Monday, August 25, 2014

Just a Little Rusty

Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.
Mark Twain

Warning: This is not a blog post filled with pictures of a dog and his goofy owners. 

Okay, so yes it is. But it's more than that. 

Hang tight and go for a little ride with us. 

The adventure begins! Meeting Rusty for the first time. 

Tag ready.

Bringing Rusty home


He earned nicknames rather quickly: Russell, Goofy, Trusty, Buddy, Knucklehead, Thumper, to name a few

He really stole his family's heart!

Could he be more adorable?

Could we appear to be more smitten?

Then, the accident. 

We brought Rusty home on Wednesday, August 6. Less than 2 weeks later, on Sunday night, August 17, one of our children turned the corner into the kitchen and fell on Rusty, causing serious head trauma. I thought he would die right there on the kitchen floor as he howled twice and slipped into unconsciousness. Blood began to pour from his nose, and we were mortified. 

Our children couldn't decide whether to cry or shout or decide who was to blame. We assured them that this was an accident, at that there would be no blaming anyone, and I scooped Rusty up, and our 17 year-old son drove me to the Veterinary Emergency hospital in Canton, OH. 

The outlook, according to the doctor, was "grave." 

It was at this point that I realized that Rusty was a bona fide member of our family, something I never imagined would happen with me and "a dog." For the next 48 hours, we called several times each day, and visited briefly every evening. He was put on oxygen, IV fluids, and manitol (medicine to help reduce swelling in the brain). Fortunately, X-rays and blood work showed no other structural damage or internal bleeding. If Rusty could survive the head trauma, there were no functional problems. His life was worth waiting for.

Tuesday night

Monday came and went with no change. Tuesday came and went with no change. Rusty was losing weight and showing no positive signs. His temperature spiked several times and held. He was dying. And we didn't want to prolong his suffering. We had a serious discussion with the kids on Tuesday about the possibility of Rusty never coming home. 

When we visited the hospital Tuesday night, the first words we heard were, "Why don't you guys come to the conference room to visit Rusty tonight?

The conference room. The last time I was in a medical "conference" room, it was to accompany a family who was being told, essentially, that all that could be done for their loved one had been done, so I knew exactly how the conference room conversation was going to go. 

In the meantime, we were being encouraged by some not to give up. We were being encouraged by some to go ahead and let him go and replace him with another one of Rusty's brothers. At that time, there were three still available. 

But I absolutely couldn't stand the thought of talking about Rusty being replaced while he laid there and fought for his little life. Call me naive or unrealistic, but I just thought Rusty deserved a small amount of courtesy while he lived and breathed, and if that meant missing another pup from the litter, then so be it. Rusty deserved our whole-hearted attention to the bitter end, and none of them would be him anyway. I know Rusty isn't a child. I've heard of people who lost a child being told they could just "go ahead and have another one." Seriously? I do value my children over my pets (for the most part), but neither of them are the equivalent of a box of pencils. 

As they brought Rusty to us Tuesday night, he was completely unresponsive. We cried, and petted, and held, and cried some more, and talked, and all the things you might imagine. They left us in the conference room for a LONG time. Nearly an hour. The next person to walk through the door was going to advise us to euthanize, and we were preparing to let him go. 

As the doctor entered, the hinges of the door squeaked terribly and loudly, and Rusty's little head shot straight up and turned toward the door, and he began to open his eyes! She was in as much shock as we were. She had planned to say one thing, but another came out, "Well, we haven't seen THAT before!" 

It didn't take us all long to decide that we were going to give Rusty another 24 hours at least. 

Over the next week, we called 2 or 3 times each day, and visited daily, each time, utilizing the same conference room to surround Rusty with a little love (and a little noise) from our family. 

During that time, he has started standing on his own, being a little more alert, and even eating and drinking a little. Yesterday, he was taken off his I.V. 

And TODAY, if nothing else changes, he is coming home. 

"He won't not be the same dog"
"He might be a little, you know, slow..."

Here's the thing: we're not stupid. We're not insane (okay, that's debatable). We know that he's a dog, and we understand that he's not a human and he's our pet, not our child. We have children, and we have pets, and they're not the same. I get it.

But he is a living being that God created. If there is not a single sparrow that falls without God's notice, then His eye is on little Rusty, too. Rusty is not just a pet. Rusty is a part of God's plan for our lives, and for the lives of many others he has touched. Nothing is more God-like in love and compassion and tenderness than a dog. We made a promise to him, and to ourselves, and to his Creator, that we would do him good all the days of his life. 

