Friday, January 30, 2015

"Blackhat" (2015)

So, I took the wife to another one of those “sneak peak” premiers where you don’t know what you’re going to see until it rolls. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have sought this film out. Even though our first date involved another Michael Mann film. Actually, we were just glad it wasn’t “50 Shades.” At first…

This story should be intelligent, suspenseful, and pertinent. It deals with the threats of the new, interconnected world. Where the dangers are not just from governments and don’t necessarily involve power. Here, the criminals can be individuals and the collateral damage can involve whole cities, regions or even nations… all in an effort to pad one’s bank account.

Instead, we get brooding. Plot points that pose as smart by being uninformative or incomplete. More brooding. A romance from strangers to lovers all in an awkward stare. Character development through meaningless death that still fails to make us care. And a bunch of typing.

It does have some great cinematography. And one sequence at the end involving a parade that is visually stunning. Unfortunately, it is not enough.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 1b)



Season 1a - Season 1c

After a couple hiccups in the early episodes here, Star Trek really hits its stride in this stretch of stories:

Episode 8 “Miri”

Summary: The crew discover a duplicate of Earth hundreds of light years away, where people were experimenting with prolonging life, only to die from the treatment some 300 years ago. (In a parallel to Earth’s 1960s.) Only the children survived, but as they mature into adolescents, they suffer the same death that the adults had.

Struggle: Why is there a parallel Earth? How did the kids survive, and for 300 years remain kids? And what in the heck is Kirk doing using his sexual charms on a minor???

Thoughts:

This story is seems to be a preachy, underdeveloped product of its days, where “trust no one over 30” was the mantra. Even so, it seems to offer a counter to that attitude, or it tries to, in showing that all the kids are really potential problems themselves. The aged are not necessarily wrong, just young people who have gotten older and seen things that might make them change their thinking. On the whole, though, this story is pretty bad.

Episode 9 “Dagger of the Mind” 

Summary: A prisoner escapes from a rehabilitation center run by the galaxies premier psychologist. As it turns out, the “prisoner” is actually another doctor who is trying to expose some extremely unethical practices. Meanwhile, Kirk is investigating the situation, placing himself in considerable danger.

Struggle: I find it hard to believe that they have Christmas Parties in the Trek future.

Thoughts: 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Lure of Fear and Hate

The past three months have felt surreal around these parts of Germany. Dresden has become a bit of a punching bag because it is perceived as a haven of racism and hatred. Late in 2014 a handful of people started to schedule marches and demonstrations to protest what they called “the Islamization of the west,” and tapped into a nerve of fear that caused numbers to swell into the tens of thousands.

It is silly to think that a region with 2-4% immigrants would produce a movement based on fear of immigrants. (Although not knowing any immigrants is one of the best ways to have fear of immigrants persist.) And yet, even the perception and subsequent ridicule of Dresden is an exercise in unfairness. 35,000 is a small percentage of half a million people, and estimates claim that nearly three-fourths of the marchers are from other areas all over Germany.

The worst aspect of this whole drama, has been the way that it taps into fears that attract all sorts of people and not just the neo-Nazis that one would expect. In fact, it has attracted a lot of Christian types. It could easily pass for a Republican, or at least a Tea Party movement if it were to occur in the States. That is quite an eye-opener. For all one hopes Christians are true followers of Jesus who stick to the teachings of Scripture, many are easily manipulated herds looking for someone to tell them how to think.

And fear and hatred are the easiest feelings for self-serving leaders to manipulate.

Some will point out that Islamization is a real threat. That there are Muslims who hate the West and Christianity and the danger is real. But we are not Muslims. We do not react to our enemies by forcing them out of society or promoting violence against them. Jesus has called His followers to love their enemies. Love, and not hatred or fear, is the way to deal with those with whom we disagree. It is not the easy way, it is the right way.

Thankfully, Germany is dominated—if not by Christians—at least by people who remember the mistakes of their past, and reason seems to be regaining ground. We may breathe a sigh of relief, but all of this should serve as a reminder and a warning to people everywhere that love and not fear or hate is the best policy for intercultural, interpersonal interaction.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Aliens Clarified (1 Peter 1:1,2)

“To those… who are chosen
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
And the consecration of the Spirit,
For obedience
And sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Peter describes the recipients of his letter, these “aliens” in the NAS, in such an interesting way. Firstly, it would behoove all followers of Christ to read this letter and be reminded that we are all foreigners, immigrants just passing through. This world is not our home. Or, for many increasing numbers of Christians, neither the United States nor Europe are “God’s country.” We need to drop all the political posturing that claims these governments are somehow saved. The recipients of Peter’s letter were being persecuted by their governments, and that is the way Jesus had warned His followers it would be. With that in mind, do you really want to be on the side of the persecutors?

