The Great Boston Molasses Flood

One hundred years ago, Boston was a thriving center for molasses trade. Ships would come from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the West Indies to unload their sweet syrup into large storage tanks at the port. While some molasses was used for cooking, most was fermented and distilled into alcohol for either consumption or World War I munitions. In January 1919, a large storage tank (50 feet tall and 90 feet wide) filled with over two million gallons of molasses burst. A wave of warm molasses surged through the streets of Boston. It was 25 feet high traveling at 35 mph. Buildings were swept off their foundations. A streetcar was tipped off its tracks. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of up to 3 feet. Soon the molasses cooled and became viscous, trapping people and animals, hampering their rescue. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 were injured. The cleanup lasted for weeks. Boston Harbor was stained brown until the summer. The sweet smell of molasses lingered in parts of the city for years.

God blesses us every day with many wonderful gifts. The pleasure of delicious food. The security of prosperity. Time to rest. The intimacy between husband and wife. Speaking words of encouragement and kindness to one another. God also warns us that we are only to enjoy His blessings within certain boundaries and limits. When the molasses sat in the storage tank, it was a valuable commodity with much benefit to its owners and many uses for the community. But as soon as it left the boundaries of the storage tank, the molasses lost all of its value and actually became a hazard to everyone nearby.

We see God’s warnings for the importance of self-control in Scripture (Proverbs 25) and in the general revelation of the law of reaping-and-sowing. (Galatians 6) Overeating leads to gluttony and obesity. Preoccupation with money leads to greed. Too much leisure leads to poverty. Sex outside the marriage covenant ruins relationships. Angry words harm others. It is important to keep all of these good and wonderful blessings contained within their God-given limits. When we don’t, God’s wonderful gifts become worthless to us and dangerous to others. Thankfully, we do not have to rely merely on our own power. The Fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. (Galatians 5) And God graciously empowers His children to flourish under His care and direction, and to increasingly think and act more like Jesus. 

Safeguarding Our Valuable Future

Philip Poniz learned the hard way that a bank safe deposit box is not a secure place to store valuables. When he moved across the country, he needed a new place to store his collection of expensive, rare watches. Philip had been collecting watches since he was a teenager. He had become an international expert in the history and restoration of high-end timepieces. He secured a safe deposit box in a reputable bank to protect his collection worth several million dollars. Over the years, Philip went to his safe deposit box to check on his collection many times without any problems.

Then one day he opened his box to find it empty. After much investigation, Philip learned that the bank had mistaken his box for someone else’s box who had failed to pay their fees. In accordance with bank policy the box was opened, and the contents sent to general storage. When they learned of their error, the bank returned the watches they still had to Philip, but several watches were lost forever. Bank policy limited their responsibility to just a few thousand dollars; a small fraction of Philip’s loss. The moral of the story is that we should be extra careful with whom we trust our most valuable possessions.

When we are looking for someone to guard what is precious to us, we require them to be both honest and competent, willing and able to fulfill their promise. Perhaps our most important treasure is our future. We can endure anything for a little while when we have hope that whatever we’re suffering will be worth the pain and sacrifice in the end for ourselves and those we love. We must trust our future to someone. Not finding someone trustworthy to safeguard our future is essentially just trusting in our own strength and wisdom. We may do OK on our own when life is going well. But there are times when we must call in experts to dealing with something that’s way bigger than we can handle, for example a life-threatening illness, a major lawsuit, or storm damage to our home.  In those moments, we need to know the character, abilities, history, and reputation of who is planning and controlling our future so we can know if they are worthy of our trust.

When we consider if God is ultimately trustworthy to safeguard our future, what is God’s character and abilities? What is God’s history and reputation when others have entrusted their futures to Him? Abraham left his home and traveled to a faraway land at God’s command. Job continued to trust God even after he lost everything and everyone that mattered to him. William Tyndale, best known for his translation of the Bible into English, was martyred for his faith. Jim Elliot was a missionary killed while attempting to evangelize in Ecuador. The world was not worthy of the faithful men and women who suffered for their desire to live a godly life. But in the end, their faith was richly rewarded.

And of course, Jesus gave up everything to bear the sins of His people on the cross, trusting and obeying His Father’s will for His life. The witness of the saints is that trusting God has always been worth it in the end, and their experiences give us confidence in the promises God made in His Word. Here are a few examples. Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory. (2 Corinthians 4, all ESV) Entrust your efforts to the LORD, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16) And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5) Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34) For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29) These and many more promises remind us of the hope and blessings awaiting us if we trust in Jesus to completely safeguard everything that is truly important and precious to us.

