s call on our lives. Limitations don’t have to limit us, and boundaries don’t have to bind us; they can be a guide to God’s best for us!

“…he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command…” Proverbs 8:29

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16:5-6.

Staring Into Mirrors

There are no mirrors over the sinks in the restrooms at Disney World. Why not, you ask? The smart people who operate the Mickey Mouse Kingdom figure that people will spend too much time primping themselves at the sinks, slowing the flow of folks in and out of the restrooms. The MSN article detailing this interesting piece of Disney trivia states that there are mirrors near the restroom exits, I suppose, so no one has a bad hair day.

We humans do have a tendency to focus on self, whether there’s a mirror involved or not. When shown a group photo of which we’re a part, whose face do we look for first? Our own, of course. It’s part of our human nature, our fallen and sinful human nature, to focus on self. Christians worship and serve the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it’s so easy, instead, to worship and serve the triune self, Me, Myself, and I.

Narcissus, a Greek mythological figure, was so enamored with the reflection of himself in a pool of water that he fell in love with himself and couldn’t bear to leave the pool of water. His fixation with himself led to his death. The story’s a myth with implications for our lives; when we focus on self we threaten the very existence of ourselves.

God’s design for the life He’s given us is to live for Him and for others, not for self. John Newton, the composer of the great hymn, AMAZING GRACE, wrote in a letter to a friend, “Most of our perplexities arise from an undue, though perhaps unperceived, attachment to SELF.”

Ironically, the more we focus beyond our self the more satisfying life is. I’ve learned, for instance, that when entering a room of people concerned as to whether anyone will talk with me, I’m self-conscious, awkward, and unable to relate very well. I don’t end up having a very good time. On the other hand, if I determine to search out others who appear bashful and close to becoming a wall flower and engage them in conversation, then I forget about myself and end up having a good time.

Mirrors are necessary, even in Disney World. It’s just that reflecting on ourselves shouldn’t be our main focus!

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

From Green Pastures to Brown Cornstalks

Yes, this is the same photo as was used in the previous post. It proves that more than one insight can be gained from a scene, or photo.

On a recent walk on a rustic path in rural Mexico I passed a shepherd and his sheep. I watched him watch his sheep as they grazed in a field of broken brown cornstalks from which the corn had been harvested by hand weeks earlier. Not exactly the green pastures to which the Good Shepherd leads His sheep in the famous Psalm 23 written by the psalmist David.

As I reflected on the Mexican shepherd taking his sheep to broken brown cornstalks I couldn’t be too hard on him. After all, it was the dry season in Mexico, so there were no green pastures available. Life can be tough for a shepherd and his sheep. Psalmist David gives expression to this reality when he describes how the Good Shepherd God has led him through the valley of the shadow of death. There are hard places to go through for those who belong to God. But David’s point is that in the darkest and most dangerous valleys there’s no need to be fearful, for the Good Shepherd God is right there with His beloved flock.

Thinking again on the Mexican shepherd and his sheep in the broken brown cornstalks, I recall that the sheep seemed content and were happily munching away. No, it wasn’t a green pasture, but apparently it wasn’t too bad a situation either.

We frequently find ourselves in places in life that aren’t ideal, but they also could be a lot worse. Yes, there are some very bad times and there are also a few really good times, but most times are in between, not green pastures, not a barren desert either, but sort of like a field of cornstalks.

We live in a fallen and broken world. Green pastures are sometimes hard to come by. Situations are often far from ideal and people are far from perfect. The good news is that in this less than ideal and perfect world we have an ideal and perfect God (we can call Him our Good Shepherd) who is with us in and through it all.

The sheep under the Mexican shepherd would probably have preferred the green pastures of the rainy season, but it was the dry season so he led them to a harvested cornfield and they ate. They were okay, and with the Lord as our Good Shepherd we will be too!

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” Psalm 23:4

Good Shepherd, with a Gun!

On a recent walk 20 minutes up the mountainside from our house in rural Mexico I spotted a shepherd watching over his sheep grazing in a harvested corn field. The shepherd was armed! Slung over his shoulder was a rifle. Nothing was going to mess with his sheep! It reminded me of the young shepherd boy David in the Bible who guarded his father Jesse’s sheep. David’s weapon of choice was a slingshot. He was good with it, too. In a one-on-one confrontation with the Philistine army’s best soldier, Goliath, David took him down with a single stone from his slingshot! David was a good shepherd to his sheep with his slingshot. The Mexican I saw was a good shepherd with a gun!

Young David’s experiences as a shepherd boy gave him the wherewithal to write a poem about God being his Good Shepherd. His words have become one of the most memorable pieces of literature of all time, the 23rd Psalm. In that psalm David reflects upon how God cares for His people, like a good shepherd does for his sheep.

God is sometimes imagined to be a grandfatherly type Being, kind but frail and often napping, inattentive and unable to come to our aide. The comfort we can take away from reflecting on God as our Good Shepherd is that He is a shepherd with a gun! Not literally, of course, but God is well armed to defend us. He needs no weapon other than the weapon of His omnipotence (all power). He’s the Mighty Shepherd as well as the Good Shepherd!

Does this mean we’ll never have bad things coming into our lives? Not at all. What it does mean is that though God our Good Shepherd does not always divert us from the dark valleys, He does go through those dark valleys with us! This is what can give us comfort: that He is a Good Shepherd to His sheep and that He is well armed to protect us from ultimate harm!

