Let’s Play: Signs of the Sojourner

  • What is it?– Card-driven adventure game by Echodog Games (released 2020). You play as a young entrepreneur who goes on a series of journeys to learn more about your family’s past, build new connections and preserve old ones, and hopefully, save the family store.
  • What did I like?Signs of the Sojourner has a bevy of interesting characters (including a dog and robots!) scattered across its towns. Each of them have their own conversation style and successful conversations with various characters open up new options and even new towns to explore. Speaking of conversations, the game has an excellent card-based conversation mechanic. As you go from conversation to conversation, you gather various cards with different symbols and even abilities. Like an actual conversation, the goal is to skillfully weave your way through the conversation, playing the right cards at the right time to have a successful, mutually beneficial conversation. I’ve never quite seen a mechanic like this, but I like it so much, I decided to play the game a second time (something I rarely do).
  • What did I not like? – While I love the card conversation mechanic, sometimes I am so interested in the story and the characters that not being able to progress down a certain thread because I don’t have the right symbols gets a little frustrating. However, the more I play the Signs of the Sojourner, the more I realize that you have to prepare for the conversations you’re going to have. Moreover, as the game hints to you, you can’t please everyone in every conversation. Ultimately, if you want the whole story, you’re probably need to buckle down and play this game a few times.
  • How did it get me thinking? – While you can certainly approach this game like a puzzle to be solved or a strategy to be figured out, I think the game is best enjoyed when you simply journey around and see where the conversations lead you (or not). Ultimately, this is a game is about the art of conversation and relationships and the impact it can have on people over time. In fact, as your journey deepens, you begin to realize through the clever mechanics of the game that your character is changing. When you come back to your home town, you’re not the same person you once were. You’ve been places, you’ve met others, you’ve explored the wider world. And your cards reflect that. The same is true in life. Each person comes into each conversation with a unique history and perspective – and has the potential to shape and be shaped by others they converse with. Instead of viewing some of our daily conversations as chores to get through, we should instead view them as God-given opportunities to explore, to learn and to connect with other image-bearers, sinful and imperfect as they may be. In the end, Signs of the Sojourner was an adventure worth taking, because it was about conversations worth having with each person we meet!

Monthly Moment: April 2021

With another month in the books, take a moment with me to consider what I’ve been engaging with lately. Maybe you’ll find something you’d enjoy and benefit from as well!

  • Marine Memoir – Recently finished reading Elliot Ackerman’s 2019 book, Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning. Here’s my brief Goodreads review: “A vivid, but sometimes meandering reflection by a decorated Marine on wars in the Middle East. Ends with a powerful chapter where the author interweaves personal insights amidst the official summary of the battle which led to his Silver Star.”
  • Ethically Interesting Detective Game – Recently finished playing Clifftop Games / Faravid Interactive’s 2019 game, Whispers of a Machine. Here’s my GG app review: “Futuristic, point-and-click detective game. While I don’t always have a great deal of patience with puzzle or point-and-click games, I enjoyed exploring the town, getting to know the interesting characters and unraveling the mystery. Game has good pacing and kept me coming back to figure out how it all worked out. Ended with an interesting choice that made me pause and consider the consequences of my decision.”
  • Fascinating WW2 Drama – My wife and I have been watching a new Masterpiece show entitled Atlantic Crossing. This “inspired by a true story” show chronicles some of the experiences of the Norwegian Cross Princess Martha of Sweden who had to flee to America after Germany invaded their country. We haven’t seen all of the episodes yet, but already this show is opening my eyes to parts of WW2 history I haven’t spent much time thinking about (invasion of Norway) and making me reconsider prominent figures I thought I knew something about (President Roosevelt). Nevertheless, I do wonder if some of the character portrayals accurately reflect history or if they’re just extra fictional seasoning to spice up the show.

Well, that’s all of for this month. Take a moment to share what you’ve been engaging with lately!

Image Credit: https://andystravelblog.com/2015/10/30/scenes-side-road-norway/

Let’s Watch: Knives Out

There is something immensely satisfying about unjust people getting their just deserts. In the 2019 murder mystery, Knives Out, written and directed by Rian Johnson (content advisory; spoilers ahead!), we are introduced to the largely reprehensible Thrombey family. Harlan Thrombey, a respectable, self-made murder mystery novelist, is tragically found dead the morning after an eventful evening party with his family. After some initial interviews with the family, the local detectives believe the millionaire’s death is a straightforward, albeit dramatic, suicide. However, private investigator, Benoit Blanc, mysteriously present to assist the police, believes “something is afoot with this whole affair.”

