Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Impossible Story

As a Christian and a Science teacher there has come to me an idea from a story in scripture. It is an unorthodox idea; a most unusual one. It begs for understanding, for illumination. It is impossible. But true.

It was a high point in Jesus' ministry. He was preparing to enter the Jewish holy city of Jerusalem, to prepare for Passover with his disciples, and also to prepare for the events which would lead to his betrayal and crucifixion. Jesus was well known throughout the area- for his miracles, for his ministry to the outcasts of society, for his stance on the truths of God, not the minutia-ridden, legalistic, tradition-centered views held by many of the Pharisees of the day. People lined the streets at word of his impending arrival.

Even his approach to Jerusalem was marked by unseen spiritual occurrences. As he approached the little town of Bethany at the hill of the Mount of Olives, he told two of his disciples to fetch a donkey upon which no one had ever ridden. They went and found the animal just as they had been told.

As Jesus went down the hill on the other side, a crowd had gathered and they began to hail and praise him, spreading their cloaks on the road as he passed. They praised God in loud joyful voices, for all the miracles they had seen. Luke 19:38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

In the midst of this triumphant procession, some of the Pharisees in the crowd began to criticize Jesus. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” they said. Evidently, their hearts were not moved by the significance of the moment. Perhaps they thought that God could only be worshipped and praised in certain ceremonial ways, or they were angry with Jesus for receiving praise that they desired for themselves.

Jesus answer to their objection to me is like a bell which once rung, continues to resound. “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Imagine! The rocks themselves were ready to cry out. How could such a thing happen? This brings to mind all kinds of questions. Do rocks have any form of sentience? How could they cry out?

First the cause: Jesus, the Son of the Most High God. The Lord of Creation. The one of whom it was written all things are held together by the word of his power. I believe this may refer to the strong force, by which atoms hold together, but that is a subject for another time. It stands to reason that this was a special time and a special place- a crossroads of time and space where strong spiritual forces were at work.

Now science, in and of itself, is good for certain things. It is good for discovering the laws of nature. It is good for understanding how certain systems work, be it biological, physical or chemical. It is good for helping us to understand our environment. What it is not good at whatsoever is describing or understanding things spiritual.

Science: I knew you were going to play the mystic card.

Me: I prefer the word spiritual. Sixth sense?

Science: Don’t be coy. No, you have used the argument in the past.

Me: That bothers you, doesn’t it?

Science: Not in the least. I’m right. I’m always right.

Me: Explain how swamp gas can do circles around a helicopter at 5,000 feet, show up only on infra red cameras, then speed off leaving the copter in the dust.

Science: We both know that only experiments that can be repeated in laboratory conditions…

Me: It was caught on film. That’s objective evidence.

Science: Would you let me finish?

Me: Can’t do it, can you? Maybe it was not swamp gas as you alleged?

Science: Sputter! You…. You….

Me: Explain how a dog separated from its family can find it again after traveling hundreds of miles.

Science: Coincidence?

Me: In more than one instance…. Go ahead, calculate the odds.

Science: Working… working… That is not logical. Error. Error. Error.

Me: The fact is, there is a lot that you can’t explain.

Science: Fact… explain… fact… right… wrong.

Me: YOU are the infection! Destroy the infection!

Science: Buzz! Whirr! Help me! Help me! Help me! (Science goes into a massive meltdown, turning into a twisted, smouldering molten heap of metal)

Me: Sigh. That never gets old. (with thanks to Captain Kirk)

Back to the rocks, which we have just finished studying in class. Rocks have natural lines of breakage, due to their organized, crystalline nature. Even the hardest of materials, diamonds, have lines of cleavage along which the lightest tap of a gem cutter’s chisel can split asunder.

The bottom line is this: I believe that the stones which were there along the road would have shattered along their natural fracture lines. Even a crystal glass can shatter from an opera singer- who is to say that spiritual forces could not break rocks on the road in praise to God for His goodness and the arrival of the very salvation of all mankind?

The praise of angels? Maybe. Maybe not. Jesus is Lord. Let God be true, and every man a liar.


Armchair coach

Amateur historian

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Heroes #6 Ben Hamby

Heroes #6 Ben Hamby

When I hear the name "Ben," I smile. I first heard of Ben many years ago, I suppose in the early to mid 90's. Ben was working at the time at the county office building complex, in a special school where kids who had misbehaved just a *bit* too much got once last chance gasp before being expelled. At least, that's how I remember it.

