Saturday, July 29, 2006

That means he's really big, right? And made of metal?

For anybody who is wondering, The Iron Giant is a great movie. How great, you ask? So great, I reply, that it officially surpasses The Incredibles as the best animated movie I have ever seen.

Coincidentally (or is it?), they were both directed by the Academy Award-winning Brad Bird.

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Relationships 4: They go together like syrup and carbonated water...

I had lunch with a friend today, and it was both unexpected and a blessing. When I say lunch, I mean lunch in the truest, fullest sense: food, followed by and interspersed with over three hours of conversation. In fact, we were at it so long that the water and syrup at the bottom of my first glass of soda separated. It was a feast of dialogue, and very refreshing.

Romans 13:8-10
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
There's something amazing about spending time with friends whose goal in the relationship is not the fulfillment of their own needs. There's something equally confounding about relationships with people whose only true focus is themselves. I am guilty of the latter far more often than not, and I receive the former far more often than I deserve.

That is something I have been struggling with in the past week. There is a person in my life whom I struggle (and fail) to love the way I should, the way God commands us to. The reasons are almost humorously trivial, but anger, hurt, selfishness and years of habit have a way of overcoming those kinds of limitations.

Having been almost completely out of contact with this person for a couple of years, I had convinced myself that I was no longer angry, that though the relationship had ended, I was able to love them rightly should they ever come back into my life...but love in absentia is no love at all. The fact is, the kind of relationship I have with this person is not the kind that can ever be severed, nor am I probably ever going to be unaffected by their actions. That is the realization I came to this week, and it helped me to sort out some of my confusion (though not all): with every new thing I hear about this person, I feel betrayed. I continue to be suprised and confused by the direction this person's life is going, as they become less and less the person I always thought they were, and more and more like the person I am when I am not submitting to God's will.

I am in a somewhat unique position right now. I have an open, though veiled, window into this person's life, and the reverse is not true. The question I am struggling with is, "what does God want me to do?" If I continue on as I am, then this person will probably remain on the outskirts of my life, affecting me only indirectly through the people in my life who still remain in contact with them for whatever reasons. But I am not convinced that "avoidance" is what God would prescribe.

On the other hand, what exactly would I do if I did approach them, and what would be accomplished if I did? (You hear that? I, I, I...that's at least half of my problem.) I have all sorts of reasons not to, but they all boil down to pride, selfishness, anger and fear. This is not a person whom I want having any sort of influence over my life; on the other hand, my life does not belong to this person, it belongs to God. I don't want to associate with this person because they have an uncanny power to hurt me; on the other hand, the Pharisees didn't want to associate with tax collectors and prostitutes...but they should have. In some ways, approaching this person is like placing myself in the line of fire, but isn't that what Jesus did for me?

So that's what I'm struggling with right now....

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

For Times of Struggle

God, I would lift it up to you,
but I am not even strong enough to bear it in the first place.
I'm so thankful that you are right here with me,
taking it from my hands. Help me to trust you.
I love you, Father.

Psalm 65:5
You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Separation Propriety

A friend of mine effectively left town tonight. I say effectively because he doesn't actually leave until Tuesday, but I am not going to see him again before then. In fact, I won't be seeing him again for....? God knows, but I don't. He is a friend who has encouraged me in ways I needed encouraging (more ways than he knows) and challenged me in ways I needed challenging.

In the past 23 years I have packed all of my belongings and moved thirteen times. Sixteen, if you count moving in and out of dorms every year. Nine of those moves involved leaving behind everyone I know, immediate family excluded. I don't necessarily regret any of the circumstances that made those moves necessary, but one thing it taught me is this: things change. Now when I enter a new situation or meet someone new, I have the inescapable knowledge that at some point, sooner or later, those people will no longer be a regular presence in my life. Students graduate and move on to real jobs, people get married, people move on to other things, or I do. That's just the way life works. I wish I could say I have learned a productive way to make the most of the time I have with them, or even that I have gotten used to it. I haven't, but I have this encouragement: that for my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am absolutely guaranteed to see them again eventually. I also know that in most cases, they leave because God is calling them elsewhere. That's really hard to argue with, or complain about.

I thank God for the people he has placed in my life, for however long he places them there. Pray for my friend as he travels. I look forward to seeing what God is going to do in and through his life.
1 Thessalonians 3:9
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Romans 8:23-25

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

[See discussion in comments.]


Friday, July 21, 2006

Life in Bold

About eight years ago I had a Bible verse in my email signature. It was a verse that I found to be fantastically powerful for me at the time, and it stayed in my signature for a couple of years. Through defunct ISP's and changing of addresses it went away, and through a long time in my life when I made God the least of my priorities, I even forgot what the verse was about. It came up in 63 this week, and it is still as powerful now as it was eight years ago:

Joshua 1:9
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
How fantastic is that? All throughout the Bible: Fear not! Do not be afraid! Be courageous! In Joshua 1:7 it even says, "Be strong and very courageous." As Christians we are supposed to be very courageous, because God is with us! God is our protector, our defender, our provider, and our savior. We have the certainty that God is on our side when we are living according to his will, and when we fail to, we have the certainty that he is waiting to receive us again when we turn back. Through Jesus we are eternally alive, and so we have nothing left to fear.

