Monday, October 31, 2011

Video mystery

I took this video about 8 years ago in Wisconsin. Does anyone have the slightest idea what in the world this is?

Look in the middle of the photo for a view of what it looked like (click on the photo for a larger view). You can see it is an oval shape with bands of darker gray at each end. The size of it was smaller than a pea. You could pick it up and put it in your hand, and it would jump around your palm, but if you blew on your palm, it wouldn't roll or move over unless you blew really hard. It stayed around in the dirt patch where we found it for a few days, and then it disappeared and we never saw anything like it again.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Joy shall be in heaven...

...over one sinner that repenteth." Luke 15:7

Joy is in my heart, too! I went out to lunch with a friend today, and she prayed with me to accept Christ! PRAISE THE LORD!!! The Lord allowed me to share the gospel with her, and she understood it for the first time. Glorious is our God. :-D

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Movie Review: Rio

As a bird lover, I was prepared to love this movie. I had seen the preview and thought it was funny, and I was mesmerized when I watched the first half of Rio at school one day, so I rented it and watched it this week. A little blue parrot is snatched from the Amazon jungle by smugglers, ends up in snowy Moose Lake, MN, and is rescued by a little girl. The girl is just like me--loves books, loves birds, wears glasses, happily single...okay, not exactly like me (she doesn't like to travel and is ridiculously fearful of Brazilian food--dumb girl--missing out on the BEST food on the PLANET! Ah!), but that's beside the point.

The point is, I was profoundly disappointed in the message behind the movie. Movies (just like good stories) are all about character development and change. You start a movie out with a character who has a bunch of things wrong with him, and then you show the transformation of those characteristics by the end of the movie. In Rio, the parrot, Blu, starts out as a slightly pampered, slightly annoying, slightly nerdy bird who can't fly. He falls in love with the girl parrot, Jewel, starts to think of others, and learns to fly. That's all well and good.

It's the story of Blu's owner, Linda, that plays out in the second half of the movie and left me disappointed. Linda travels with Blu to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in order to meet Tulio, an ornithologist who has arranged the plan to mate Blu and Jewel. Linda and Blu have just landed in Brazil, and Tulio picks them up. They are driving in a jeep in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, when some people dressed for Carnaval cross the street in front of them. "Whoa, what's going on?" Linda says. "You have arrived in time for Carnaval, the biggest party in the world," Tulio replies. A provocatively dressed woman dances her way across the street in front of them.  "Tomorrow night," Tulio continues, "Everyone will be dressed like this." "Not me," Linda replies.

First red flag: Carnaval is merely "the biggest party in the world," according to this movie. As a Christian, I can't buy this innocent-sounding description. What's wrong with a big party? Plenty, if you know what Carnaval stands for. My Brazilian apartment mates described it to me as the biggest sin-fest in the world, a time to revel in unbridled lust, promiscuity, drinking, and drugs. Okay, so it's a kid's movie, and to them it's just costumes and music? Well, if you buy that one, you probably buy the one about Halloween being just about costumes and candy, too, but that's a topic for another time. My problem is that kids are introduced to Carnaval as something innocent and harmless, when it is neither.

The story continues with Blu and Jewel getting stolen by smugglers the first night they are left alone at the bird sanctuary. Then Linda and Tulio have to go on a wild chase to find them, while the birds go on a wild journey to get away from the smugglers and the villain of the movie, an evil cockatoo named Nigel.

(Nigel is another disappointing character. He is ruthless, malicious, and bent on making others as ugly as himself. Why is he so evil? Because once upon a time, he had a TV show, fame, and popularity, and then one day someone replaced him with a parakeet. Therefore he became a monster. Really? Is it just me, or is that just shallow? Okay, it's just a kid's movie. But look at the villains on Pixar films. They succeed in making them bad while giving them depth.)

