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Monday, January 28, 2019

The Suicide Epidemic

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention suicide rates increased in all but one state between 1999 and 2016.  In 2016 there were twice as many suicides and homicides in the United States. Last week a group of high school students took to the streets of Denver to launch a campaign to cut suicide rates in half. They gave away “Its ok to be not ok” bracelets and sought to engage anyone and everyone in conversation.

In 2010 Anna, Texas, with a population just over 8,000, was rocked by a series of suicides and suicide attempts.  Three times in a sixteen-day stretch the police responded to calls involving apparent suicides or suicide attempts. Churches in the city urged residents to gather at Slayter Creek Park in Anna to pray for the city, its residents and for its leaders.
Sooner or later suicide becomes personal for each of us.  Someone we know, or someone close to us takes their life.  A number of years ago, my cousin’s husband, a psychologist with a doctorate from SMU, wandered out into the woods behind their home, sat down at the base of a tree and shot himself.
Suicide, whenever and wherever it occurs always leaves a wide swath of emotional destruction among family members and friends leaving in its wake feelings of confusion, anger, guilt and grief.  Like all wounds, time helps, but the shadows of suicide never completely disappear in the lives of those closest to the victim.
The primary symptoms leading to suicide appear to be depression and hopelessness.  Almost everyone gets depressed at one time or another.  Some of the greatest personalities in history have battled depression, including Abraham Lincoln.  But when depression slips into despondency and hopelessness, an irrational moment can result in the shocking headlines we read in the newspapers. 
As human beings, each of us faces a difficult moment at some point over the span of our lifetime. In today’s connected world we can scan the globe on our keyboard and, at the same time, not know the name of our neighbor next door or across the street. Individuals come and go in such a hurry that the support network of family and friends has shrunk in today's society and some feel they have no place to turn.   
None of us can read the minds of those around us, but each of us can resolve to be a better friend, a better listener and simply be there for others. Suicide is never God’s plan for anyone’s life.  God always offers a future and a hope. He can remove the guilt that often leads to despair.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18) Even when circumstances are darkest and the future seems impossible, God has a way forward that we cannot see. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Intelligent Design

In 2014  Eric Hedin, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Ball State, promoted the idea to his students that the complex and intricate balance in nature reflects an intelligent design as opposed to a random series of accidental events.  The president of the University ruled that such teaching was not a scientific discipline and had no place in academia, an opinion widely shared in the academic community. Dr. Hedin once taught a course entitled The Boundaries of Science that was later cancelled.

Baylor University was embroiled in the controversy when Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering set up a website and lab on the Baylor server to investigate intelligent design in 2007. Marks used the term “Evolutionary Informatics Lab.” Both the website and the lab were shut down within months and removed from the Baylor server. The lab continues on a third party server at evoinfo.org.

Regardless of academic positions on the subject, reflections on creation, purpose and intelligence beyond our own are important to all of us. We must ask the questions, “Are we alone?”  “Is there anyone else out there?” “Is the human race simply the result of eons of random chance on this third planet from the sun?”  “Have millions of years of random chance and survival of the fittest resulted in, well, ‘us?’” Or are we created in the divine image of the Creator? 

We consider ourselves intelligent.  We can solve problems. We can manipulate the natural laws of physics to make them work for us resulting in mechanical and electronic machines that magnify our strength and accelerate our speed.  We can ponder ourselves and our own existence. We can imagine things as they could be.

We are quickly making strides in our own creation of artificial intelligence, the design of robotic machinery that perform complex tasks. We already have cars that can drive themselves.  Information technology is taking us into realms reserved for the writers of science fiction. “Data,” the popular android on Star Trek, may not be so far-fetched after all.

So, whenever we finally create “Data” and others like him, what will the androids think?  Will they sit around and discuss whether they were the result of random coincidence, concluding that they have no accountability or connection to the humans that created them?  (Seeds for another science fiction epic?).

The Bible is quite clear regarding our own origin.  The Psalmist says, “For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret.” (Psalm 139:13-15).

Something beyond science resonates within us when we stand in awe on the rim of the Grand Canyon; when we behold the beauty of a sunset splashing the sky with crimson, purple and gold; when we walk by the sea listening to the waves crashing on the shore. Only worship will satisfy the emptiness within. The realization that we are part of a grand design in the mind of God calls us to accountability and fills us with meaning, purpose and peace.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

When My Body Wears Out

I took off my gloves the other day and laid them on the kitchen cabinet.  I had been outside watching the sun rise, as is my habit, even though the temperature was in the teens.  I have had these gloves a long time, several years.

