Let’s Watch: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

mrrogersLast night, my wife and I had the chance to watch the 2019 film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Starring Tom Hanks as the iconic Mr. Rogers, the movie presents a troubled journalist, Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys) who is assigned a piece on the famous children’s TV show host. Although Vogel is known for his ruthless writing style, his interactions with Mr. Rogers begin to soften, expose and heal him and his broken family relationships. In the end, the thing that stands out most in the movie is the overwhelming kindness and generosity of Mr. Rogers. From his warm welcome of others to his nurturing words to his willingness to befriend those who are difficult to love, Mr. Rogers is presented in the movie as the good neighbor that all of us should aspire to be. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t present Mr. Rogers as a perfect character, but it does show him as a man who worked incredibly hard to be truly friendly to others.

Seeing kindness embodied like that inspires me. It makes me want to treat each person I meet as one who is made in the image of God. It makes me want to spend more time listening to people and asking good questions instead of just thinking about what I can say next. It makes me want to be a good neighbor to others, particularly those who are difficult to love.

However, I know that I cannot do that through sheer moral willpower. If there is any major fault in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it’s that it didn’t spend enough time exploring the spiritual underpinnings of Mr. Rogers’ kindness and generosity of spirit. Sure, it nodded to his regular reading of the Scriptures, praying for people by name and occasionally has him referring to God, but it all feels somewhat secondary to the amount of effort Mr. Rogers’ put into loving others.

Yes, loving others is costly, hard work. It takes self-control and a willingness to consistently put others first. But as a follower of Jesus (which is what I understand Mr. Rogers to be), love for others isn’t just a byproduct of our effort, but is first and foremost, the fruit of God’s work in us. As 1 John 4:19 reminds, “We love because he first loved us.” For Christ-followers, it is because of the kindness, the generosity, the lavish, welcoming love of God, that we can love anyone. Because the Father sent Jesus into our broken world, because Jesus was willing to lay His perfect life down for our guilty ones, because the Spirit regenerates and empowers every believer, we not only have the inspiration, but also the spiritual wherewithal to be kind to others. For in loving each person we meet, we are not just trying hard to be nice, but we are also putting on the display once again the glorious Gospel of grace for all the world to see.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:1-2


Let’s Read: Lord of the Rings

The ShireI recently finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. What a literary masterpiece! To my shame, I’d never actually read the entire trilogy all the way through. However, for whatever reason, I decided to pick up my copy of the trilogy again in 2019, and I’m so glad I did so. I love Tolkien’s ability to create an entire world to immerse yourself in, complete with its own history, races, places, characters and even songs. More than that, I love how Tolkien interweaves truth, goodness and beauty into his story. In this post, I simply to want to share one part of the story that struck a chord with me.

At the very end of his epic saga, in Return of the King, Tolkien has the four hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, return to their beloved Shire. Yet the Shire is anything but welcoming to these heroic hobbits. Instead, led by the defeated, but still spiteful Saruman, bands of ruffians have turned the Shire upside-down. Not only have they erected ugly buildings and contaminated the land, but they’ve also brutalized the local hobbits and keep them subdued with loads of rules and threats. The formerly idyllic Shire has become a dreary, deteriorating prison.

Yet, the four hobbits who have journeyed far and battled hard are undaunted. They know the Ring has been destroyed. They know Sauron and his minions have been thoroughly defeated. They know that King Aragon is on his rightful throne. And these undeniable facts give them courage and hope. The Shire is not what is should be, but it can be rescued and renewed. So, with mercy and tenacity, the hobbits and their local comrades band together and fight back. The ruffians are either killed, captured or sent fleeing. Saruman also comes to a grizzly end at the hands of his wretched servant, Wormtongue. In the end, the clever hobbits are victorious, and the Shire is saved.

