Chaplain’s Corner: LXX

“Lifelong Learners”

Jesus’ original disciples were not what an objective observer would call the brightest and the best. The top students-those who at the age of 13 had rung up the highest marks on their SAT (if there had been a Synagogue Aptitude Test) and who were therefore seemed destined to become future leaders of Israel-would typically present themselves to the most famous rabbis. Essentially they would ask, “May I have the privilege of following you?” If the rabbi consented, the wannabe disciple would gather up his things and fall in line with the rabbi’s band of learners.

The astonishing report that emerges from the four gospels is that these common everyday Jewish young men-who were never going to rock the world of theological scholarship or proficiency-became Jesus’ fishing pool. Jesus does something no self- respecting rabbi would ever have done. He actually goes out and recruits them. “Come follow me. Put down your fishing nets, walk from your tax-collector’s booth, leave behind the life you thought you were going to live and join my band of learners.”

Movie depictions of the life of Christ have not helped us picture this particularly well, especially with regard to the one reality: the fact that the disciples were almost certainly quite young. Think of a 30 year old Jesus working with the equivalent of a dozen high school or college kids.

The Twelve, in other words, are not bored mid-life adults who gradually become open to a challenging second career in global missions. They were young men standing at the threshold of the rest of their lives.

We know something else about them. They were seriously broken individuals. They made lots of mistakes. They said dumb things. They are biased and blind and fearful and selfish. They live with Jesus but they “don’t get” Jesus. They fail to grasp his teaching, struggle to know his example, and get regularly chewed out.

But aren’t these the people whose names adorn countless churches? How can they be blockheads?

It turns out Jesus is in the reclamation business. He called a dozen students into a lifelong living relationship with him, forming a new community or society where he is showing them that a life worth living comes down to being committed to two crucial activities: loving God and loving each other.

We all need help in this regard. We don’t need more seminars to remind us of the gap between what we profess and how we actually live. What we need is transformation and the assurance we serve a Savior who won’t give up on us just because we have so far to go.

This world in which we live right now is a challenge to us all. Our calling as disciples of Jesus is a lifelong journey of faithfulness and spiritual growth. Learning never ends. The drama of discipleship in the end is twofold: First is the miracle. Jesus wants US! And he wants Us just as we are. We’re all invited
to join the band of lifelong learners; then comes the responsibility. Jesus has no intention of letting us remain just as we are. We must grasp that our true call is to join Jesus in the work of redeeming human
hearts wherever brokenness is found. Beginning with the brokenness we find inside ourselves.

There is hope that such a thing can really happen.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain's Corner

Chaplain’s Corner: LXIX

“The Earth Is The Lords”

The opening decades of the 21st Century may well become known as the time astronomer bade farewell to one beloved planet and said hello to thousands of others. Pluto lost its place at the grownups table in our solar system back in 2006. Even though Pluto was cherished by myriads of sky-watchers-astronomers couldn’t overlook the fact that powerful new telescopes have now located dozens of other objects orbiting around the sun that are as large as Pluto. One of them, names Eros, is 27% larger than Pluto.

But even when our solar system has declined from nine planets to eight, the number of exoplanets-bodies that we can see orbiting faraway stars-has grown rapidly. Some of these defy comprehension. A Jupiter-sized planet called 51-Peg-b races around its star in just four days. By contrast, it takes 10 years for “the real Jupiter” to orbit the sun. Some carbon rich planets are under extreme pressure and are thought to be made of diamonds. There are pink planets and one extraordinary world features a deadly rain of molten glass falling at immense speed. The giant planet Wasp-76b, discovered in May 2020, has yellow skies and rains iron.

What do all these planets have in common? None of them is remotely like Earth.

Three decades ago, the Astronomer Carl Sagan suggested there were two important criteria for a planet to support life. Such a planet would need to be near “the right kind of star.” And secondly, it needed to be the right distance from that star. His colleagues promptly punched their calculators and came up with a number of planets in our universe that might fit the criteria. It was a very big number: one septillion (that’s a one followed by 21 zeroes)

But it turns out that the Goldilocks Planet- one that is “just right” for life is more complex than anyone imagined.

Author Eric Metaxas points out: “Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life-every single one must be perfectly met or the whole thing falls apart. The odds against life in this universe is simply astonishing.”

Then he asks the question, that most scientific materialists find uncomfortable: “Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?”