Plankton and Nekton

Are you tired of being tossed around by an ever changing view of what’s supposed to be important?

Dividing the world into two groups has been a longstanding human activity. In 1891, a German biologist identified two groups of marine aquatic organisms: plankton and nekton. Plankton are passive creatures that are carried along by the water. All they can do is drift along with the currents and waves. Examples of plankton include microscopic animals and plants. Nekton are active swimmers that propel themselves through the water regardless of the direction of the currents, winds, and waves. Examples of nekton include fish, whales, and turtles.

Scientists no longer use this classification because the diversity of marine animals and plants is much more complex than anyone in the 19th century could have anticipated. One such complexity is that some organisms begin their life as plankton and then transition to nekton when they develop. These plankton-to-nekton animals are unable to swim when they are very small and young, but then as they mature and grow, they become nekton. Some examples include fish larvae, squid, and the man-o-war jellyfish.

When we were younger, all of us were spiritual plankton. We went along with the world’s values and judgments. Even in our youthful rebellion, we rebelled against what we were told to rebel against. But Jesus calls His disciples to spiritual maturity and to no longer strive for what most others say is precious and important (Romans 12). Being deceived by the world’s trickery is compared to being blown back-and-forth by the wind (Ephesians 4). When God’s people try to please both the world and our Lord, we are compared a boat tossed up-and-down by ocean waves (James 1). But as we grow and mature in our faith, we become spiritual nekton who, by God’s grace, effectively resist whatever circumstances and temptations might pull us away from achieving the virtuous characteristics of our Lord Jesus.

One way we can know we are on God’s narrow path to all the blessings He has promised is that we find ourselves disagreeing more and more about what or who we are told is important. Thankfully, God is not just leaving us alone to do the best we can and cheering us on from the sidelines. Our Heavenly Father provides enough grace for every day’s challenges. Along the way we will find a few others to encourage us and to be encouraged by us. When we intentionally and consistently pursue what God has revealed in His Word, we will be blessed with His peace, joy, and hope, and we will avoid the uncertainty and insecurity of following the crowd to chase the latest fad or trend.

Hope in the LORD: So Everything Works Well Together

Do you know anyone (maybe yourself?) who has one aspect of their life firing on all cylinders, while other parts of their life are falling apart? Maybe their career is going great, but their family life is a mess. Or they take every opportunity to travel and see the world, but their debt is unbearable. Or they have found the one person they have waited for their whole life, only to sacrifice their other friendships. We all hope and expect that there are answers to all our worries and all our troubles and all our challenges. But we only have limited knowledge of what’s the right thing to do. We often look for answers to fill in the blanks in our life as we go. In these circumstances, it can be helpful to think about how life can be like a Sudoku puzzle.

Sudoku is a number-placement puzzle played on a 9×9 grid. Solving a Sudoku puzzle requires placing each of the digits from 1 to 9 exactly once in a column, exactly once in a row, and exactly once in each of the nine 3×3 mini-grids. There is only one way to correctly solve any Sudoku puzzle. In solving a Sudoku puzzle, sometimes a number fits perfectly in a column and a mini-grid, but is completely out of place and inconsistent with the row it’s placed in. Once you see a number doesn’t fit all three requirements, you must erase it. Ignoring the mistake and continuing to fill in more numbers does not get you any closer to solving the puzzle. A Sudoku puzzle is solved only when all the numbers fit in their row and in their column and in their mini-grid.

Life can be like a Sudoku puzzle. We can have a few aspects of our life completely figured out, and we don’t want to change a thing. But other things we value are a mess and are out of control. If we’re honest about our situation, we realized we made a big mistake somewhere. We must accept that we have to change what we thought was working well in our life. We have to start over and try something different in our careers, relationships, families, finances, or health. But this time we want to make better choices so that everything works well together our life.

Throughout history, people have asked for God to fix what’s wrong, to know what’s true, and to find the right answers to fill in the emptiness and face the challenges in their lives. Thankfully, God has revealed Himself and His truth to His people through His Holy Word. God has told us that there is one answer, and only one answer, to living life in accord with all aspects of His created purpose for each of us. And God has promised that anyone can know His answers. Whatever mess we find ourselves in, all He asks is that we admit our mistakes, and begin to follow Jesus. As our life becomes more like Jesus, all the blanks and emptiness in our life will be properly filled in. All our challenges will seem a bit smaller, and everything in our life will begin to work together for good. It may take time, but by His grace we can continue to walk by faith and hope for an increasingly wonderful future if we truly desire to know and obey Him.

While the big questions of life may appear diverse, God give us one and only one consistent answer to all the big questions of life. Jesus said, “follow me.”

