Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2013

Hi there. It's the end of 2012 and one of my favorite things to do is make a list of the movies that I'm most looking forward to next year. Unfortunately, 2013 has big shoes to fill because I'm not sure that I'm looking forward to any of these movies as much as I was "The Dark Knight Rises" or "The Avengers" but it's still a solid enough of a list that I've decided to expand it to 10 movies this year. I'll focus on my top 5 but I'll still give a mention to the rest of 6-10.

My list last year (Brave, Hunger Games, Avengers, Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises) was pretty solid. I'd say that now that I've seen Skyfall that it probably should have been above Brave on my list but I've made mistakes on this list before and I'm probably bound to do so again.

Finally, I'm pretty sure that normally I count down to the top movie on my list but I'll try just starting with #1 and going from there....

1. Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17th)

I don't know that I qualify as a "Trekkie" as I have never dressed up as a Klingon or gone to a convention in my life but I am a life-long Star Trek fan. I'm also a JJ Abrams fan (LOST) and his first Star Trek movie in 2009 was fantastic. It's not very often that I recommend a movie to everyone I talk to regardless of what their tastes in movies is but the original seemed to be enjoyable to a lot larger of a group than some of the older Star Trek movies. I'm excited to see the Enterprise flying underwater and how they continue to show Captain Kirk evolve as a leader.

2. Man of Steel (June 14th)

I love comic book movies but this one looks particularly good. Both of the trailers they've released have had a great tone to them. I'm sure it helps that it's being produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) but I think they could actually make me care about a guy whose only weakness is a glowing green rock. (I kid, I kid) I've always liked Superman but the key to a good comic book story is what they have to overcome and Superman seems to have most of his life in order. I think this movie could be a chance to show Superman having to overcome something more than a guy who wants to break California off of the rest of the USA.

3. Monsters University (June 21st)

I love Pixar movies. Really, I do. "Brave" made my list last year and it was probably the most forgettable Pixar movie I've seen. Monsters Inc was one of my favorite Pixar movies of all time though. I still remember going to see it for my birthday and not caring that I was surrounded by children much younger than I because I knew that the movie was going to be fantastic. It's still a movie that I can pop into the DVD player pretty much anytime and enjoy. The beauty of the movie is that it created an entire universe full of stuff worth exploring so I'm excited to see more of this monster world and it helps that Billy Crystal and John Goodman are fantastic together.

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December 13th)
(There's no trailer yet. I'll edit it down the road when they finally do release one. I'll give them a break, the first one just came out)

The first of three movies based on "The Hobbit" was a movie that I put near the top of my 2012 list. By the time that it came out, I wasn't sure that this movie would make the top 5. It had less to do with the trailers or reviews of the movie as it had to do with the fact that I was discouraged that they would take a small book and turn it into three movies. (a la Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter) I knew that they were adding to the story but it reeked of tricking me into going to the movie theater multiple times just because they knew that I wouldn't skip parts of a large story. I went into the first movie with lowered expectations and came out pleased. It was entertaining and kept me interested in its own right, not on the basis of me missing the Lord of the Rings movies. It did seem slowly paced and drawn out in some areas so that is keeping me from being too excited about this one but they have me interested in their characters so now they've got me hooked to go along for the rest of the ride. (See the movie studio's evil plan)

5. Iron Man 3 (May 3rd)

I'll admit that when I saw the first Iron Man movie I enjoyed it but my favorite part was the trailer for The Dark Knight. (My favorite part of the Hobbit may have been the 9 minute trailer of Star Trek Into Darkness) I am excited to see how they go with Iron Man's story "post-Avengers" because it will easily be boring to have Iron Man take on some angry guy after he just joined up with multiple other superheroes to defeat an alien army.

And the rest...

6. Saving Mr. Banks (December 20th)
Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney as he tries to convince the author of Mary Poppins to allow him to make her book into a movie. I won't spoil the ending for you...

7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22nd)
I was really excited about the first one and then slightly disappointed by the actual movie. I'm more excited that the screenwriter of Toy Story 3 and the upcoming Star Wars movies is tackling this one so I'm inclined to give them another chance. Hopefully less shaky camera work...

8. The Wolverine (July 26th)
The sequel to the 2009 movie that was not good at all. Wolverine is cool enough to check this one out though. Plus it takes place in Japan.

9. Despicable Me 2 (July 3rd)
The first one was solid. I'm not sure where they'll go with the story (he's not despicable anymore!) but the minions alone are worth the movie ticket.

10. Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8th)
Normally I'd be opposed to a sequel to a classic movie but The Wizard is an interesting character so I'm excited to see the story of his background.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Finding the Joy in Voting

There is something to be said about the ability of a nation being able to freely choose its leaders. Tomorrow, millions of Americans will go to the polls and make their choice. Depending on who you support, the resulting choice of the nation could be good or bad but it will be our choice.

Americans do not have a monopoly on free elections.