Many scientists have admitted that their atheism was greatly shaken by this logic. Sir Fred Hoyle wrote “that a common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as with chemistry and biology.

The Bible puts it a little more poetically: “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

In reality, it appears to be exceedingly hard to find a Goldilocks planet. Against all odds, it may just be that we’re blessed to live on the only one.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: LXVIII

“Clean”

Less than 200 years ago, few people suspected that we live in a world saturated with microorganisms. A handful of scientists, led by Louis Pasteur in the 1860’s had begun to discern the connection between tiny creatures and certain human diseases. But no one could have imagined that the average human body is home to hordes of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and assorted other entities that are invisible to the human eye.

How much of “you” is you? The current scientific guess is that your body is comprised of about 30 trillion human cells. You walk around with about 30 to 50 billion bacterial cells. So half of you, from a cellular perspective is not human. Most of your body’s cells, of course are immensely larger than your accompanying microbes. So you can at least be comforted that most of you is you.

Something like 40,000 different species of microorganisms are happy to use your body as a mailing address. The average bacterium lives only 20 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to watch a single episode of Family Feud on TV. Bacterium self-replicate 72 times a day. The vast majority of these hitchhikers are harmless.

Then there are the viruses, which have been much in the news in the past 18 months. They are vastly smaller than the bacteria and considerably more mysterious. There are a lot of them. Dr. Peter Medawar, the Noble Prize winning biologist, described a virus as “a piece of bad news wrapped up in a protein.”

COVID—19 is one reason why anti-microbial soaps flew off the shelves so quickly in 2020. Several brands offer this reassuring promise: “Kills 99.9% of germs.” But even if 0.1% of microorganisms remain alive, that’s a lot of germs.

Long before people began to obsess about ridding their lives of microorganisms, millions of people felt anguish about the cleanliness of their souls. In a broken world, how can we wash away-for want of a better term-the spiritual cooties of our lives? What we ourselves cannot accomplish, no matter how hard we try, God offers as a gift. The word translated “filthy” is soim, the strongest word in the Hebrew language to express something really dirty.

In our present condition, how can we ever stand before a holy God? He will have to do the cleansing. He will have to supply clean clothes and a clean heart.

And He is able to do so.

Jesus said to his disciples, “You are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3)

That’s His promise to us too. The best news in the middle of a pandemic is that we can all experience the single cleansing that we most need.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXVII

“The True Holy of Holies”

The “Second Temple” of Judaism-the magnificent center of worship that stood in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus-represented an architecture of exclusion. A few people were in. Everyone else was out.

Around the perimeter of the Temple was the Court of the Gentiles. A few decades ago archeologists excavating the site found an ancient sign that promised death to any non-Jew who tried to enter the Temple courts. Females could access the main portal into the Court of Women. But a grate prevented them from going any farther. Jewish men could walk beyond the grate into the Court of Israel. But only the Levites-those who could demonstrate an unbroken genealogical link to the Old Testament patriarch Levi- could occupy the Court of the Priests.

But there was one place even more exclusive. In the heart of the Temple’s interior was the Holy of Holies. Just one man-the current Jewish high priest-could go beyond the thick curtain that hung in the Temple ceiling between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. And that could happen one day a year on the Day of Atonement, when he would offer sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the entire Jewish nation. The Temple was a kind of architectural Purity Filter in which fewer and fewer people were granted access to the presence of God.

In fact, way more than 99% of humanity-every non- Jew-was excluded from setting foot inside the Temple complex. In the time of Jesus, Gentiles could never get close to God. EVER.

But all that began to change during the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus openly declared that the Temple and its corrupt spiritual vanguard would disappear in a generation-something that happened in A.D. 70 when the Romans overran the city. He reminded the crowds that the Temple was always intended to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17) -not an exclusive club, but a representation of God’s open arms.

The crucifixion of Jesus was God’s greatest loss but turned out to be our greatest gain. For the barrier is down. The way is now clear. You and I have access to the true “Holy of Holies”- the privilege of walking with God every hour of every day. By God’s grace, don’t miss that opportunity today.

Faithfully, Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXVI

“Chosen”

Mary Ann Bird grew up feeling unlovely, unpresentable and unloved.

From birth she had been afflicted with a variety of disfiguring features. She recounts her feelings- and the moment in which everything changed- in her book, The Whisper Test: “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.”