Peter goes on to describe the salvation we have received in an explicitly Trinitarian fashion. We have been chosen by God the Father before the world was created. That is to say that the decision was made independent of anything we had done or deserved. It was made entirely in God’s sovereign will through the action of His grace. We have been consecrated by the Holy Spirit. This may also communicate the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in the life of the believer (sanctification), but it also clearly has an aspect of being set apart for God and His purposes. Finally, we have been washed in the blood of Christ. His sacrifice on the Cross provided the means for our sin to be overlooked, forgiven, cast away, and for us to regain our relationship with God in His kingdom.

The little aspect I jumped over in that Trinitarian description of our salvation is the prepositional phrase that describes the purpose of our saved life. We are saved for obedience. Obedience to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel and God’s redemptive plan for creation. This is a key to keep in mind while reading the message of 1 Peter. We have not been saved for our convenience. We have not been saved for our benefit, our comfort, nor our dreams and plans. We are rescued from our sin and death to surrender our lives to our Creator and Lord for His purposes and His plans. The rest of the letter makes much more sense when we understand this truth.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Carnivora (Part 1: Feliformia)

If I am really honest, in spite of my difficulty settling on just a few favorite animals (and the source of all of these breakdowns and vast lists of animal coolness), the Carnivores probably are my favorite Order in all of Animalia. So you might find my all-time favorite animals on this or the next Carnivore list. Here are my favorite of the “cat-like” carnivores:

15. Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus

The only non-cat on this list, I like it for two reasons: it has one of the best scientific names ever, and it does something amazing to a coffee bean when it passes it through its digestive tract. Kopi Luwak!

"Asian Palm Civet Over A Tree" by Praveenp - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

14. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

These cats are strikingly beautiful, and one of the more amazing feats of engineering in creation.

Filip Lachowski [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

13. Pallas’s Cat (Otocolobus manul)

These Asian cats look like the little-old-wise-man version of the cat world.

"Manul2" by Karin st at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

12. Domestic Cat (Felis catus)

This common (and often hated) little animal is the closest I can get to friendship with a wild animal.

Picture at the top is my own.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Only Lovers Left Alive" (2014)

Wow. This is the stereotypical Art House Film. If ponderous, slow, brooding is the essence of artistic depth, this may be the best vampire film ever.

Now, in all seriousness there is an esthetic beauty to this film. As a painting or a photograph it might hold a certain amount of interest. But as a story it leaves one dry. (Hmmm, a vampire story that drains the viewer.) It is a shame though, because one gets the sense that this film wanted to say something and may have even served as a counterpoint to the Twilight dreck that sullied the genre.

Instead, the film is so pompous in its themes and so failing in its delivery that it must be taken as a missed opportunity. There were interesting bits here and there. (Eve packing for her voyage, the fascination with art and beauty, the frustration with humanity’s destructive nature, etc.) None of them are developed. There could have been moments where something happened. (Rumor has it that there were action moments, but when Jarmusch was asked to add more he instead removed them all.) As delivered we await for a plot that never comes. That is a form of suspense, just not what a vampire story promises.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Wonderful Miracle of Earth

NASA has taken an interesting approach attempting to reawaken interest in space: Science Fiction. They commissioned an artist to create travel-agency-style posters for hypothetical trips to newly discovered planets outside our solar system: Kepler 186f, Kepler 16b, and HD 40307 g. The whole idea is fiction, of course, beyond the mere impossibility of an actual trip.

These planets are barely known. But the fascinating appeal to exoplanet “exploration” is the search for places where life, or even better we, could thrive. One (and only one) of these three planets meets a couple requirements to fit the bill. Kepler 186f is close in size to Earth and within the “habitable zone” of its star in its orbit. The problem?  The list of requirements that a planet must meet for life as we know it to thrive is already 68 known factors long and growing. If there were 10 billion trillion planets in the universe, the odds that one other would meet all the requirements to support complex life such as is found on Earth are smaller than 1 in 10 to the 1050th power, according to physicist Dr. Hugh Ross.