At various times at Dean Rusk Middle School Ben served in the ISS room, as a Special Ed teacher, and also at times as a Social Studies teacher. Whatever job they gave Ben to do, he did it. He was the school's basketball coach for a number of years, even though he was not in the best shape to demonstrate basketball skills to the boys.

Ben volunteered for a while (it may have been years, I'm not sure) to work with the prison ministry in Cherokee County. The contrast between being locked inside a jail and being able to walk out at the end of the evening must have been stark. Ben had a heart of gold though, and to anyone who knew him, he was always ready to jump to pray for people or just to lend his ear. He was a very good listener, a quality that I am sure helped him in ISS.

One day, many years ago, I had a vehicle which was not terribly trustworthy. Thankfully, Doug Jackson lived around the corner from me, and he would pick me up in the mornings for work. I would listen to his tales of history. He would rant about his students unwillingness to do their work, and the commies, wherever they happened to reside in the world. This particular day, Doug could not give me a ride home, so I was sort of stuck. 24 miles from home. Nearly everyone had bugged out immediately after school. Guess who gave me a lift, going out of his way to do so? Ben =). We had a good conversation, I do remember that. I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Wow, what a neat person!" as he dropped me off in that big van.

Ben would take missionary trips to Mexico in the summertime. They (his church group) would drive there in a marathon road trip. That's a long trip from Georgia. There, he would assist in building churches for the people to worship in. How beautiful.

Ben worked for two years on a specialized team that provided extra individualized attention to students. They were... difficult students to handle, magnified exponentially by the fact that they were all grouped together. I honestly don't know how he did it. But you know what? He was able to show them love and acceptance while being an example for them as well. I'm sure he felt like the biblical Job and had a few extra white hairs by the time he was once again back in ISS.

Since I went to the new middle school, Ben and I have been out of touch, except for a few messages on Facebook, and once where I visited him on a teacher workday. I regret not having kept in better touch with him.

I spoke with Ben two, maybe two and a half months ago. I had heard he was not doing too well physically and was concerned. So I got a hold of his home number and called him during morning planning. He answered, and his speech was a little slurred. I said, "Hey, Ben, this is Glenn Houtchens. I wanted to call and ask how you are doing and to pray with you."

He sounded sort of out of it, and replied, saying, "Well, how do I know this is you?"

I said, "It's me, Ben," smiling. "We have all been thinking about you here. Let me say a prayer for you." So we prayed and I was glad to be able to do so.

God had other plans for Ben. Two weeks ago, Ben went into multiple organ failure including his heart and was found by his family at their home. He was taken to the hospital but by then, the damage had been done.

I have had a thought that has recurred to me since then. It's a scene in heaven. Ben is with Jesus and they are speaking. Jesus is thanking Ben for visiting him in jail, for teaching Sunday School, for listening to him in ISS, for building churches for worship, for giving him a ride and just for being a blessing to everyone around him. Ben understands then, and they hug.

Ben took what God gave him and gave it to others. Thank you, Ben, for your loving heart, and thank you Lord, for your gift of Ben to us. God bless you, Ben Hamby. I am better for having known you. You are my hero.

Armchair Coach
Amateur Historian

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

At the Cross

I learned this song from my Second Life church, Calvary Chapel. It's... beautiful, and tugs on the strings of my heart so very deeply. The deepest part of me resonates along with it. I sing this in my heart as I go through the day. Ignore the video- just hit play then read the words as the song plays. Beautiful.

At the Cross, by Randy and Terry Butler
Copyright © 1997 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

I know a place, a wonderful place
Where accused and condemned
Find mercy and grace
Where the wrongs we have done
And the wrongs done to us
Were nailed there with Him
There on the cross

At the cross (at the cross)
He died for our sin
At the cross (at the cross)
He gave us life again

I know a place, a wonderful place
Where accused and condemned
Find mercy and grace
Where the wrongs we have done
And the wrongs done to us
Were nailed there with You
There on the cross

At the cross (at the cross)
You died for our sin
At the cross (at the cross)
You gave us life again

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten Things I Want to do in Heaven

Ten Things I Want to do in Heaven:

1. To thank Jesus for my life; for making me, buying me, and forgiving me. To kneel at his feet and submit myself in love.

2. To sing praises to God with Keith Green.

3. To see friends, students and relatives who have passed before me.

4. To see Mikey and Snoopy, give them a hug, and tell them how much I love them (and to let them jump all over me.)

5. To pray for others that I knew down here.

6. To love and be loved; to know and be known.

7. To not sin any more.

8. To do God's will without messing up.

9. To meet and speak with author J.R.R. Tolkien, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II, the apostles whose stories were never recorded (or were and were lost in time,) and if possible, actor Jonathan Harris.