Now, all of this makes for a wonderful yarn at the end of an already epic story. However, I’ve often wondered why it was part of the story at all. Why didn’t Tolkien just end the story with the Ring being destroyed, the forces of Sauron being defeated and the Fellowship of the Ring being honored for their gallant deeds? Why not end the story with Frodo and Sam venturing back into their beloved Shire and finding it as peaceful and refreshing as they had dreamed? Why not roll credits right there? Tolkien could have taken that narrative route, but I’m glad he didn’t. Instead, by ending the story the way he did, he conveyed even more truth about the world we live in.

In sending the hobbits back to a scared, suffocating Shire, Tolkien reminds us that the presence of sin and evil in the world stretches to every corner of God’s good creation. No part of Middle Earth was unaffected – and no part of our world has been left untainted by the unholy invasion of sin. Since the Fall, Romans 8:22 reminds us that “…the whole creation has been groaning together…” This world – and the people in it – is not what it supposed to be like. There is no place, there is no job, there is no hobby, there is no church, there is no marriage, there is no family, there is no human heart where sin is not present and insidiously working to dismantle everything good God has made. And this remains true even when we know the King is on the throne!

For instance, even though the hobbits know that the decisive battle has been won, even though Aragon, the rightful king rules, it doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a war going on. It doesn’t mean that there is not a very real enemy like Saruman who seeks to disrupt, dishearten and destroy as much as he can with the time that he has left. In the same way, in our world, even though Jesus won the decisive victory at the Cross and gloriously overcame the grave, even though He ascended and rules on high, it doesn’t mean that Satan is suddenly a harmless kitten. No, 1 Peter 5:8 describes him as a prowling around like a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Certainly, those who know Jesus as King and have been rescued by His blood are secure in Him (John 6:39), but like the hobbits in Tolkien’s tale, we must still be watchful. We must vigilant. By the Spirit’s power and through the careful wielding of His Word, we must courageously stand and resist the advances of sin and evil in our lives, even in those places where we might least expect it. More than that, we must actively choose to be agents, not of corruption, but of Gospel healing and redemption in a world that so desperately needs it.

In the end, praise God that our ultimate hope does not rest on our ability to eradicate sin, but rather on His. Our sure hope as Christ-followers is found in the One who has already defeated Satan, sin and death by the perfect, atoning sacrifice of Himself. Yes, Jesus is the One who even now is actively carrying out His redemptive purposes in this broken, but still beautiful world. Jesus is the King who reigns over all and will return, in the words of Sam Gamgee, to make everything sad come untrue. So, until that glorious day, let us fight the good fight. Let us finish the race. Let us keep the faith. For one day, with all the saints, we will surely experience in fullness the happy “ending” we’ve always longed for.

Four Goals for 2020

goalsWith a new year kicking off, here are a few goals I’m focusing on this year:

  • Read the Bible more – I’ve been sensing a need to spend more time in the Word. My goal is to utilize the 5-day Bible Reading Program. I like how this plan pushes me to read both in the OT and NT (w/ some Psalms mixed in), but also gives me a couple of days per week to catch up. Also, on my “off-days,” I’m hoping to dig a little deeper into Scripture by slowly working through a Gospel-centered Bible study. I’m looking to start the year off using this 12-week study of 1 Corinthians by Jay Thomas. Hopefully, these plans will allow me to be in the Bible more this year, reading more widely and deeply in God’s holy Word.
  • Write more – For a few years, I have been itching to write more. I’ve dabbled in writing articles online, but I’m always drawn back to writing on this blog. I like the freedom of being able to write what I want when I want. However, since the internet is littered with dead blogs, I realize that if I don’t discipline myself to write, I never will. So, this year, I’m purposing to spend some time a few days a week after my boys go to bed sitting in my chair and doing some writing (or editing). I’m in no way committing to writing a certain number of articles per week or month. Rather, I just want to spend a few minutes each day collecting, clarifying and articulating my thoughts. Although I’d like to wander in the pastures of poetry and short stories once more, I’ll probably spend most of my writing energies this year reflecting on what I’m engaging with lately. More than anything, I want the habit of writing to help me actively think and not simply passively engage the world around me.
  • Stretch more – Some recent physical ailments have reminded me that I’m no spring chicken. I can’t simply head to the gym, hop on the treadmill and pound out the miles. I need to warm up. I need to stretch. I’m hoping to utilize the free workouts on Fitness Blender to help get more flexible in 2020. My muscles will thank me later.
  • Hone a new skill/craft – In his insightful 2019 book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy Word, Cal Newport calls us to “reclaim leisure” with three lessons: 1) “Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption,” 2) “Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world,” 3) “Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.” Instead of simply doing the same old leisure activity over and over (as fun as it might be), mix it up. Try something new. Attempt to not simply consume, but produce. So, in 2020, to reclaim a little bit of my leisure time, my wife and I are planning on designing, building and cultivating a raised garden bed in our back-yard. Not only will this save us some money in the budget, but it will also be a great way for my wife and I to work together and produce something of value for our home. I’m looking forward to seeing what I learn along the way and seeing what God teaches me as I seek to cultivate the ground He has made.