We didn't even invent them.

We should take joy in the fact that we have them though.

It can be easy when you've lived here for your whole life or if you've seen how Americans can be seen from the outside to minimize the privileges and rights that we have. I understand that. The constant political ads alone would be enough to make a person cynical. It doesn't help that it often gets couched in language like "duty" or "responsibility" instead of "privilege" or "blessing."

We can look to those who have not had these privileges for nearly as long to see the joy connected to this freedom...

I still remember watching the excitement of the people of Iraq finally able to make their voice heard. No longer would a dictator use their country as his personal labor force. No longer would a dictator use bioweapons on his own people. These were their leaders. This was their choice.

(Maybe it'd help if we used ink rather than those stickers when we vote.)

It's somewhat discouraged by many to do so but I have no problem in sharing who I voted for (I voted absentee) because hopefully we, as Americans, can agree or disagree peacefully and respectfully.

I voted for the same man that I voted for in the primary election because I believe that he has the experience and leadership skills to help turn the American economy around, Mitt Romney.

There's probably a few of you who are tempted to stop reading right now. I share my choice for a specific reason, not because I expect this blog post to convince you to vote a certain way but because caring enough about your choice to let other people know about it is part of finding joy in voting.

Over the past few months, a group of supporters of President Obama have been coming to Panera Bread on Monday nights. They each have a list of mostly older folks in Iowa and spend a few hours calling them, telling them how they can vote absentee or early. They also ask them to consider supporting the President. I've worked almost every Monday night since I've started at Panera so I've gotten to know quite a few of these people. I'm always surprised at the friendliness, genuineness and ability to keep calling even after getting hung up on multiple times. I've often said that if their candidate wasn't so far away from my values on a few key issues, they might have persuaded me to switch my vote.

The thing that makes me the most excited about this group of people is that they not only have the ability to freely choose who they want to be our leader, they are engaged enough to try and convince others to do the same. As annoying as some of the debate on Facebook could be, people were really just displaying that same passion for their candidate. I can't blame them for passion (even if they could use tact.)

Don't get me wrong. Elections have consequences. A few Supreme Court seats will hang on Tuesday's result. The steps taken to lead America to a stronger economy would be very different between the candidates. The choice is yours.

At the end of Tuesday night, however, one of our candidates will have been chosen...

By US.

And regardless of the results, we should come together as Americans to celebrate the blessing of being able to make that choice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Change of Plans Part II: Back to the Future

I'm moving again. Back to Chicago. On September 1st.

I just finished reading my original "Change of Plans" post and saw that I wrote with the intention of only being back in Michigan until the Fall so I guess this really shouldn't come as a big surprise but it does feel dramatically different. I appreciate the support and prayer of those who have an interest in my and since people don't usually move to different states as often as I have done recently so I thought this post with help with any motion sickness incurred while trying to follow my journey in life.

So yes, I'll be back in Chicago but this time I'll be in the city. I really liked a lot of my experience last Fall living in the suburbs of Chicago but even then I found myself longing to be back in the city. I think it might have been that I was so close to the city but still not in it. It was strange because I didn't feel that same way necessarily while I've been living here in Michigan. Yes, it was really hard to leave people like Jon and Jill Huff, Emily Logan, Michael Jordan and Rahm Emanuel but I'm also really thankful for the past 8 months that I've been back home.

As for the specific place to leave, my good friends Jon and Jill have been tremendous in connecting me with someone from their church who was looking for a roommate. The apartment is almost fully furnished (only my bedroom is empty... and even a bed has been graciously provided) and it's in a nice neighborhood with families and most importantly, plenty of places to park. (I'm terrible at fitting my car into tight parallel parking spaces.) God has really worked it out in ways that I wouldn't have imagined.

Another sign of God's grace is that like He provided during my move to Michigan, I have a job to start as soon as I get there. It's (once again) at Panera Bread. ;) This position is for 25% more than I was making here in Michigan though so it should go a lot longer towards being able to pay my bills. Even if it might not be ideal, I don't mind working at Panera for awhile longer though because it's all part of the process of moving towards the bigger goal of finishing grad school and working in vocational ministry.

As for school, my plan is to head back to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (north of the city) in January. The place I'll be living is farther away from the school in actual distance but will be about the same time commitment because I'm right next to a major highway. It'll still be a stretch to pay for financially, even with the pay raise, but after looking at other options for grad school in the area I realized that I wasn't excited about any of the other programs that I was looking at. I could go to some other schools, good schools, and it'd be cheaper. I don't want to walk away when I'm finished with just a piece of paper though. I want to be able to look back and say that my time at school was as beneficial as possible to future time spend in vocational ministry.

God has been so gracious in providing somewhere to live, a job, friends nearby that I believe that He'll provide the ability to pay for this education as well.

