Category Archives: Biographies

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¬† ūüôā¬† ). 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‚ÄĒthat 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 King’s Choice: What Would You Choose?

While we were on our North Sea cruise and sailing in and out of Norway’s gorgeous fjordlands, Alan and I watched The King’s Choice, a recent docudrama that tells the gripping story of the Nazis’ arrival in Oslo, Norway on April 9, 1940, and how King Haakon VII of Norway chose to respond to that threat.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The unthinkable ultimatum? Surrender or die!¬† Although the movie primarily follows three of Norway’s most historically dramatic days, it is really a lesson in courage, valor,¬†and one family’s anguish over making the right moral choice …not simply for themselves, but for their entire nation.¬† If you’re not versed in Norwegian history, you might not know much about the events, and actually, this is the first time I understood more of the complexities from “behind the scenes.” As a kid, all I knew was that the king and his family had escaped from Norway during World War 2, and I admit rather sheepishly to wondering why everybody loved the king’s family so well when they escaped and so many Norwegians died.¬† In Norway, the film was a huge success. In fact, it was the best-selling film in 4 decades of Norwegian cinema and was short-listed for the Oscars in the U.S.¬† It premiered at Norway’s royal palace with all available members of the royal family attending, so you know it honored not only country, but king!¬† If you (like me) have ever wondered why countries capitulated so easily during World War 2, this movie will help you understand some of the terror they felt. (I realize being terrified doesn’t give us permission to make wrong choices, but I’m just sayin’! The only way to overcome evil is with good, by God’s grace!) It’s also helped me understand why Jesus taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”* We never ever understand all the circumstances around anyone else’s actions, so we should never suppose we can judge another person’s motives.¬† We can (and must) judge people’s actions, but even there Jesus cautions us to “judge righteous judgment.”** I aspire to (as in, “I want very much but have not arrived”) being a person who respects other people enough to withhold judgment and exercise a gracious spirit toward them as much as possible.¬† “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).¬† *¬† “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?¬†Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).¬† **¬† “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Have You Launched Out into the Deep? Are You Okay, or Are You Adrift?

Sometimes we “launch out into the deep,” not because we’ve been called by Jesus to go with him, but simply because we’re passionate about something.¬† This was true for Richard Sharp and Tami Ashcraft, who decided to sail more than 4,000 miles from Tahiti to San Diego in September of 1983.¬† In this terrifying true adventure, memorialized in 2018 as the movie Adrift, we learn what happened to the young couple. I don’t want to entirely ruin the story by telling you everything about the ending (so skip this if you don’t want to know whether or not they survived), but the movie is super impacting! Just three weeks into their voyage, they were caught in Hurricane Raymond, a monstrous storm that churned across the ocean with winds up to 140 mph, creating 40-foot waves. On October 12, Richard (who was ten years older and a more experienced sailor), told Tami to go below deck and take a break, but while she was below deck, the yacht capsized, and Tami was knocked unconscious. The remainder of the movie describes the horrendous 41-day saga of being adrift at sea, trying to get back to land and civilization, hoping for rescue . . . being bypassed . . . feeling utterly lost and abandoned . . .¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† and finally being found and rescued! There’s something profoundly effective in vicariously suffering through harrowing life experiences via films. Do you know what I mean? We can gain wisdom and compassion simply by empathizing with the victories and defeats of fellow human beings. I could almost feel my face sunburning and imagined savoring the indescribable succulence of an apple after almost 6 weeks of surviving on tiny rations of canned food and peanut butter. Experiences (even vicarious ones) like being Adrift in the vast Pacific, thousands of miles from home, cause me to search my soul. Am I sitting placidly on shore avoiding work (and responsibility), or have I launched out into the deep with my Savior? What about you? Have you launched out into the deep with Jesus . . . or have you headed out into deep waters due to some passion and now find yourself adrift, feeling lost, abandoned, and afraid for your life?Whether we’re called to go or driven by our personal passions, surviving a life-threatening trauma changes us forever. But, thankfully, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Rather than ending her sailing career, Tami became a wiser, better sailor, and she’s still sailing today. Tami¬† likens her tragic boating experience to being in a car crash: Most people keep riding in cars even after they’ve been in a serious accident. If you fall off a horse, get up and keep riding, right? Her example is most inspiring!¬†¬† Tami did not sense it was the Holy Spirit leading her on her painful journey back to land, but she definitely felt an inner voice guiding her. Personally, based on Matthew 5:44-46, I believe the Lord was intervening in her life to draw her to himself, but you can come to your own conclusions. Regardless of her situation, I know the Lord will guide us if we ask him, whether or not we’ve launched out into the deep in response to his prompting or we’ve headed out on our own and are now adrift. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or adrift, please reach out to God for help because,The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him . . .We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! (Daniel 9:9,18b-19a, NIV). If you ask him for help, I know he will!

