Reflections on the Eclipse: To Celebrate, To Share, and To Remember

Did you get to see the eclipse yesterday?  Three of my friends joined me for lunch  and a wonderful afternoon of attempting to take photos of the eclipse.  We tried a bunch of different options,  and I used three different cameras,  but I was very disappointed with what I got!  😦   Between the clouds and the power of the sun,  which overpowered my camera’s ability to shut out the light properly (and I hadn’t thought ahead enough to buy a good filter),  I had no really clear closeup of the event.

Thankfully, two of my friends made the long trek to Central City, Kentucky and came back with some incredible photos (which they’ve kindly allowed me to post).                      Their story makes me grin, so I want to share it quickly!  Justin calculated the “perfect” location, which had a slightly shorter totality for viewing but also made it possible for them to leave the area sooner and beat the tsunami of traffic heading back north, so they were home by 6:30 pm! Brilliant plan, all the way around, don’t you think? And, aren’t their photos fabulous!

This makes me so happy, because I have etched into my brain a memory of Justin as a seven-year-old, looking rather forlorn as he sat shivering on the steps of our home by the frozen pond where a motley group of hockey enthusiasts (ages 37 to 7, from our church family) were playing hockey. Justin’s lips were a bit blue, so I asked him if he’d like to come in and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.

“No!” he answered resolutely! “I just want the puck!!” Tall order for the youngest kid on the ice!  Yesterday (and doubtless oodles of times in the past 30+ years), Justin got the puck! Way to go, Leah and Justin!!

Well, back to my reflections on the eclipse. I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates us to create images. I think for most of us it’s about “makin’ memories” to celebrate the special times in our lives…to memorialize the events, share them with others, and keep the memories alive. Although some religious groups (both among Muslims and Christians) believe that people should not make any replication of anything lest it be idol worship (which is why ISIL is busy destroying statues), I personally believe God was forbidding only the creation of images for the purpose of worshiping them. Delighting in what is pure and good, and commemorating special occasions with photos, seems like an ideal way to make, share, and remember happy events!

And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:1-6).

(Photo credits: A very special thank you to Leah and Justin Hamilton for letting me use their 4 outstanding photos of the eclipse, which they took in Central City, KY yesterday. You guys are awesome! The rest are from my home here in Michigan, where I shared a very happy afternoon with Brenda, Jane, and Bonnie. You guys are awesome too!)

Some Tips for Watching the Eclipse Today

Are you prepared to enjoy the total solar eclipse today?  There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse visible all across the contiguous states of America for ninety-nine years, so this is a rare and historic opportunity! My son Aaron posted on his timeline a great resource put out by Time for people in the U.S. If you’re interested in knowing exactly when the eclipse will occur and what it will look like in your area, just type in your zip code and it will give you a mock up of the orbit and exact times:  http://amp.timeinc.net/time/4882923/total-solar-eclipse-map-places-view/?source=dam    I’m sure you know this already, but the first safety rule of the day is: “Don’t look straight at the sun!” PBS has put out clear instructions for how to enjoy the eclipse without eye injury by making a simple pinhole projector. (See above.) If you have an i-phone, I’ve heard it’s safe to watch looking over your shoulder through your i-phone in the selfie mode. If you live on or near a lake where the water is still, I’ve also read you can safely watch the eclipse on the surface of the water. (However, I just tested this on our lake, and it almost seems like the water magnifies the glare, so I’m not going to look “straight” at the eclipse even on our lake.) Theoretically, you can watch images fluttering through the shadows that tree leaves make on the ground (which might make for interesting photo ops, but I’m not sure how satisfying this would be for serious viewing). Three of my girlfriends are coming over so we can watch together, and one of them is bringing a tripod and binoculars. It is totally unsafe to watch through binoculars, but I’ve heard you can set up the binoculars so they cast the image onto a piece of white paper on the ground, allowing several people to watch at once.  As I’m no expert, please double check whatever method you choose with some more scientifically reliable source than I am. I’d feel terrible if anybody damaged their eyes from listening to my second-hand information!  Speaking of second-hand information, I was reading in Proverbs 14 today and noticed a lot of admonitions for “witnesses” to be truthful. It occurred to me that even seeing televised reports of what’s happening around the world (such as at Charlottesville) is not the same as being there. What I saw was second-hand testimony, and each television editor had to take responsibility for what they included and what they did not, as was true for each news reporter.  When it comes to knowing and understanding the truth about anything, we are limited. Even if we’re at an event, we don’t see, hear, or understand everything. If we are not present at an event, then we have to rely on the testimony of other witnesses. On whom can we rely? Well, of course we turn to the people we trust the most, but ultimately, no one is omniscient and omnipresent except One, and that is God! He alone knows the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As we seek the truth, whether it’s about how to watch the eclipse or what to believe about our world, I personally believe the best “fact checker” in the world is the Scripture. If something contradicts the Scripture, then please doubt the witness, not the Word!

“Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

 

Rise Up, My Love (248): Are We Willing Workers?

Song of Solomon 7:12 “Let us get up early to the vineyards.” First, we see that the bride desires to begin immediately…to be up and away early in the morning. Second, let’s consider where she wants to go, i.e. the vineyards. We learn in chapter 8:11-12 that Solomon had vineyard in Baalhamon and that his wife also had a vineyard, perhaps at Baalhamon or nearby.

The word Baalhamon means “possessor of abundance,” and although there is no known location for such a place, it is generally held that either symbolically or in reality, it refers to a place where the fruits were exceptionally fine. The wife’s invitation in 7:12 does not mention any location by name; she just says “the vineyards,” as if her husband will know exactly what she’s talking about. Perhaps she meant their mutual vineyards at Baalhamon, or perhaps she was speaking generically of the entire nation’s vineyards, but in either case she was definitely thinking of vineyards for which she felt they bore some responsibility, and she was eager to know if they were prospering.  Vineyards were very important in Israel, and there are several passages in Scripture which parallel “working in the vineyards” with laboring spiritually to produce a harvest of souls. In Matthew 20:1 we read, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.” This is a parable where it is clearly stated that Jesus is speaking about God’s spiritual “kingdom”… and what did the man do? He “rose up early” like the bride in order to tend his “vineyard.” This is an example for us to follow. We too, like the bride and the diligent husbandman, should be willing to make the sacrifices necessary in order to get up and get going early to tend the Lord’s business!

Then, there is the parable in Matthew 21 about the man who asked both his sons to work in his vineyard, but only one went. What was our Lord teaching us through that story? He was teaching us that the God who said, “Look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35) has also called us to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Our Lord’s heart cry is for us to go, go, go and preach the gospel, making disciples of all who are willing…to work in his vineyards! Are we going? Are we sharing at home, at school, at work…wherever we go?  As Jesus taught us: “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35).Not long ago someone reminded me that in the parable about the sower, the sower wasn’t criticized for scattering seed on rocky soil, he was commended for scattering the seed liberally everywhere. It wasn’t his job to drill tiny holes only in fertile rows, but to scatter the seed! We have the “seed” (the Word of Life), and God wants us to share it with everyone. What they do with it is their choice, but everyone deserves a chance to hear the gospel. Don’t be afraid of being rejected, rejoice in that there is good news of great joy for anyone who has ears to hear!

Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22)

(Grape vines photos are from Italy; the wheat and hay fields from Washington.)

The Great British Baking Show: Opera Cake Anyone?

Have you ever heard of the Great British Baking Show? I hadn’t until our son Joel introduced it to us last spring by showing us the final “round” from one season where the three contestants were to make “opera cakes.”  If you enjoy baking, you might enjoy this program, although they make things  that are way too complicated for me, as one who is a bit on the pragmatic side. I’d never heard of opera cake before, but on the show, the women dreamed up amazing cakes with seven tantalizing layers, everything from lemon to lavender, and peanut butter to chocolate. I was probably drooling while watching, but I didn’t think much about it until we were on a cruise of the Adriatic Sea the next month…and, guess what?! We were actually served a piece of traditional opera cake, which is a French cake made from layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup and layered with ganache and coffee buttercream, then crowned with a chocolate glaze. It was one of those kiss-your-fingers desserts, and after I returned home, I thought sometime I should try it. However, I never have, but I’m still enamored with the idea, and sometime when I’m in a very festive mood and want to celebrate (and think I can afford the calories), I will definitely attempt it. Seven layers…what would you have? Mine would have layers of chocolate, peanut butter and strawberry cake with cherry, peach, and buttercream fillings topped with chocolate glaze. On The Great British Baking Show, the cakes were obviously supposed to be thin (and two of the three turned out too thin), but mine would look more like P.F. Chang’s Great Wall…and I wouldn’t mind that it wouldn’t win a prize on their show! If you ever make one, please send me a photo! If I ever make one, I’ll add it at the bottom. Happy baking.  🙂

2 Samuel 6:19, where David is celebrating the return of the ark: “And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house.” There are times when it’s good to celebrate!

