Category Archives: Environment

A Weekend of Duck Hunting

DCIM107GOPRO

My View from the Duck Blind

I just returned from a weekend of duck hunting in Mississippi. Instead of rambling, I wanted to give 10 reasons why I love duck hunting:

  1. Duck Hunting provides me with a great opportunity to enjoy creation. (see the picture above)
  2. Duck Hunting allows me to spend quality time with my father and friends.
  3. Duck Hunting allows me to connect with my rural roots.
  4. Duck Hunting inspires me to learn about the biology of waterfowl, their identification, and habitat management.
  5. Duck Hunting gives me a reason to sit quietly and relax outdoors.
  6. Duck Hunting is a great opportunity to get out of the city.
  7. Duck Hunting allows me to remember and practice proper gun safety techniques.
  8. Duck Hunting is a great excuse to wear camo.
  9. Duck Hunting is FUN.
  10. Duck Hunting is something I can pass along to my children, giving them the opportunity to make similar memories as I have.

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30 for 30 #14: Final Surf in Australia

Noosa

The Sunshine Coast

During the summer of 2003, I had the wonderful opportunity to serve with the International Mission Board and be placed with a church in Buderim, Queensland (Australia) as a youth and children’s worker. The church with which I worked, Goodlife Church, was relatively new and employed a rather interesting ministry model in terms of their building. Rather than seeking to build a traditional church building, the church leadership and membership built a community center, complete with a basketball court, swimming pool, skate park, aerobics room, squash courts, seminar rooms, and cafe. During the week, the building functioned as a gathering place for people in the community, and on Friday nights and Sundays, it was a gathering place for the church.

Thanks to the generosity of the founding pastor, Doug, I was loaned a car to use. This allowed me to participate in almost every program offered by the church including weekly children’s and youth activities, touch rugby matches,  youth camp, Sunday services, and discipleship and planning meetings. It also allowed me explore the area – Mt. CoolumKondalilla falls, the Australia Zoo, and local beaches.

While all that was great fun, the best part of my free time was learning to surf. Buderim and the neighboring communites of Maroochydore and Mooloolabah are in an area called the Sunshine Coast. This area is beautiful. One of the couples from the church loaned me their longboard, and almost everyday, I went to the beach in the afternoon to surf.  Very quickly, surfing became a way that I engaged people and made friends. On the water, I met teenagers who I invited to youth activities. I also met a group of people my age from Goodlife would go surfing each Friday morning at sunrise and make breakfast on the beach – I was there each week, and these were good times.

There were many experiences I will always remember from that summer – going to youth camp, worshipping with a group of vibrant believers, handling logistics for the church’s missions expo, trying a skateboard for the first time, playing touch rugby each week, going to my first and only Australian rule football game (Brisbane Lions), fishing at Noosa, making French Toast for some close friends on a Saturday morning, SCUBA diving, seeing the Southern Cross for the first time, and watching the sun rise over the ocean from a longboard. Nevertheless, there is one that stands above the rest – my final surf.

On my last full day in the Sunshine Coast (7-28-2003) I gathered with a few friends, Russ, Kane, and Smiley, and we hit the waves one more time. I don’t fully remember the waves I caught or the times I crashed. However, I do remember sitting on my board, surrounded by some good friends and enjoying God’s Creation.

If God ever allows, I will return in a heartbeat. There will always be a special place in my heart for the Sunshine Coast and the people there.

10 Year Anniversary Celebration from Goodlife Community Centre on Vimeo.

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30 for 30 #13: Plant Ecology 2004

Learning about Imperata cylindrica

Mincy teaching us about Imperata cylindrica (Cogon grass)

Of all the classes I took at Auburn University, the Plant Ecology class I took with Dr. Bob Boyd in 2004 was my favorite. The class involved lectures that did provide a basic overview of plant morphology but further examined how plants were adapted to their environments and how they responded to changes in them. There were also weekly labs that taught field  sampling and assessment techniques as well as plant identification.

The course was tough. Exams were killer. But it was fun.

While I enjoyed the lectures – Dr. Boyd has a great sense of humor, and although the material was very difficult, he made learning exciting – the labs were my favorite part of the course. Each week, we would head to a different plant community such as a granite outcrop, a field of belly-plants, a dense hardwood forest, or a pine stand undergoing fire management to learn how to collect plant data and identify new plants, or as Dr. Boyd called them, our “friends.”