So, there you have it. Four goals for 2020. I’m hoping to post updates at least on a quarterly basis to track my progress.

Finally, I’d also love to hear about your goals for 2020. What are they and how do plan to go about accomplishing them?

Let’s Play: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Uncharted LogoI recently played Naughty Dog’s 2007 action-adventure game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The game is the first of four Uncharted games made exclusively for the PS4. Having picked up a used PS4 earlier this year, I was eager to dip into this famous series to see what all the fuss was about.

Essentially, the game follows the swashbuckling exploits of Nathan Drake, a modern-day Indiana Jones, who is trying to recover the lost treasure of “El Dorado.” Drake is accompanied by his cigar-toting friend and mentor, Victor Sullivan (a.k.a. “Sully”) and the eager, intrepid journalist, Elena Fisher.

Even though the game came out twelve years ago, the game still holds up for someone like me who isn’t an action-adventure connoisseur. While I could have done with less action (i.e. gun battles) and more adventure (i.e. climbing, exploring, etc.), I found myself increasingly invested in seeing the story through to the end. Would Nathan, Sully and Elena be able to unearth “El Dorado” before the greedy goons got to it first? How would their interactions and relationships develop as the game went along? Would all of them make it out alive?


In the end, the game’s story more than satisfied, and even left me a little surprised at times. However, it’s the character arc of Nathan Drake that’s giving me the most to chew on. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the game, Drake is presented as a cunning, single-minded treasure-hunter. Although Elena’s show funded the expedition to get him even closer to finding the lost treasure of “El Dorado,” Drake has no interest in helping Elena get her big story. In fact, at the encouragement of Sully, he abruptly leaves her in the dust and ventures off with Sully.

However, as the game progresses, Drake begins to change. After Sully gets shot by some ruthless thugs, Drake narrowly escapes and to his surprise, reconnects with the stubborn Elena who followed them. But the loss of Sully leaves Drake shaken. For instance, later in the game, after Drake reconnects with Elena once again after parting her in a plane crash (remember, this is an action-adventure game. There is a lot going on!), Drake argues with Elena about whether they should continue their dangerous treasure hunt. Drake says, “Elena, I don’t need your bullet-riddled corpse on my conscience. Let’s go.” Elena challenges him about quitting, and Drake in exasperation, responds, “(expletive), this is not worth dying over.”


Eventually, Drake and Elena continue their journey and find what they are looking for. Yet the treasure is not what they had hoped for. I won’t ruin the plot for you, but suffice to say, instead of giving them fabulous riches, the “El Dorado” of Uncharted only leads them to the sinister doorstep of death. However, as the story begins to wrap up, Drake rescues Elena and sends “El Dorado” to a watery grave. As they are preparing to leave the wretched island behind, Sully rides up in a motorboat with treasure nabbed from some dead goons. So, it finally looks like Nathan Drake got his treasure after all. However, the trajectory of the narrative gives this golden find a hollow tone. The real treasure isn’t pirate gold. It’s the relationships Drake, Sully and Elena have with each other. To my point, as they ride off into the calm sunset, Drake doesn’t dig his hands into the gold and fling it up into the air. No, he puts his arm around Elena. Sure, Drake is excited about getting the gold, but that almost feels like a throwaway prize after what they’ve been through. The fact that they still have each other and are on to the next adventure – that is what is feels valuable at the end of the game.