What Really Happened In Charlottesville, Virginia?

Last weekend, while Alan and I were strolling beaches and climbing sand dunes along Lake Michigan, a firestorm was enveloping Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. What started out as a protest against the removal of  the 100-year-old Robert E. Lee statue ended up as a brawl between two groups of extremists. Among the protesters were white supremacists, neo-Nazis, outlaw bikers, and KKK members (to name a few of the most egregious and radical). Among the counter protesters were Antifa, Revolutionary Communist Party, Redneck Revolt, and the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (again, naming a few of the most egregious and radical to my way of thinking). Do you identify with either of these groups? I do not.

Who told the police to “stand down” and let it happen? I guess we won’t know until the report comes out on September 6th. But, who failed to stop the brawl isn’t the biggest question. The biggest question is: “Who’s Causing the Trouble?”

It looks to me like angry fringe groups at both ends of the spectrum are causing the trouble. This isn’t a liberal vs conservative or democrat vs republican issue; this is an issue of two conglomerations of extremists who are restless and angry. However, it looks to me like the media is having a hay day trying to turn it into a smear campaign against conservatives and Trump. Come on, Americans. We need to pull together to stabilize our nation. This should be about good vs evil, not Trump vs the liberal press!

The right for a peaceful protest is a privilege of democracies. I’ve seen men on soapboxes at the corner of Kensington Park in London speaking their minds, and I’ve walked like a salmon swimming upstream beside a massive (and scary) protest in Lisbon, Portugal. People disagree with each other the world around, and much as I disapprove of what they believe sometimes, I am thankful to live in a country where people are allowed to express their opinions.On the other hand, the more I studied the Charlottesville tragedy, the more I’ve become convinced that it isn’t just differing opinions that cause problems. Violence commences when people stop obeying the laws of civil behavior and start taking matters into their own hands, which is completely against the clear teachings of the Bible. Jesus taught that we should “turn the other cheek,” not punch people in the face. In the events last weekend, there were two groups of extremists who became so angry and agitated that they stopped obeying the laws of our country (and God). Having a 20-year-0ld student kill one woman and injure 19 more is indefensible no matter how angry he might be.

Criminals need to be prosecuted. Laws need to be respected. If we’re going to be a country that provides “liberty and justice for all,” then that includes everybody…on both sides. Racism is heinous to me. To hate anyone based on their color or ethnic background is really just hating God, because He made us each the beautifully unique creation that we are, whether we’re from Syria or Israel or Germany or the heart of Africa. But, I don’t think we should kill racists. Do you? Aren’t we supposed to “overcome evil with good”?

Wake up, America! God calls us to love everyone, not just those we find attractive and with whom we agree. In the parable about the good Samaritan, Jesus pointed out that “our neighbor” (whom we are to love) is anyone with whom we come in contact who needs rescue. It’s easy to be critical of failure; it’s really hard to love. Can we choose love over hatred and try to be a part of the rescuers rather than armchair critics?

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:25-37)

 

What’s the Aqueduct Project?

Thank you to my many Facebook friends who hit the “Like” button in support of Aqueduct Project’s new Facebook page. I also got a number of messages and questions asking about both the Aqueduct Project and my son, Jonathan, so this morning I want to share just a little bit about what’s going on.  Jonathan (Dr. Armstrong) accepted a new position with Moody Bible Institute, who are very graciously allowing him to develop a “Center for Global Christian Theological Education” (which he refers to as C-GATE).   This center will be based in Chicago, so they sold their home in Washington State and have moved back to the Midwest. Jonathan has also been given a sabbatical for research and writing, so after a wonderful visit with us this summer, Jon and his family have gone to Germany for the fall semester (which is his wife, Gerlinde’s, homeland). They will rejoin us for Christmas and then go on to Chicago to look for a place to live. The new center will open at the beginning of January, 2018.

Last night, I got a wonderfully encouraging call from one of my Facebook friends, who directs a Bible school in New Delhi and is interested in materials from this new program (which will be a coordinated effort on Jon’s part, orchestrated both through Moody and the Aqueduct Project). Right now, the program is in the developmental stages, but the goal is to be able to provide high-quality evangelical Christian training wherever around the world there is a desire to learn about the Bible. Jon has been producing lectures and developing a network of resources for several years now, so a limited amount of training is already available, but this should exponentially increase in the next few years.