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23

The Power of Persistence

Persistence may be a non-tangible principle, but it’s a principle most of us have had to literally step over or else it would have tripped us! I’m referring to the results of the persistence of a tree growing over time next to a sidewalk. Eventually, inevitably, the heavy concrete section of the sidewalk must give up conforming to being level like the other sections of the sidewalk because of the growth of the tree roots beneath it. The heaved up section of the sidewalk we come upon is a silent testimony to the power of the persistence of the tree!

President Calvin Coolidge stated, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Inventor Thomas Edison stated, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Rarely is anything of consequence accomplished when we try hard for a short period of time. On the other hand, the power of persistence is an irresistible force that God uses when applied to a situation that He wants changed.

Achieving a difficult goal, overcoming a painful past, transforming character for the better, building deeper and more mature relationships with others, and growing a deeper relationship with God all require the application of persistence and its identical twin, perseverance. The next time we see a piece of sidewalk raised by a tree root let’s remember that what lies at the root of accomplishment are these identical twins!

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:36

The Geode and the Heart

We have a geode on display on our bookshelf. Geode’s are interesting rocks in that on the outside they look very ordinary, but inside there is hidden beauty. This one has been cleanly cut in half to expose the beautiful inside. Each half displays light reflecting crystals projecting inward toward what had been the hollow core. This is what makes geodes so special, they’re ordinary and normal on the outside but so extraordinarily beautiful on the inside!

A huge part of our economy is based on the outward, on what people see. We spend a lot of money on clothes, cosmetics, hair styling, bathing products, exercise and diet programs.

True, we need to wear clothes out of modesty, and it’s good to keep the body in shape; it’s good to care about our outward appearance. We’ve all known people who didn’t, and we know that’s not good. It’s just that concern for the outward appearance can be over emphasized at the expense of caring for the inner self.

I suspect that a significant reason we spend more time on grooming the outward appearance is that it’s easier than working on inner transformation. Outward transformation can be bought at a price – at the clothing store, the cosmetic counter, the gym, or the plastic surgeon. Inner transformation is far more costly to attain. It requires a change in attitude, a deep commitment to follow through on that change, and an openness and honesty with both others and God to make it happen.

The good news is that working on the inner self is worth it. A very practical reason is that eventually what’s hidden within us breaks through for all to see. Hidden sins don’t stay hidden! The truth of who we are will eventually come out. I am not making this up! It was Jesus who said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Even a more important reason for committing to tending the inner self is that this is the part of us God’s most interested in and concerned about; it’s the real us. This is what He sees when He looks upon us. So, let’s be like a geode and aim for beauty within!

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks as the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

On the Path with God Today

Part of the path I walk

I take a walk every morning on a rustic path here in Mexico during the months of the year we live near our daughter in the Mexican countryside. One morning I had read Psalm 25 in my sequence of going through the Psalms, and I thought of verse ten of the Psalm as I walked the path (the verse is at the end of this piece).

Going through each day with an awareness and response to God is often described as a journey, a spiritual journey, like walking a path with Him. You don’t need to be on a Mexican path like I was to be reminded that we can be on a journey with God. Walking a suburban or urban sidewalk, going to and from work on a freeway, or driving to the grocery store on a boulevard will do.

Visualizing ourselves on the same path with God each day is the best of all ways to live. However, the way we do this is all important. The key question is this: “Am I asking God to join me on my path, or am I responding to His request to follow Him on His path for me?”

Jesus didn’t ask people, “May I follow along with you?” but, rather, He commanded, “Follow me.” Even when Jesus asked to join a man for dinner at his home, by the end of the meal the host ended up yielding the direction of his life over to Jesus!

If we really want God to be a significant part of our lives every day the requirement is that we respond to His invitation to follow Him and His way, not to ask Him to join us and bless our way. Why does He insist on us following Him and His way? Because He is all loving and wants what is best for us; He is all wise and knows what’s best for us; He is all powerful and can help us on that journey!

God’s question to us is essentially this: “Your way or My way?” How we answer that question makes all the difference in the world!

“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” Psalm 25:10

Lesson from a Snake Skin

Photo of actual snake skin referenced in this article

I saw the skin of a snake the other day, not the snake, just the skin. It was draped across a rock, the old wardrobe cast aside for a new one with which the snake slithered away. Off with the old, on with the new. Of course this is how a snake grows, by outgrowing its skin, discarding it for a new, more pliable one that’s a better fit.

Always looking for metaphors, analogies, and illustrations for spiritual principles, I quickly found a message in the discarded snake skin. The putting off of something old and putting on of something new is an image often used in the Holy Bible. The imagery is vivid because it’s such a common experience; we take off and put on clothes every day, and sometimes several times a day. Then too we regularly permanently discard worn out or out of style garments in favor of something new and up to date.

This intentional process of changing our outer material appearance is something we can also do to the real us, that part of us that’s more than skin deep, that’s more than clothes deep! I know, we often say or at least believe even if we don’t say it, “I am who I am. I can’t change who I am.” That’s simply not true! A major thrust of the teaching of the Bible is that we can and should change for the better, to be more like the way God intended for us to be, yes, to be more like Himself!

We can change attitudes and behaviors like we change clothes, not as easily, but we can. It is possible if it’s God’s will, we’re willing, and we’re willing to seek God’s help. We can change our priorities. We can change what we choose to say. We can change what we do. We can change habits by breaking old ones and adopting new ones. We can change from living with guilt to living with God’s forgiveness.

We can change! Like the snake who changes its skin in order to keep growing, we, too, can change in order to keep growing. But for us it needs to be change that’s more than skin deep!

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24