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Some happy thoughts on a sad day

It was a year ago today that my younger brother passed away in drowning accident. I recently mentioned some more serious thoughts about his life and example, because his life truly was focused on what was important – serving God. Today, though, on this day where tears keep springing to my eyes, I wanted to share a few things that can’t help but bring a smile to my face, even while the tears still come.

Just random funny stuff he would say on Twitter…

A quote from one of his sermons, which our friend Hannah Roy sketched. It’s very indicative of how Adam thought … thankful for even little and quirky things, but always with a mindset toward God. You can listen to his lesson here (first one under Sermons -> 2012). Here is Hannah’s sketch…

And my new shirt, which features one of Adam’s original drawings of a robot punching a T Rex. I love it. Adam had been planning to sell t-shirts to help put our younger siblings through college. Adam didn’t get to fulfill those plans, but some of Adam’s friends, including Stephen Rouse, have helped to make some of Adam’s t-shirt designs a reality. So thankful. And the mug is a random quote mug we gave Adam that he used a lot:

I miss him. But he still makes me smile.

The Last 2 Years & what it means to Flourish

Hello friends!

Well, despite a couple very half-hearted attempts to revive my blog, it has been sitting dormant for almost two years. In some ways I’m rather embarrassed about that, but in other ways, I’m not embarrassed at all. It’s been a difficult couple years, and honestly, there have been more important things that truly needed to take precedent. But as things are rolling into a little easier phase now, I feel I can again pick up blogging — and I’m looking forward to it! As for the last couple years, though, I’d like to share what has been going on … and what it is that I mean by a “flourishing abode”.

There was a time a little over a year ago when I was considering whether I could get back into blogging.
It didn’t end up working out. But I do remember one thing that struck me, as I considered my little online domain … the name of my blog. “The Flourishing Abode”. I looked around at my life – and it struck me that some people might not call it “flourishing”.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of upheaval….

There have been times where we had no idea where our income would come from or where we would be living. We’ve had job changes, and we’ve moved several times in the last few years … the last time was a very sudden move this summer which was not by our own choice, but circumstances outside our control. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and we love where we are now — but there were scary moments not knowing what was going to happen. Over and over again, when things were unknown, we were blessed with what we needed and more, even if it was difficult or different than we had planned. But to an observer’s eye, the word “flourishing” probably isn’t what would come to mind to describe our physical situation over the last few years.

In the past few years, our marriage has gone through a time of change….

There was crisis – serious crisis. But we came out of it on the other side with a deeper and happier love than ever before … and it’s because long before either of us took vows to love each other, we each committed to love God more than anything else. It was that first love, and being true to it, that carried us through the hard times, through the tears and heartache, to the other side where we could actually overcome the crisis. And now, we are happier and more in love than I could have imagined, and I am constantly amazed by what a wonderful husband I have. But in the middle of the hard times, it didn’t look like or feel like “flourishing”.

In the past two years, my family has experienced the joy of birth – and ache of death…

In August of last year, our daughter Evangelene was born into this world. A few months later, in November, my brother Adam passed from this world in a tragic drowning accident at the young age of 25. Evangelene and Adam never got to meet. We were going to get to see Adam just a little later in November … but it never happened. My little brother was gone. And yet … not lost. He was first and foremost a child of God. His determination to serve God defined him. He also had an incredibly silly sense of humor, he was a talented musician, and very athletic. But those things are not what defined him. It was his faith in God.

A year later, I still miss him terribly … I wish he could call me on the phone and do his ridiculously accurate Chewbacca impression or recite random facts on my voice mail about African elephants (yes, he’d done that before).

That won’t happen now.

But there is a much greater hope: “But I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12

And that gets back to what it means to flourish. When I describe our home as a flourishing abode, I don’t mean there are no hard times. I don’t mean we always have tons of money. I don’t mean that there aren’t tears, heartache or sadness. Those things happen.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. … So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18 ESV)

A lot of things may crumble around us … but the “inner self” can still be “renewed day by day”. That is how I want to flourish.

When I first started this blog, I initially considered naming it “The Flourishing Home”, but I chose Abode instead, because it sounds more temporary. Where we are right now — this apartment, this body, this life — is just a temporary abode. Sure, there are hard things sometimes. The last few years have been the hardest of my life so far- and I’m sure there will be other hard times ahead. But even in the midst of it, we can flourish, because we are not alone. There is One who will take us to our true home someday, when this temporary life is over. It is that hope and focus that can make a home flourish, whatever comes. It’s not just a catchy title, it’s my goal. To flourish in this temporary abode, because I know what I have believed, and I AM persuaded that He is able to keep me until that last day.