However, the approach seems to be the way to go. After all, interest in space was never higher than before we got out into it. Our imagination thrived with the possibilities of what we could find there. Once we started going, we learned a lot that improved life here on Earth, but what we found out there was so much more of a letdown. The science is important and valuable, but the adventure we find out there right now is not what sci-fi promised us. Life, with all of its wonder and capacity for creativity and imagination, is still only found in the very small, very rare, miraculous place we call home.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Ten Year Old Call to Revival

In doing some sermon prep this month, I stumbled upon this letter I wrote to a church where I was serving ten years ago.  We were preparing for a "revival."  I am happy that it still lines up with my thinking today, and that it is still the thinking I use in planting churches and instigating movement in Europe all these years later.

Did it work back then?  Well, I wasn't convincing enough apparently.  That church is still around, but from what I hear just barely.

How to regain the life we have lost.

Jesus is speaking to His disciples in the upper room. Soon He will no longer be with them. After three years of discipleship, the time has come for Him to go. From chapters 13 through 16 of John, He is teaching His disciples the final things He wants them to hear.

Is He worried? Soon they will be one their own. Will they make it? Jesus is about to provide salvation for the entire of humanity, and it is up to these eleven men to tell the world. (Judas left in chapter 13) If they tell no one His life will have failed.

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He cleanses it that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

In these verses from chapter 15, Jesus lays out the purpose of Christian life here on Earth. In everything that a Christian does, he or she is ultimately called to “bear fruit”. What does this mean? Some would suggest that it is living a life pleasing to God; others would suggest that it means good works. Both of these suggestions are true desires of God for His children. Paul even reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:10, but this is not what Jesus was saying. To understand Jesus, we must first look at this metaphor literally.

A vine is a plant. When God created plants He commanded them and all other living creatures to bear seed, and fruit after their kind. (Gen. 1:11) The fruit is the vehicle of reproduction. It is new life or offspring for the plant. Christ meant that as Christians we should reproduce. This is a call to disciple others. God has each of us here on Earth to reach out to this lost world and bring others to Him. As we evangelize, He continues to give us more opportunities to witness.

As it is in the believer’s life, so it is with the Church. Christ’s ultimate purpose for the Church here on Earth is to evangelize. Sure, He wants us to worship, fellowship, and grow spiritually; but we will get plenty of chances to do that in Heaven. This is the only chance we have to reach people for Christ, because there aren’t going to be lost people in Heaven!

Jesus uses another metaphor for the Church in Revelation 1:20:

20 “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Once again the imagery points to evangelism. What is the purpose of a lampstand? To shine out the light. In the Bible, light is often a picture of the Gospel. Jesus again in Matthew 6:14-16:

14 “You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your God who is in Heaven.”

Too many times as churches we focus on our lampstand instead of the purpose for which we exist. It is time we realized that our purpose as a church in everything we do is to shine out the light. Everything we do needs to witness to a lost world.

What will happen if we do not bear fruit as a church? The answer lies in verse two: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.” If we do not evangelize as a church we are of no use to God here on earth. Satan tries to make us useless to God. How does he attack the Church?

I believe that Satan will stop at nothing to disable a church, but He has a few favorite methods that I have seen everywhere. The top two are complacency and division.

A church is complacent when it stops caring. When we begin to think that we have all the time in the world to evangelize we stop doing it.

A church is divided when we take our eyes of Christ and focus on ourselves. Then we start to think how we think things should be done in the church and not how Christ wants them done. We become obsessed with the way the money is spent, we try to get on the most influential committees so that we can control them. Not only is this a sin, it renders the Church totally useless to God, and it is only a matter of time before He will take us away.

How can we stop Satan, and render his attacks powerless? The answer is in the text. Jesus shows us two ways we can defeat the two attacks:

4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing.”

First, to avoid complacency, we must abide in Christ. If we are one with Christ, we will feel His true love for the lost of this world and never experience an “I don’t care” attitude. Remember the picture of the lamp: How can it give light unless it is plugged into the source? Our source is Christ. As a church body, whose head is Christ, the most important thing we can strive for is total submission to our authority, Christ himself.

In reality, this will also help us fight division. If we focus on Christ as our authority, we will stop fighting amongst ourselves for control. True unity is not having every member at every function and fellowship, and everyone meeting together at one time. It is not knowing every other member of the church. Let’s face it, for that to happen, we would have to make sure every church was limited to less than 100 members or so. Unity comes when we are all on the same page, when we all abide together in Christ.

The answer Jesus gives us to fight division is obedient love.

9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Fathers commandments, and abide in His love. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.”