10. To join others in cheering on from the stands, to encourage those left behind if that might be possible, to finish the race.

11. To meet the angels who have helped me without my ever knowing, to thank them.

Let His great love be made known, let it be shouted from the rooftops. Life is all about Him.


Monday, August 1, 2011

The Real Matrix

The Real Matrix

I have mentioned Second Life before- it's basically an alternate reality sort of program where things of all kinds are made using a utility with shapes, or prims, that can be formed, colored and even coded. These objects may be made translucent, transparent, even phantom, so that other objects can pass through them. They can even be attached to one's avatar- the character, symbol, or representation folks use to portray themselves to the rest of the Second Life world. Interesting.

Pictured above is a supermarket found within the world of Second Life. Look at it carefully. You will notice boxes, pictures, shapes, and a setting that we are familiar with, for the most part. The photos which cover some of the vegetables and doughnuts are skewed, though. There is something not quite right about them. They look flattened. Mis-shapen. The angles are not quite right. Yet, I say to you, the images seen here are in some ways, more real than the supermarket you go to visit, the walls that surround you and the chair that you are sitting in right now.

No, I have not gone nutters. Just bear with me for a minute. You see, we spend every moment of our waking lives surrounded by the sensations delivered to us by our senses- what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Our lives are consumed by pleasure, or the pursuit of it. We think continuously of the temporary, what we understand. By nature, we think in terms of our experience. But I say to you, what we see is ashes, or soon will be. What we hear; fleeting.... As the band Kansas once popularized, we and all we see are "Dust in the Wind." What is more real than our limited, blind experience is what is unseen. The cries of the heart. The wounds of the spirit. The tears in our innermost being which cannot be touched by any earthly hand.

Why do I say that the picture above filled with electronic pixels is in some ways more real that reality? Proverbs 23:7 says loosely, As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. When people first come to Second Life, many times they just go wild in this new found environment. Their every desire is suddenly available in anonymity and security. The sinful appetites of the heart come rushing out, seemingly without consequence. This is a tragic misconception, with equally dire results.

There was a man I met in Second Life a little over a month ago I'll call "Jack." I met him at a church sim I go to ( a sim is a large square piece of land where environments are built.) Jack was new to Second Life and was visiting. I asked him if he was a Christian, thinking it might be an opportunity to witness, and he responded by saying he was a pastor in real life. Of course, there's no way to confirm that, but he seemed honest and reasonable- nothing seemed suspicious at any rate. I friended him and told him we would talk later.

About a week went by, and I noticed Jack was logged in and online. When I went to check his profile so I could send him an instant message, I discovered he had joined an adult club. I was concerned and when I asked him about it (evidently he did not know I could see his clubs by friending me,) he claimed that he had joined this club by accident. He had also changed his name to "Lonesome Lover."

Had this occurred by accident? Not likely. Now this is not to advocate asceticism, which is a rigorous self denial of the flesh; that all things having to do with our bodies are worthless. Far from it. Our bodies are beautiful gifts to enjoy, take care of and be thankful for.

My point is this. Our hearts are shaped by our thoughts, and though we live in our bodies for a short while, our eternal destination will be determined by what we do with what Jesus did for us. There is only One who can change the heart of man.
Lord, please examine our thoughts, and cleanse them. Draw us towards You. Let us not be mired in self condemnation or self pity. Renew our minds, and make us as Your children, so that Your will may be done. We love you. Amen.

armchair coach
amateur historian

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What's the Uproar?

(photo courtesy of Fox News)

What's the Uproar?

Sunday evening at midnight, Casey Anthony was set free and escorted by police to whereabouts unknown. The media have been playing up this case, causing widespread anger and hatred towards the woman who played some part in her 2 year old daughter's death.
The following quotes are taken from Fox News regarding her release. No author name was given:
As Anthony's SUV left the jail's parking lot, the crowd of more than 100 people surged against the orange plastic police barricades and some yelled "You suck!" Mounted patrolmen and police cruisers blocked the street outside the jail so Anthony's vehicle could drive onto a nearby highway ramp unobstructed.

"A baby killer was just set free!" Bree Thornton, 39, shouted at the passing SUV.

"She is safer in jail than she is out here," said Mike Quiroz, who drove from Miami to spend his 22nd birthday outside the jail.