That semester, I met hundreds of these “friends,” and learned how to identify them by sight. While it did seem like drudgery at the time, many of those names have stuck with me, and it’s now somewhat fun to be driving along the road and recognize plants such as Oenothera speciosaTillandsia usneoidesPlatanus occidentalis, Fagus grandifolia, and others.

The highlight of the course was a weekend trip to Dauphin Island. A group of students along with Dr. Boyd and his Ph.D student, Mincy Moffett, left Auburn early in the morning and visited several habitats along the way: Black Belt, Bottomland Hardwood Forest, Red Hills, Citronelle Pond before finally seeing the coast of Alabama and the coastal Dunes, Maritime Forests, and Pitcher Plant Bogs. That weekend alone, we were introduced to approximately 100 new species of plants. Furthermore, after spending all day Friday and Saturday seeing new habitats, identifying new plants, and practicing data collection, we had a plant quiz on Sunday morning. I must say that one of my proudest moments as a student was making a 100% percent on that quiz. I worked hard, and it paid off.

Course Packet - Yep, I still have it!

Course Packet – Yep, I still have it!

The semester concluded with a research project in which I sought to see how long the seeds a riparian species of tree, Platanus occidentalis (America Sycamore), could survive submerged in water and later germinate. It was the culmination of everything I learned and practiced in the course.

I made an “A.”

Since then, Dr. Boyd and I have kept in contact. Not only was he a great professor during the course, but as I remained in Auburn, he was always  willing to meet with me and discuss my future endeavors whether my senior thesis, my desire to go to seminary, or my plan to teach science in NYC. Now, every time I visit Auburn, I try to visit with him, even if he only has a minute to spare.

If I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate to take his class again. They were good times that I’ll always remember.

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30 for 30 #12: First Open Water Dive in the Keys

First Dive - 2003

First Dive – 2003

During the spring semester of 2003, while a student at Auburn University, I took SCUBA diving as an elective. I was studying Marine biology, and I thought learning to dive would benefit any future studies.

While the majority of the class took place in the university’s aquatic center, in order to become fully certified, the students had to complete a certain number of open water dives. To facilitate this, the instructors offered a class trip to the Florida Keys during spring break.

A Spring Break trip to dive in the Florida Keys? I was all in.

Much of that trip was a memorable experience – the bus trip from Auburn to Florida, the seafood we ate in the keys, the wreck dive, the Jesus statue, the crummy hotel in which we stayed, and seeing Key West for the first time.

However, the best part was my first dive – Looe Key – and experiencing seeing God’s underwater creation. It was amazing to see fish, corals, starfish, and anemones – things I had seen only in movies or books – up close and personal. It was truly worshipful.

That first dive was the beginning of many – more in the Keys, rivers and springs in Florida, Australia, and Thailand. While every open water dive has been fun and memorable, I’ll never forget my first one.

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30 for 30

In a few weeks, I will be celebrating a personal milestone: I will turn 30. In order to celebrate the day as well as the last 30 years, I have decided to take some time to reflect upon some of my most fond memories from my life. Therefore, over the next few weeks, I plan to write 30 posts, each detailing a favorite memory, event, or milestone.

I do want to add some clarification for the few people who may take the time to read about my memories. These posts will not be chronological nor will I be giving one per year. Furthermore, they will not appear in any certain order so that more importance be placed on one memory over another; it has been difficult enough to select only 30 events. Finally, I will be omitting some events that are simply “too obvious” to include in my list. If you know me well enough, then you are already aware of the love I have for Jesus, my wife, and my kids. So, rather than writing a post about the day I was wed, or the day my kids were born, or the day I met Jesus and decided to follow Him, I will be writing about memories that have included these individuals or have been inspired by them.

I’ve never been much of a blogger; honestly, I feel that my time is better spent on other things. However, as I think about the mark I want to leave on this Earth, especially on my children, I think there is benefit in spending the time to document my life to share with my loved ones. I hope that you enjoy reading my stories and reminiscing with me.

Just for fun, here’s a preview of what’s to come:

Alf, Pat Dye, Mjaka, Mentone, Chi Chi, RA, 11-02, Fury, Diamond, and more…

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The Quest for Unification

Recently, I have been spending some time watching the PBS NOVA special, The Elegant Universe narrated by Columbia physicist, Brian Greene. This series looks to explain the quest by physicists to formulate a single theory that unifies quantum mechanics and general relativity. In other words, they are seeking a grand unification theory (GUT) or a theory of everything (TOE). This is an important quest to many contemporary physicists because their field is currently split into various camps, those that study the small (quantum mechanics) and those that study the large (general relativity), because the way planets and galaxies behave is very different from the way that subatomic particles do, and in many respects, the theories describing both are contradictory.