The 15:17 to Paris

This Sunday is Veteran’s Day, and if you haven’t seen The 15:17 to Paris, I wish you would. It’s a thrilling, very inspirational PG-13, 2018 account of what happened when Ayoub El Khazzani, armed with an AKM assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition, opened fire on the Thalys train #9364 running from Amsterdam to Paris at 15:17 on August 21, 2015 with 554 passengers aboard.¬† One of the unique aspects of this movie is that director, Clint Eastwood, allowed the heroes to play themselves, as well as many of the real-life train crew, medical response team, and policemen!

In particular, the film follows the lives of a group of three life-time friends who had all met as kids attending Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, California: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. As they grow up, they keep connected, and eventually the trio heads out for a three-week trip around Europe while Stone is stationed in Portugal with the U.S. Air Force, Skarlatos has just returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, and Sadler is a student at Sacramento State University.¬† After visiting Rome, Venice, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam, they make a rather last-minute decision to catch the 15:17 train to Paris,¬† and “just happen” to be aboard when the terrorist opens fire.¬† Mark Moogalian, an amazingly courageous fifty-one-year-old American-born professor, was the first responder to confront the gunman, risking his own life in an effort to save his wife and the rest of the people from disaster. However, it also took every ounce of bravery, training, expertise, and loyalty of the three devoted friends that day to thwart what could have been a terrible mass murder. As Isabelle Moogalian later stated, her husband was a hero, but also: “Thankfully we had the … military guys on the train. Otherwise we‚Äôd all be dead.” For their valor, the three heroes (and Chris Norman, a British businessman who joined the fight), received the Legion of Honour from French president Fran√ßois Hollande‚ÄĒwhich is the highest French order for military and civil merits‚ÄĒas well as other high honors from the U.S. Army and Belgium. Although the film hasn’t received much critical acclaim and only got a 5.1 IMDb rating, but I think it was an A+ story that was beautifully done. I wonder if part of rating had to do with our political climate, which downplays the valor of our soldiers, or is biased against anyone trying to cut into Hollywood business. I hope not. Regardless, it’s a great story with a great message, which is that we all need to take care of each other, even when it hurts!¬† According to Wikipedia, “All three men are described as sharing “a deeply religious background and a belief in service to their community.” This comes out in the movie, particularly with Spencer Stone, who quotes the Prayer of Saint Francis several times.

I want to thank our military for defending our country, and I am also thankful for military personnel around the world who defend the cause of liberty, justice, and peace for their citizens and throughout the world. Good government is a gift!I’m also grateful for Christians who risk their lives so that others may live.

May The Prayer of Saint Francis be our prayer too:

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

“O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen”

And he [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it‘” (Luke 9:23-24).