Don’t get me wrong. Uncharted 1 is not the most narratively deep or thought-provoking game. It’s a fast and furious treasure-hunting romp. Moreover, there is plenty of objectionable content (thankfully, nothing sexual) that players should be mindful as they play. However, despite all its flaws or over-used tropes, the game nevertheless offers a tidbit of truth worth remembering. In a world where it’s easy to be more focused on earthly treasure and pleasure, there are some things that are just more important. Friendship is a gift from God that should be treasured. Relationships where we give and receive love are worth more than anything that glitters or glows.


In the end, Uncharted 1 reminds me to beware of the fool’s gold of materialism. Everything we own, everything we save up for, everything on our Amazon wishlist will pass away. However, the people around us will last forever. As C.S. Lewis famously put it, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” May God help you and me to treasure the individual people He has put in our lives. Each of them was placed in our lives for a good reason. There is a way to glorify God in how we interact with each person in our lives. Most of all, may God help us to treasure the Person of Jesus Christ, who “though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). What a peerless treasure, what a priceless good is the friendship of God in Christ!











Let’s Watch: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk_Film_posterI just finished watching Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film, Dunkirk. The movie chronicles the massive evacuation operation of over 300,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Here’s a few things that stood out to me:

1) The film follows the stories of three different groups of people: 1) A group of soldiers trying to escape from the beach, 2) The crew of a private yacht sailing to the rescue and 3) Two RAF fighters providing air cover. The movie starts with three separate timelines, but gradually and skillfully, these story threads end up converging in the end.

2) The film’s driving, haunting musical score was truly fantastic. It really added to the suspense and the feeling that time is running out.

3) There was not a lot of dialogue in this film, but there didn’t need to be. It’s an action-oriented film where the evacuation and rescue attempts speak for themselves. Although it would have been helpful to have a little more background on how this disastrous military situation originally developed, I thought the movie did a good job of explaining its plot through the (brief) dialogue of its characters.

4) As someone who has been interested in World War 2 history since childhood, I really appreciated how the movie helped me inhabit the cockpit of a Spitfire or the chaos of a ship that was just torpedoed or the gloomy dread of a beach full of defenseless men about to be attacked by a German dive-bomber. The horrors these men faced was truly terrifying. Dunkirk helped me understand and appreciate their tragic plight better.

5) The message of the movie seems to be that sometimes in a fight, survival is good enough. But there’s nuance to this message. At one point in the movie, some of soldiers from the beach are in the bowels of a discarded ship waiting for the tide to rise so that they can escape the beach. The Germans begin shooting at the ship for target practice. If that’s not bad enough, the tide begins to rise and water begins to pour in through the bullet holes in the ship’s hull. The men quickly determine that they need to lighten the weight in the ship so that it can float. One of them has to go. But who will it be? After a quick interrogation of one particularly quiet soldier, the men realize he is French, not British. A number of the soldiers quickly want to sacrifice this French soldier to German gunfire. If it’s all about survival, then the ends justify the means, right? But not so fast. One of the movie’s central characters agrees that he wants to survive, but he doesn’t want to have to live with the thought that he sacrificed this man’s life. Not all survival is created equal. Doing the right thing even if it costs you your life is worth more than jettisoning your ethics to survive. If I’m understanding the movie correctly, then I would heartily concur. It’s refreshing to see utilitarianism unmasked for the ethical dead-end that it is.