There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored-Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy-a sparkling lady. “Annually we had a hearing test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something and we would have to repeat it back-things like “the sky is blue” or “Do you have new shoes?”

“I waited there for those words that God must have put in her mouth, those seven words that changed my life.” Mrs. Leonard said in a whisper, “I wish you were my little girl.”

Mary Ann Bird ultimately became a teacher herself-the kind of teacher who, like Mrs. Leonard, knew the transforming power of words. Sometimes in our most foolish moments, we fantasize how wonderful it would be to be rich, famous, powerful, respected maybe even feared. But nothing holds a candle to being loved, wanted or chosen. Jesus said to his disciples, “You didn’t choose me, remember, I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit.” (John 15:16)

It’s dismal to think that the purpose of life is to simply play the cards we are dealt, one day at a time, and that no one much cares how things turn out. It’s electrifying to learn there is someone who has chosen us-just as we are-to bear His name and to do his work.

And to live all our days knowing we are eternally wanted.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXV

“What does the Future Hold?”

Virtually every generation has cherished a less than hopeful view of the future. It always seems things are getting worse. Today’s kids will never uphold the values of their grandparents. The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived seven centuries before Christ, believed there had once been a golden age when people lived in harmony with each other and their gods. Then things began to spiral downward, which led to a less happy silver age. That was followed by the Bronze Age, which was characterized by increasing strife and worry. Hesiod believed that he himself lived in the Iron Age when things had gone from bad to worse.

The idea of a lost Paradise, a former golden age of innocence and wonder, seems to run deep in human thinking. Members of America’s Greatest Generation tend to romanticize the 1930’s and 40’s, when people worked together to endure the Great Depression and WWII. Boomers feel nostalgia for the ice cream trucks of the 1950’s and the student protests of the 60’s. Gen Xers cherish a fondness for the simplicity of the movies of John Hughes and the Brat Pack. Millennials savor the happy days when they experienced Mario Brothers and Pokémon.

Yesterday has a lot going for it. Today, tomorrow, however, seem perfectly horrible.

Consider this week’s headlines. Another major earthquake has rocked Haiti. Afghanistan is a nightmare. Uncontrolled fires rage in the west. Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped 1.5 years last year. The Delta variant of COVID has refilled ICU’s from coast to coast. NASA says a huge asteroid will pass by the earth in April 2029 on Friday the 13th no less.

Politicians seem angrier than ever. It’s a mad, mad, mad world.

When Ronald Bailey submitted the manuscript for an optimistic book he called The End of Doom, his editor told him, “Ron, we’ll publish this book and we’ll both make some money. But if it was about the end of the world, I could have made you a rich man.”

So what’s the truth? Is the world getting better or worse?

It’s not even close. The world is overwhelmingly a better place than it was 50 years ago-better than most of us ever thought we would live to see. The numbers don’t lie. In 1960, about 50% of the world’s population lived in grinding poverty. Today that number has fallen to 9%. Travel has never been safer.

Some 40 million planes take off and land every year and never make the news. On a global basis, the education of girls is now almost equal to that of boys. Infant mortality is steadily decreasing and 90% of children are inoculated against at least one of the diseases that used to ravage humanity.

There’s a long way to go. We wish there were no more wars and no more endangered children. Humanity must face the challenge of climate change and serious economic inequities.

Should this good news matter to followers of Jesus? Absolutely. Christians should always be the first to celebrate when hungry people are fed and children have a better chance to grow up in God’s beautiful world. Loving God means loving the people that God extravagantly loves- no matter who they are or where they live.

One thing we know, however, is we are 24 hours closer to the end of history than we were at this time yesterday. And in the 24 hours ahead? The Apostle Paul said it best:

“With all this going for us, my dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (I Corinthians 15:58-The Message)

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXIV

“Words Matter”

According to Greek legend it took the hero Odysseus 10 years to reach home by journeying the Mediterranean Sea after the Trojan War. But that’s nothing. So far an armada of plastic toys has been at sea for 29 years. And some of them have gone halfway around the world.

The great Plastic Duck Odyssey began on January 19, 1992 when a Pacific storm slammed the container ship Ever Laurel somewhere near the International Date Line. The ship was journeying from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington where it was scheduled to deliver, among other things, thousands of bathtub toys.