Here is a verse that has long been a favorite of mine … I’ve read it over and over and over again.
This is how and where I want our family to flourish…

That also ties into the verse I have on the banner at the top of my blog: “A merry heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15) It’s not, “the one who has a physical feast on the table has a continual feast” or “the one who has an easy time in life has a continual feast.” It’s the one with a merry heart … the one who chooses to see the joy, whatever is on their figurative plate.

And lest this seem like a dreary post about how hard life has been in the last couple years … things are really wonderful right now. I even have enough time to get back into blogging! As my friend Lori Biesecker says, life is full of mountains and valleys. I’ve recently been through some difficult valleys, but right now I’m enjoying a peaceful mountain top. And I’m sure, for as long as the Lord lets me continue in this trek through life, there will be more valleys and more mountains. But He is there through all of it, and that is a blessing beyond words. That is the reason to have a merry heart, and to flourish, whether there are mountains or valleys along the way.

Thanks for sticking around with me. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, even if it’s just a “hello!”

Truth & Evidences Series: The origin of morality

So, we’re back on an every-other-week schedule for the Truth & Evidences series, currently looking at some various things that in existence, and discussing their origin – such as the origin of life, the origin of the physical universe … and next, the origin of morality.

My sister-in-law made an interesting point the other day. Some things are things that we decide or choose – for instance, whether I feel like vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Some things, on the other hand, are not decided, but rather they are discovered – for instance, that 1+1=2. No one decided that, it just IS. And things that simply ARE, and yet show order, organization, and purpose, we have to ask ourselves – what is their origin?

But asking “where did it come from?” presumes that is does exist. Does morality, in fact, exist? Basically, the question of whether morality exists is asking this: is there right and is there wrong? If even one thing exists that IS, in fact, absolutely and universally wrong, then a universal moral standard exists. And if a universal moral standard exists, then we have to ask where it came from.

We won’t be getting into every aspect of this today, but rather just beginning to think about the topic, and look at it in more detail over the next few posts in this series.

Consider this quote C. S. Lewis,

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something — some Real Morality — for them to be true about. The reason why your idea of New York can be truer or less true than mine is that New York is a real place, existing quite apart from what either of us thinks. If when each of us said ‘New York’ each means merely ‘The town I am imagining in my own head’, how could one of us have truer ideas than the other? There would be no question of truth or falsehood at all.

Is there anything that is absolutely wrong? For instance, does the statement, “racism is wrong”, actually have any meaning? Were Hitler’s actions toward the Jews wrong, or is it merely a relative question of opinion? I would argue that, yes, there is an absolute right and wrong – some standard which is universal and absolute.

The other view is that everything is relative – that there is no absolute right or wrong. One might point out “situation ethics” questions … such as “Suppose you were in a life boat with four people – you, an old man, a young woman, and young child. The lifeboat is sinking because there is only enough room for three people. What do you do?” Because some people struggle or disagree with what to do in such a situation, some conclude that there is no absolute moral standard. However, the fact that people struggle with how to handle such a situation points, rather, to the fact that they have a sense of right or wrong – that there is a standard and they are trying to determine which course of action is most in alignment with it. If there really is no right and wrong, no moral standard, then you could answer, “Just toss them all overboard, and keep the whole boat for yourself. Or better yet, keep one or two, but kill them and use them for food.” And if there is no absolute right and wrong, then no one has any right claim to such an answer is wrong any more than they could claim that a preference for vanilla is better than a preference chocolate. That is, if there is no absolute.

There are a number of things to consider on this topic. Over the next few posts in the series, we’ll be looking at different aspects of it – does a moral standard exist? Or is everything just relative? And if it DOES exist, what is its origin?

Starting back up the “Truth & Evidences” Series

Well, our timeline has definitely been a little different in Boston than I had expected, but I did mention wanting to start back up the Truth & Evidences series during October … and, hey, there are a couple hours left. :)

Since its been a couple months since I took a break from the series during the craziness of moving, this post will just be a recap, and then I’ll plan to continue this series every other Wednesday, Lord willing, as we were doing earlier.

The topic of this series of posts is a discussion of whether there is actual or absolute truth in religion, is there only one truth, or whether everything is just relative? Does faith need evidence? If there is truth, what is it? Is there actually a God? If so, how can we know who he is?