Tommy Walker: Pursuing the Way of Peace

When you’re in L.A., there are many outstanding churches you might want to visit on a Sunday morning, but when we were there last week with our oldest son’s family, Alan’s first choice was to visit Christian Assembly, where Tommy Walker is the worship leader. Over the course of his career, Tommy has composed 85+ songs, recorded 25 albums, and has 247¬†recordings listed on Song Select. His works include many songs that our family band played over the years, such as He Knows My Name, That’s Why We Praise Him, Joy, Joy, Joy, and Sweet, Sweet Presence of Jesus.
Tommy is an outstanding musician and has worked with national leaders like Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, and Promise Keepers, but what Alan loves best is not Tommy’s great giftedness, but his amazing humility. Although he’s been offered deals by recording companies and publishers, he has intentionally pursued a more quiet path with his wife Robin, continuing his ministry as the worship leader at the same church for twenty-eight years, where his four children have grown up. His ambition is to glorify God, not himself, and that won’t catapult you into Hollywood fame and fortune. However, I believe Tommy Walker is spiritually rich, and he’s definitely famous in the eyes of those of us who’ve been blessed by his ministry!
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† By the way, the message (by Pastor Tom Hughs) was also excellent. He’s working through a series called Anxious for Nothing http://cachurch.com/sermons/october-20-21-weekend-services/ and last week offered this advice for keeping CALM in the midst of crisis:
C: Celebrate God’s goodness and blessings
A: Ask God for help
L: Leave your concerns with God
M: Meditate on God and his Word
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Are you anxious today? If you’ve got a few minutes, please allow yourself to be calmed by Tommy Walker singing “When I Don’t Know What to Do.”¬† https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMXEwwhF6pg

“Lord I surrender all
To Your strong and faithful hand
In everything I will give thanks to You
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

When I don’t know what to do
I’ll lift my hands
When I don’t know what to say
I’ll speak Your praise
When I don’t know where to go
I’ll run to Your throne
When I don’t know what to think
I’ll stand on Your truth
When I don’t know what to do

Lord I surrender all
Though I’ll never understand
All the mysteries around me
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

Bridge

As I bow my knee
Send Your perfect peace
Send Your perfect peace Lord
As I lift my hands
Let Your healing come
Let Your healing come to me”

“Strong Christians are not strong people, they just know where to run.” ‚ÄĒTommy Walker

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

P.S.‚ÄĒI didn’t think of this when I first wrote the article, but studying Tommy Walker’s life makes me believe he has had to resist Satan’s temptations to “bow down and worship” him. (See Meditating on the Commands of Christ 2). I’ve never had to give up fame or fortune (because I’ve never had either), but Tommy seems to have avoided a lot of the common traps that ruin the lives of many gifted people!

Will Brett Kavanaugh Be Confirmed?

If you’ve been distressed by all the debate over whether or not to confirm Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, consider watching Marshall this weekend. Marshall is the inspiring true story of Thurgood Marshall, 96th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and our first African-American justice.¬† He served in the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, from 1967-1991, retiring during the administration of George H.W. Bush and succeeded by Clarance Thomas.¬† Marshall was a champion for the oppressed, a crusader for the cause of equality, and a brilliant lawyer. Over the course of his career, he argued 32 times before Supreme Court and won 29 times! The film keys in on Thurgood’s courageous and career-defining case defending Joseph Spell, who was accused of raping his socialite employer, Eleanor Strubing in The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell.¬† From research, I gather that the movie is quite accurate except in two points: Sam Friedman had already been practicing for fourteen years, had a “stellar reputation as a trial lawyer,” and was a brave man.* Also, Roger Friedman (movie critic and nephew to Sam Friedman) stated, “It is unimaginable that Marshall, a man who was highly intelligent and educated, would have ever addressed Sam that way [using F***].” Friedman also reported that “his family cringed when they heard it at a private screening.”* Indeed, my only problem with the movie was the bad language, which apparently was unfairly included! Come on, Hollywood! Let’s elevate, not degrade. I’m not sure how you feel about the impassioned testimony of Christine Blasey Ford (and as a woman, I tend to believe women), but after watching Marshall, it does occur to me that emotion doesn’t necessarily translate into truth.¬† Also, just for the record, I’d like to point out that although Marshall Thurmond is one of my heroes, here are a few bits from his youth, mostly gleaned from Wikipedia:

“Marshall showed a talent for law from an early age, becoming a key member of his school‚Äôs debate team and memorizing the U.S. Constitution (which was actually assigned to him as punishment for misbehaving in class).”¬† While in college at Lincoln University: “Initially he did not take his studies seriously, and was suspended twice for hazing and pranks against fellow students.”

