Saturday, January 31, 2015

Project Almanac - what would you do?

Last night I went to see this movie. There was no chance I was going to miss it from the moment I saw the trailer. Why? Because I am fascinated with time travel.

In the movie, David discovers that his his father had created blueprints for a time machine before his death 10 years ago. Along with his sister, two best friends and a girl named Jessie who he is crushing on, they find the materials to build the machine. And then, they get it to work....

I loved it, and not just because of the theme (although he had a big head start). I liked the characters, could identify with the emotions the ability to go back in time created, and was rooting for them. I thought David and Jessie had great chemistry, which made the chief dilemma of the movie believable. (Yes, I know - the terms believable and time travel probably don't belong in the same paragraph.)

And here it is: When you discover that you have changed history in a tragic way (no spoilers here), what do you do? Do you go back and try to correct it? And what if changing it would undo the thing that you want most in your life? What if you're with the girl of your dreams because of the way you changed history, but people are dead because of it as well?

What do you do? Do you do it on your own or do you keep your friends in the loop?

You know, it's not that different from the choices you and I face in our mundane linear timeline. We may not can change history, but we know when we are faced with choices that matter. Day after day, we have opportunities to do something in our own self-interest instead of for the benefit of others. Sadly, I know what choice I make way too often. How about you?

I love stories that make me think about who I am and the choices I make. They bring into focus whether I'm really living, as I claim, to love God and love others.

And when the story involvers time travel, so much the better. So I think I'll close this...and watch an episode of Doctor Who.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our little corner

Last week I saw something so incredible, I had to share it right away - so I put a link on my Facebook page. It still resonates with me, so...a little more about it.

We live in one of the bands of an indescribably big galaxy known as the Milky Way. There are around 300 billion stars in our galaxy. And (this boggles the mind) there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Well, the closest galaxy other than our own is visible in our night sky; it is known as Andromeda, and it is about 2.5 million light years away.

How far is that? Well, one light year is about 60,000 times as far away as the sun. So Andromeda is about 150 billion times as far away.


So, as a kid who drew up fascinated with astronomy, seeing a 4 GB picture of Andromeda, zooming in on detail, was indescribably awe-inspiring. Here is a video that zooms in on a portion of the picture. If you realize what you're looking at, it'll take your breath away:

So far away. So big. And just the closest one out of billions.

I have heard many people say it makes them feel insignificant. They think it means our little corner of the universe is too small and too remote to be significant. That is not what I see at all. Instead, I marvel that God has singled out the earth to accomplish his eternal purposes.

This verse tucked away in Isaiah sums it up for me:
For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), "I am the LORD, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:18 NASB)
First, why is the universe so big? How can the earth be significant when it is so big? Is God that wasteful?

By no means! God is so awesome, so powerful, so infinite that it takes this kind of vastness to even begin reflecting his glory. The universe was created for his glory, and its size, wonder, and complexity is the natural result of that. If anything, we might ask, why isn't it bigger? And maybe it is - maybe we're just beginning to see it.

Second, why is the earth so perfectly fitted for life?

It is a unique place...situated in a safe corner of our galaxy...the perfect distance from its sun (which give out just the right amount of heat and light)...tilted just right on its axis...with gravity just strong enough to support life. And I could go on and on and on. As Isaiah says, he formed it not to be a waste place, but to be inhabited. And so it is.

With us. Creatures he has chosen to love.

So I watch the video in awe. The heavens are indeed declaring the glory of God.

Yeah, I think I'll watch it again now.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, Monday

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
Fight against those who fight against me. 
Take hold of buckler and shield
And rise up for my help.
- Psalm 35:1-2

Wow! What a day!

I've gotta say, I think today was the definition of a Monday. In fact, I don't really know why I'm staying up to write this post. I oughta just go to bed and start over tomorrow.

Without going into detail, it had some of everything. Time pressure. Unexpected obstacles. Meetings that ran longer than they were supposed to. Rescheduled meetings. Misunderstandings. Personality conflicts. Abrasive emails. And on and on.

There was a time today when I lifted up a prayer of exasperation. I just wanted to God to resolve it all and make my day easier. Is it worth it? Why, God, would you put me through a day like this? 

And then I went to the Psalms.

Now, that's a good thing to do when we pray. The Psalms have about every range of human emotion, and they are all expressed to God - which is the right place to go with our joys, sorrows, triumphs and frustrations. So that's where I went. Looking for just the right prayer of desperation, crying out to God for relief.

As you can see at the top, I did not find support for my whining. I found perspective.

Psalm 35 is just one of many Psalms where King David prayed to the LORD for help. For rescue from his enemies. For relief.

But unlike me, there were actually people trying to kill him. He had enemies trying to overthrow his reign on the the throne God had established. There were people attacking his character and good name. Real trouble.