In my blog post about moving back to Michigan I wrote that the top two motivators of moving me back home were money and church. I probably didn't save as well as I could have while I was home but I didn't go into debt and I learned the necessity of having (and keeping) a budget. As for my church, I believe that God had me home to physically be with my church during this time. Over the past few months I was able to see the fruit of all of the hard work of putting together our Saturday evening service. I was able to really connect and be mentored by church leadership. More than that, though, was seeing my church come together in difficulty. As painful as that difficulty has been, I've seen God's active hand in these people and in the ministry there. Even though I'll be another city, a part of my heart and my prayers will remain there with them.

Even in the area of finding a church, though, God has provided. The church that number those close to me call home is right down the road from where I'll be living. Mayfair Bible Church is a solid, small church that I believe will provide me with the opportunity to use my gifts and my calling for God's glory. I've visited there on numerous occasions in the past but I am excited at the prospect of planting myself there for this season of time. I may need to get involved with a parachurch organization as well in order to be able to use my gifts to minister to youth but this church has an incredible support system consisting of prayer and genuine relationships.

I'm not sure when "Change of Plans Part III" will come but I've seen God's evident hand in bringing these things together and I'm excited to see where He takes me on this stage of my journey.

"In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."- Proverbs 3:6

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Actually, God might give you more than you can handle...

There's a common misconception with many Christians that "God won't give you more than you can handle." This misconception can be seen on Facebook walls, Pinterest... pinning boards (I'm still not sure how Pinterest works) and in Christian music. It seems like there's not a day that goes by without hearing one song in particular whose chorus includes the phrase "... just believe what he said. He said I won't give you more, more than you can take and I might let you bend, but I won't let you break..."

The song is very catchy. It's also really wrong. The passage of Scripture that people tend to appeal to for this idea is usually 1 Corinthians 10:13b "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." It's important, however, to look at context. No verse is an island and so we have to look at what is actually being said in the verses around that phrase to figure out what it actually means.

1 Corinthians 10 is talking about the example provided by the Israelites and their history. They had Moses leading them, they saw God provide escape through the Red Sea and yet almost none of that original generation made it into the promise land. They all fell to sin. Paul then tells the Corinthians that this was a warning provided to them not to fall into sin themselves. The temptation to sin is prevalent in the life of every believer and the Corinthians needed to be aware. They had hope, however, because he includes the promise that they would not be tempted beyond what they could bear. The following verse clears up any misunderstanding "he will also provide a way out so you can endure it."

This passage was clearly talking about how God will not let us be tempted into sin beyond what we can bear. As believers we never have to sin. (Romans 6) God promises that since we are dead to sin that He will always provide an opportunity to not sin in a situation. We don't have the ability to claim that "the devil made me do it." We won't always be successful but that's why we have the Holy Spirit who aids us in our spiritual growth (sanctification). This passage does not apply, then, to the idea that hardships in life will not be overbearing. I don't think that idea rings true to our actual life experience and it gives the idea that either God has misidentified our strength or that we are failures because we are not going through life with a constant smile.

Why does this difference in understanding 1 Corinthians 10 matter? It matters because the idea that "God will never give us more difficulties than we can handle" only promotes the idea that we are capable in and of ourselves to handle whatever situation we're struggling through. The truth of the matter is that God often gives people more than they can handle because it's in that struggle that we realize it is only in Christ that we can find refuge and strength to endure.

We can see this in Scripture. Recently, I've spent time in Psalm 13, a passage that demonstrates a little more clearly what life was like for David when he was given hardship beyond what he could deal with:

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts 
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD's praise,
for he has been good to me.

David clearly seemed at the end of himself. It is at the end of ourselves, though, that we see that God is the one who delivers. Sometimes His Salvation comes in the form of deliverance from the difficulty and suffering that we're facing. Other times, we are kept in that suffering because even though we may never understand it, our suffering brings God more glory. What we can count on is a God who loves us and who desires for us to grow in our sanctification and our love for Him. Instead of clinging to the lyrics that He "might let you bend, but he won't let you break", it might be better if we sought out these lyrics instead:

Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for
Brokenness is what I need
Brokenness is what you want from me

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To yours, to yours, oh Lord.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

3 reasons my single friends need not be depressed today...

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays that different people celebrate in different ways. Some buy flowers or chocolate or go out to dinner with the one they love. Others "celebrate" by wallowing in self-pity. Most (though not all) of those wallowing in self-pity are single. I thought I'd try and help out by offering a few reasons to avoid being depressed during Valentine's Day this year...

Reason #1- You don't see anyone despairing over the lack of a secretary to appreciate on "Secretary Appreciation Day"...

Reason #2- Statistics show that 100% of married people were single at one point in their lives. (Arranged marriages from birth were treated as outliers.)

Reason #3- Singleness is not a curse, burden or a phase to grow out of. It is simply a part of the place in life God has put you to best work in and through you. Singleness does not define you.

1 Corinthians 8:17a "Nevertheless each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them."