As the story unfurls, we learn that Harlan’s sweet, good-hearted nurse, Marta Cabrera, knows way more than she’s letting on. In fact, Marta believes she accidently killed her millionaire friend by giving him too much of the wrong medicine. However, at the reading of Harlan’s will, a bombshell is dropped. Harlan decided to give all of his resources – house, money and publishing company – to Marta! The Thrombey family which has previously spoken well of Marta and viewed her as “part of the family” suddenly turn like a pack of ravenous wolves on Marta. With their inheritance on the line, the spoiled, selfish Thrombey’s show where their true affections lie – their pocketbooks. Their only hope is the “slayer rule” which indicates that if someone is convicted of murdering a person they cannot receive their inheritance. Suddenly, all eyes fall on Inspector Blanc. Since he suspects foul play, perhaps Marta did it! If so, their fortunes would be restored. But the Thrombey’s prefer the more direct route. Through repeated attempts by different members of the family, the Thrombey’s heartlessly try to coax Marta into renouncing the inheritance. Marta doesn’t budge, but she also doesn’t stop trying to clumsily clear her own name.

In the end, Inspector Blanc puts it all together and solves the case just in the nick of time. Marta isn’t guilty of Harlan’s murder. A disgruntled grandson, Ransom, tried to frame her and ended up killing the housekeeper to cover his tracks. Despite her initial horror, Marta didn’t actually kill Harlan, but instead gave him the correct medication. Tragically, it appears Harlan died by unintentional (or was it intentional?) suicide. As the movie closes, Marta looks out over the front balcony as Ransom is taken away in handcuffs and the dejected Thrombey clan look up to Marta to see what their fate will be. Marta, sipping from Harlan’s old cup, brings it to her mouth and on the cup is written the words, “My house, my rules, my coffee.” Poetic justice indeed!

As previously mentioned, there is something immensely satisfying about seeing unjust people get what they deserve. The Thrombey family, save Harlan and possibly his granddaughter, Meg, got what they had coming to them. Their selfish, greedy, ruthless ways should not have been rewarded with a grand inheritance and it wasn’t. Though not perfect, Marta’s kindness and sacrificial love should have been rewarded and it was. When we see justice served like this, there is something deep in the human psyche, in the human heart which cries out, “Yes!” Proverbs 21:15 says, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Knives Out echoes this truth vividly.

Yet as I thought about the movie and its characters more, I realized that Biblically speaking, you and I are more like the Thrombey’s than we’d care to admit. Despite first appearances, each of us is naturally rotten to the core with sin (see Romans 3:10-18). Though we delude ourselves into thinking we deserve the riches of a heavenly inheritance on our own merit, each of us is morally bankrupt in God’s sight. We don’t have a shred of righteousness to our names. As the Thrombey’s experienced, our just lot is to be cast out – out of God’s presence and place. Too often, when I watch movies, I want to put myself in the shoes of the hero. I want to be the Marta or the Inspector Blanc of the story. Yet when I read the Bible, I am anything but the hero. Left to myself, I am the selfish, greedy slave to sin. My knife is out, and I want to take God off His throne, so that I can get all the riches and glory for myself.

But praise be to God that He didn’t leave me that way! Instead, the Bible tells us that the real Hero of the story, Jesus, stepped down from the balcony of heaven to bear my just punishment for me. As 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…”  Instead of being cast out of God’s family, Jesus warmly welcomes me into God’s family. But not only that, He also makes me new. A chapter before, the Apostle Peter says about Christ, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). No longer do I have to be a slave to sin like the Thrombey’s. I am a beloved heir, a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:19).

So, as movies go, Knives Out ends in a very satisfying way. Justice is served to the unjust. Yet, the Bible tells an even better story. Injustice was served to the just Jesus, so that unjust like you and me might experience the lavish riches of God’s inheritance as new people, new creations in Christ. And one day, Jesus will return to enact a faultless final justice on the unrepentant and make all things new for His forgiven family. Surely, for God’s people, beleaguered and weary as we may be in this life, that is an ending well worth waiting for.  