The roads are closed for the Carnaval parade, and no one is allowed through the checkpoint except for performers, so Linda and Tulio don bird costumes in order to get through. Linda's costume is a skimpy blue sequined bikini with large blue wings and a tail attached to the back. She and Tulio come out of their separate changing rooms. "I look ridiculous, don't I?" Linda asks in a dejected voice. The picture switches to Tulio's face, lit up with delight. He assures her she looks great. Then, through a misunderstanding, Linda gets put in the parade up on a platform where she is supposed to dance. A guy is yelling at her in Portuguese, and Tulio translates. "Linda! You have to shake your tushy!" "NO!" Linda exclaims. "We don't shake our tushies in Minnesota!" But as she tries to get down off the stage, she happens to pull some moves that cause the crowd to roar its approval.

Okay. Hold it right there.

First of all, yes, people DO shake their tushies in Minnesota. It's not being from Minnesota that makes one reluctant to dance. It's having conservative values that come from a Christian worldview, which may or may not exist in people from Minnesota. Fundamentally, though, the conflict creates a sharp contrast between the more conservative midwest and the more free-spirited South American culture. And where did that contrast come from? The Judeo-Christian ethic, that existed strongly in the U.S. and has only been more recently introduced to Brazil. But the movie wipes this all off the slate and creates a false reason why Linda refuses to "shake her tushy," which makes her conservatism look ridiculous and nonsensical, and causes the viewer to root for her to just loosen up. Strike to the grain of what Tulio and the crowd are calling for Linda to do. "Shake your tushy" is a soft way of saying, "Be sensual," "Arouse my sex drive," "Move your body where it really counts." So...I don't do that because--I'm from Minnesota (or Wisconsin, or Tennessee, or Timbuktu)? No. I don't do that because--I don't know how? Maybe, but it goes deeper than that. I don't do that because as a Christian, I choose not to move my body in a way that deliberately provokes sensual thoughts in others. Why? Because lust is enough of a battle as it is without me creating more issues for my brothers and sisters in Christ to deal with. And I know well enough that dances involving  shaking my hips or my bust are designed for one single purpose: to arouse that pleasurable feeling in the opposite sex.

Furthermore, did you notice Tulio's reaction to Linda in a bikini? The smile that spread across his face and the pleasure in his eyes was nothing more than an expression of unbridled lust, the kind that Jesus warns against when he says, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:28) When godly Christian guys see a scene like this, they battle valiantly to NOT lust, but the movie portrays Tulio's lust as something normal, a natural enjoyment, the way a kid's eyes would light up at a lollipop. (Why is there a difference? Is there a difference between a woman and a lollipop? Only in the Christian worldview.) Again, Linda's comment comes across as incomprehensible and irrelevant: "I look ridiculous, don't I?" OF COURSE a guy isn't going to think that looks ridiculous! Her reluctance to go out in public in a bikini is passed off as being a mere fear of looking ridiculous. This fear being overcome (thanks to Tulio's approval), there no longer seems to be any reason to be reluctant about it. How easily the viewer swallows this scene, digests it, and feels in himself or herself that Linda is wrong to be so straight-laced about wearing something skimpy. My problem is, this movie opens a door for girls to change their minds. Once you feel like Linda is in the wrong, you also feel like you would be in the wrong to maintain a conservative dress standard. The difference is, Christian girls who know why they dress conservatively know that they do not do it because they would feel uncomfortable or ridiculous in public if they wore something immodest (although that may be the case). They do it precisely because they choose not to place a stumbling block of lust before their brothers' eyes. (Most Christian girls, however, do not know why they dress conservatively. If they do it, they do it because their parents or leaders make them, and it is these girls who are easy prey to the kind of thinking this movie conveys. As soon as they are out from under the rules, goodbye, modesty.)

Here is the heart of why I didn't like the movie: Linda's change went exactly the opposite way from the way it should have. In the Christian worldview, the promiscuous girl, who dresses immodestly and is a little loose around guys, needs to change into a modest, respectable girl who behaves with honor and decency. In the movie, Linda went the other way. The theme of lust is out of place in a children's movie, even if they treated it in a way that earned it a G rating. Ah... G-rated lust. How nice. Start them off young before they even know what it is, and they'll never feel it when it enslaves them.