When I went back to put them on again, I saw them lying there, limp and useless.  They still held the form of my hands, the fingers slightly curved. The thumb in place to grasp something, but they were empty, wrinkled and worn with use.

 My gloves reminded me of my body.  The day will come when I will put off this body that has served me for seven decades.  Like my gloves, my body was once young and new, without wrinkle, elastic, unscarred.  But over the years it has grown old.  My body groans when it moves, becomes stiff when I sit in one position too long.  It aches. Putting on my socks has become an exercise in calisthenics.

When I die I will put off this body like I pull off my gloves when I come in from the cold.  It will still hold something of my shape.  But it will no longer be me, any more than my gloves are me.  When my hand occupies my glove it can move and grasp things. The glove is filled with my life.  Likewise my body is filled with me while I still live.  But, someday, I will lay it down. 

According to Scripture, I will eventually put on a new body, just as I can place my hands in a new pair of gloves.  The Bible has a lot to say about this, especially in 1 Corinthians 15. “It is sown [a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” 

When my mother was dying we talked about heaven.  She was 89 years old.  Her body had withered away.  Her back was bowed with osteoporosis.  Her vision was failing.  She had suffered a series of mini-strokes.  She had difficulty walking.  When she was a young girl she was athletic, a beautiful fast runner. She won ribbons in track.  We talked about how she would run again, the wind in her hair, flying through the meadow as she did when she was growing up on the farm.

There’s a lot I don’t know about Heaven.  What kind of bodies will we have when we get there?  Will our heavenly bodies resemble our earthly bodies?  Will we have different ethnicities, different skin color and racial features?  Will we all look the same?   Maybe we will know other in a different way, more spiritual and intuitive than visual.  From what I know of God in this world, I would have to assume there will be variety … lots of variety … even more than we see on earth. But all prejudice and pride will vanish. 

1 John 1:3-2 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Saturday, January 5, 2019


Everyone, it seems, is thinking about investments, especially since the stock market started December with its worst performance since the Great Depression.  When I was young, I didn’t think much about the stock market.  It seemed far removed from my day-to-day concerns.  After all, I had nothing to invest. 

When I asked my wife to marry me I was making $40 per month.  Surprisingly, she said yes.  Of course a gallon of gas cost 32 cents, 28 if you found it on sale.  Our biggest financial concern when we married was how many ways we could eat a chicken.  First she fried it, then we ate chicken salad, and finally she cooked chicken and dumplings.  It is surprising how many ways and how many times you can eat a chicken when you are broke.

But across the years we invested in annuities for our retirement.  I am glad we did.  And now a portion of those savings are invested in stocks.  So, I pay attention when the stock market goes into a swoon like it has the last three months. I try to remind myself I need to think in the long term, which is harder to do the older I get. The years are running out.

Benjamin Franklin understood the power of investments.  When he died in 1790 he left $5,000 to each of his favorite cities, Boston and Philadelphia with the stipulation that the money be invested and the interest compounded for 200 years. By 1990 the initial investment had grown to $20 million. As Franklin said, “Money makes money, and the money that money makes, makes money.”

Jesus used this metaphor to remind us of the importance of investing our lives in the right things. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of a wealthy man who asks three servants to manage portions of his money. To one he gives $5,000, to another $2,000 and to the third $1,000.  After a time he asks each to account for their management.  The first doubled the $5,000 and returned $10,000.  The second doubled the $2,000 and returned $4,000.  But the third buried his $1,000 because he was afraid he might lose it.  He returned the $1,000 he had been given.  The master was furious because the third servant did not invest anything. 

Of course Jesus was never concerned about money.  But he was deeply concerned about the way we invest our lives. 

Clint Eastwood’s new movie, The Mule, was released into theaters December 14.  Eastwood plays the part of Earl Stone who, late in life, is estranged from his family because he chose to invest his time in his career and hobbies rather than his relationships.  The movie is based on the life of Leo Sharp, a WW II veteran who became a renowned horticulturalist in day lilies before becoming a drug courier in his 80s.

We all have choices. Whether we have financial investments or not, we are responsible for our time and resources.  As we look forward to 2019 we need to ask ourselves the question, “What investments will I make in the lives of those I love and the world around me?”