As a result, some scientists have begun to work on a unifying theory known as “string theory” which states that all matter and energy is made of tiny bits of energy (known as strings) which vibrate at different rates, thus causing different effects, much like a single violin string can cause different notes. [on a side note, you may have heard of this theory if you are familiar with the infamous TV physicist, Sheldon Cooper]

I must say that it is extremely interesting to consider what string theorists propose – that there exists one, single theory that can unify all of physics and explain the universe. However, I propose that what science is seeking (unification), those of us who are Christ-followers already know.

Consider Pauls’ Letter to the Colossians:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

The unifying force in the universe is Jesus. He created all things and holds all things together. Without Him, the universe would cease to be. Furthermore, one day, he will “unify” all of humanity under his reign.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

Now, although I do affirm and believe that Jesus is the GUT & TOE for which physicists are looking, I do not think this diminishes their quest for a scientific explanation. It is Jesus who hold the stars in the heavens, and the physical force which he uses is what we call gravity. For all we know, we may eventually see strings at the method by which Jesus holds the universe together.

It is necessary at this point to state that I do not think that science and religion must conflict. However, in some areas, they do. For example, I am not a theistic evolutionist. I affirm that God created, not that organisms evolved by simple chance. But, as I have stated here and in an earlier post, I do see great opportunities for collaboration between my beliefs and modern physics.

It is my great desire and prayer that as we study the universe, we would come to see its complexities as the fingerprints of our creator, and that all who study the heavens would proclaim with the psalmist,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(Psalm 19:1-6 ESV)

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The Musings of a Pastor-Scientist

I like science. In fact, I’ve been trained as a scientist and a science educator. I love learning about the world and universe which surrounds me. As a youth, I gained a passion for outer space, and had a great desire to become an astronaut. Later, I studied at one of the finest universities in this country, Auburn University, and received a degree in Marine Biology and completed a thesis in Freshwater Stream Ecology. Then, I went on to study theology, and eventually became a bivocational church planter working as a science teacher, combining my love for science and theology.

I try to pass this passion along to those around me. My sermons contain science references, and tonight, I took my niece outside to see Venus and Jupiter in the sky. My students are currently reading about rockets and will pretty soon build and launch their own.

Last week, I began watching PBS’s “The Elegant Universe” with Columbia physicist, Brian Greene. This program examines string theory, which is an area of physics which seeks to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity under one, central theory. It truly is amazing to see what one can learn from physics. For example, everything about electricity and magnetism can be summed up by four equations! Amazing!

I am saying this, because in all of my studies as a scientist, one would be led to think that I would be persuaded to lose my belief in God. However, the exact opposite has happened. As I have learned about the elegant universe, the stars, the planets in their orbits, gravity, the speed of light, the interactions of organisms in a freshwater environment, the numerous plants throughout the state of Alabama, the tides, the moon, DNA, RNA, neurons, gravity, motion, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, geology, weather, and more, I have seen more and more of our Creator’s fingerprints in the world around me. I boldly proclaim as the psalmist did, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalms 19:1)

As a pastor, it is not only my duty, but my great pleasure to preach the Glory of God to the church. I want the people who hear me preach to walk away from my sermons, knowing that the Creator of the Universe is truly a great God. I want those same people to begin to desire Him above anything else this world has to offer. If I fail in this, I will fail as a pastor AND a scientist. I must proclaim that which I have seen and I have heard. That’s what good scientists do; they share what they have learned. That’s what good pastors do; they proclaim the Glory of God.

There once lived a brilliant man by the name of Albert Einstein (you may have heard of him). The pastors of his day and time failed to proclaim the Glory of God to him in a way that would lead him to worship his Creator. Charles Misner, one of Einstein’s students, wrote the following:

“The design of the universe is very magnificent and should not be taken for granted. In fact, I believe this is why Einstein had so little use for organized religions, although he struck me as basically a very religious man. Einstein must have looked at what the preacher said about God and felt that they were blaspheming! He had seen more majesty than he had ever imagined in the creation of the universe and felt that the God they were talking about couldn’t have been the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that the churches he had run across did not have proper respect for the Author of the Universe.”

Imagine if Einstein had met a pastor-scientist who truly preached the Glory of God…

May I have the boldness to preach Christ and Him Crucified in a meaningful, contextual way in order that people may be led to worship their Creator.