Me? I had a bad day. Stress. Woe is me.

Now don't get me wrong, I believe the Psalms are there to give us the words to pray on days like this. No, nobody at my office is really my enemy. Nobody is trying to kill me, or even get me fired. I work with great people and I enjoy them all. 

But I do have enemies and they are out in force on days like this.


My flesh.

The forces of evil.

They're trying to tear me down. They're trying to tear you down. And they would love for us to end a day lie this feeling defeated.

So we pray. We go to the Scriptures for the words to pray to a real God who is really there and has really revealed himself.

And he comes to our rescue. And that makes Monday not quite so, well....Monday-ish.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Taking attendance?

Do you remember your school days? Calling's one of the most consistent aspects of being an elementary school child. Day after day, waiting for the teacher to call out my name so I could say one word.


I also remember one Sunday morning when I was in Junior High (now known as Middle) School. I had registered for a chess tournament, with five rounds. That Sunday, I figured I could beat my opponent in short order and get to church, no problem. Only I didn't. And when I failed to put the game away and realized I was not going to make church, my eyes started to well up. I hated to miss church, and I got so distraught that my chess game fell apart. I did not win that tournament.

Taking attendance. Does God take attendance? Is there some sort of scorecard tracking our Sundays?

I don't object to the concept of a deity, but I'm baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance.
- Amy Farrah Fowler, The Big Bang Theory 

Now, while Amy and I are miles apart in our understanding of God, in my opinion the character makes a good point here. When I was at that chess tournament, there was a part of me that thought of God sitting up there like my elementary school teacher. Calling out my name, but getting only silence. No answer from Donnie, he's playing hooky.

So if God is not taking attendance, does that mean church and corporate worship are unimportant. Far from it!

The Scriptures are very clear that the Christian life is not meant to be a solo endeavor. Jesus came to call a people to himself, not a collection of individuals. Jesus told Peter that he would build his church upon the rock of Peter's declaration. Peter in turn wrote that followers of Jesus are "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." The writer of Hebrews wrote that God's people should stir one another to love and good deeds and not give up the habit of meeting together. Habit - something that happens only by repetition. And the church - not individuals, but the church - is called the body of Christ.

The fact is that our relationship with God is corporate, not just individual. We need each other. when we come together to worship, several important things happen. We give God glory through our praise. We encourage one another to stand strong. We hear words of wisdom from leaders and from each other. We participate in the Lord's Supper, remember Christ's death through the bread and wine as he commanded.

In short, we love God and love each other at the same time. And then we go out into the world to express that love and build his kingdom.

If you are a follower of Jesus, it is your lifeblood. It is as if you breathe in by gathering to worship, and breathe out by scattering to share his love. Breathe in, breathe out. Gather, scatter.

So no, Amy, I don't think there's any attendance book. That's not the point. But there is a world that needs the Gospel, and there is a soul inside me that needs to be fed.

For that, I need the body of Christ.

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An audience of one

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. I think becoming the person God wants me to be is a day by day process, and I should be just as likely to find a weakness and work on it on, say, August 22 as I am on January 1. What's so magic about that one day a year?

But it can happen that an important concept for improvement arises right at this time of year. And it's probably not a coincidence. We hear lots of encouragement for improvement as the calendar turns over. Especially from the pulpit.

So this past Sunday, our pastor was teaching from Proverbs 3. And as he came to verses 5 and 6, a different twist emerged. Well, for me at that moment it was a little different.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
So here's the question I was dealing with: who do I want to please? Oh, I'm a people pleaser. Big time. I want everybody to be happy. My father. My sisters. My nephew. My nieces. My brothers-in-law. My friends. My boss. My co-workers. On and on it goes. All of them, happy at the same time.

Yeah, right. That's going to happen.

So here's the point Pastor Tim was making from the passage: Trusting in God and acknowledging him in all my ways is a much better path than trusting in my family, friends, and colleagues. If I am going to have a straight unwavering path to the life I'm meant to live, I can't live for them, to please them. I need to live to please one person.

Me, right? Ricky Nelson sang that he learned his lesson: you can't please everyone so you have to please yourself. Wrong - that's a dead end too. The only straight path in this life, the only path that leads to life is to live to please God.

An audience of one - my Creator and Redeemer. Live to please him and everything else falls into place.

So, as the new year begins (coincidentally, of course), I pray that I may clean out the clutter. The clutter of trying to make everyone happy.

I mean, every Jesus couldn't do that. Religious leaders thought he partied too much and hung out with the wrong crowd, his family tried to get him to stop stirring up trouble, and the people ended up crying out for him to be crucified. But he lived in perfect  harmony with his Father, that audience of one. And that's all that mattered.

So I'm listening not for the applause of the masses, but for that single hand clap. May I hear it loud above the roar of the crowd.