Here is what we have discussed in the posts from the series so far.
The first few posts were on whether there is absolute truth or not, and the role of faith:

1. Truth: Is it just a matter of faith?

2. Is there absolute truth?

3. Are some things false?

And the next posts were on some evidences to support faith in the existence of a deity:

4. Every Effect Has a Cause

5. The Problem of Nothing

6. Design Requires a Designer

7. The First Life

8. Macro-Evolution vs. Micro-Evolution

… and we’ll be continuing on evidences for the existence of deity, and then moving into the question of even if we accept that SOME deity exists, how can we know anything more specifically about that deity? I hope you’ll join me for the series, and as always, feel free to comment or contact me privately, as you wish. :)

Printable of Philippians 4:8

If I were to tell you I had a letter from a man in prison, who had not committed the crime he was imprisoned for, who had been mistreated and abused, who had no wife or children to comfort him, who just found out that people he should have been able to count on were slandering him, and that he might soon be executed – how do you think that letter would sound? Depressed? Angry? Bitter?

That prisoner is the apostle Paul, and the letter is the one he sent to the church to Philippi, which we now call Philippians – and it is a letter full of joy. He continually talks about rejoicing throughout the letter. How is that possible?

Paul had his eyes on what was eternal. He was not short sighted. He was focused on what was eternal. Anything that is a problem in this life – even being executed – is in the end just a temporary problem. The joy of heaven, on the other hand, is eternal. He looked at life with the proper perspective, as he stated in Phil. chapter 3…

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. … Not that I have already lobtained this or mam already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: nforgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for othe prize of the upward pcall of God in Christ Jesus.

He looked that the things which were eternal. The things that are truly true, pure, lovely, worthy of praise. He thought on these things, as he encouraged us to do in Phil. 4:8. And when you are looking at that, anything on this earth is temporary – and that puts all our problems in perspective.

I think this is such a beautiful book. I’ve had Philippians on my mind lately, especially because of the upcoming Philippians Bible study. I’d encourage you to read Philippians and think about the things Paul says. And if you’d like to discuss it together, I am always up for that! Just let me know. :)

What passages do you find particularly encouraging?

Which do you prefer – crumbs or feasting?

Crumbs or feasting? Well, it depends on the setting.

It is so easy in our society to get caught up in the material things. More money, more things, bigger houses, newer stuff. And yet, when we get all that, are we happy? If we put more effort into our house than into our home, our family – will it be a happy place?

That is what I love about this verse. It reminds us that it is not what we own that gives us joy and peace and happiness: “Better is a dry morsel with quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) With Thanksgiving approaching, I am always sad when I hear people say they are dreading the holiday due to all the family tension they know they will encounter when everyone gets together. It’s a house full of feasting – but if there is strife, there is little joy in it. On the other hand, when the family relationships are truly happy, loving and peaceful, it is joyful to be together, even if the food is meager and simple.

It’s not that owning nice things, or having large homes, or delicious food is wrong at all – it’s just that if we make the decision to trade off peace and love in our relationships in favor of more things, we’ve made a very short sighted decision that will not be fulfilling in the end. And it’s not like any of us get up in the morning and say, “Hm, I think I’ll skip out on joy today and just try to get stuff.” No, it’s much more subtle – it comes down much more to how we spend the bulk of our time. And I’m saying this to myself as much as anyone!

So here is another 8×10 printable to use as a reminder of what is truly important. I made it to coordinate with last week’s printable, which was also a “Better is…” verse. There are so many encouraging “better is” verses in Proverbs. You can take a look at them here.

Is this topic something that resonated with you? I know it is something I need to think about everyday.
Leave your thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you. :)

Openness Printable & Family Improvement Game

I just love the following verse. It’s been awhile since I’ve made any more verse printables, and the principle of this verse is something that we, as a family, have been talking about lately, so I decided to make it into a printable. Plus, I’ve been wanting to tell you about the “Family Improvement Game”, and it just ties in so well …

Openness in family communication is just soooo important. And by openness, I don’t mean just-say-the-first-thing-that-comes-into-your-head-who-cares-if-it-is-kind-or-right … I don’t think that is what this verse is talking about, and is directly opposite of being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). No, by openness I mean that any topic is open to be kindly and lovingly talked about in the family.

Especially when it comes to our individual flaws.

Imperfections. We all have them! Me, you, everyone. (Except God, of course.) Admitting that we make mistakes and that we are, in fact, *gasp!* not perfect .. well, it’s no big surprise is it? We already know that – both about ourselves and others. And the thing is, not talking about and trying to mutually improve our flaws isn’t fooling anyone into thinking we are flawless. It’s kind of like someone who refuses to ever say, “I’m sorry”. Why would we do that? Are we afraid of appearing to be “in the wrong”? Let me let you in on a secret – people can already see that we make mistakes. Refusing to apologize or talk about our mistakes, especially within a family, isn’t hiding anything, it is just adding on to it.