To avoid the power struggles in the church that render it useless, we must do these two things: submit to Christ’s authority and put each other first. Christ’s authority is found In the Bible, and in the pastor whom he has place here to lead us. We must follow this leadership, and look out for each others interest instead of our own power hungry desires.

If we abide in Christ, follow His leadership, and love one another, we will resist Satan’s attacks.

So how do we evangelize? There are two ways. One is to add, the other is to multiply. The difference is that between a parent and a grandparent. A parent produces children, a grandparent produces children who themselves produce children. God prefers the later.

16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain...”

The key to correct evangelization is discipleship. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples, teaching them to do the same. We need to grow in Christ, so too do the people we lead to Christ. If we merely see people saved, we have failed in our mission. Christ wants Disciples, not converts. He wants us to pour our lives into others, not a small portion of knowledge that we have memorized as a nifty little presentation of the Gospel.

Here at First Baptist, are we abiding in Christ? Do we have an enthusiasm for the things of God? Heaven forbid that we have the arrogance to schedule a revival and call it done on Wednesday. Let us instead pray earnestly that God will revive our hearts and reach us, the members of First Baptist. We need to regain our first love again, lest we become like the Church at Ephesus, going through the motions with no passion.

Join with me as I pray, “Please, God! Revive us again!”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Serial

So, the Podcast culture was all a tizzy at the end of 2014 with a little thing called “Serial.” It was sold as a real-life real-time investigative journalism effort looking into an old murder case. Not a cold-case, since there is a guy serving life in prison for the murder already, but more of a huge second-guess. Getting in on things at the end of the run, it was a little hard to work up the excitement of fans. As they listened week-to-week they discussed and invented theories, and likely had visions of a huge reveal at the end of things.

I didn’t spoil my experience by looking into the outcome. I listened episode by episode right through the end. But, I was pretty sure I would have heard more had things been shocking in the end.

Instead it was all pretty much a whimper and not a bang. What the investigation did a good job with, however, was raise questions. It questions the official story. It questions the suspect’s guilt. It questions the primary witness. It mostly questions the American justice system. All of those questions are made on really good grounds, because there are serious doubts about all of it. If nothing else, this postmodern look at truth and reality causes one to let go of any naïve belief that justice is always accomplished in America.

A system like the Justice System is only as good as the scrutiny it undergoes. In an effort to expose Bad and defend Good, the system itself can never be seen as good. It must be a neutral tool. And as such it is our responsibility as citizens to constantly press the system to be perfect. In the absence of perfection, what should our stance be?

What is preferable, to allow some guilty to go free and never have an innocent person punished unjustly? Or is it better to see some people locked away for crimes they never committed in order to ensure all guilty are punished?

Friday, January 16, 2015

"The Imitation Game" (2014)

I have seen this film a few times already. Well, just about. This is the typical “broken genius” story, told in the same way that it almost always is. It is well done, mind you. Or, even if it is just a workable effort, the job done by the lead actor carries it up onto the list of films that should be considered amongst the greats of 2014.

And the job Cumberbatch does is really good. As just one example amongst many, there is a scene in the film where his character, the mathematician Alan Turing, has what looks like a panic attack and I am not at all sure that Cumberbatch isn’t really experiencing one.

Where the film loses its way a bit is in the story itself. It is trying to accomplish too much. Is this a WWII film? A story about psychological struggles? The story of the invention of computers? An attempt to raise awareness of the plight of homosexuals? It tries to do all and in doing so it sells almost every storyline short.

And that is a shame, really. Turing is a fascinating person. Science fans know him primarily as the man who came up with the Turing Test to evaluate Artificial Intelligence. He is also the father of computer science. And, according to this film and the book it was based on, he pretty much single handedly won WWII.

That is where this film works best and where it should have been focused.

That is not to say that the homosexual subplot should have been ignored, but it is strange the way this film choses to handle it. In the marketing, it appears to be the most important part of the film, but the film actually closets Turing’s sexual orientation for most of the story. Then, when it does address it, it seems to equate it with his quirks that may have extended to something like Autism. I am not sure Turing would have liked the way he was “reduced” to a sexual orientation in this story.

(I am also not sure what thinking lay behind “treating” homosexual men by literally emasculating them. Another horrific aspect of our history that perhaps should be explored in a story, but not in a secondary afterthought the way it comes across in this film.)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 1a)

Season 1b

As is the case in the other Trek spinoffs, we get a slow, weaker start here in season one. Things should get better. (That is the hope, anyway.) These initial episodes are trying to touch on interesting ideas in a provocative way, but the come across more like they are trying too hard with under-baked concepts.