All in all, I’m really glad I watched Dunkirk. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the heroism of so many during World War 2, from soldiers to sailors to fighter pilots to English yacht owners. There is still much we can learn from their courage, their sacrifice, their survival.

Let’s Read: The Battle of the Atlantic by Dimbleby

The Battle of the AtlanticI just finished reading Jonathan Dimbleby’s 2016 book, The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War. Here are a few things that stood out to me from the book:

  1. Dimbleby’s central argument is that the Battle of the Atlantic was far more important to the winning of WW2 than many commonly think. If the Germans would have been able to use their surface fleet and especially their U-Boats to sever the supply convoys from America to Britain, it is entirely possible Britain would have been forced to sue for peace. As it is, Germany didn’t put enough focus on their U-boat fleet and were eventually out-gunned in the Atlantic.
  2. Technological breakthroughs, like improved sonar equipment for the Allies, and tactical improvements, like using long-range bombers along with surface vessels to hunt U-boats, were the key turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic. Ironically, what I have always viewed as the industrially-progressive and tactically savvy German military was simply not able to keep up.
  3. Merchant sailors and their captains are some of the unsung heroes of WW2. These men literally risked their lives to carry needed supplies and food across the vast Atlantic Ocean. At any moment, they could be savagely attacked by a lurking U-boat and if they were not killed in the blast or drowned outright, they would be left to possibly fend for themselves in the chilly ocean miles upon miles from the nearest landfall. Time and time again, Dimbleby helped me to appreciate their courage, their fortitude and their dedication to fulfilling their duty to support the war effort.
  4. The Battle of the Atlantic was a human struggle. It was not fought by automatons blasting each other out of the water. No, flesh and blood human beings with minds and hearts and families fought in that brutal oceanic theater. And this was true on both sides of the conflict – for the Axis as well as the Allies. This comes out in the book several times. For instance, early in the war, U-boat commanders would sometimes signal freighters they were about to sink to give the ship’s crew time to evacuate the boat into life-boats. Then after sinking the freighter, the U-boat would sometimes come alongside the life-boats to provide a little bit of logistical or provisional help. Even though this naval chivalry began to disappear as the war waned on, it was nevertheless a sign that those fought in the Battle of the Atlantic were flawed human beings still made in the image of God with the capacity to show compassion and goodwill.



Only the Good Stuff

I recently came across a podcast called, Only The Good Stuff. It’s hosted by Stephen Altrogge, and the sole focus of the podcast is to interview guests and talk about what they are enjoying. I’ve listened to one of the episodes so far, an interview with popular Christian blogger and author, Tim Challies, and I really enjoyed it. It’s refreshing to hear a podcast that incorporates humor and simple delight in God’s good gifts.

And then I read a post by fellow Christian blogger, Nerd Theist, about his list of “only the good stuff,” and I was inspired. Why couldn’t I create a list of my own good stuff? If I were being interviewed right now, what I would point to?

Well, without further ado, here’s my list of “only the good stuff”:

BooksFinally Alive by John Piper – Recently finished reading this book on what it means to be born again. I appreciated Piper’s exposition of Scripture and his encouragements on evangelism toward the end of the book. Knowing that God is the One who is decisively responsible for the new birth should be highly motivating and encouraging to us in our evangelism.

TVLark Rise to Candleford – My wife and I just finished watching the fourth and final season of this gem of a show. It’s a British drama focused on a cast of characters living toward the end of the 19th century in either a hamlet called, Lark Rise or the more wealthy neighboring town called Candleford. I really grew to love the rich, nuanced characters in this show and the wonderful nuggets of wisdom that some of the characters had to share.

SportsNBA Playoffs – I’m enjoying catching snippets of games here and there. Although I’m not a big fan of regular season NBA basketball, I feel like the intensity gets turned way up in the playoffs. I’m predicting another Cavaliers vs. Warriors re-match. Should be a good one!