The storm sent a dozen containers overboard. One of them split open and spilled 28,000 yellow ducks, blue turtles and red beavers. Those durable, watertight plastic creatures, collectively called “Friendly Floaters” were intended to delight American children at bath time. Instead they have become playful international symbols of the object of careful scientific scrutiny.

It appears that approximately 18,000 of the toys went south, where they washed up on the shores of Australia, Indonesia and South America. The other 11,000 or so have taken a northern route washing up in Alaska and British Columbia. Others rode the big surf in Hawaii. Some of the ducks, turtles and frogs-on their way to Cape Cod and the coast of Maine-drifted over the spot where Titanic sank in1912. Still others caught by the Gulf Stream have begun to turn up in Scotland and England-17,000 miles from the point where their Pacific bath began.

Along the way, it dawned on oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer-looking for something interesting to do in his retirement-to track ocean currents. Even after centuries of human adventure on the seas, scientists knew next to nothing about the oceanic “rivers” of warm and cold water that circulate from continent to continent.

Ebbesmeyer, with the help of people around the world who are faithfully reporting yellow ducks and red beaver sightings, is beginning to fill in gaps in our knowledge.

Here’s one thing we know already: Things that are sent adrift on the ocean don’t stay in the same place very long.

Never was a truer word spoken about the words we speak.

Whenever we open our mouths, it’s as if we are emptying an industrial container. Our words go everywhere. And after we have spoken we have no way of retrieving our subtle digs, our exaggerations, our judgments and our snarky commentaries. Just ask anyone who has ever been a marriage partner, a business associate or a friend. Some of the most regrettable comments are still washing up on distant shores 20 years later.

THE WORDS WE SPEAK HAVE THE CAPACITY TO CHANGE REALITY.

Something actually happens when we speak. Your words still seem to be “out there” somewhere endlessly rolling on the tide.

The Apostle James marveled at the tongue’s capacity both to heal and to harm. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. “A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it?” (James 3:10-11)

Starting today we can bless others. That will no doubt include speaking less and listening carefully. And refusing above all, not to go negative.

“Let us therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” (I Thessalonians 5:11) By God’s grace, such words of blessing can ride the currents and still will be washing up on shores for years to come.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXIIII

“After Life’s Crisis-Life Will Bloom Again”

On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens blew its top. In less than 15 minutes one of America’s most beautiful landscapes was dramatically reconfigured. A lateral blast of molten rock, ash, and debris devastated 151,000 acres of forest and recreational areas in southern Washington.

Spirit Lake simply disappeared. Local streams were choked with sediment. Between one and 20 inches of tephra-ash, pumice, and pulverized rock-transformed the blast zone into a deathly quiet panorama in which everything was gray.

Scientists now had a unique study opportunity. How long would it take for the land to be green again-to be fundamentally healed? Would it be decades? Or a century.

That summer they were stunned to see growth poking through the ash. It was fungus, a plant-like organism whose spores are on any given day, widely distributed on the ground. But those spores never open and thus never germinate-unless they are exposed to searing heat. Like that of a forest fire. Or a volcanic eruption.

The same thing is true for the seed cones of certain species of large trees, including the sequoia. Nearly 11 million acres of forest in western states have already been incinerated in 2021, and we’re not yet at mid-summer. But every one of those fires holds the promise of new beginnings.

In the vicinity of Mt. St. Helens, fire fungus became the first deposit of new life. It became the islands of safety for small insects and secure platforms to protect other seeds. This fire-empowered growth was the beginning of the healing of the land. Within a few years the area around the volcano was once again vibrant with green vegetation and animal life, and now after more than four decades, restoration continues at a rapid pace.

Amid the book of Proverb’s many nuggets of wisdom-practical advice about marriage, friendship, speech and personal integrity-we occasionally stumble upon a bright shining word of hope concerning suffering. One of those is Proverbs 10:25: “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.”

In other words when the disaster is over, life isn’t over.
After the divorce
After the surgery
After the judge’s final ruling
After the bankruptcy
After the public humiliation.

It may feel as if everything you have ever known and loved has been burned away. But God is faithful.

And God uses heat.

Where life appears to be gone, new life is already finding a foothold.