The Ford Motor Company recently began a new advertising campaign that focuses on the lifestyles of the people who drive their cars. The slogan for the campaign is "Bold Moves," and each commercial tries to define part of what it means to be bold (while hinting that people who are truly bold drive vehicles made by the Ford Motor Company). Every time I see one of these commercials, I am reminded instead of true boldness, the kind we are to have as Christians. Surprisingly, some of what they were saying (or at least my interpretation of it) was actually pretty close to right. Call it another instance of unintended Truth in advertising.

To be bold is to be confident, courageous, open and direct, hiding nothing and fearing nothing. What does it mean to be bold as a Christian? I appropriated some slogans from the commercials to illustrate:

  • Bold Does the Right Thing: This one is from a commercial that depicts a guy using his superpowered pickup truck to move a fallen tree out of the road for another car, even though the car in question holds his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. Be the one who shocks people by doing the good things that no one expects.
    Proverbs 21:3
    To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

    Romans 12:17
    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
    In the same vein:

  • Bold Takes Initiative: Don't wait for someone else to act. If you see someone has a need, fill it, or help find someone who can. Act, and let them wonder why.
    Matthew 5:16
    In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
  • Bold Is Passed Down: Be a Godly example for your children and for those who are spiritually young.
    Proverbs 22:6
    Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

    Titus 2:7-8
    In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
  • Bold Is Up to the Challenge: Learn about God, know the Gospel, and don't be afraid to speak when an opportunity arises. Dozens of times in the New Testament the Bible talks about how the apostles spoke boldly, preaching the gospel.
    1 Peter 3:14-16
    But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
  • Bold Overcomes: As Christians we know what is to come, and that knowledge of the true goal should encourage us to endure whatever is necessary to live a Godly life and proclaim the Gospel through our words and actions.
    James 1:2-4
    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
  • Bold Can't Wait: Think of what we have to look forward to!
    Philippians 3:12-14,20
    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus...our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I know all of this has been said so many times it is cliché, and I say it here as if it is the most obvious thing in the world, and as if I myself practice it daily. I don't. I have much to learn, much to overcome, and a lot of practicing to do before I will be anything close to what God desires me me to be, and in the end, only God can accomplish that change in me. I will depend on him.

(Note: check out Cate's comment on this post, because that's where the really cool stuff is.)


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam....

Yep, I got 20 comments in less than a minute today. The word verification feature for comments will be turned on from this point on.

Sorry for any inconvenience...unless you're a spammer.


Saturday, July 8, 2006

Sweet! Superman, Singer-style!

I remember enough English from high-school to know that that is called alliteration.

I went to see Superman Returns tonight with a couple of friends. One of those friends reviewed the movie much better than I will here. His take:
"I never read comic books or watched the movies when I was a kid, so I never knew how, like, totally sweet Superman is."
Before I go any further, I have to say that I am not a fan of Superman. The cartoons were fun, but the comic books were included in my general bias against the medium and the four movies ranged from cheesy to exceptionally awful (with the exception of the first hour or so of the first one). The character has always been just a primary-colored myth to me, and beyond the disposably fun aspects there was nothing in his story or struggle that captured my interest.

The thing I have always liked about Bryan Singer is that he (and the writers of course) has an uncanny ability to make all of his characters (even the blue-tighted crimson-becaped nigh-invincible alien ones) undeniably, viscerally human. He is also demonstrating an increasingly subtle skill for rhythm, pacing and structure in action and non-action scenes alike. In this movie, Singer has finally capitalized on the potential that was contained in those goose-bump inspiring chords John Williams wrote to start off the first movie in 1978. Superman Returns picks up where the second movie left off (deservedly pretending the third and fourth never happened), even including some of the same music and the same style of title sequence. The visual effects are amazing, to the point that the first audible "wow" occurred about 90 seconds into the movie. The action scenes are impressive and beautiful and realistically staged all at once. Superman remains a mythical figure in this movie, but instead of a live-action cartoon version, he is the what-if-it-were-real version. Special effects are finally able to make Superman fly and move and lift and land the way an immensely powerful superhero should, and the current trend of actually taking stories seriously (yes, even the comic book variety) results here in a character who is believable and relatable.

There are some things in this movie that are a bit ridiculous (you won't find any spoilers here), realistically speaking, but this is a myth brought to life, not reality. I've gotten over it.