MusicSwitchfoot – I’m always listening to Switchfoot. They’re my favorite band by a long-shot. I love their style. I love the lyrics. I love their live shows. I’ve particularly appreciated their 2011 album, Vice Verses, lately, including great songs such as “Restless” and “Where I Belong.”

GameNCAA Football 14 Online Dynasty – My favorite game series of all-time is the now defunct EA Sports series, NCAA Football. The first game I owned in this series was NCAA Football 99, so I’ve been playing this series on and off for over half of my life! Although the series was shut-down due to a legal dispute that EA Sports ran into, I own and continue to play the last edition of the game, NCAA Football 14. Actually, just this year, I started an online dynasty with some of my best friends who live in Ohio. What a blast it’s been! I started out at Toledo, “coached” there for two years and then replaced one my friends when he moved on from his job at Cal. So fun.

Marriage – Working to strengthen one another – I am so grateful for my wife, Melody. There are numerous reasons I could list, but one of the big ones lately has been her aide and accountability in setting new morning patterns for myself. In fact, this blog post is a result of her care for me. She’s encouraged me to set a morning schedule, so that over the course of the average week, I can work-out more regularly, write more regularly and meet with the Lord in His Word each day. Thank-you, dear!

Parenting – Enjoying my boys as they get older – I have the privilege of having two boys under the age of 4. What a joy it is to be their daddy! It’s so fun to come home after a busy day and just focus on wrestling, reading, tickling, etc.

Pastoring – Sex series in HS ministry – I have the privilege of being a youth pastor and helping lead the middle-school and high-school ministries at our church. Recently, I had the HS ministry go through a 3-part sex series, covering things like God’s good design of sex, what is not according to God’s good design for sex and how to live pure in this world. By God’s grace and a bit to my surprise, the series was really well-received, and I sensed the discussions in our HS small groups were really helpful.

AudiobookBattlefront: Twilight Company – I am a big fan of Star Wars. I’ve enjoyed the last two movies, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and I’m looking forward to The Last of the Jedi, set to release this December. In the meantime, I’ve been listening to the 2015 Star Wars audiobook, Battlefront: Twilight Company (written by Alexander Freed; narrated by Jonathan Davis). The book takes you into the trenches of Rebel Alliance’s war against the Empire and helps you understand life and war from the perspective of a Rebel sergeant in the Alliance’s 61st Mobile Infantry, known as Twilight Company. If you like Star Wars and you have a regular commute, then I’d encourage you to pick this audiobook up. The production quality is fantastic, including different voices for different characters, timely audio effects, etc. There’s also a run-in with Darth Vader!

So, that’s what I’ve been enjoying lately. That’s some of the good stuff in my life. What about you?

The Man Behind the Cigar

fidel-castroThis past week, Fidel Castro, the dictator of Cuba for about 47 years, died at the age of 90. When I heard the news, I was watching a football game. The news of this man’s death, one of the most influential people of the 20th century, simply scrolled across the bottom of the screen. And that was it. No breaking news cutaways. No media circus. Just another piece of news to distract me from my chosen entertainment. And yet this was no ordinary man who had died … or was he?

 As I began to read various articles on Castro’s life and legacy, it surprised me to learn that a man like Castro who had so thoroughly trampled upon the liberties of his own people was also a man who had studied law at the University of Havana in the mid-1940’s. In fact, in his famous four-hour 1953 defense speech in court, Castro had even talked about working for the cause of the “vast unredeemed masses to whom all make promises and whom all deceive; we mean the people who yearn for a better, more dignified and more just nation; who are moved by ancestral aspirations of justice, for they have suffered injustice and mockery, generation after generation; who long for great and wise changes in all aspects of their life.” In the same speech, Castro had even declared that “Cuba should be the bulwark of liberty and not a shameful link in the chain of despotism.” And yet the bitter irony is that this student of law, this prosecutor for the poor, became the very one who systematically stripped dignity away from the common Cuban and preserved the shameful chain of despotism in that historic island nation.

