Category Archives: Thoughts on God

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).

Reflections on Exodus 4: Dealing with our Fears

You can’t listen fast.  At least I can’t.  Especially when listening for God’s voice.man-in-a-race-with-a-stopwatch_1048-1611

 

So I appreciated extended time to listen during our Writer’s Day Away as I read my Bible.  I read Exodus 4, and then I took time to notice the verses that stood out to me … and the cadence of them: 1 … 2 … 12 … 21 as though marching to attract my attention.   pic-dig-clock-12-12 Yes, Lord, I prayed, I want to walk in step with Your Spirit.  What stands out, I recognize as God’s voice speaking.  And with extra time, I prayerfully processed what I heard.  what-ifThen Moses answered, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” (Exodus 4:1 HCSB)

What if?  I thought of a list of what-ifs that come from predicting, fearing, and projecting the future without God.

  • What if they don’t obey me?
  • What if they question my calling?
  • What if they reject me?
  • What if they refute me, saying, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?

I noticed all those what-ifs focused on others, “What if they…”  person-in-crowd-2But there are also what-ifs based only on me:

  • What if I don’t get the desired results?
  • What if I can’t accomplish the outcomes?
  • What if I obey You, God, and it doesn’t work out?  whatisThe LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?”  “A staff,” he replied. (Exodus 4:2)

God did not necessarily rebut, refute, or reassure Moses, but instead of asking, “What if,” God asked the question, “What is…?”

  • “What is that in your hand?”
  • What are you holding onto?
  • Perhaps, what is the truth?
  • Or, what is it that you believe?

Moses knew what he had:  a staff.  It was ordinary, yet God transformed it into a miraculous and terrifying sign by turning it into a snake, so that Moses and the people would see it and believe God (verses 3-5).

Moses ran in fear at first, but God required him to reach out and grab the snake – that which he feared.  And as Moses obeyed, the snake transformed back into a staff, useful in his hand. god_is-by-lisa-in-israel

  • God is able to use what is ordinary for the extraordinary, including us.
  • God can take our common work and useful possessions and transform them into miraculous signs so that we and others believe and worship Him.
  • God helps us face our fears, and He transforms them to be useful tools to us as we place our confidence in Him.
  • God required Moses to stretch out his hand, and like Moses, sometimes we would rather run from than reach for things that stretch our faith.
  • God can use even what causes fear in us and transform it into something that will cause us to fear Him for the right reasons.
  • God knows the end from the beginning; He is able to do what He says He will do.
  • God requires us to go forward in faith, and we can overcome fear, for He is trustworthy.

israel-lisa “Now go!  I will be with you, help you speak and I will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:12)

  • God will prepare us.
  • God determines outcomes, not us.
  • We just need to obey and step out and speak in faith, trusting He will provide.
  • We’re not responsible for outcomes, but for obedience.

make-sure-by-lisa-in-israel“…Make sure you do all the wonders I have put within your power…”
(Exodus 4:21)

  • God provides the power and the wonders
  • We provide the obedience in doing all He has called us to (and even that with the help of His Holy Spirit!)

sea-of-galilee-by-lisaPrayer response:

Dear Father God, please help me protect time with You, trust You and obey, doing all you have put within my power – and then trusting Your power for the outcome that only You can bring, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90:12)

(This meditation was written by Lisa Walkendorf. Her graphics are from Google images, but the last four photos are hers, taken on a recent trip with her family to Israel in September, 2016. Scripture from the NIV unless otherwise noted. Thank you, Lisa!)

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).

Free Seminar on Learning “God Speech”…Christian Prayer

Did you know that at its root, “theology” means “God speech”? I always thought theology meant “the study of God,” and that’s the common modern idea, but in the original Greek, “ology” is derived from “logos,”  meaning “word.”  Biology is the study of life, but it’s also “life words”…learning how to speak the language of life. Similarly, “theology” means learning to speak the language of God.

Do you know how to speak God words? To talk to God? To let him speak to you and respond back to him, the way I toddling child learns to speak to his father?

Starting today, Wednesday, February 27, 2017, my son Jonathan (who is now a professor at Moody Bible Institute) is beginning a series on prayer, and I wanted to let you know, just in case it might be interesting to you. For those of you who may not know, Jonathan’s 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. Moody has been wonderfully supportive in working on this vision with him. Here is the specific information:

 

 

 

Dear Friends of Aqueduct Project,

We are incredibly excited to invite you to a live lecture series on prayer that will take place on Wednesdays beginning this week, February 22, 2017! You can join in on this live event from anywhere in the world with a single click. Full details are available at the course landing page: http://aqueductproject.org/prayer-seminar/

We have assembled a teaching team of seven gifted and passionate students from Moody Bible Institute who will be delivering these lessons alongside me. Whether you are able to join us for only one lesson or whether you will be able to participate in the entire series, we hope that we will see you soon for this transformative experience!

No registration is required, and all lectures are free! If you have questions, please email Jack DePuy at jacob.depuy@moody.edu.

“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:17–18, ESV)

Yours,
Jonathan J. Armstrong, Ph.D.
President of Aqueduct Project

Thoughts on Love for Valentine’s Day

“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Blaise Pascalroses-and-liliesReady for some beautiful thoughts on love? Or, like Joseph Fink, do you think: “Valentine’s Day is a disaster. Any day that is designed to perfectly encapsulate something as messy and personal as two people in a romantic relationship would have to be.” Well, whether the quotes I’ve found strike you as funny, true, or overly idealistic, I was touched by all of them, and I hope that—whether or not you’re in a romantic relationship with someone today—these thoughts will cheer your spirit. Because, in all of them I found a kernel of truth that also expresses the way I experience God’s love. His love for us is greater than any human love, and the power of His love is the greatest positive energy for transformation in the universe!

“I know of only one duty, and that is to love.” Albert Camus

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” A.A. Milne

“No matter how much time and space may come between us, I still feel you.” Ken Poirot

“Love is an afternoon of fishing when I’d sooner be at the ballet.
Love is eating burnt toast and lumpy gravy with a big smile.
Love is hearing the words ‘You’re beautiful’ as I fail to squeeze into my fat jeans.
Love is refusing to bring up the past, even if doing so would be a slam dunk to prove your point.
Love is your hand wiping away my tears, trying to erase streaks of mascara.
Love is the warm hug that extinguishes an argument.
Love is a humbly-uttered apology, even if not at fault.
Love is easy to recognize but so hard to define; however, I think it boils down to this…
Love is caring so much about the feelings of someone else, you sacrifice whatever it takes to help him or her feel better.
In other words, love is my heart being sensitive to yours.” Richelle E. Goodrich

“Where there is great love, there are always wishes.” Willa Cather (and for some of us, wishes turned to prayers)

“They invented hugs to let people know you love them without saying anything.” Bill Keane

“We’re most alive when we’re in love.” John Updike

“Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.” Lord Byron

“When you love someone all your saved up wishes start coming out.” Elizabeth Bowan

“Love is the ultimate no-calorie sweetener.” Richelle E. Goodrich

“Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move.
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.” William Shakespeare (…and God!)

“So fall asleep love, loved by me…for I know love, I am loved by thee.” Robert Browning

“For ye will know not love, if ye knoweth not your God.” Henrietta Newton Martin

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
1 John 4:9-11 pink-tipped-rose-africa-copy