Look at the stars tonight. Not only did God create them and put them in their places, but he made you as well.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

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God Revealed in Nature

Recently, famous scientist Stephen Hawking released a book in which he claims that there is no need to give God credit in the creation of the universe. Rather, “spontaneous creation is the reason there is something.” This statement comes from one of the most brilliant minds in the world today, and yet, he is wrong. When he looks at nature and sees evidence for the non-existence of God, he is simply “suppressing the truth” that God is revealed in nature.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Rome, writes,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)

Here, Paul makes a clear point that God has revealed himself in the world around us, and that when people (such as Hawking) look at the universe and deny His existence, they are simply suppressing the truth trading wisdom for foolishness.

It is my prayer that Professor Hawking will see his error and acknowledge the God that is revealed in the universe that he so loves to examine and explore.

For a review of his book by Dr. Albert Mohler, president of SBTS, click HERE.

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The Last Man

“You’ve already finished that one?!?!” my wife exclaimed today as I shut the cover on The Last Man on the Moon by Eugene Cernan. Now retired from NASA and the US Navy, Cernan fly aboard Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and commanded the last of the Apollo moon missions, Apollo 17. As commander of Apollo 17, Cernan had the privilege to be the last man to walk on the moon, hence the title of the book.

Like many of the other astronaut biographies and autobiographies I’ve read, I thoroughly enjoyed Last Man. Like Collins, Cernan took ample time describing his flights as an astronaut, but Cernan’s focus in the book was clearly on his moonwalk on Apollo 17. Collins, in Carrying the Fire took time to fully explain his entire journey to join the astronaut corps, the detailed training as an astronaut, and his flights. Cernan, however, mentioned all of those things, but took more time to explain the details that led to him being chosen to fly on Apollo 17. Furthermore, Cernan discussed some issues that seem to have been avoided in other astronaut books, that is the infidelity by some of the corps and the stigma involving divorce in the early years of NASA. He also gave an insider look at the competition between the pilot-astronauts and the first scientist-astronauts.

Above all this book gives one an in-depth look at NASA in the mid to late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Like the books written by his former colleagues, Cernan’s books shows us what is capable when the nation commits to a lofty goal. It is amazing to think that in 10 short years (the original Mercury astronauts were selected in 1959), our country went from having NO spaceflight experience to landing a man on the moon.

What happened to that drive? Cernan does admit that NASA is a product of its own success; the public quickly became bored with NASA. Nevertheless, where is our new goal? Currently, all NASA and the current administration can offer is vague expectations 20 years out.

If we want to inspire more men like Cernan to go and reach for the seemingly unattainable, then it’s time for a new goal…

Who will be the next last man on the moon? Beyond that, when will we be able to say, “Here’s a book by _________. He was the last man to walk on Mars.”

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Got Nalgene?

In today’s world, “being green” is definitely the “in” thing to do and be. While many people take a political slant when speaking of their desire to focus on green living, I have chosen to stay away from the political talk and look at my desire to protect the environment from a stewardship standpoint.

Consider Genesis 1:26-31 (ESV) with me:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

It is my understanding that God’s desire is for his followers to not only use the creation to support themselves, but to protect the good creation. Just like any other of God’s gifts to us, we have a responsibility to be wise stewards of the gift of the Creation. Therefore, we are to thank God for his gift and be careful to not squander the gift that he has given us in the Earth.

As a biologist, I understand the dangers that we humans can pose on our surrounding ecosystems. Therefore, I have taken some small (and easy steps) to help preserve and protect our planet. As much as possible, I ride a bicycle to school. I also sort our trash for recycling at home and at work. Finally, one step I have taken is my use of a reusable water bottle (primarily, a Nalgene wide-mouth 16oz bottle).  According to Nalgene’s “Refill-not-landfill” website:

8 out of 10 plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or end up in a landfill. (Container Recycling Institute)
The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes. But refilling your water bottle from the tap requires no expenditure of energy, and zero waste of resources. (PBS Point of View 2004)
Producing all of the bottles for the US requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually. That’s enough to fuel 100,000 cars. (Earth Policy Institute)

Therefore, I encourage each of you to visit http://www.refillnotlandfill.org and see how you help to sustain our ecosystem by simply purchasing a reusable bottle. No, you don’t have to purchase a Nalgene product, however, I have used their bottles for years, and I highly recommend their products as they are very durable and are made without using harmful chemicals such as BPA.

If everyone were to take such small steps, together we would have a great impact in protecting our world for the next generation.

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