And by God’s grace, no matter how severe the blast, your life will bloom again.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXIII

“The Bridge to Heaven”

All of us wonder, what will it be like the moment of death comes and we step into the next world? More than a few people imagine a kind of pop quiz. If you know the right answers-if you’re “in” on the secret password-they have to let you into Heaven. If not, eternity’s going to be tough sledding.

If crossing the Bridge to Heaven comes down to a pass/fail exam, you had better be studying right now to learn the right answers. That’s the approach countless churches take. If you know the right doctrines, hang around the right people, and embrace the right political perspectives, you can avoid the abyss. How did things ever come to this? Where did we ever get the idea that something as crucial as Real Life comes down to “knowing the right answers?”

Certainly not from Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, American teachers and preachers took the spotlight off Jesus’ preoccupation with marginalized people-those who were religiously excluded, morally disgraced and materially impoverished. Real Life comes down to Love: loving God and loving others. Anyone who decides this summer to read through the Bible’s four biographies of Jesus-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John-will come away convinced that serving those most in need of our love is at the very heart of His Good News.

Doctrines may be important. But they are not supremely important.

After noting that Jesus’ own version of qualifying for Real Life involves how we treat the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor (Matthew 251-45), one pastor said, “Nobody gets into heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor.”

There are more than 2,000 verses in the Old and New Testaments that address the subject of poverty. But all too often Christians have chosen to quarrel with each other over “right answers” concerning how much water it takes to be properly baptized and how we should share the Lord’s Supper, even though each of those topics is addressed by just a handful of verses.

What does the Book of Proverbs say to the person who is impoverished and to the person who is well off? Significantly, both receive exactly the same counsel: work hard, fight against injustice, and never surrender your trust in God. Affluent people receive one additional command: Be lavishly generous. Has God blessed you with money? Then use the favored position you are in to build a better world.

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed”.
(Proverbs 19:17)

Memorizing that last verse may help you pass the pop quiz as some future Bridgekeeper.

But living it out will change your heart and change your life.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LXII

“The Human Race has a Lying Problem”

George Washington and the Cherry Tree is one of the most signature stories from America’s earliest days. It’s most familiar rendering is found in a book by Mason Locke Weems that has this title: Life of George Washington: With Curious Anecdotes Equally Honourable to Himself and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen.

Six year old George is caught red-handed which is to say axe-in-hand by his father Augustine, who has noticed that a mortal slice has been taken out of one of his prize cherry trees. Does George happen to know anything about it?

Weems writes: “Looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth” he bravely called out: “I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”

Weems book which was published in 1806, became a national bestseller, going through 20 editions. It’s one of the chief reasons that cherry concoctions became associated with February 22, Washington’s birthday. Likewise, the story became a powerful mandate for generations of children: Tell The Truth. Always Tell The Truth.

The only problem with that story is that it almost certainly did not happen. Weems appears to have made it up.

Social Historian Bill Bryson comments that Weems, who called himself Parson Weems, was “not just a fictionalizer of rare gifts but a consummate liar.” Even the page was misleading. Weems identified himself as the “Rector of Mount Vernon Parish.” But no such parish has ever existed. Weems apparently felt it would be a good idea to make up stories to teach children not to lie.

The human race has a lying problem. According to a study overseen by University of Massachusetts professor Robert Feldman, people tell 3.3 lies during an average 10 minute conversation. Some 59% of parents admit to lying to their children on a regular basis. (i.e. McDonald’s is closed today)

According to author James Bryan Smith, HR experts estimate that approximately 25% of information that appears on resumes is not just padding but gross misinformation. Investigators estimate that lies told by auto mechanics compel American consumers to cough up some $40 billion annually for unnecessary repairs.

Why do we do it? No one can claim it’s ok to shade the truth because the Bible’s ethical standards are ambiguous. Proverbs is uncompromising in its truth telling: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 12:22) “A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.” (Proverbs 14:25)

Almost all lying comes down to impression management. We don’t like the way things are so we propose alternate realities.

Church people are tempted to do for Jesus what Parson Weems tried to do for George Washington. But the reputation of our first President didn’t need to be enhanced by made-up stories. And the cause of the One who called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life won’t be advanced by our dressing up our own spiritual experiences. St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to” speak the truth in love.” We must abandon lies.

But Love is what should lead us with wisdom and discernment to speak with caution. With humility. With grace.

And frankly-if we’re really wise-to stop speaking altogether when silence would be clearly an improvement.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain