4,000 Days

Last week I had lunch with a girlfriend who converted from Hinduism a few weeks ago. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that if Alan were to die suddenly, it would take me a long time to recover.  She looked at me wide-eyed, and said,”You speak of death so calmly. Hindus are so afraid to die that they don’t even like to use the word. They avoid thinking about it so much that they often won’t even go to the doctor for a diagnosis or treatment if they think they might have a terminal illness like cancer.”   I was surprised! Somehow, I imagined it might be reassuring to think that after you die, you’ll be reincarnated into another being that will live again on this earth, but apparently that’s false, because no matter how hard you try, you don’t know if you’ll come back as a person of similar rank.  You might return instead as someone from a lower caste, or as an animal.  For those of  us who recognize our propensity for failure, the thought of unending cycles of life attempting to attain perfection sounds impossibly difficult, and after visiting the homeland of Hinduism,  I can only imagine the horror one might feel at the thought of becoming an untouchable or an animal in a difficult environment.  In contrast, I believe (as the Bible teaches) that God has given each of us a certain (undisclosed) number of days to live on earth, and then we will depart. For all whose spirits have been “born again” through faith in Christ, their spirits will never die: “Jesus said unto her [Martha], I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). In contrast to Hindus, Christians believe that no matter how old or young we are when we die, our spirits will go immediately into the presence of God: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). This is the great hope of believers and takes away the terror of physical death!  Nevertheless, we all face the prospect of death, and even if we’re not afraid of dying, I’m sure none of us relish the prospect of the pain normally associated with the dying process. At least, I do not! Still, we have to face up to the hard realities of life, the hardest of which is probably that life on earth will end. In that vein, Alan recently remembered that years ago an actuary spun our numbers and came up with the statistically probability of Alan’s dying at age 79. The other day, “for fun,” Alan calculated how many days that would be from the date of his considerations, and it came out to about 4,015 days. That makes today approximately 4,000 days from his  . . . what shall I call it? Expiration date? Due date? Graduation Day!”  Ya, let’s think of it as a day to celebrate our passing from this life into the presence of Jesus! If you’re still quite young, you might not have any known statistical probability for how long you’ll live, but let’s say you’ll live to the same age as your oldest favorite relative. How many days do you have left? For me, that might give me 9,490± days. If you’re 20 today, you might have over 25,000 left! Regardless of how many days each of us actually has left (since I could easily die before Alan despite statistical probabilities), Alan and I have been intentionally trying to make every day very special, and it’s really made us more determined than ever to use each day wisely and well!

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

(All photos taken on our Gate 1 Discovery Tour of “Incredible India and Nepal.”)

 

Introducing Dr. Collins: Harmonizing Science and Faith

Recently, Alan and I had the great privilege of hearing Dr. Francis Collins, who was nominated to become the sixteenth director of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) during the tenure of Barak Obama in 2009 and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate . . . a post he continues to hold even today during Trump’s presidency (which says quite a bit about his character  🙂  ). Also, the fact that the NIH, with its $39 billion annual budget, is the world’s largest health research/applied science program, speaks highly of the trust placed in him! Dr. Collins is one of the world’s most renowned scientists and has received prestigious recognitions such as election to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, being the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science, and being appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Benedict XVI. Dr. Collins came to Grand Rapids, not in his capacity as Director of the NIH, but to a private event hosted by the President’s Circle of Biologos, an organization he helped birth and guide, which is dedicated to the marriage of faith and science.   The International Headquarters of Biologos is here in Grand Rapids, and David and Carol Van Andel (whose parents founded the Van Andel Institute for biomedical research in Grand Rapids) are avid supporters and sponsors. Dr. Collins’s presentation was fascinating! He started out by sharing his personal career journey from a small farm in the Shanendoah Valley of Virginia (where he was home schooled by non-religious parents) to Yale University for a PhD in chemistry . . . to medical school for an MD degree . . . to research at the University of Michigan as  “The Gene Hunter,” and eventually to overseeing the Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, which was the group that successfully carried out the Human Genome Project (mapping human genes). Interwoven with his career progress was the account of his spiritual progress, from believing in nothing, to being challenged by an elderly patient (who seemed radiantly at peace about death), to grappling with the big question: “Can a scientist also believe in God?” After two years of research and wrestling,* Dr. Collins decided that the evidences pointing to the existence of a Creator God were more compelling than the arguments against. As a geneticist, who can miss the beyond brilliant design of DNA? And, what about the stunning improbability of life occurring spontaneously . . . something like 10 to the 500 billionth power?! Did you know there are some 86 billion neurons in the brain? It’s the most complex mechanism in the universe. How could that all happen by chance? And, what about the Big Bang? Doesn’t that argue eloquently for the veracity of the Genesis account—that in the beginning God spoke the universe into existence by the breath of his mouth? Talk about a BIG BANG!! In addition to sharing his professional and faith journeys, Dr. Collins gave some fascinating insights into the promises and problems of genetic engineering.  For example, through gene modification and therapies, they can now save the lives of infants who are born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (a type of ALS that attacks and kills infants in the first months of life). Research is ongoing for a way to save people with Huntington’s Disease. There are genes that can act as “police” to track down and destroy certain types of cancer cells. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? The potential for health benefits is  incredible. One of the ways in which any of us could get involved is in participating in a study of genes through http://www.joinallofus.org. They are looking for a million people who are willing to have their genes mapped. As of now, they have 130,000 volunteers. Want to help? Of course, as with all advances, there are moral dilemmas. For instance, they can now develop a human heart in a pig embryo. This type of genetic modification produces a cross between a human and an animal, known as a chimeras. It could save a lot of human lives, but is it ethical? You can only imagine the implications, including the making of science fiction horror stories. Thankfully, Dr. Collins didn’t leave us on that discouraging note. Rather, he called on Christian thinkers, scientists and theologians, to come to the table and help discern the godly path through all the vast possibilities to produce the truest and best results for physical and spiritual health globally. And then, for his final note, he picked up his guitar, called Dr. Deborah Haarma (president of Biologos) to assist him at the piano, and led us all in worship, as we sang to our great God, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Truly, God is faithful, and He alone can lead us into the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake! Our call is simply to follow where he leads.By the way, Dr. Collins has also written a New York Times’ Best Seller on genetics called The Language of God. If you’re grappling with how to marry science and faith in your life, you might really profit from reading his book.

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)

*One of the books Dr. Collins read was Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, which was also instrumental in my mother’s conversion. It’s an excellent book if you’re wrestling with the plausibility of God’s existence.

The Commands of Christ (15): Go Call Thy Husband

Do you have a husband? If not, then maybe this command is not for you . . . or maybe it is, because the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus was speaking didn’t really have a husband either. But, she had a significant other in her life, and Jesus was concerned about both of them. In fact, Jesus is concerned about all of us—regardless of gender, marital status, or even present lifestyle. The woman at the well was coy. She was practiced at the art of deception, even using the letter of the law to her advantage. When Jesus told her to go call her husband and come back with him, she responded, “I have no husband.”This was technically true, but it didn’t fool Jesus. He knew the woman wasn’t really free and single, as she might have hoped to appear. She could have competed with almost anybody in Hollywood for number of marriages attempted and failed:  “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (John 4:17-18). Busted! If she’d had any hope of alluring Jesus into becoming her seventh man, she realized it wasn’t going to work.However, Jesus had a better type of love to offer, but he wasn’t going to offer it to her without demanding that she share the good news with others. Faith isn’t meant for our own healing alone; God always tells us to go and call those closest to us so they can share in the love of Christ with us!Herein lies the  splendor and severity of Jesus’ command! His holy, healing love—better than any earthly love—isn’t meant to be hidden within our hearts and minds. To be genuine, it must be proclaimed to those nearest and dearest to us. Jesus calls to everyone, regardless of their spiritual condition, but he calls us to come into the light, to walk in the light, and to obey his commands. Then, and only then, can we have true fellowship with him, and with one another!This meant that, in order for the Samaritan woman to find the secret of living water to satisfy her longing soul, she would have to involve her significant other, and together, they would have to come to Jesus. Was she ready to do that?

If you are living in sexual intimacy with someone who is not your spouse, are you ready to come together to Christ and do whatever He asks you to do? I pray that you will. The commands of God aren’t given to restrict us or make us miserable. They are given to teach us how to live in holiness, which will bring true love, joy, and peace to us, to the glory to God. Don’t be afraid of “the best!” It’s better than whatever lesser option we may be clinging to!

Text for this meditation: John 4:16-18. “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

Other verses to ponder:If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret(Ephesians 5:1-12, ESV).

Improvising on a Theme: Let’s Try It On Hungry Jack

This is an old recipe I learned years ago from a Southern belle! It’s super simple, inexpensive, and pretty much universally popular with kids. True comfort food!

Hungry Jack
(serves 12±)

#1. Heat oven to 375°F.#2. In a large frying pan, fry together until thoroughly browned:
1 pound ground hamburger
1 medium onion
8 oz. mushrooms
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper #2.* Now, here is where I improvised, and you can too! I threw in some really tender leftover beef brisket, a few potatoes, and some leftover horseradish and sour cream sauce. (Obviously, I don’t do this if I’m serving company.) Hungry Jack is great just as is, but it’s also a good dish for adding any leftover beef, gravy, or veggies that you have in your refrigerator. Peas, corn, and peppers are a few veggies that are both delicious and nutritious additives. #3. Once everything is heated through, add a gravy made of:
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup flour, and stir until everything is coated and hot.#4. Spread 1 large can pork’n’beans into the bottom of a 9X13″ glass baking dish and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes. #5. Add meat mixture over the top of the heated pork’n’beans.#6. Sprinkle 8 oz. grated cheddar cheese (or your favorite) over the top. #7. Cover with one sheet of Pillsbury crescent dough or a package of biscuits pulled in half. I’ve changed the original recipe, which was named (I think) for Hungry Jack biscuits. I first learned the recipe as halving Hungry Jack biscuits and arranging them over the top, but lately Pillsbury has come out with sheets of dough, which work just perfectly and give a beautiful blanket effect over the entire casserole. #8. Bake in hot oven at 375°F. for 15 minutes or until golden on top. #9. Pull out of the oven and let it rest on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes. It should still be piping hot, but the gravy will be slightly thicker, and everything will come out looking especially appealing! I served it with hot, mulled cider, a tossed salad, and blackberries (but only because I caught the berries on a good sale; any fresh fruit works well).

Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it, and covereth the bottom of the sea. For by them judgeth he the people; he giveth meat in abundance” (Job 36:30-32).

The Signature of God

Our kitchen was a mess! After thirty years of wear and tear, the blue Formica counter tops were riddled with worn-through white polka dots, the drawers didn’t open properly, nor did the cupboards close properly. Our second-hard refrigerator needed to retire; I was resorting to lighting the stove with a propane lighter . . . you get the picture!  Thankfully, this happened just about the time the last of our seven kids grew up, allowing our submerged bank account to pop back to the surface and start swimming.  So, before we retire, we’ve decided to repair and update our home,  hoping we can live here for as long as possible before the winter of our lives sets in.        It took a lot longer than we ever imagined, but it’s now all finished!  Besides more cupboard space, my chief pleasure is working in a kitchen with colorful granite countertops.      The countertops are full of swirling colors, predominately blacks and whites                                      but also with sparkles of gold and copper                              plus tiny accents in yellows, pinks, and purples. They remind me of a lush, wild masterpiece by my favorite composer,
Tchaikovsky.                                   The counters are full of movement and surprises,                                           and they’re bursting with joy!                     Every time I look at the counters, I think about God.                                                      This is one of His designs!    What an amazing Creator, who has filled our world with unique treasures buried even deep in the earth!              Nowhere is there a predictably uniform pattern or straight line.                                                                  Except!                                          Ah, don’t you love exceptions?  In one small corner, there are two parallel purple lines that are totally unlike anything anywhere else. At first I thought they were possibly a stain or something that was drawn on afterward, but they are not. They are built out of the same purple grains that are interspersed throughout the slabs. Not long after our kitchen update was complete, our daughter-in-law Gerlinde’s parents visited with us. Christoph and Sarah live in Germany, although they spent many years on the mission field in Tanzania. Christoph—before becoming a missionary—studied art history, so he has a deep love both for God and for art! Christoph admired the countertops but also immediately spotted the one unusual regularity in the lower right-hand corner of our island slab.     “Ah!” he responded cheerfully, “This is where God has signed his painting!”But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:Not of works, lest any man should boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10).

Twin Talk

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

(—This has been shared and re-shared on Face Book, but I can’t track it down to the original author. If you know who the author is, would you please let me know so I can ask their permission and give proper credit? I think it’s brilliant!  🙂  )

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:13-17)

Did You See the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse?

Last night there was a very special lunar event! Did you get to see it? January’s full moon is always called the “wolf” moon. (I’ve heard it was so-named by American Indians because that’s when the wolves howled most fiercely outside their villages 😦 ).  Last night there was also a “super” moon, which means the moon was full while it was at its closest point to the earth in its rotation, making it look especially large and luminous. Every year we get two to five supermoons, and this year there are three: the one last night, one on Feb. 19 (which will be the closest and largest full supermoon of the year), and one on March 21.  A “blood” moon refers to the color the moon appears to be during a total lunar eclipse. Instead of disappearing altogether, there is still some light that reaches it from the sun, although the rays are refracted in such a way that blue light is filtered out, leaving the sunset glow of red light. A super blood moon is a rare occurrence with gaps between six months and three years. Last night was the only  super blood moon in 2019, and there won’t be another one like it visible in North America until May 26, 2021. Lunar eclipses occur during a full moon, when the sun and moon are perfectly aligned on opposite sides of the Earth so that the moon falls completely under Earth’s shadow. Last night’s eclipse lasted just 72 minutes, between 11:41 EST (January 20) and 12:53 EST (January 21, the wee hours of this morning).  The moon appears red only during the eclipse. Once the moon enters Earth’s shadow, it will turn red throughout the full eclipse.  But, once the moon begins to lose its red hue, you know the full eclipse is over.My photos of the blood moon and the lunar eclipse were not taken last night, however! They were taken in Italy last July while I was visiting my kids who lived there. Michael and Grace were all excited about the special event, and we were perched in place, watching so we wouldn’t miss this opportunity! We knew the eclipse wouldn’t be visible anywhere in America that night, which made it all the more exotic and unusual! Last night, Alan and I admired the full moon rising on our way home from visiting with friends, but we were oblivious of the momentous event about to occur just a couple of hours later. When we got home, we watched our son, Joel, out skating in the moonlight and thought about what a beautiful evening it was, but we fell right to sleep without any portend of “things to come!”I wonder, friend, as you look up at the night sky, do you know some day a blood moon will portend the Lord’s return to  Earth? For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Are  you prepared for that day? Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:6-13).

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” Matthew 24:37-44).

And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:19-21).

(Photo Credits: Best photo of the blood moon [#3 in order] was taken by NASA. I took #2. photo at a showing in our local planetarium and the rest on July 27, 2018 near Costozza, Italy.)