If that were not enough, it also amazed me to learn that the man who in 1962 had welcomed the nuclear missiles of Nikita Khruschev and the Soviet Union into his nation and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war was also the same man who years later when asked by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic whether he thought it would still have been logical for the Soviets to bomb the U.S., said, “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.

Again and again, as I read, Castro surprised me. He both worked to improve the education and healthcare of the Cuban people, but also simultaneously crippled them. As  Krishnadev Calamur noted in The Atlantic, even though, Cuba had near universal literacy, “its citizens couldn’t freely read the books they wanted to.” And Kevin Sullivan and J.Y. Smith in the Washington Post noted that while Castro “dispatched ­Cuban-educated doctors and ­Cuban-developed vaccines to the poorest corners of Latin America, Cubans in central Havana found pharmacy shelves empty of medicine, and many lived in apartments in which they used buckets in their kitchens as toilets.”

So, what are we to make of all of this? Isn’t Castro just another ruthless tyrant, an exemplar of evil, a Communist mad-man, a symbol of authoritarian injustice? Yes. A thousand times yes.

But as I briefly surveyed the canvas of Fidel Castro’s life, I also noticed – or better, remembered, that he was a human being, too. A human being made in the image of God, but also sinfully corrupt. A human being who studied and learned. A human being who made decisions and later questioned them. A human being who wanted to do practical good to others – even if it was limited and superficial. A human being who puffed cigars, who loved and was loved, who laughed, who got angry, who adored the aquarium, who was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s husband, someone’s sibling. A human being whose body, once strong, grew weak. A human being whose breath, once regular, expired into deathly silence.

In the end, Fidel Castro, for all of his disgraceful deeds, was a man. Yes, a powerful and influential man. But a mere mortal, nonetheless. And I find this both comforting and sobering.

It is comforting, because in this life, Fidel Castro was not going to live forever. He could only do so much injustice. He could only harm so many people. The allotted period of his life and the boundaries of his dwelling place were established long ago (Acts 17:26). The rule of “El Comandante” had an expiration date. And so, while Cuba still suffers under a repressive regime initiated by Fidel Castro for which we should lament and pray, the man himself can no longer exert his wicked rule. In this we should rejoice.

And yet the fact of Fidel Castro’s humanity is also sobering. It’s sobering because you and I are human, too. While neither of us have been the brutal dictator of an island nation for five decades, we, too, sin. We too rebel against our Creator and do harm to those around us. Yes, we may not have committed the horrific crimes of Fidel Castro. But surely our sins are not altogether different. They may differ in degree, but not in kind. We may not have murdered, but we have burned with anger (Matt. 5:21-26). We may not have led a whole nation astray with our words, but we have broken promises.  We may not have set-up repressive regimes, but we have been petty tyrants of our own little kingdoms – whether its ruthlessly guarding our “free time” or callously ignoring the stranger in the halls of our church building. When it comes down to it, through Biblically-calibrated lenses, all of us have more in common with Fidel Castro than we’d like to admit. Like Castro, we live in a fallen world in “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21) – where everything – our plans, our relationships, our bodies – can break down over time. Like Castro, and left to ourselves, we are naturally hostile to God and cannot submit to God’s laws (Rom. 8:7). Like Castro, we face endless temptation – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). And one day, like Fidel Castro, we too will die and face our Maker (Heb. 9:27).

And so, what is our hope? Is it that we will leave a better legacy than Castro’s? Is that we sinned in more socially “acceptable” ways than he did? Is that we are “good” people?


Our only hope is found in a true and better ruler – King Jesus. For when it comes to Judgment Day, the only thing that can rescue the dictator of Cuba or this petty typing tyrant will be the shed blood of Jesus – the blood that can cover us by faith in this life – and be our source of unending joy in the next.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might be boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)


Surfing the Web (Nov. 9th)

Surfing the Web is a series of short blog posts about interesting, thought-provoking pop culture articles. Enjoy! 

ArticleThe Binge Breaker by Bianca Bosker in The Atlantic magazine (Nov. 2016 edition).