In My Web: “Church Small Talk Was More Important Than I Thought”

In My Web is a series of short blog posts about articles that stuck out to me online.

Article“Church Small Talk Was More Important Than I Thought” by Megan Hill for The Gospel Coalition

After almost a year of life in a COVID world, it’s good to step back and consider what has changed in our lives and what is still missing. While I’m so grateful to have been able to gather with my church family in-person for months now, Megan Hill’s recent Gospel Coalition article reminded me that not everything is as it once was. It seems one of the chief casualties in church life is the sometimes awkward, but often humanizing art of small talk. Hill laments the dearth of this in the church in a pandemic-laden world:

I may be an introvert, but I miss talking to the little kids who used to swarm my pew after the service and now worship with their parents in a kid-friendly overflow room and leave by a separate door. I miss joking with the teens in their pre-pandemic back-row huddle. I miss the dozens of casual relationships that were refreshed, five minutes at a time, over coffee in the pink-carpeted fellowship hall.

Hill believes that casual relationships, the ones often comprised of snippets of small talk, are not only psychologically healthful, but also Biblically encouraged. In fact, she states: “It might be impossible to imagine Jesus without his beloved disciple John, or Paul without his beloved son Timothy, but it would also be wrong to think of them without dozens of looser bonds that supported their ministries and refreshed their hearts.”

In the end, Hill contends that small talk is more than just “useless chatter.” In fact, it’s part of the process by which we establish and reaffirm mutual trust in our relationships. She says:

We may love to dismiss small talk as useless chatter, but by demonstrating interest in others’ seemingly insignificant matters, we establish the trust to care for them in bigger trials too. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) are commands for the small events as well as the large.

Hill’s perspective is refreshing. While there is certainly a missed opportunity in never moving beyond small talk, especially for those we’ve known for some time, I think it’s also unwise to downplay the vital trust-building that takes place when we ask each other about school, work, the kids, hobbies or the local sports team. If God is sovereign over all things, then even mundane conversations about the weather or work are valuable opportunities to connect with another image-bearer and glorify the God who made us both.

Over and Over

On my worst days, when I’ve opened my Bible in the morning or sat in church on Sunday, I’m pretty sure I’ve had the grouchy thought, “Don’t I already know this. Why do I need to hear this again?” Maybe you can relate with me. You come ready to hear something new and fresh, but instead, you’re engaging a Biblical text or truth you feel you’ve already plumbed the depths of. So, why do you and I need to hear the same truth over and over?

Dane Ortlund, in his outstanding 2020 book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, argues this,

“The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumptions about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is. This is hard work. It takes a lot of sermons and a lot of suffering to believe that God’s deepest heart is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger.’ The fall in Genesis 3 not only sent us into condemnation and exile. The fall also entrenched in our minds dark thoughts of God, thoughts that are only dug out over multiple exposures to the gospel over many years. Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory in your life today is not the sin in which you regularly indulge but the dark thoughts of God’s heart that cause you to go there in the first place and keep you cool toward him in the wake of it” (pg. 151-152).

I think Ortlund is spot-on. Instead of viewing my latest read through Exodus or hearing of a sermon on David and Goliath as a teeth-gritting spiritual chore, I should instead humble myself to see it as a profound kindness of my patient, merciful God. God knows the prideful stubbornness of my heart. He knows that I need time, repetition, and as Ortlund wisely notes, suffering, for my distorted natural assumptions of Him to crumble and be replaced by a truer vision of His heart for me and His people.

So, next time you find yourself wondering, “This again?”, remember that God knows what you need better than you do, and He’s not opposed to using “over and over” for your long-term good.

In My Web: “I’m so Grateful That I’m among the Elect”

In My Web is a series of short blog posts about articles that stuck out to me online.

Article“I’m so Grateful That I’m among the Elect” by D.A. Carson for Themelios

Appreciated this brief, but poignant reminder of the blessing of being part of the elect by faith in Jesus Christ. Quoting from the letter of a young Christian widow, Carson shares:

I believe myself to be constantly and undeservedly blessed, disproportionately upheld and provided for, unexpectedly finding myself surrounded by joy, peace, hope, love, wonderful people and uplifting children. My life has been rescued and redeemed over and over again despite my relentless failures and flaws. I have a genuine sense of “Why me?” in a good way.