From this mother’s viewpoint, I think Jon’s passion started as a young teenager, when we visited China together and he saw the great need for teaching in the churches there. Back in the 1990’s, I believe the Chinese Christian church had become the largest in the world, with thousands of people coming to Christ each day but precious little scripture to read. Beyond that, there is the challenge of reaching the global Church, many of whom live in countries where financial constraints make college-level courses an impossible dream even if they are available in some of the largest cities.

Moody Bible Institute is enabling Jonathan to partner with them in trying to meet this overwhelming need!  Here’s a note from his last adventure two weeks ago: “I attended on Saturday the graduation ceremony of 281 Ghanaian pastors who completed Moody Bible Institute’s experimental certificate program. This is an experimental program for which audio recordings of Moody theology classes have been translated into the local language by a Ghanaian ministry partner. These translated courses are then uploaded onto solar-powered audio-players and distributed for free to students. This system allows us to conduct a form of theological education in extremely remote locations (where there is no electricity or internet, and perhaps most amazingly, even where there is no literacy!).”  As a believer with a heart to “go into all the world” with the joyful gospel of redemption, peace and good will that God desires for all men, this thrills my soul no end! If you’re a Christian, would you please pray with us for wisdom and grace as Jon moves forward with the development of resources for the global church community? If you have a lifetime of study and experience in the ministry and would consider contributing study materials that you’ve generated over the years, would you please let me know? If you’re interested in participating in learning yourself, or in helping develop a study group in your area for fellowship and learning (since education is much more enjoyable when there are real, live people with whom to discuss issues and think about things), please let me know that too! Or, go directly to The Aqueduct Project Facebook page, or connect directly with the Aqueduct Project through their website: https://aqueductproject.org/

Sometime after January 1, there will also be more ways to connect via C-GATE (Center for Global Theological Education) at Moody in Chicago, IL (America).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

 

St. Joseph’s: A Beautiful Surprise!

There are small two towns just off I-96 between our home and Chicago, and we’ve driven by the exit sign probably more than a hundred times over the past 25 years. One is St. Joseph, and the other is Benton Harbor.  They are known as “The Twin Cities” and are only separated by the St. Joseph River, so in my mind, I always thought of them as basically the same town. In fact, because of their proximity, I confused their reputations.  Sadly, Benton Harbor has the lowest per capita income of any town in the state, with over 40% of the population being below the poverty level. The town also has a reputation for being crime-ridden and a place to avoid…rather like the south side of Chicago: Don’t venture in unless you’re prepared for the possibility of being mugged or shot.  However, not long ago, Joel showed us a photo of a beach in St. Joseph that looked so appealing Alan and I decided to do something we’ve never done before: We stopped by to check out St. Joseph on our way home from Warren Dunes.

We were amazed…and delighted! St. Joseph is a beautiful little resort town.  Last Saturday, they were having an auto show with a parade of old cars.  How fun!  They also had a great farmers’ market  loaded with everything  that makes an open-air market mouth-watering  and delicious.  They have a downtown area lined with restaurants and shops  as cute as that in Holland, Michigan.  They have their own neighborhood of classic old homes  that looks like Heritage Hill here in Grand Rapids.  They have a free splash pad at their ” Whirlpool Centennial Park,”   and a gorgeous waterfront at Silver Beach Park  that rivals that of our all-time favorite getaway, Grand Haven.  In fact, the parking lot at the beach was full,  and we had to park some blocks away down a quiet side street.  However, that worked out just fine, because it gave us a good chance  to have our own walking tour of the downtown area and waterfront,  and Alan’s nose tracked down a delightful roof-top cafe  for some fresh perch fish’n’chips.

  All told, we had an A+ experience and marveled that in all these years we’d totally overlooked this little gem of a beachfront resort because of their “twin” city’s reputation. Now the harder question is: Why is one city thriving while the other is failing?, and I don’t know the answer to that. They’re both too far from home for me to try to get involved in solving that problem. (And, we have plenty of poverty and crime right here in GR.)  But, the easier question is this: What or who else am I avoiding because of an undeserved bad reputation? Am I missing out on getting to know someone just because they are related to someone with a bad reputation?  May I (we) learn to be more discerning, evaluating each potential friend according to their own character, not the character of their “family.”  The Bible sets the right example: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20).  Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).