Thursday, May 28, 2009

One Speck of a Shuttle!

Titled “One Speck of a Shuttle” this photo was taken by photographer Thierry Legault. It shows the space shuttle Atlantis in silhouette as it crosses in front of the sun's disk on May 12. The other photo was taken from the space shuttle after undocking from the International Space station. It shows the earth against a backdrop of the utter and severe blackness of space.
As you may well recall, I recently posted a blog titled, "Inatentional Blindness," in which I alluded to the idea that we tend to take for granted things that should ordinarily be spectacular (but have become mundane and ordinary), simply because we’re around them often enough that we become oblivious to them. I wanted to be sure that you didn’t miss out on these spectacular occurrences simply because you’ve ceased to be fascinated by the technological mastery of man encountering the vastness and harshness of outer space.

So, here are some facts for you:

The distance of the sun from the moon is approximately 93 million miles. If that doesn’t fascinate you, let’s try this: The moon is roughly 240,000 miles from the earth, and it makes a complete orbit around the earth every 27.3 days. The moons diameter is approximately 2118 miles, a little more than a quarter of the earth’s diameter. Still not impressed? Okay try this: the International Space Station is approximately 220 miles from the earth at any given time. Now get this, both these photographs were taken from the vicinity of the International Space station against the backdrops of the earth and the sun. Look at the size of the space station relative to the earth at only 220 miles away, and then compare it to the size of the shuttle against the backdrop of the sun at significantly more than 93 million miles away. Do you know that it would take the space shuttle approximately 221.5 days to get to the sun (if it were able to actually get that close) traveling at its top speed of 17,500 miles an hour? If you’re still not fascinated, I give up!

Oh, by the way, I’d like to remind you that this masterpiece of creation was suspended in space by our God, Who, the Bible tells me, holds the waters of the seas in the palm of His hand. Bet you’re fascinated now!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Will Make You A Great Nation

I was recently reading an Old Testament Bible story that has spoken volumes to me over the years. It’s the story of Abram and Isaac in Genesis 22: 1-18. In case your recollection is fuzzy, this was before he became the great progenitor, as, at this time his only progeny was Isaac. The primary problem facing him though, was the fact that God had apparently instructed him to kill Isaac, thereby removing the only source of his becoming a great progenitor. This story has always motivated me to ask certain questions about Abrams psyche and emotional struggle as he walked this dark road from which there was seemingly no escape. Here are some of my questions (and by all means please feel free to add some of your own):

  • What motivated Abram to action, even to the point of being willing to kill his own son, for whom he had waited so many years?
  • What did he say to his son to convince him that it was okay to let his own father kill him with a knife? (Bear in mind the Scriptures tell us he placed Isaac on the altar and lifted the knife ready to kill him. No where does it suggest or state that Isaac resisted or that Abram drugged him so that he was in a coma)
  • What made Abram so certain that he had heard God’s voice?The truth is we can only speculate as to the answers to these questions.

What we do know for certain however is where and how it all began. In Genesis 12: 2 God declares to Abram, “I will make you into a great nation.” However Abram chose to interpret the fulfillment of that promise, it was the one thing he held onto in the midst of his greatest crisis. When all else fails, only one thing stands sure in the midst of the uncertainty: His promises. Abram knew that God’s word was surer than money in the bank (or cattle on the range), and he wasn’t about to doubt God’s promise of making him a great nation. Whatever that looked like to Abram at the time of receiving the promise, I’m sure it didn’t entail his son on a sacrificial altar.

But he did it anyway!

When life seems so uncertain, you must simplify and go back to the beginning, so that the pain and anguish don’t speak louder than the promise. Do you really believe that it was easy for Abram to lift a knife against his beloved son? Abram’s obedience was a direct result of his confidence in God’s sovereignty, and so he obeyed God’s instructions even when they didn’t seem to make sense to his natural inclinations. You know the rest of the story: God provided a sacrificial lamb (Lamb) in place of Isaac, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, who became the father of the twelve sons who became the nation of Israel. “I will make you into a great nation,” God had said, and that’s exactly what He did.

Monday, May 25, 2009

For those about to die...

For those about to die... we salute you! For those who have given their lives... we thank you! To the One who gave it all... we worship You!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Michael Vick-torious... or is he?

Why do we do it? Is it because it makes us feel better about ourselves and our own human flaws? Or maybe it’s because we secretly pray for the downfall of those who are doing better than we are… Oops, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there! I was just having a conversation in my head (don’t worry, there’s just one voice) about Michael Vick and the unrelenting press coverage of every waking moment of his life. Enough already!!! As I was saying, I wonder why we think we have a right to dictate and determine, or even express an opinion about people’s future simply because they live in a glass house. It’s not as if Vick’s life is set up for the sole purpose of providing entertainment for the couch potato who lives vicariously through the professional athlete.

There are polls as to whether or not he should be given a free pass back into the NFL or whether he should serve a suspension for a few games, and then be given a free pass. Who cares? No really, who cares? I sure don’t, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think you should either. I’m just glad those poor dogs found homes were they were more than just the next Neanderthal side-show. It’s really not up to us whether or not Vick plays in the NFL again (nor should it be), and in fact, whether or not he does won’t change the games I watch this season. More so than whether or not he’s reinstated into the NFL is whether Michael Vick, this time around, makes the right choices for his family. He has two little kids that need a father around who will be a great role model and bequeath a good legacy, as opposed to lots of NFL dollars.

Hopefully he’s learned that fair weather friends are just that: fair weather friends! They only stick around when the goings good. Hopefully he’s learned that money doesn’t buy good behavior. Hopefully he’s learned that being a pro-athlete doesn’t entitle you to any more than it does “Joe Bloggs” next door. If Vick can adequately demonstrate that he’s learned these and other valuable lessons about living life with boundaries, then whether he’s immediately reinstated into the NFL or serves an ‘umpteen-game’ suspension, he’ll still be Vick-torious!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And I quote: Words of wisdom from lives well lived!

I’ve been thinking lately about a few random quotes that I’ve either read, heard, or seen in a movie, which really impacted my life in a significant way. Below are a few of them. Can you think of any quotes that made a lasting impression on you?

When you can’t save them all, how do you choose who lives? – The Guardian

…I take the first one I come to, or the weakest one in the group, and then I swim as fast as I can… - The Guardian

He’s the Fisher of men. A last hope for all those who’ve been left behind. He’s the Guardian. – The Guardian

We may not be able to change the world with one act of kindness or generosity, but we can tilt it in the right direction. – Erwin McManus

People don’t argue with love in action. We are accountable to the world for how we portray Christ and consequently what they believe about him. – Ravi Zacharias

Sometimes a man finds his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. - The International

Sometimes the most difficult decision is, knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn. - The International

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Inatentional Blindness... the more you look the less you see!

I’ve talked before about a concept that I refer to as inatentional blindness. This is simply a term describing the idea of a loss of fascination with things that are ordinarily fascinating. This loss of fascination resulting from things becoming so familiar that we cease to notice them is often the bane of humanity. For instance, when’s the last time you were fascinated by the idea of the earth revolving around the sun while rotating on its axis? Exactly! That’s my point. Now consider this: The earth, according to Isaac Asimov’s accepted calculations, revolves around the sun at a speed of 18.5 miles per second which is 66,600 miles per hour, while rotating on its axis doing one full rotation every 24 hours (It’s literally enough to make your head spin). By comparison the fastest jet plane in the world is reportedly the SR-71 Blackbird, which flies at Mach 3.3 (or 3.3 times the speed of sound in air) which is 2,460.64 miles per hour.

In order to fly this supersonic aircraft, you’re required to wear special gear that prevents you from passing out due to the gravitational forces acting on your body (G-forces). You can find information about the SR-71 just about anywhere on the internet, largely because human flight at such supersonic speeds still holds a particular fascination for us. In reality though, it’s a miniscule feat considering we’re all riding on a planet that’s traveling at 66,600mph (and that without specialized suits). Or how about the idea that, as you read this, there are people walking in space orbit at about 380 miles above us, wearing specialized suits that cost millions of dollars, which prevent them from vaporizing in the unforgiving atmosphere of space. In addition, the precision of the mathematical algorithms that are required, to ensure that the astronauts are able to enter back into earth’s orbit at precisely the right angle so as not to bounce off the earth’s atmosphere and be lost in space forever, are mind boggling. But we have become inattentive to this and now take it all for granted. Hardly anyone even pays attention to the fact that we have people walking in space above us working on a telescope that can transmit precise and detailed images of coruscating stars that are millions of miles away.

Is it remotely possible that we might have done the same with God? Is it potentially possible that we have lost our fascination for the amazing act of love demonstrated in Jesus dying on a cross? Could we have begun to take for granted the fact that the One who holds the waters of the sea in the palm of His hands is the same one that calls us His own. Or are we blinded to the fact that the creator of the heavens and the earth (the One responsible for revolutions and rotations and coruscating stars) is actually our Father? If we are, it’s as a result of inatentional blindness. We’ve stopped seeing the wonder of His love and creation and, like we do with the astronauts walking 380 miles above us, we take Him for granted. If, as you read this, you can honestly say that shoe fits you… don’t wear it. Take it off and fall in love all over again with the Lover of your soul. Determine that from today you will give Him your full and undivided attention, so that you can again be fascinated by the wonders of His love and creation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Boombox Christians in an Ipod age

Every church age has its critics. When the church was birthed on the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the Disciples were accused of being inebriated. The people observing them couldn’t understand the phenomenon of unlearned tongues being spoken by unlearned men. “What is this new doctrine?” the people asked. Through the ages people have always tried to build “sacred cows” and attribute more value to them than the actual message of the Gospel. Consider music as an example. 19th century Christians were convinced that hymns and the pipe organ were what brought down the ‘anointing’ of God. As the century turned people began to introduce guitars, drums, keyboards and other modern instruments into worship. A segment of the church called this heretical and declared that God could not be honored by this wanton display of ‘worldliness.’

The method was assigned as much value as the message and many people were convinced that the Christian subculture needed to stay away from anything that smelled remotely secular in its application. It never occurred to these people that as generations pass, the value of our message is strengthened by the vehicle that’s used to convey it. Relevant is not a four letter word, contrary to the opinion of many of the so called ‘purists.’ Can you imagine applying for a job in today’s world and when asked if you have any computer skills you reply “No, but I’ve got great typewriter skills.” Your typewriter skills are useless in a world that’s run by microchips and ipods. You may indeed have superior knowledge and abilities, but without the relevant vehicle to convey your skills, they are redundant. It's tantamount to being a boombox Christian in an ipod age.

The message of the Cross is timeless. However, we are not! This means that the methods that worked when our fathers were preaching the Gospel are by no means sacrosanct. One of the critical values for a church that’s trying to impact their community is the ability to speak the language of the people they’re trying to reach. Like many others who are questioning the effectiveness of our methods of ‘doing church’ and consequently challenging the status quo, I have faced my own fair share of criticism. I’ve been called seeker-sensitive, emergent, watered-down, and numerous other monikers that were not meant to be complimentary. I choose to interpret them as compliments. Jesus said He came to seek and save those who are lost. I guess that makes Him seeker sensitive and puts me squarely in the midst of phenomenal company.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Here's what's happening in our world... (Another open letter to Mr. and Mrs. Christian)

Dear Cousin Christian,

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you regarding the state of our world. At times I feel like throwing my hands up in exasperation and declaring loudly to the world that we’ve failed. Who’s “we” you ask? I’m talking about you and I. Us. We who claim to be Christ’s representatives on earth to a hurting world, that’s who “we” is. Have you looked around lately? No, I mean really looked? No? Well here’s what’s happening in our world even as we purchase our Venti Vanilla/ Carmel Macchiatos. Here’s what’s going on while we revel in our acute global nescience.

Taliban fighters have stormed and taken over the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Their objective: Convert the entire valley to Sharia law whether they like it or not. Their methods: Torture, rape, murder, and wanton destruction. According to Hajji Karim, a 55-year-old bus driver, when the Taliban fighters first entered his village last month, they said they had come to bring peace and Islamic law. The next day two of the fighters attempted to slit the throat of a policeman. Karim’s conclusion: “What sort of people have come here? And what kind of Sharia is this? Cutting off people’s heads has nothing to do with Islam. The people are filled with great rage, and great fear.” Sher Mohammed, a property dealer, stated “I feel like I have lost my mind, I work hard to make a respectable life and educate my children. Now we are living in a camp, and my sons are talking of guns.” This, my friends, is the real world. The world into which Jesus sent us as lambs among wolves. While the Taliban enervate the people of the Swat Valley, we act as if the biggest problem in the world is the fact that the US economy is unstable, and consequently might affect our ability to upgrade our lifestyles.

Here’s one final snapshot from the relief agency office in Islamabad. On Wednesday, two teenage sisters huddled on a flour sack next to a few cooking pots, covering their faces with veils. They had fled their village four days earlier after their father was warned that the Taliban were coming. “I don’t know what the Taliban are, but everyone was very afraid. I am very worried because my father went back to get my brothers, and we don’t know what happened to him” said one of the girls. How devastating is that? This is not some temporary separation caused by an airline foul-up, this is real life tragedy. So, cousin, incase you’re wondering why I think it’s important that you know this, here’s why: A spokesperson for a private relief agency based in Swat said, “People in Swat are angry and confused… we are trying to provide them with decent shelter and support, but we need more help so they won’t fall into Taliban hands.” What can you do? You can go, you can give, and you can pray. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves…”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The bottom line is...

“They know I am gay. I don’t know if I am going to be killed, this is up to God…” stated Moyad matter-of-factly. Moyad is a 38-year-old homosexual Iraqi. “My friend Ahmed, from the neighborhood of Zafaraniya, was killed by his family for looking like a female. Those commandos tell the families to kill them or else they will kill them. I expect that my own brother might lead these guys to kill me” Moyad further stated. Moyad’s story is the story of many people living an alternate lifestyle in post-Saddam Iraq, but it is not a new story, it’s just more publicly acknowledged now that there is more freedom of expression in that part of the world. This is the bane of freedom. You are free to make choices that may ultimately lead to your demise. As Christ followers we often talk about being set free from the bondage of sin, but the reality is that this new found freedom makes us even more aware of our propensity for evil, and consequently the need to navigate our freedom wisely.

Part of wisely navigating our freedom is being able to love people compassionately and unconditionally, understanding that we are free simply because of the grace and mercy of God. Sadly for Moyad, that is not the case, at least not as far as his family is concerned. He fully expects that his own brother will ‘sell him out’ to the people hunting him because of his lifestyle choices. Moyad actually believes that it’s solely up to God whether or not he is killed. Evidently he doesn’t believe in cause and effect and therefore sees no correlation between his choices and the possible outcome. Amazingly, in response to the story from which Moyad’s above quotes were taken, I read the following comments:

“Thanks George W. Bush for returning Iraq to the Dark Ages.”
“This is why I really don’t care for this part of the world. Such blind stupidity and ignorance.”

Seriously??? It’s George Bush’s fault that gays are being hunted down and killed in Iraq? How infantile is that sort of reasoning?! Does the writer actually believe that these murders only began after the ousting of Saddam Hussein? That would be like blaming the minister of transportation for every road death that occurs from speeding. That would be like adding two plus two and coming up with five. Where on earth do such people emerge from, that positions them to reason so poorly? And the other comment suggests that it’s blind stupidity and ignorance that motivates such actions and that’s why he/she doesn’t care for that part of the world. I guess they’ll have to hate America too then, because serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer who literally disemboweled and ate his victims reside here. When all is said and done we really need to be about compassionate prayer and a helping hand, so that guys like Moyad are made aware that there are people who really do care about them whatever lifestyle choices they may make.