Among his classmates was the poet Langston Hughes, who was a lifelong friend but described Marshall as “rough and ready, loud and wrong.”¬† “His marriage to Vivien Buster Burey in September 1929 encouraged him to take his studies seriously, and he graduated from Lincoln with honors (cum laude) Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, with a major in American literature and philosophy.” In 1933 he graduated first in his class from Howard University School of Law.

I’m thinking that we’ll never truly know whether or not Brett Kavanaugh is innocent of his alleged sins against women as a college student, but I will say that it appears he settled down after marrying and has had a pretty impeccable record since graduating from college (as was also true of Thurmond Marshall).

With just minutes to go before the vote is taken, I would like to encourage us with words originally spoken three thousand years ago by one of the world’s most beloved kings, King David of Israel. I think they’re words most of us can echo:

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalm 25:7).

*http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/marshall/

(Just FYI: One of Marshall’s great grandparents was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but brought to America as a slave back in the 1800’s. His father was a steward and his mother was a teacher. When Marshall was little, his father took the kids to watch court cases and debated with them afterward, and Marshall became an able debater. He said his father never told him to become a lawyer, but he turned him into one! Regardless of our background, we can become upstanding members of our communities and inspire our children. Let’s do it!)

 

Have You Heard The Music of Silence?

“In my opinion, the only way forward in this world is with faith, which not only explains the reason for life but also fills it with joy and hope. Faith transforms what would be a tragedy into a marvelous story with a happy ending. If all of this is reflected in my singing, how happy that would make me.” ‚ÄĒAndrea Bocelli Do you have a favorite singer? My mother requested that Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye” would be played at her funeral, and ever since I’ve thought they have the most hauntingly beautiful voices in the world. So, I was delighted to discover that a movie has been made about this amazing Italian singer’s life. It’s an extremely emotional but inspirational story.¬† I always wondered how Andrea Bocelli happened to have a voice so full of passion and warmth but for some reason had never realized that he was blind…or that his faith in God had helped him overcome his blindness. His parents were advised to abort Bocelli before he was even born, warning that he was likely to have multiple birth defects. However, his parents disregarded the surgeon’s advice. He was born with congenital glaucoma and became blind at twelve, yet today he’s one of the world’s greatest opera singers and has sold over 80 million records!¬† The Music of Silence tells the story of his birth to his incredible rise to fame by 2000 (although he’s still actively singing in the present). It’s a beautiful story of faith and love. I was a little sorry I did research, because his life from 2000 to the present is not as lovely, but I suspect he feels the same way, because the movie ends very happily around the turn of the century.¬† As the mother of a musician, I was especially intrigued by the title, The Music of Silence, and what that meant. Bocelli’s maestro explained how music can be found in silence this way:¬† “You [speaking to his blind prot√©g√©, Bocelli] have a great advantage, you’re already familiar with sounds. They guide your steps through life. But the music of silence will be your guide through the interior of yourself. And that, which you discover, you will express through the beautiful perfection of song.”¬† And that he does! I smiled when Celine Dion was quoted as saying, “If God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” I have definitely thought that if the Lord would give me any voice when I get to heaven, I would like to sound like Andrea Bocelli! (Or, maybe Sarah Brightman if I’m supposed to sound like a woman. ūüôā¬† ) Even if you’re not a big fan of opera, I’ll bet you find yourself inspired and encouraged by watching¬†The Music of Silence, the story of how one young man¬†overcame one of the world’s most difficult challenges and became one of the world’s greatest singers!¬†¬†These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).¬† For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).¬†If you want to hear Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye with Sarah Brightman,” it can be found here:¬† https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-pty-pty_maps&hsimp=yhs-pty_maps&hspart=pty&p=sarah+brightman+singing#id=1&vid=68f961961443db9fb4c62c25d24f8778&action=click