Rusty will probably not be the same, but he will be ours. And we are determined to be his. We are determined to provide him a life worth living. If ever we come to the conclusion that living is worse than dying, we will let him go. But as long as he is willing to fight for life, we will fight with him. 

The journey continues

We have all learned a lot from Trusty Rusty, but perhaps the greatest lesson thus far has been unconditional love. Yes, we have unconditional love for him. But I'm talking about his love for us. Never once has he complained, or scowled, or held a grudge, or sought to place blame on those responsible for his condition. He is content to love and be loved. 

I am thankful that God has allowed Rusty to be a part of our family. Rusty has made us a better family. And I know that he will have many more things to teach us - he will continue to mold our hearts - as we prepare to bring him home. 

*For those of you who cared enough to pray for Rusty, or for the hearts of our children, or to give positive comments and support via social media, thank you very much. We have been continually strengthened by you. Thank you for going on the journey with us. We'll keep you updated :-)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Objective Morality: The Worst Thing Ever?

(I read an article today - book review actually - that got my wheels spinning. Link to the book review here).

I often wonder, if moral relativists (who are almost universally atheists) are convinced that morality is a purely a product of our evolutionary brains, why are they so adamant that everyone know about it? Why write papers, deliver lectures, write books about it? Our ape "cousins" do no such thing. They don't seem to be concerned with whether or not morality is incidental or inherent. They don't seem offended by anything that happens in nature.

Come to think of it, I've never seen any animal offended by anything that happens in nature. Why do other animals not cry against the atrocities they witness? Why ARE there no atrocities in nature? Why do we film animals eating one another, but warn of graphic footage when human beings are involved in similar violence? Why is it okay for humans to eat animals, but not to eat other humans?

Theists are compelled to promote objective morality based upon their view that humans are a special creation, a higher-than-animal creature, fashioned in the image of their Divine Creator, who endowed us with an eternal soul, and intrinsic moral value (among other things).

What compels the atheist and the moral relativist to "make converts" to their view? It seems contradictory to nature's law for creatures of survival (like us really advanced apes) to have any conscious view of morality whatsoever, much less a conscientious one.

Why is it that humans have developed this self-awareness and moral compass not evidenced by other species? How does self-awareness and morality (which, whether objective or not, undeniably exists) promote survival? Seems to me that moral sensitivity, which is nowhere else evidenced in nature, is a great detriment to our better good.

If evolution is true, we should stop wasting time trying to figure out how we developed the moral gene, and spend more time and resources trying to identify and eradicate it. Morality seems, to be, a great faux pas of evolution, stifling to progress.

Here are some questions for the person who thinks that nothing is objectively right or wrong:

Is it wrong to deny moral relativity? 
Is it evil to accept the concept of objective morality? 
Should I accept moral relativity?

A moral relativist cannot answer any of these "Yes," since morality is (according to him) only the product of evolutionary circumstances. Objective morality doesn't exist, so the questions are moot.

If he answers any of these "No," then he denies his own cause as irrelevant. So much for writing books, giving lectures, and making converts.

If morality is merely the product of the evolutionary mind, then evolution is true and God is false. But if that is so, then how stupid we are as a species to obsess over it. We could be busy surviving - killing one another and storing up flesh in our genius electric-powered ice boxes for the next long winter. Oh, I guess the argument against that would have something to do with industrialization and the acquisition of "spare time," something our baboon grandparents didn't have, but I digress. Instead, we're in classrooms pondering the "why" of morality. Talk about baboons! If only they knew what we silly human-apes were doing, sitting around in those classrooms reading books about the evolution of morality!

However, if morality is the product of a divine Creator who endowed the human species alone with it, then moral relativity is objectively false, and God is true. And if that is so, then human beings are not apes at all, but rather are a special creation, a higher-than-animal creature, fashioned in the image of their Divine Creator. And it is through Him that we possess our sense of moral awareness.

And THAT is worth writing books, giving lectures and making converts.

Friday, May 2, 2014

5 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently in My First Ten Years of Ministry

Waiting to speak
Most people who know me know that our family is moving in just a few short weeks to a new opportunity in Massillon, OH. There are many things I have wanted to say over the last year as this process has transpired, but in weighing all those thoughts and words, I've found that I have very little to say. I've been doing more praying and contemplating than talking because I simply haven't known how to say or what to say.