Amen and Amen!

The young Christian widow that Carson quotes in his editorial also references a wonderful song by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “The perfect wisdom of our God.” To close out this post, take a moment to read the lyrics below and even listen to the song. It will do your soul good.

The perfect wisdom of our God
Revealed in all the universe:
All things created by His hand
And held together at His command.
He knows the mysteries of the seas,
The secrets of the stars are His;
He guides the planets on their way
And turns the earth through another day.

The matchless wisdom of His ways
That mark the path of righteousness;
His word a lamp unto my feet,
His Spirit teaching and guiding me.
And O the mystery of the cross,
That God should suffer for the lost,
So that the fool might shame the wise,
And all the glory might go to Christ!

O grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
“Your perfect will in Your perfect way.

In My Web: “Win, lose or brawl”

In My Web is a series of short blog posts about articles that stuck out to me online.

Article“Win, lose, or brawl” by Jamie Dean for World Magazine

Amidst all of the political turmoil and uncertainty American Christians are dealing with right now, I really appreciated a couple of the quotes toward the end of this article. One of them was by Pastor Adam Mabry of Aletheia Church in Boston, Mass. Mabry said:

“When you feel the nagging draw of anxiety … remember your King is on the throne already. While the outcome may change the moment, it changes neither the mission nor eternity. The world is desperate for a people who are secure enough in grace that they can flourish under Caesar, whoever he or she may be.”

What a beautiful and powerful reminder! Our response to this election whether it goes the way we hoped or not is an excellent opportunity to be salt and light in a world whose celebrated “chariots and horses” will ultimately fall short (Psalm 20:7-8).

Dean later quotes C.S. Lewis who said in his own tumultuous time 70 years ago:

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends … not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

Lewis added that this kind of fear and unease after a season of national prosperity could actually be a gift if it awakens Christian service and engagement with others about Biblical truth: “We have been waked from a pretty dream, and now we can begin to talk about realities.”

May God help American Christians, myself included, not to be found sleepy, anxious, distracted or dividing. Our King is on His throne. Let’s securely live in the reality of His unchanging grace and truth.

Let’s Read: Target Tokyo

I recently finished reading James M. Scott’s 2015 book, Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor. The book details the bold and surprising U.S. bombing attack against Japan in April 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor. Scott’s book did an excellent job of bringing this audacious attack to life and took great pains to detail what happened to the airmen after they bombed the Japanese mainland. I also appreciated Scott’s nuanced approach to the topic. He didn’t simply explore the heroics of the American forces, but also examined how the attack likely led to the deaths of 250,000 innocent Chinese at the hands of savage Japanese army, deaths that the American leaders were aware could take place but deemed an acceptable risk. In short, while the famous Doolittle raid was successful in both attacking Japan and raising American morale, it also has a dark underbelly not to be forgotten.

However, what I most appreciated about this book came late in the story when a handful of the American airman are languishing in a brutal Japanese prison in Nanking, China. To this point, the airmen have experienced enormous amounts of torture, starvation, sickness and solitary confinement. Frankly, their trials were hard to read about at times.

Nevertheless, in the middle of this darkness, a brilliant, redemptive light shines through. On pg. 446 (of the Kindle version), Scott details that one of the airmen, Robert Hite, asked the Japanese prison commandant for a Bible. To this point, the airmen had almost nothing to do all day, but wallow in their pain, hunger and hopelessness. Surprisingly, though, a KJV Bible was provided to them (with a $1.97 price tag still on it!). Since the suffering airmen had nothing else to do, they began to pour over the Bible, passing it from cell to cell. Soon, the airmen’s perspective and attitude toward their guards began to change.

Jacob DeShazer

One of the airmen, Jacob DeShazer, stated, “‘The way the Japanese treated me, I had to turn to Christ.” He added, “‘No matter what they did to me, I prayed. I prayed for the strength to live. And I prayed for the strength, somehow, to find forgiveness for what they were doing to me’” (pg. 446). Amazingly, as Scott records, the airmen’s “hostility and anger” just “vanished” (pg. 446). Instead, DeShazer even attempted to befriend one of the guards. Each day he would ask the guard how he was doing with a smile. Scott records what happened, “To his surprise after six days of this the guard presented DeShazer with a sweet potato. ‘Boy,’ he thought. ‘This really works'” (pg. 447).