·         How can I know what’s true?

o   Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8)

·         What does God require of you?

o   “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6)

·         What is the greatest commandment?

o   Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22)

·         What must I do to be saved?”

o   “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16)

Fake Medicines Endanger Health

Counterfeit medications are a major worldwide problem. In 2013, over 122,000 people died in sub-Saharan Africa from the use of poor-quality antimalarials. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of all the medicines sold in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are counterfeit. Worldwide, an estimated 10% of all medicines are counterfeit. Fake drugs have been found which were supposed to treat heart disease, cancer, arthritis, anesthesia, vaccines, infections, and mental illness.

Patients can experience a variety of problems from the use of counterfeit drugs. If the counterfeit drug that contains no active ingredient and no impurities, then the fake medicine provides no benefit, but does no additional harm. If the counterfeit drug contains some active ingredient mixed with toxic contaminants, then the medicine may provide some benefit, but the accompanying poisons may also do great harm. If the counterfeit drug contains the correct active ingredient but in the wrong amount (too much or too little), then the medicine may be too diluted to provide any real benefits or may be an overdose that does a great deal of harm. With counterfeit vaccines and antibiotics, the ineffective medicine affects both the patient and the outbreak of the illness for an entire community.

How heartbreaking for victims of fake medicines! They have received a proper diagnosis of their illness. The appropriate remedy has been identified to treat their disease. They purchase and administer the medicine as directed. But because of dishonesty or incompetence, their health does not improve, and may actually worsen. And by the time they realize the medicine they were taking was a counterfeit, it may be too late.

Jesus tells of the agony many will experience on judgment day because they did not realize that their faith was counterfeit. These people will stand before Him, call Him “Lord”, recount their good works, and confidently expect to join Him in heaven. He will say to them, “Depart to Hell. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7) We are constantly warned in Scripture about false teachers and others who try to lead us astray. Knowing our condition (sinners) and understanding the necessary cure (faith with repentance and obedience), we must be extra careful to only trust those who proclaim the genuine Gospel with honesty, integrity, and competence, and to be alert of those who can cause of great spiritual harm due to their dishonesty or incompetence in handling God’s revealed truth.

Hope in the Lord: His Promises to Be There for Us and with Us

What comes to mind if you are asked to recall the song, “I’ll be there for you”?  Do you think about The Rembrandts’ theme to the sitcom Friends or Bon Jovi’s power ballad? Both songs describe love in a way that is losing favor in our day. From The Rembrandts: “I’ll be there for you; when the rain starts to pour; I’ll be there for you; like I’ve been there before; I’ll be there for you. From Bon Jovi: “I’ll be there for you; these five words I swear to you; I’ll be there for you; I’d live and I’d die for you; words can’t say what love can do; I’ll be there for you.”

Too often, today’s view of love is “What can you do for me?” or “How do you make me feel?” or “If you love me, you will do this and that for me.” Marriage vows are less often being made “for as long as we both shall live” and increasingly being made “for as long as we both shall love.” Monogamy is even seen as an outdated concept. More and more people believe that since no one person can love them enough to meet all their needs, they avoid the commitment and obligations of marriage.

But how do we want to be loved? Do we want our loved ones to run hot and cold, depending on how we make them feel? Or do we want them to always “be there for us”? Do we want to wonder if we can count on them? Or do we want to know that they are always working toward what is best for us? Honestly, we all long to be the recipient of someone’s undivided, abiding, and unconditional love. Using modern slang, we want to be someone’s bae: before all else.

Always being there for someone requires sacrificing our schedule, our priorities, our interests, and even ourselves so our loved one benefits and flourishes from our sacrifices.  But even our best intentions will fall short because of our human limitations of energy, time, ability, and resources. Only God can make and keep the promise to always be there for us. Fortunately, God is willing to make great promises to His people. In Hebrews 13, God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (all ESV). In Matthew 28, Jesus said, “I am with you always.” The New Testament describes agape love as the highest form of unconditional, self-sacrificing love: living and dying for another’s benefit. God has always loved His people in this way, and He always will. John 3 describes a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And not only does God promise to be with His children and for His children, but He offers these precious promises to people who are currently His enemies. In Romans 5, God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In Ephesians 2, God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ; by grace we were saved.

Christianity is criticized as a narrow, exclusive religion. But Jesus makes an open invitation to anyone and everyone to come follow Him regardless of what you’ve done in the past or what trouble you find yourself in now. If you long for unconditional and abiding love that will never waver or disappoint you, then accept Jesus’ invitation to come to Him if you are tired and burdened, and He will give you rest (Matthew 11).