A few months ago I sat down and wrote this blog post out, but neglected to publish it, because that's what I do. I probably have as many unpublished posts as published ones. But today, I looked at it again, make a couple tweaks, and here it is. I hope it is worthwhile to you.

I've spent a lot of time reflecting since I announced my intentions to resign (last September) in Prestonsburg. A lot of time reflecting on how I got here - I mean, how I ended up in ministry at all, and how I ended up in Prestonsburg. I've given tremendous thought to God's providence. And I've been reflective of what God has helped me accomplish for Him, and how He has used me for His glory and purpose.

And along those lines, I've also given a lot of thought to things that I wish I had done differently. So here's a list of those things, which is certainly not exhaustive:

1) I wish I had been more involved in local evangelism.
Studying to teach or preach between 5 and 6 times per week is taxing. Add to that bulletin preparations for the last 6 years, and being integral in several other areas of work through the years (involvement program, education program, and other such things), and the intervention of visiting and funerals and such, and it left me little "walking" time for evangelism. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I did what was asked of me here, and I did it to the best of my ability. And, I didn't do NO evangelistic work. I'm thankful to say we knocked a lot of doors, did a lot of correspondence, made a lot of contacts. I spent time trying to help others learn how to evangelize, and was always looking for tools that would help us accomplish evangelism as a congregation. I just wish I had done more. And there are times I had no control over that, and times that I did.

2) I wish I had been more organized
I have kept fair records, but not what I should have. Last year, I did some detailed records of what and where and all that, and I was scared of what I'd see. When I totaled everything out, I was actually relieved to see that I was actually not taking enough down-time, and there were some imbalances that needed correcting. Of course, it's water under the bridge now, but now that I'm aware, I can strive to be more effective and accountable to myself and others in my next work.

I used to carry around little pocket-sized notebooks all the time, to help me remember things, to make lists, etc. I got away from that for some reason (I guess just laziness and habit), and it showed. There were times I dropped the ball, forgot things - even somewhat important things - because I wasn't as organized as I should have been. I need to put that notebook back in my pocket and be honest with myself that my memory is not likely to get better with age. If I am going to keep up with what's going on for the next 37 years, it won't be because my mind is so sharp, it will be because I made a conscientious choice to be more mindful and organized.

3) I wish I had been more prayerful. 
I wouldn't say that I'm not a prayerful person. I don't spend four hours in solid prayer every morning as Martin Luther supposedly did. I don't think I could. Maybe I should, I don't know. But I'm not referring to quantity anyway; I'm referring to quality - my sense of priority.

There are many seasons I can look back on and realize that I didn't go to God first regarding some situation. There were times that I got prideful and thought I could just figure it out on my own. I'm stubborn like that, but I'm trying. I know, intellectually, that I'm nobody, and without God, I'm useless. But sometimes I forget that.

Perhaps that is youth and immaturity. Fair enough. But knowing better should mean doing better. I've never met a person yet who was completely satisfied with their prayer life and habits. It is a discipline, and one in which I see plenty of room for growth.

4) I wish I had pursued a stronger relationship with my elders. 
As I leave Prestonsburg, my relationship with the elders is certainly as good and as strong as its ever been. I'm thankful for that. Being asked to participate in the preacher search was a humbling experience in many ways, not the least of which was simply be asked to do so. Perhaps, in hind sight, I had more of their trust than I often assumed.

Overall, I could have been better about pursuing a closer relationship with them, on a personal level. There are always many factors that play into this relationship, but I definitely could have been better and more communicative at times. The Prestonsburg elders are fine, upstanding men. I am proud to say that I have served along side of them, and I hope they would say the same about me.

5) I wish I had done more to promote the training of gospel preachers
When first we moved to eastern Kentucky, Bear Valley (BVID) had an extension school at one of our sister congregations (which is no longer operational). I wish we had been more promoting of the training of young men to preach.

I am grateful for preaching schools that function under the oversight of local elderships (like my school, West Virginia School of Preaching). But I am also a firm believer in refining that movement in all local congregations. I strongly believe that all congregations should stress the need for the training of gospel preachers AND elders.

I am so thankful for the work in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, and God giving me the opportunity to be a part of it. One of our elders once said to me, "I've been here for forty years, and it would absolutely kill me for something bad to happen to this congregation." This congregation is full of people who feel very much the same way. Including me.

We will be leaving Prestonsburg shortly, and while our membership will no longer be here, our family always will be.