Now, before you jump all over my back and tell me what I already know...
--I know that this is just the way our culture works nowadays.
--I know I can't expect a movie to reflect my values.
--I know that Hollywood is not going to portray conservative values in an honest light.
--I know that I can't change moviemaking with a negative movie review.
--I know that Christians will watch Rio and not lose their faith.
--I know that other Christians will like the movie.
--I know that to most people in the world, including many Christians, my views are incomprehensible. I may be labeled straight-laced, prudish, or kill-joy. That's fine. Your views are incomprehensible to me, too.

I'm just telling you why I didn't like the movie. (And revealing much of the way I think and analyze things in the process.) I'm not saying I wasn't entertained. I was. I laughed all the way through it. I'm just not one to check my brains at the door and get them back when the movie is over. I think. I reject what my reason tells me is not wholesome. I hope others will do the same (think for yourself, that is, not reject the movie just because I did).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Promise

This weekend, I went out to lunch with some old family friends, and they were asking me about Betel. The wife asked me, "How do the staff at Betel keep from burnout? Do they take lots of breaks? Do they only last for a few years?"

"That's a good question," I said.

"I think all the staff should have regular counseling," she continued, "so that they can deal positively with the draining aspects of their work."

"Well," I answered, "The neat thing about God is that when He gives you love, it is a supernatural love. He is able to keep on loving people through you, and it's like a fountain of water that's always gushing up."

This answer was more in faith than anything, because, after all, I haven't actually been through it yet to see how to deal with burnout.

However, the very next day, the Lord brought this verse to my attention from my daily Bible reading:

"And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Isaiah 58:11.

How encouraging! It felt like a promise spoken exactly to me, that God would not only sustain me, that I would not merely endure, but that I would thrive and really experience His love springing up in my heart. 

Thank you, God!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Faith that Moves Mountains

This is an amazing story that reflects God's power, the faith of a simple shoemaker, and triumph over evil. If you only have a short amount of time to read, scroll down to where it says "The story gets good here."

From The Travels of Marco Polo, Book 1, chapter 7-8

Baldach = Baghdad
Saracens = Muslims
Tartars = Asian Empire under Kublai Khan. The four Tartar princes mentioned (Mangù, Alaù, and 2 others) were Kublai Khan’s sons. Genghis Khan was the son of one of these princes.
Cathay = China

Chapter 7: Of the great city of Baldach or Bagadet, anciently called Babylon—of the navigation from thence to Balsara, situated in what is termed the Sea of India, but properly the Persian Gulf—and of the various sciences studied in that city.

Baldach is a large city, heretofore the residence of the khalif of all the Saracens, as the pope is of all Christians. A great river flows through the midst of it, by means of which the merchants transport their goods to and from the Sea of India; the distance being computed at seventeen days’ navigation, in consequence of the windings of its course. Those who undertake the voyage, after leaving the river, touch at a place named Kisi, from whence they proceed to sea: but previously to their reaching this anchorage they pass a city named Balsara, in the vicinity of which are groves of palm-trees producing the best dates in the world. In Baldach there is a manufacture of silks wrought with gold, and also of damasks, as well as of vests ornamented with the figures of birds and beasts. Almost all the pearls brought to Europe from India have undergone the process of boring, at this place. The Mahometan law is here regularly studied, as are also magic, physics, astronomy, geomancy, and physiognomy. It is the noblest and most extensive city to be found in this part of the world.

Chapter 8: Concerning the capture and death of the khalif of Balach, and the miraculous removal of a mountain.

The above-mentioned khalif, who is understood to have amassed greater treasures than had ever been possessed by any other sovereign, perished miserably under the following circumstances. At the period when the Tartar princes began to extend their dominion, there were amongst them four brothers, of whom the eldest, named Mangù, reigned in the royal seat of the family. Having subdued the country of Cathay, and other districts in that quarter, they were not satisfied, but coveting further territory, they conceived the idea of universal empire, and proposed that they should divide the world amongst them.