I get kind of tickled, I admit, by how blunt Proverbs is about how we should feel about being corrected and reproved. Proverbs 15:5 says, “whoever heeds reproof is prudent.” But Proverbs 12:1 is even more blunt: “he who hates reproof is stupid.” Hard to get around that one!

My dad has often said that the people who know us best are our families, so how foolish are we if we are not seeking their help and correction on things we need to improve in ourselves! It is interesting that we naturally want this in other areas – for instance, as an Etsy shop owner, I and many others seek out “shop critiques”. Basically, this means that you get a fellow seller to come look at your shop, give you advice, and offer pointers on what you could improve – basically, point out what you are doing wrong. And we want that – we value that! Why? Because we want our shop to become even better, and the first step is to look at what we need to fix. How much more so with our character? And who can see what we need to improve better than our family?

This is how the “Family Improvement Game” got invented. It is something that my family (my parents and siblings) do quite often … and while “game” may be a little bit of a stretch, that is just what we always called it, and it actually is something we enjoyed. We have more recently adopted it in our own family (Tim, Leila, and me), and it has already proven beneficial. Basically, everyone comes to the table knowing they are going to get praise and advice on improvement – and by everyone, I mean everyone! From the littlest kid all the way up to the mom and dad.

First make sure everyone understands that nature of this discussion. It is not a time for attacking, insulting, getting defensive, or getting angry. It is a time where we, as a family, can all lovingly try to help one another. Reading some of Proverbs together first might be a good idea (like Proverbs 25:11, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 13:18, Proverbs 15:31, or Proverbs 15:12 … there are many proverbs on this!) No one person is being singled out more than any other. Each person will receive both praise and advice. Here is how it works…

You start with the youngest person in the family – in ours, that would be Leila. Then, going around the room from youngest to oldest, all the other members of the family answer this question in a sentence or two: “What has Leila been doing well at lately?” Things like, “I’ve noticed she has really been good about helping out in the kitchen” or “She has done a great job of sharing her toys when friends come to play”. Then, after everyone has given praise, you go back around the room and each person kindly answers this question in a sentence or two, “What is an area Leila could work on improving?”. For instance, “I think you could do a better job about taking care of your things” or “It would be good to work on having a happier heart when something doesn’t go your way”.

Then, move onto the next youngest. And again, all the other members of the family from youngest to oldest first answer, “What has this person been doing well at lately?” and then “What is an area this person could work on improving?” Then move on to the next person – all the way up to the oldest. Yes, even the youngest child gets to offer what they think the oldest person could improve. It is all to be done in love and respect.

There is one major rule: you are not allowed to defend, get angry or argue with the critiques that are offered to you. You simply take them in and consider what your family has to say. And, if you are wise, you will find plenty to improve in yourself.

A couple little side notes – yes, it can be very humbling when it becomes apparent that everyone, even the smallest child, has noticed your flaw of, for instance, losing your temper. BUT it is very rewarding experience when as you are working on improving, if you play the game a couple weeks later, that same area is mentioned, but this time as an area people are noticed that you are better about. Seeing progress like that is very encouraging. The whole goal of the game is to help each other and improve ourselves. It is about love.

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Proverbs 27:5.
(You can get the printable by clicking the image at the top or by just clicking here.)

How do you encourage openness in your family?

Join us in Boston for Bible Study!

Usually on Wednesdays, I’ve been writing a series on Truth & Evidences, but I’m going to have to postpone that until the beginning of October. Until then, on Wednesdays I’ll probably offer some new Bible verse printables. But first I wanted to be sure and invite any of you who may be in the Boston area to come to Bible study – there is a small group meeting in the Union Gym and anyone is welcome to come! We are not part of any denomination, we are just a group of local Christians trying to follow the Bible, and to not add or take away from it. If you’re in Boston we would absolutely love for you to come visit us!

We meet on Sunday afternoons at 1:30 pm for Bible study and worship and also on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 pm at the Union Gym, which is right near the Boston Commons. The address is:
48 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

If you’re driving, there is a parking garage right across the street (you can see the blue “P” sign in the above photo), and you can get your ticket verified at the gym so you won’t have to pay the full parking amount. Or, if you’re coming in on public transit (which is what we do), the gym is less than a block away from the Boylston stop on the green line of the T, or from the Chinatown stop on the orange line, or just a few blocks away from the Park Street stop on the red line. Here is what the gym looks like:

We meet in the “Aerobics Room”. Yeah, kinda funny, I know, but it works well. You don’t really need anything fancy to study the Bible anyway! So don’t expect anything showy, but you can expect to find God’s Word being taught and studied together. We would simply love to have any of you come by and join us for Bible study. Let me know if you have any questions or if you need any more information. If you’re in Boston, we’ll hope to see you there!

Truth & Evidences: Macro-evolution vs. Micro-evolution

I almost started off by referencing “last week’s post” … but since I’m now on the every-other-week schedule for Wednesdays while we are in the process of moving, I guess it was actually two weeks ago! Anyway, in the previous post from this Truth & Evidences series we talked about the problems of where life could have come from in the first place if it didn’t come from a Designer. (If you’re new to this series, you can click here to see that post, or you can click here to see a list of all the previous posts from this series.)

Today we’re going to set aside the problem of how that first cell could have originated and look at the problems associated with getting from some simple life to the amazing and diverse amounts of life we have today. This is what Darwin’s theory of evolution is proposed to explain.

Now, often a person might say, “I don’t believe in evolution”, or of course on the other side – that they do. But really, it’s not all that straightforward. There is more than one kind of evolution, micro-evolution and macro-evolution. I certainly do believe in micro-evolution. Macro-evolution is the one I don’t buy. Here’s the basic difference:

There can certainly be changes within a gene pool – breeders use this to their advantage all the time. But in the end, it may be bigger, smaller, lighter, darker, faster, stronger – but, as in the above example, it is still a sheep. You may be familiar with Darwin’s finches:

On the Galapagos Islands, Darwin discovered these birds, and how their different beaks were adapted to the different tasks each bird needed – some better for cracking seeds, some better for needling insects out of small holes. This was significant in Darwin’s description of natural selection – that animals that best suited for survival were able to generate offspring and pass along their genes. The thing is, though, this is an excellent example of micro-evolution. They are all still finches. It wasn’t that some were observed to have developed a turtle shell or were half-reptile. It was just micro-evolution.

It is the same thing with the experiments scientists do with fruit flies, where they can get a fruit fly to grow extra legs, or have a third wing, and so forth. They are certainly changes … but they are still just fruit flies. And usually not very healthy ones, at that.

Micro-evolution does not prove macro-evolution. You might see some very convincing artists’ renditions of the steps between species, but an artist’s rendition is not proof. We often hear about “the missing link” – but it’s not as if we have the full steps from each species to the next, and there is just ONE piece missing. The missing links are countless. Here is an interesting quote from Gary Parker:

In most people’s minds, fossils and Evolution go hand in hand. In reality, fossils are a great embarrassment to Evolutionary theory and offer strong support for the concept of Creation. If Evolution were true, we should find literally millions of fossils that show how one kind of life slowly and gradually changed to another kind of life. But missing links are the trade secret, in a sense, of paleontology. The point is, the links are still missing. What we really find are gaps that sharpen up the boundaries between kinds. It’s those gaps which provide us with the evidence of Creation of separate kinds. As a matter of fact, there are gaps between each of the major kinds of plants and animals. Transition forms are missing by the millions. What we do find are separate and complex kinds, pointing to Creation.

But what about those photographs we see of a series of skulls leading up from apes to man? Those are actual bones, not just drawings – don’t those show the process of evolution? I’m sure we’ve all seen those charts – with the ape skull on the left and the “modern man” skull on the right, and the in between skulls of neanderthals and so forth. One of the basic problems with this is the very limited definition of “modern man”. Usually what is shown is a very European skull, kind of light bulb shaped. However that is not what all “modern man” skulls look like. For instance, in my family we have very oblong skulls, as you typically see shown in the in-between stages of evolution in those charts. In fact, my dad has measured his skull, and according to the ratios given by scientists for neanderthal skulls, his skull fits into that category. My skull is much the same shape as his .. more oblong and football shaped with a sloping back forehead, I guess I should measure mine! Maybe I would be classified as a neanderthal, too. And the fact is, there is a HUGE variety in skulls of the modern man, vastly different that the European light-bulb shape shown at the end of the chart. Imagine if my skull or my dad’s skull, or some of the many other diverse shapes of skulls were shown at the end of that chart – it wouldn’t look like such a smooth transition any more, would it? If we can have neanderthal skulls today .. why couldn’t mankind have also had neanderthal skulls in the past?

Changes in appearance within one species (micro-evolution) is a completely different thing than changes from one species into something different (macro-evolution). Micro-evolution does not prove macro-evolution.

Leave your thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you!