Category Archives: Religious Issues

The Horrible Truth about Deep Water Horizon and Deep Waters

Seven years ago, on April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon exploded into a firestorm that could be seen for 40 miles, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Deepwater Horizon was an offshore drilling rig that had successfully drilled the deepest oil well in history (over 10,000 ft. deep) in the Gulf of Mexico just a few months earlier, and           on April 20th, the crew of 126 were hard at work testing the new well               at Macondo Prospect, forty-one miles off the coast of Louisiana. Deepwater Horizon cost almost a million dollars per day to operate with equipment and crew, and although there were issues with safety, the project was over a month behind schedule and overdue at a new site, so the decision makers decided to test the well before they were sure all the work was properly completed and all the concrete had time to cure.  The movie dramatizing this disaster is excellent and rated PG-13, but it is so graphic (and bad language) that I recommend it with caution. As one who’s inexperienced with the technical side of oil drilling, it was somewhat hard to follow what was happening, but the message was crystal clear: Often those who take the risks and make the decisions are not those who suffer the greatest consequences for their greed and irresponsible selfishness. Eleven men died, scores of men suffered, and the responsible companies ended up spending not millions —but billions—of dollars trying to recover and compensate for the damages. As we make important decisions, let’s remember that if we choose selfishly and unwisely, we’re not just going to hurt ourselves, we’re likely to do more damage than we could ever possibly imagine.  But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! (Psalm 81:11-13)

What Scares Toddlers?

We used to live in Ann Arbor when our four oldest were grade schoolers, and in those days, there was nothing more scary than our basement…at least, for the boys. Kathy, at age three, was the only one brave enough to go downstairs and bring me some milk from our second fridge, which used to make me laugh. What’s so scary about a basement? Well, there might be monsters, you know! I used to be terribly afraid to sleep alone at night for fear of monsters reaching up from under my bed and grabbing me. Were you afraid of “monsters in the dark”? Although I’m no longer afraid of monsters under my bed, it’s become  obvious to me that fears are age and perception related. For instance, loud sounds almost universally startle infants and make them cry, because infants have no clue what the loud noise means. One of the surprises for me as a young mom was the realization that all my toddlers were uniformly afraid of something that was totally harmless. Can you think of what it is? You’re driving along with your family, looking out the window enjoying sunshine and scenery, when all of a sudden you go into this dark tunnel and start creeping forward instead of flying along. Suddenly, you hear rain pounding on the roof and your entire car is engulfed in a flood.                                            Strange colors blot out your view, and then a great, hairy monster starts beating on the front windshield, trying to get in. For sure it’s going to break through and gobble everybody up! You and your mom and everybody bigger than you who might help take care of you are helpless against such a giant creature. Without a doubt you’re all about to be mercilessly eaten by a terrible monster!! Okay, so maybe not, but I’m pretty sure that’s what was going through my toddlers’ brains, because without exception, somewhere between age one and two each child would go through a time of terrible wailing in a car wash. Adults have different fears: finding true love, and once found, there’s always the fear of losing that loved one. Becoming and staying solvent. Surviving the chronic sleep deprivation and testing of character endemic in child rearing. As we grow older, health issues arise, and the fear of losing loved ones, or losing ourselves! Throughout life, there are constant anxieties and fears, and like toddlers, we’re often forced to go through frightening experiences against our choosing or will.                 However, it helps a lot to know that others have gone before us,                                 and that others are coming behind us. Like a car wash, we need the scares and the purging to combat rust…for maintenance and cleansing, so let’s not fear our trips through the car wash. Let’s remember that after God has cleaned us up, He’ll bring us through and let us go again…either here in this life, or up to heaven above!   Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:11-13)

Keeping Track of Our Puzzles

This afternoon will be the memorial service for a 21-year-old student from Calvin College here in GR. Tara Oskam was killed in a car crash not far from our home on March 11 when her car was struck by the car of a 16-year-old who was fleeing the police. Tara was pronounced dead on the scene, and the 15-year-0ld passenger in the teen’s car also died; the suspected teenage driver was seriously injured but is in a stable condition at the hospital at this time. Tara was a beautiful young woman, admired and loved by many, a junior studying speech pathology, very much in love, and looking forward to a bright future. Where’s the justice in that? Can you tell me? I can’t explain it to you at all.

We’re a family of puzzlers. It’s been a favorite pass time on quiet winter evenings since our kids were little, and now even our grand children are hard at work learning how to solve puzzles. I love to watch the progress over time
as the kids think through how to put the pieces together. They’ve learned to arrange the border first.cinderellas-castle-puzzle-almost-completeNext, they sort out pieces that have the most color contrast. Finally, they fill in the hardest pieces
that look so similar it’s hard to figure out where they go.

I think trying to understand and solve the puzzles in our lives is a similar process. First, we develop a framework of ideas and beliefs for understanding our world and life experiences…often referred to as our “world view.” For the Christian believer, this framework is based on belief that God exists, and that He has spoken to us through His Word, the Bible. The scripture is our moral guide and compass. It’s filled with principles for making wise decisions, and it shows us what the picture is supposed to look like if we put life together right.The second step in puzzling out life is figuring out the contrasts: our perceptions of God, the world, and how we interpret our experiences with God in our world. This requires a lot of thought! How can we deal with all the circumstantial  contrasts and put them in the right order so our world makes sense to us?God gives believers the Holy Spirit to guide us. His Spirit takes the words of Scripture and helps us apply them to the various situations we face, so that we have the wisdom to make correct decisions and solve the puzzles in our lives. Finally, we tackle the hardest challenge: figuring out all the subtle situations that don’t have quick, easy, obvious solutions. Sometimes, even though we’ve figured out where the pieces belong, something is still missing. We don’t always have every piece of the puzzle in this life.I’m convinced that no one can solve all the puzzles completely here on earth. Some things are beyond us, and in those things—like little children—we need to trust in what we do know of God: God is good; God loves us; God works all things together for the good of those who love him.God calls us to faith in Christ, asking us to believe in Him and trust him with all the unsolved mysteries of life. Either we let our experiences kill our faith when we don’t understand what’s happening, or we allow our faith to transform our experiences. One makes us bitter; the other makes us better. Are we willing to trust God and obey Him even in the painful mysteries of life? Let’s trust Him to keep track of the missing pieces of our puzzles until we reach heaven, where I believe everything will at last make perfect sense to us.

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Get Me to the Church On Time…or On Line!

I have devout friends who never travel on the Sabbath in order to keep it holy and make sure they’re worshiping with their congregation at the appointed hour. I admire that, although Alan and I do not have such a firm conviction in that area. However, I strongly believe in “a day of rest” and the principle of consistency in corporate worship, so we often visit new churches wherever we are on Sunday. In Kauai, we enjoyed a church recommended to us by a friend who’d spent a summer there. It’s always enriching and a joy to share in new (and old) worship music, hear fresh perspectives on the scripture, and fellowship with believers we’ve never met before.* In South Africa, Alan and I had no clue where a good church might be, and so (thanks to the internet) we tuned in to our own church service at  http://calvarygr.org/sermons-resources/livestream-current-service/ . It’s not quite the same as singing along with thousands of other believers, but it’s still a great blessing! Last week was spring break, and we enjoyed some vacation time together combined with a medical meeting for Alan and a little family visiting time for me.  Our flight home was Sunday morning, but the timing worked out so that we could share a set of headphones at the airport and hear the best message I can ever remember on Romans 15:1, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Pastor Jim told us that we have a moral obligation to bear patiently with the failings of those who are weak in faith and the sins they commit which cause us pain. Strong words and very challenging! I needed to hear that message.  So, may I share a simple encouragement? Whenever you’re on vacation (or at home!), don’t miss the opportunity for corporate worship, spiritual growth and communion with other believers. People need people! If you can’t make it to a church for some reason, try participating with some faithful church online. If your church doesn’t provide online services, I can heartily recommend ours—not as a “perfect” church, but as a church that does try to stay true to the teachings found in the Bible.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)

(*I didn’t take any photos at the church in Kauai, but this is a photo of flowers and the handmade leis they gave us [and all visitors]!)

Someone To Remember

pretty-elderly-ladyI walked into her home. It was dark. A small light in the kitchen was the token illumination for her humble home, which was sparsely furnished with tattered cast offs. Among the few old pictures decorating the walls, there was one of a beautiful woman with dreams in her eyes…the elderly woman standing in front of me. She was still pretty and neat, her white hair neatly pulled back in a traditional European bun, garbed in a coat – in the house.

James 1 admonishes us to visit the widow and the orphan. This evening’s visit was my attempt at reaching out of my comfort zone to be an obedient Christian.

She invited me to sit down. She was very talkative in her Eastern European accent, which I found comforting (being introverted). She told me how much she loved the preaching of the pastor of our church. As she could no longer attend church, the deacons faithfully brought her the tapes of the Sunday sermons.

I thought: Why does she like this pastor so much? He says nothing. I listen and listen, but all I hear every week is, “You can make a difference!”  I could feel my critical heart becoming even more cynical, fueled by my awareness that this poor woman was living in a ghetto with no resources and shattered dreams.

“Why is that?” I asked.

She answered in her lyrical voice,  “ He talks about my Lord, Jesus Christ! He is all I have now!”

Throughout the evening I heard her story. She grew up in Latvia, not far across the river from the Tsar’s palace. Her father was the Tsar’s personal doctor. But sadly, the royal family was murdered one fateful evening in 1917, and even her father could not bring the dead back to life. In spite of the unrest and instability of Russia, Latvia continued as a peaceful state. Lilijan grew up privileged. She was beautiful. She sang. She married a congressman of Latvia. They started their family.

Life did not stay beautiful. Dreams were shattered as Hitler did his thing and eventually Stalin did his thing. Latvia was nothing but a pawn in the world revolution. One night, political madmen came in and killed her husband.

Somehow, pregnant Lilijan escaped with her young daughter. They made their way through Eastern Germany.  People were starving.  Soldiers were everywhere. She talked about how Christianity became much more than an ethnic tradition, how Jesus became much more than a name, and how God became much more than an impersonal deity as He met their basic needs.

Lilijan came to the United States as a refugee and started life over. She was no longer a Latvian princess. No one seemed even to remember Latvia after the Soviet Union swallowed it up. She became a line worker at a GM plant and eventually married, only to be discarded later in the American way.

Liljan had two children. Her daughter, Rose grew up, got married and moved away She would visit but not often. Lilijan’s son suffered from schizophrenia, making her life extremely difficult when he wasn’t hospitalized. She continued to love him and have hope for him. She longed for the day when she would be in that country that her Savior had prepared for her. She longed for her Prince of Peace.

As I listened to her that night, I did not understand. It all seemed so hopeless. What  a sad ending. Certainly not the stuff of a Jane Austin novel!

Even though I was a mother of two at the time, I was still a child in my soul. I thought as a child. I wanted to dream. I did not know God shatters dreams to reveal to us the desires of His heart that will make us whole.

But now, many years later, after disappointments and quiet tragedies that broke my heart to heal my soul, I am a woman. I no longer think like a child. I can see more clearly. The name of Jesus now lifts my soul. Whether I am in a ghetto home or a palace,  and whether I’m in a traditional church with the facade of ancient stability that echos the songs of ages past or I’m in a postmodern warehouse that markets itself with popular Christian rhythms, I can now say with Lilijan: I rejoice when I  hear the name of Jesus! I am thankful to be with those who worship God. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

(This post was written by Connie Sikma, from my writers’ group. Connie didn’t have any pictures of Liljan, who is now with her Prince of Peace. However, a sweet friend from my Sunday school class kindly allowed me to take her photo for an illustration. Thank you so much, Connie and Shirley!)

 

Would You Like to Pray with Me?

hes-got-the-whole-world-in-his-hands-from-nelson-mandelas-homeAt the risk of repeating myself, I want to mention today that I have a son (Jonathan) whose great passion is to make Christian education available to anyone who wants it, regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to attend a traditional university for training. I believe Jon first felt this when he was a young teenager and we visited China together (many years ago). On that trip, we learned that up to 100 people were taking turns using one Bible.  notre-dame-de-paris-franceThe internet has made sharing information so much easier, but there are still many places in the world where meeting with other Christians for prayer or Bible study is prohibited, so Jonathan  has opened an online prayer center, which can be accessed here:

http://aqueductproject.org/prayer-center/

candles-in-notre-dame-de-paris-franceWe’ve been meeting every Friday morning at 9:00 EST (and there’s a chart at the site explaining what time that is at various other locations around the world) as we’re able, and if you’d like to join in with us, please do. If enough people respond and it becomes “crowded,” we can also find a different time for “our group” (those from this blog who would like to pray together). If you’re interested but can’t pray at 9:00 am EST on Friday, please contact me, and we can try to find a different time. Jon’s prayer center is open all the time, around the clock! At the 9:00 am Friday prayer time, we share requests and pray for each other as well as world needs, practicing the “Lectio Divina” style of prayer (which just means reading together a short passage of Scripture as a prompt for thinking about God and as a means of responding to His Word). The prayer time usually lasts about a half an hour. Every week there are different people. There are never very many, but Jonathan and I try very hard to be there each week. Please feel free to email me (kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com) or call me if you’re here in GR and would like to find a different time. Also, the prayer center is available to everybody, so if you’d like to pray with a group of your friends, you can also use the Prayer Center as a way to meet on line for prayer! This might be especially appealing to those of you for whom English is not your first language.  rose-windown-in-notre-dame-de-paris-france(Dr.) Jonathan (Armstrong) is also team teaching a seminar on prayer, which I mentioned last Wednesday. This 7-week educational lecture series is being offered totally free of charge in conjunction with Moody Bible Institute, where Dr. Armstrong teaches. If any of you are interested in learning more about prayer, the series is ongoing for the next six weeks on Wednesday evenings from 7:30-8:30 pm (EST) and can be accessed here:

http://aqueductproject.org/prayer-seminar/

Afterward, it will also be available online hopefully. I’ll try to figure that out and add a postscript later, or there will very likely be information by clicking on the link above.

However and whenever, I hope you are communicating with God the Father often and growing in your own “theology”… learning “God speech.”

people-praying-in-notre-dame-de-paris-franceI say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20).

 

Did You Understand the Message of Arrival Before They Departed?

arrival_movie_posterHave you seen the super highly rated, PG-13, 2016 sci-fi thriller, Arrival?
Or, maybe first I should ask if you watched the Academy Awards last night.arrival-posterArrival was nominated for 8 Oscars (although it’s only win was for sound editing), not to mention 184 other nominations in other venues,
and it already had 34 wins going in to the 89th Academy Awards. trying-to-decipher-language-in-arrivalMy son Joel
(who’s an editor at a local publishing house and is fascinated by language) arrival-dvd-2016enjoyed it so much that he bought a copy shortly after Arrival was available,
and we watched it as a family.arrival-amy-adams-as-linquistics-professorWithout spoiling the end (if you haven’t seen it), I can tell you that the story
is about a linguistics professor, Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams), arrivalwho is asked to leave her position teaching linguistics at a university arrival-jeremy-renner-as-ian-donnellyand join physicist Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner) base-camp-for-studying-aliens-in-arrivalas part of a special army task force assigned to a military base in Montana arrival-space-shipin response to a world crisis, where 12 extraterrestrial spacecraft appear hovering just above the earth at various locations around the globe. arrival-what-are-theyAlthough throughout the world people feel threatened by this extraterrestrial presence, and some nations prepare to attack in hopes of destroying them,amy-adams-in-arrival-2Louise and Ian work together for months trying to decipher the aliens’ language in the hopes of understanding why they have come to the earth. trying-to-understand-the-aliens-in-arrivalAre the aliens friendly or dangerous? arrival-hetapodWhat are they trying to say? arrival-louise-banks-enters-the-sphere-of-the-aliensWill Louise and Ian survive their encounters?extraterrestrial-spacecraft-in-arrivalWill the earth survive their encounters?

arrival-space-ship-landingThere’s a lot of suspense, a fascinating plot with a good twist at the end, and a subliminal message that the viewers are left to ponder for themselves. Without saying too much that might spoil the experience for those who haven’t seen it yet, the message I took from the movie is that of transcendence. To me, God is the timeless, transcendent One who knows the past, present, and future. He sees all and knows all, from the beginning to the ending.

This goes beyond the movie, but I believe we can know some things about the future even in our present if we’ll only study to decipher God’s handwriting on the wall. God tells us in the Bible that He’s the great “I am,” the beginning and the ending.

Is God friendly or dangerous? Although many people fear God as a potential threat (just like many of the nations feared the aliens), God is actually friendly now. God is Love, and God loves us!

What is God trying to say? He has come with a message:  There is a Day of  Judgment coming in the future, for which we need to prepare now.

Will we survive our encounters? Only you and I can answer that for ourselves by trying, but it’s scary to try before you know, isn’t it? Just like Louise and Ian demonstrated, it takes a lot of faith, courage, and hope. God entered time and space in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, who came to die in our place, making reconciliation with God possible if we are willing to repent (change our ways) and accept the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ.

Will the earth survive our encounters? There is an answer in the Bible. Do you know it? (If you don’t, try reading the last book in the Bible, called Revelation.) Finding the answer is a lot more thrilling than watching Arrival! arrival-skyNow unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,  To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).