With this object in view, it was agreed that one of them should proceed to the east, that another should make conquests in the south, and that the other two should direct their operations against the remaining quarters. The southern portion fell to the lot of Alaù, who assembled a vast army, and having subdued the provinces through which his route lay, proceeded in the year 1255 to attack this city of Baldach. Being aware, however, of the great strength and the prodigious number of its inhabitants, he trusted rather to stratagem than to force for its reduction, and in order to deceive the enemy with regard to the number of his troops, which consisted of a hundred thousand horse, besides foot soldiers, he posted one division of his army on the one side, another division on the other side of the approach to the city, in such a manner as to be concealed by a wood, and placing himself at the head of the third, advanced boldly to within a short distance of the gate.

The khalif made light of a force apparently so inconsiderable, and confident in the efficacy of the usual Mahometan ejaculation, thought of nothing less than its entire destruction, and for that purpose marched out of the city with his guards; but as soon as Alaù perceived his approach, he feigned to retreat before him, until by this means he had drawn him beyond the wood where the other divisions were posted. By the closing of these from both sides, the army of the khalif was surrounded and broken, himself was made prisoner, and the city surrendered to the conqueror.

Upon entering it, Alaù discovered, to his great astonishment, a tower filled with gold. He called the khalif before him, and after reproaching him with his avarice, that prevented him from employing his treasures in the formation of an army for the defense of his capital against the powerful invasion with which it had long been threatened, gave orders for his being shut up in this same tower, without sustenance; and there, in the midst of his wealth, he soon finished a miserable existence.

I judge that our Lord Jesus Christ herein thought proper to avenge the wrongs of his faithful Christians, so abhorred by this khalif. From the time of his accession in 1225, his daily thoughts were employed on the means of converting to his religion those who resided within his dominions, or, upon their refusal, in forming pretenses for putting them to death.

The story gets good here.

Consulting with his learned men for this purpose, they discovered a passage in the Gospel where it is said: “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove,” (upon prayer to that effect addressed to the Divine Majesty;) and being rejoiced at the discovery, persuaded as he was that the thing was utterly impossible, he gave orders for assembling all the Nestorian and Jacobite Christians who dwelt in Baldach, and who were very numerous. To these the question was propounded, whether they believed all that is asserted in the text of their Gospel to be true, or not. They made answer that it was true.
“Then,” said the khalif, “if it be true, let us see which of you will give the proof of his faith; for certainly if there is not to be found one amongst you who possesses even so small a portion of faith in his Lord, as to be equal to a grain of mustard, I shall be justified in regarding you, henceforth, as a wicked, reprobate, and faithless people. I allow you therefore ten days, before the expiration of which you must either, through the power of Him whom you worship, remove the mountain now before you, or embrace the law of our prophet; in either of which cases you will be safe; but otherwise you must all expect to suffer the most cruel deaths.”

The Christians, acquainted as they were with his merciless disposition, as well as his eagerness to despoil them of their property, upon hearing these words, trembled for their lives; but nevertheless, having confidence in their Redeemer, that He would deliver them from their peril, they held an assembly and deliberated on the course they ought to take.

None other presented itself than that of imploring the Divine Being to grant them the aid of his mercy. To obtain this, every individual, great and small, prostrated himself night and day upon the earth, shedding tears profusely, and attending to no other occupation than that of prayer to the Lord.

When they had thus persevered during eight days, a divine revelation came at length, in a dream, to a bishop of exemplary life, directing him to proceed in search of a certain shoemaker (whose name is not known) having only one eye, whom he should summon to the mountain, as a person capable of effecting its removal, through the divine grace.

Having found the shoemaker and made him acquainted with the revelation, he replied that he did not feel himself worthy of the undertaking, his merits not being such as to entitle him to the reward of such abundant grace. Importuned, however, by the poor terrified Christians, he at length assented.

It should be understood that he was a man of strict morals and pious conversation, having his mind pure and faithful to his God, regularly attending the celebration of the mass and other divine offices, fervent in works of charity, and rigid in the observance of fasts. It once happened to him, that a handsome young woman who came to his shop in order to be fitted with a pair of slippers, in presenting her foot, accidentally exposed a part of her leg, the beauty of which excited in him a momentary concupiscence; but recollecting himself, he presently dismissed her, and calling to mind the words of the Gospel, where it is said, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire,” he immediately, with an instrument of his trade, scooped out his right eye; evincing by that act, beyond all doubt, the excellence of his faith.

The appointed day being arrived, divine service was performed at an early hour, and a solemn procession was made to the plain where the mountain stood, the holy cross being borne in front. The khalif likewise, in the conviction of its proving a vain ceremony on the part of the Christians, chose to be present, accompanied by a number of his guards, for the purposing of destroying them in the event of failure.

Here the pious artisan, kneeling before the cross, and lifting up his hands to heaven, humbly besought his Creator that he would compassionately look down upon earth, and for the glory and excellence of his name, as well as for the support and confirmation of the Christian faith, would lend assistance to his people in the accomplishment of the task imposed upon them, and thus manifest his power to the revilers of his law. Having concluded his prayer, he cried with a loud voice: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I command thee, O mountain, to remove thyself!”

Upon these words being uttered, the mountain moved, and the earth at the same time trembled in a wonderful and alarming manner. The khalif and all those by whom he was surrounded, were struck with terror, and remained in a state of stupefaction. Many of the latter became Christians, and even the khalif secretly embraced Christianity, always wearing a cross concealed under his garment, which after his death was found upon him; and on this account it was that they did not entomb him in the shrine of his predecessors.

In commemoration of this singular grace bestowed upon them by God, all the Christians, Nestorians, and Jacobites, from that time forth have continued to celebrate in a solemn manner the return of the day on which the miracle took place; keeping a fast also on the vigil.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

God of the Impossible

Has it ever seemed to you that God intentionally brings a situation to the brink of impossibility, and then pushes it over the brink? Have you ever noticed that God sets up impossible-seeming situations to prove Himself the God of the impossible? Consider how God gets more glory when he pulls off an impossible solution than when He does something that everyone thinks they could have done themselves.

For example, look at Gideon. Midianites were already Israel's conquerors, so it already seemed impossible to get out from under their oppression. Then God calls Gideon. "Gideon, blow the trumpet and gather an army."

32,000 men gather, and God pushes the situation further into impossibility. "Send home anyone who is afraid." 22,000 soldiers leave, and the 10,000 who remain are expected to go up against the Midianite army of 135,000.

Then God pushes the situation over the brink. "Make everyone drink water, and only those who lap it up a certain way can stay. Send the rest home." 300 men get the lapping thing right, and everyone else goes away.

Impossible, right? Beyond impossible! Yet God pulls it off! He gives the victory to these 300.

Gideon is not the only example. Look at the children of Israel before the Red Sea. Look at Israel just before the conquest of the Promised Land. Look at the promise to Abraham that he would have a son, and then the command to take Isaac and sacrifice him on the altar. Look at the crucifixion and death of Christ. Think of what would be going through the disciples' minds: "Our promised Messiah and deliverer! Oh no! Now it's impossible for Him to save us!"

God gets more glory for doing an impossible thing than for doing a difficult thing.

I have noticed that in my life, He intentionally pushes me past the point where I think things are possible, and then He comes through gloriously on my behalf. I am facing one or two impossible-seeming situations right now, and one of them was just compounded by the fact that I broke my toe yesterday, making the completion of one of the tasks look that much more unlikely. But my impossible-working God has proved Himself ABLE too many times for me to be daunted or discouraged by facing the impossible. On the contrary, it's just that much more exciting to see what He is going to do and how He is going to achieve the victory. I trust him to emerge victorious. I don't need to question that. I don't need to wonder if apparent impossibility is going to thwart my God. He is the God of the impossible!

So bring on the obstacles! Throw as many roadblocks as you like! Blanket me with chains and nets! Throw urgent stuff at me until I don't have time to do it all! Let me be as weak and in pain as I can be! But it will never stop God from accomplishing His purposes, and I will rejoice to see Him break through all the bulwarks that are cast up against Him.

His grace is sufficient for me. His strength is made perfect in weakness. He has triumphed gloriously. I need not worry or get frustrated or fear. I never even need to wonder, "Is this going to work out?" What God has called me to do, He will empower me to obey, no matter what impossibilities I face. Thank you, Lord!