On a scale from 1 to 10, this movie gets a "Yeah, I'd pay to see it again, and yeah, I'll probably buy the DVD too." That falls somewhere between 9 and 10. Once again, I am left waiting to see a Singer superhero sequel (alliteration). Come on, you know there's going to be one...

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Friday, July 7, 2006

Missing Perception

Exodus 4:11
The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
I read a while back about an amazing thing called synesthesia. Synesthesia literally means "perceiving together," and is a phenomenon in which a person perceives things in one sense in response to stimuli in another sense. That's a terrible explanation, so here's an example: some people see specific colors associated with specific numbers and letters. That is, they read a sentence printed in black and white and perceive all the R's as being red, all the K's as being blue, etc. In other instances, people hear specific sounds for specific colors or taste certain things in response to reading certain words. Some people hear music in color.

Now, the amazing thing about this penomenon is that it isn't psychological, it's biological. I taste glazed donuts when I hear the Newsboys song "Shine," but that's Pavlovian conditioning, and it's fading. For a synesthete, this unique perception starts in infancy and the person experiences it their whole life and it doesn't change. In fact, most synesthetes at some point find out that other people don't see, smell, taste, hear things the same way, and are surprised. To a synesthete, it only seems natural that the word "stapler" tastes like butterscotch, or that adding a leg to a 'P' changes it from yellow to orange. For a long time, synesthesia was dismissed as delusion, but tests have been done that prove the consistency and reality of this ability. For instance, in one test, synesthetes who see numbers in color were asked to look at a page full of hundreds of numbers like the following and they were able to pick out all the 5's (there are 3) in a matter of mere seconds because they all stood out in bright red (or whichever color, it's different for each person).


Hover your mouse here.
It amazes me that a mere connection of neurons in the brain can make the rest of us seem like we are walking around half blind. It makes me want to experience what they can see that I can't.

I started attending Southern Baptist churches about nine months before I was born, and I became a Christian in 1989. I have spent most of the last 17 years trying to learn all of what it means to be a Christian and in some ways I know less now than I did when I started, but there has never been a time in my life when I did not know that God exists and that he is the one in control of the world. I see everything in the light of what I know about God, and so it is a shock to me when I remember that not everyone sees the world the same way I do. Not everyone knows and believes that God exists and loves them so much that he came in the form of his son Jesus and died for them to pay the debt for their sins, so that we could be with him eternally, rather than eternally without. I have known that for so long that it is an integral, inextricable part of who I am and how I perceive the world, but I can't truly relate to people who don't know that until I understand what it means to be blind to God.

2 Corinthians 4:4-6
The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
For Christians, our connection to God has been restored through God's grace and forgiveness, and we are to love God and obey his commands so that others will seek to experience the same connection. Our lives are one of the "tests" God uses to demonstrate to the world the reality of that connection.

Imagine being able to see music in color, and then imagine not being able to...that is what it means to be blind.
Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Some very interesting links about synesthesia:


Sunday, July 2, 2006

Orbit gum will not get you into heaven.

That is the tongue-in-cheek fine print from a TV commercial portraying a certain rapper being relocated from hell to heaven because the aforementioned brand of gum "cleaned his dirty mouth." A rare bit of unintended Truth in advertising, worth both a chuckle and a thought.

More random thoughts from the day/week:
  • Proof that God answers even small prayers with unexpected blessings: since my entire family is out of town/country this weekend, I asked God to provide me with people to celebrate the 4th of July with. Three hours later I got a phone call from a friend who only ever calls me back, inviting me to go with him on Tuesday to visit some friends I haven't seen in years.

  • Proof that God is providing for our church: our entire paid staff seems to consist of the church secretary, and yet God provides preachers, worship leaders, and Sunday School teachers every week, and I am learning more here through them than I ever have at any other church.

  • Conversation between a waitress and a friend of mine after we were unable to fit at the lunch table with the rest of our group after church today:
    Friend: We were going to squeeze in at that other table, but I think we just need to get a separate table.
    Waitress: OK. For how many?
    Friend: Ummm...[counts in head]...eight.
    Numbers are not the goal in a church, nor are they a measure of God's approval. But when 17(!!) people gather for lunch and fellowship (when previously 6 was a crowd), and when extra chairs must be brought out every week for a packed Sunday School class that used to consist of a handful of people, and when people are joining the church out of the desire to participate and serve, I can't help but believe that it is God's doing and that he is bringing us together for a purpose. I praise him and and wait in anticipation to see the work he is going to do!

  • Baptism. I can't tell you how many times I have seen baptisms. They are always the same. People in white robes bobbing up and down in that big window above the choir loft. This week we had two baptisms, and God opened my eyes to what a glorious declaration baptism truly is. A declaration to the world of what God has done. A declaration to all men of the faith the baptized has in God. A declaration to the church that the family has grown. And a call to all who hear the splash of water to ask and be told, "what does it mean?" Praise God!!!!