Episodes 1, 2 “Caretaker”

In our double-length pilot the stage is set. A federation ship goes looking for a Maquis one. (Remember them from the end of TNG, beginning of DS9? Yeah, Trek barely does too.) It had gone missing with a federation spy on board. It turns out that it has been drawn farther away than anyone has ever traveled. The federation ship suffers the same fate.

The phenomenon that caused their trouble is not a natural one. It turns out that another one of the many so-powerful-they-appear-divine aliens that keep showing up in Trek has been pulling beings from all over the galaxy seeking someone for a special job.

It seems this alien negatively affected the life on a planet and out of a sense of guilt, has been caring for them like a god ever sense. As he is close to dying, he has been seeking someone to take over. He dies before he can send the federation and Maquis home, so they are stranded a lifetime journey away. Forced to join forces in the unknown space, we have our conflict-prone crew in place.

Both the religious implications and the conflict potential seem underdeveloped. The god story is mostly an afterthought to the series set-up, and the conflict only seems to last into the next episode. Or, that is the case in the first half of season one, where each episode tackles a classic sci-fi set-up in a cursory way:

Episode 3 “Parallax”

The crew find a ship trapped in a space-time anomaly, and—surprise!—it turns out to be themselves looking into a space-time mirror. The Maquis engineer proves to be a savant of sorts, and our biggest inter-crew conflict is settled pretty fast.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Edge of Tomorrow" (2014)

Twenty or thirty years ago, the concept of this film would have boggled minds, but today it is almost old hat. So it is a little surprising that it is being hailed as being so “intelligent.” Not that it is dumb, but audiences have been conditioned to understand these time travel—or perhaps more like time trap—stories by now.

Unlike the Twilight Zone ("Shadow Play"), or that episode from season six of The X Files ("Monday"), or the film “Groundhog Day,” however, this film does not use its conceit to any deeper end. It is merely an action flick with no deeper ambitions.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I Peter Outline

I Peter Outline

I. Greeting
a. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” 1:1a
b. To: Aliens, foreknown, through sanctification, to obey Christ. 1:1b,2

II. New Birth, New Life.
1. We have been born again to a living hope.
a. Hope and Joy amidst trials. 1:3-9
b. The announcement of salvation. 1:10-12

2. So we should live our hope fully.
a. Be Holy 1:13-16
b. Be Reverent 1:17-21

3. How do we live with holiness and reverence?
a. Obeying God’s Word every day.
i. The living and abiding Word of God. 1:22-25
ii. Long for the pure Word of God. 2:1-3

b. Offering spiritual sacrifices to Christ, the Living Stone. 2:4-8

c. Belonging to the fellowship of God’s people 2:9,10

d. Conducting ourselves to God’s glory. 2:11,12

e. Showing submission and respect with Jesus as our example
i. Submit to authorities and institutions. 2:13-17
ii. Submit to authorities and masters, even in suffering. 2:18-25
iii. Wives should submit to their husbands. 3:1-6
iv. Husbands should honor their wives. 3:7
v. Submit to one another in unity, love and humility. 3:8-12

III. Hope in Suffering
1. Christ’s example of suffering.
a. Suffering in doing good. 3:13-17
b. The Example of Christ. 3:18-22

2. Our life in light of suffering.
a. The Gospel changes our way of thinking, living. 4:1-6
b. Be self-controlled and love. 4:7-11

3. Expect suffering, and blessing. 4:12-19

IV. Concluding Exhortations
a. Elders should lead as examples. 5:1-5
b. Overall, with humility. 5:6-11
c. Closing words. 5:12-14

Friday, January 9, 2015

My Four Andrae Crouch Selections

I can’t say that I have ever listened to Andrae Crouch much, and I really didn’t listen to a lot of Gospel growing up, but I have listened to a lot of his songs. His song writing is some of the best and most influential in Christian circles. And I do love his style and his sound. From my limited exposure to his music, here are my 4 favorite Crouch songs:

It Won’t Be Long 



 

A song about the hope that awaits us away from the suffering of a fallen world. I prefer this one slightly to “Soon and Very Soon”

Jesus Is the Answer 



 

This one was always a favorite of mine as a child, and the Gospel is still the answer to all the problems we face today.

My Tribute 



 

This is a lot of people’s favorite. It tends to go over the top and the challenging nature of the song paradoxically places the focus on the singer, which is the opposite of what the song’s intent is. That being said, it is a beautiful text.

I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me 



 

This is my favorite. And, the version in this video is really fun too.
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