Some Quotes to Whet Your Appetite:

“You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.

“Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives,” he said. “And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time.”

He argues that technology should help us set boundaries. This could be achieved by, for example, an inbox that asks how much time we want to dedicate to email, then gently reminds us when we’ve exceeded our quota. Technology should give us the ability to see where our time goes, so we can make informed decisions—imagine your phone alerting you when you’ve unlocked it for the 14th time in an hour. And technology should help us meet our goals, give us control over our relationships, and enable us to disengage without anxiety.

Companies like Google and Facebook, which have offered mindfulness training and meditation spaces for their employees, position themselves as corporate leaders in this movement. Yet this emphasis on mindfulness and consciousness, which has extended far beyond the tech world, puts the burden on users to train their focus, without acknowledging that the devices in their hands are engineered to chip away at their concentration. It’s like telling people to get healthy by exercising more, then offering the choice between a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder when they sit down for a meal.

The Unintended Consequences

What do the following situations have in common?

  • Using a virtual reality headset.
  • Observing people using their cell-phones in group gatherings.
  • Typing a blog post on a desktop computer.

All of these involve the use of modern digital technology. All of them involve the introduction of rather recent cultural goods onto the pages of history. All of them involve incredible potential. And all of them involve unintended consequences.

Andy Crouch, in his excellent 2008 book, Culture Making, argues that “the very nature of cultural goods is to go beyond the reach of their creators. They leave the circle of influence and are taken up by a wide public, and very often the consequences of their adoption could never have been foreseen … The telephone, the iPod, the interstate highway and the atomic bomb – all have had tremendously consequential impact on human history, yet none has remained, or could have remained, fully within the control of their creators. Indeed, over time, the unintended consequences of a given cultural good almost always swamp the intended consequences in magnitude, as people continue the culture-making process, making new culture in response to the changed horizons” (198).

If Crouch is correct, then when we approach new forms of digital technology, we cannot assume that the effect of a particular technology will be uniformly good. We cannot assume that using a virtual reality headset or owning a smartphone or even blogging will undoubtedly contribute to human flourishing. While I would argue that these forms of digital technology can be viewed as gifts from the Creator, they are also the imperfect creations of fallen humanity. Because that is true, then we shouldn’t just ask, “What can this technology do for me?” but also “What will this technology do to me?”

Every form of digital technology we engage with has intended and unintended consequences. As Tim Challies has pointed out in his book, The Next Story, we are really adept at seeing the intended consequences, the “amazing” benefits, the increased efficiency and captivating experiences that the technology will bring us. However, we are not so adept at seeing all of the ways that the technology we hold in our hands or in our homes or that we drive in, are shaping – or should I say, mis-shaping – our world.

Yes, blogs – and social media as a whole – allow anyone to have an voice in the public square, but sometimes those posts could use a little bit more editing or refining before being inflicted upon the public (perhaps, like this post!). More than that, with the vast proliferation of voices on the internet, are the voices that need to be heard quickly being drowned out?

Yes, smartphones allow us to watch YouTube videos, text our friends, catch up on Twitter and figure out the name of that actor we couldn’t quite remember all in one fell swoop, but does it also mean we are imperceptibly losing our ability to focus on one task or one person or one group and be truly present?

Yes, virtual reality headsets allow us to immerse ourselves more fully in beautiful virtual worlds, but is there something we miss out on when we cannot see our friends or spouse enter and leave the room, when we are literally caught up in our own little worlds?

In the end, I am not saying that we should totally avoid these digital technologies (at least not yet!), but rather that we should engage with them thoughtfully, aware that everything we do has real consequences – intended and unintended. We should ask the Lord to show us areas where we are subtly being mastered by these technologies (1 Cor. 6:12) and ask for His strength to live in new ways. And we should ask for the feedback of our family and friends to point out our technological blind spots. All of this is needed to wisely navigate this fascinating and frustrated world of ours.