"She better watch her butt. She is known all over the world."
Lamar Jordan said he felt a pit in his stomach when he saw Anthony walking free. "The fact that she is being let out, the fact that it is her child and she didn't say what happened, made me sick," Jordan said.

Outraged lawmakers in several states responded by proposing so-called Caylee's laws that would allow authorities to prosecute parents who don't quickly report missing children.

Her backers... appeared to be vastly outnumbered by her critics.
Facebook evidently has an "I Hate Casey Anthony" group. Her legal team received an emailed death threat with a photoshopped picture of Casey Anthony with a bullet wound.

According to authorities, contingency plans were in place in the event that Ms. Anthony was shot from the gathered crowd.
Her story has evidently changed several times. Clearly she bears some if not all responsibility for the death of her child.

I, too, am upset that a young child, practically an innocent baby, had to die due to whatever events surrounded her death.

My question is... Why the hate? Why the uproar? This very same thing happens one million times, let me repeat that- ONE MILLION TIMES in our country each YEAR. Yet... there is no outrage. There is no condemnation. There is no protest. There is just... a quivering silence. A silence that is reflected in the suffering that helpless babies go through when they are aborted.
I don't see a large difference between the two events. I doubt that God does, either. Should we differentiate the value of human life based on appearance? Has the story of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man taught us nothing?

In writing of this dichotomy of perception, I protest with my own small voice, though I know it is not alone. Stop it. Stop it all. Stop us from lying to ourselves. Stop us from killing our own. Stop us from the false perception that everything that is possible is permissible. Stop us from our spiritual Frankenstein. Have mercy on all of us, oh Lord. Amen.


armchair coach

amateur historian

Friday, May 27, 2011

You are in Trouble !

Wednesday was the 6th grade Olympics for the middle school where I work. We escorted the kids to the stadium at the adjoining high school to watch the activities and events in a day of fun and relaxation (for the kids, heh!) Towards the end when we were getting ready to go to lunch, I carried around a bag for the kids on our team to put trash in from the snacks they had bought from the concession stand. Three kids in particular went around picking up trash that was not their own, helping me immensely.

One of them, a kid I will call Sam, sometimes gets in trouble because he has a hard time controlling blurting out, but I like him because I can tell he has a good heart. During lunch I asked that he be summoned to my room. "You are in TROUBLE," I told him, my face serious and my demeanor stern when he arrived at my desk.

The effect was electric. His eyes bugged out of his head, his mouth dropped open a little and his entire expression said, "UT OH!"

I laughed and said, "Just kidding!" and he laughed in relief. Then I asked him, "You are one of the ones who helped me collect trash, weren't you?" He replied that he was, and I gave him a small handful of Jolly Rancher candies, as I had the others who helped me.

"WOW!" he replied, as he cupped the sweet morsels, treasuring them. It was the simplest thing, but it meant something to him. I was glad I was able to make a small difference to one person on one day.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Messages from God

Messages from God

On my way from Lynchburg, Virginia to Newport News in the very early morning hours, I was greeted by an awesome sight. I had been fretting and concerned that I would become lost with the lack of road signs and difficulty finding my way in the dark. As I drove out onto the two lane highway that ventured deep into the hills, my window was cranked down and the cool wind blew past my face and through the interior of the vehicle. I turned to my left and happened to look up, and saw a scene very similar to the image pictured above.

The sky itself was a much deeper, richly hued violet. The moon was out and some sparse clouds drifted as blackened silhouettes. Only one star was visible in the entire sky- it shone down brightly from above. I was completely awestruck by the beauty of this scene.

I was reminded that we have hope. “For unto us is born a child in the city of David a Savior which is Christ our Lord.”

Your birth, O Christ our God,

dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth.
For by Your birth those who adored stars

were taught by a star
to worship You, the Sun of Justice,
and to know You, Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You.

-from Hymns of the Feast, Greek Orthodox Church

I was also reminded of how God watches over all of us. Who am I that God should ever think about me- but He does. And He thinks about you, too… about all of us. He desires us to be close to Him. The thing is, we spend most of our lives leading our own paths, and walking in our own self-directed ways. His response towards us, even when we completely mess up is love.

God took a moment in time on that trip in the wee morning hours, and He shared with me a fragment of the glory of His creation that left me awestruck. The illustration I chose does not really do it credit, because it does not begin to compare.

God is waiting, ever patient. Heaven is watching, like an endless cloud of witnesses. Draw us close to You, Lord. Thank You for Your love.