However, DeShazer’s transformation was far from complete. While in prison, Scott records that DeShazer “decided there in that awful cell in Nanking that if he survived the war he would return to Japan as a missionary. He felt his burden lift. ‘Hunger, starvation, and a freezing cold prison cell no longer had horrors for me. They would be only a passing moment. Even death could hold no threat when I knew that God had saved me,’ he recalled. ‘There will be no pain, no suffering, no sorrow, no loneliness in heaven'” (pg. 447).

Incredibly, after the war, Scott details that “Jacob DeShazer followed through with his vow to return to Japan as a missionary … Over more than three decades, he would go on to start twenty-three churches, including one in Nagoya, the city he had first seen through a bombardier’s sight. In an unlikely twist of fate, DeShazer’s powerful tale of forgiveness helped persuade Mitsuo Fuchida to convert to Christianity, the famed pilot who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fuchida was baptized in DeShazer’s church. ‘I was very lost,’ he later said, ‘but his story inspired me to get the Bible’” (pg. 477-478).

All I can say is WOW! I was not expecting to read that at the end of a gritty, sobering book, and yet it shouldn’t surprise me. God can do what seems impossible. He can transform dead hearts and make them alive. He can turn former enemies into not just friends, but brothers in Christ. What a mighty, powerful, redeeming God there is who speaks to us in the Bible!

Let’s Dream (Small) Together!

balloon-1046658_640While teleworking from home during the quarantine, I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Pandora (Jon Foreman station, especially). One of the songs I’m particularly enjoyed lately is Josh Wilson’s “Dream Small.” The song celebrates the “small things” of a life lived in love for God and others. It talks about Christian mothers singing songs about the Lord and fathers spending time with their families. It highlights a faithful pastor who’s been shepherding the same flock for forty years. It encourages visiting widows and dancing with special needs friends. It commends listening and praying. Through all of these “small things,” things we tend to take for granted, overlook or downplay, Wilson believes God can do great things. Simply put, according to Wilson, “…These simple moments change the world.” And I cannot agree more with him.

However, what’s struck the deepest chord with me is the call Wilson gives to embracing the moment, the place where God has called you. It’s one thing to know intellectually that each moment matters. It’s another thing to allow that truth to flow down into how and where you actually live your everyday life. Wilson sings, “Dream small / Don’t buy the lie you’ve gotta do it all / Just let Jesus use you where you are / One day at a time.” He then goes on to sing, “Live well / Loving God and others as yourself / Find little ways where only can help…” I think Wilson is touching on something critical here. In today’s world where we have so many options, where the grass is always greener in the next Facebook scroll, the next show, the next game, the next job, the next church, Wilson reminds us of the ancient path (Jeremiah 6:16) – the path of love for God and love for neighbor. This is the path where we don’t measure success by how many possessions we’ve acquired or how many experiences we’ve had or how perfectly we’ve insulated ourselves from all harm. No, it’s the path where we choose to lovingly embrace the broken place and broken people God has placed us around for as long as God should allow us to tarry there. This is the stuff of a meaningful, well-lived life, even if no-one cares or remembers.  

For me, this is comforting, because sometimes I feel like I’m falling behind. Am I where God wants me? Am I doing what God wants me to do? Am I missing out on something? How can I squeeze more productivity, more pleasure out of the 16-17 hours I am awake each day? Yet as Wilson reminds me, I can’t do it all. It’s a lie. Rather, the truth is that God made me, yes, even seemingly small, insignificant (in the world’s standards) me, and placed me exactly where He wants me in this season of my life. Instead of getting lost in visions of what my future will be or what my past could have been, God wants to embrace the moment He’s called me to live in and “dream small.” He wants me to love my family and friends, to serve in my local church, to be a good employee, to talk with my neighbors (using proper social distancing!), to offer up what I have in service to Him and others each day and trust that in His BIG plan, He will use my small contributions for His good purposes. In doing so, I am truly fulfilling the purpose for which I was created – to love God and enjoy Him forever. Friend, in the midst of the mundane, I find that profoundly encouraging and motivating, and I hope you do, too. So, yes, Josh Wilson, let’s dream – and dream small!