Gödel and God

The greatest mathematical discovery of the 20th century may be Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems. Kurt Gödel was an Austrian mathematician and philosopher who emigrated to U.S.  In 1931, Gödel published his two Theorems of Incompleteness. In layman’s terms, they can be greatly simplified to this: there are always more things that are true than you can prove.  More formally, Gödel's showed that finding a complete and consistent set of truths for a mathematical system is impossible.

To be clear, many mathematical theorems have been rigorously proven to be true; others proven to be false. For example, Pythagorean theorem is true, and the square root of two cannot be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers. Some important mathematical theorems remain unproven (i.e. they have not yet been proven to be true). For instance, Goldbach Conjecture or Riemann hypothesis. For these unproven theorems, there is often enough evidence and examples where these theorems are true that mathematicians proceed as if these theorems were always true.

  Mathematicians once thought that every true theorem has a rigorous mathematical proof. Gödel’s discovery was ground-breaking because he showed that provability is a weaker notion than truth. When someone states that they do not believe in God, we should rejoice that we live in a time and place in history that people can believe whatever they want, and they express their beliefs without fear. But unbelief is a much lower foundation than proof.

If the rigorous logical discipline of mathematics accepts that not every truth can be proven, is it too much to consider that God call us to a faith that is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)? It does not matter that we cannot “prove” that God exists. The important question is whether or not God has provided enough reasons in how His creation works, enough evidence in the unfolding of history, and enough blessings in our lives to trust and obey Him at all times and in all circumstances.

He Loved Big Brother (Jonah 1:1-5, 9)

Seminary was never in my grand plan for life; in fact, I really did not want to go into ministry at all. Throughout college, I had visions of grandeur (or actually self-delusion), convincing myself that I would one day be the next Hemingway, Vonnegut, Flaubert, blah blah blah… But even back then, I always had this faint feeling that I was running from something. I felt like I was running away from God Almighty Himself.

            If you were to ask me who my favorite character in the Bible is, the answer may baffle you: it is not Abraham, who by faith was willing to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac; it is not Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament; it is not even Jonathan, who had an amazing first name. No, my favorite character had a small book named after him and a whole Veggie Tales movie based on him: poor foolish Jonah.

            What makes Jonah so special to me? Look at his track record: God gives him one job: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2, ESV). All you had to do, Jonah, is do your job as a prophet: get up and tell God’s message. And we see him do the first command, because Jonah does get up, but instead he “rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). And because Jonah tries to escape God’s presence, all we see is him going down, and down, and down, and down. When you try to escape from God, your life only becomes a downward spiral of failure.

            Even though Jonah thinks he can escape God’s presence, the Lord is right there with him. You will not (because you cannot) escape the presence of the Lord. You can run from your calling to ministry like I tried, or run from the church itself, or run from all of Christianity, but you will never escape the Hound of Heaven that is relentlessly pursuing His children. King David even wrote a poem about this:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
  Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me,
    And your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10). 

Just like the Police song “Every Move You Make” (a song about a stalker!), God is right there watching you.

            And that’s the best news you could ever hear.

            Look at the Gospel of Matthew: “And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matthew 8:23-27).

Jonah failed miserably with his mission; he forgot Christianity 101, and with the great storm wailing around him, all he wanted to do was go down into the boat to die (Jonah 1:5). While Jonah slept resigned to death, Jesus slept in perfect control of the storm (Matthew 8:24). In fact, the answer to the disciple’s question in 8:27 is found in Jonah’s response thousands of years earlier: “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9).

You may think that you’re better off without religion, God, the Bible, or whatever makes you feel great. But all us, religious or irreligious, believer or non-believer, have more than Big Brother watching; we have the Lord God, whose presence is inescapable. But instead of a stalker who just wants to ruin your day, God is the one who controls the universe. The God that commanded the sea to be still is the same God who died so that we might live.

For the final words of Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith finally gives into the brainwashing of the omniscience and all-powerful Big Brother, and all that Orwell can tragically say is “He loved Big Brother.” Thankfully, God is watching all of us, but instead of that fact causing dread, it should be the source of all lasting peace, hope, and comfort. Jonah is my favorite Bible character because he reminds me of myself, and this story reminds me that there is hope for flaky people.

Dirty Laundry (Psalm 51)

Dirty Laundry (Psalm 51)

            Cleanliness is truly next to godliness. If you have ever taken a creative writing class, you know I have completely failed the first day’s lesson: avoid overused sayings like the plague (Trite) because the road to hell is paved with them (Trite). Yet that first sentence captures a fascination for people. We like to be clean.