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!

2020 Goals Update & More!

img_20171219_100654382It’s already April? Where has the time gone! As I continue to quarantine with my family, I thought it would be good to step back and consider where I’m at with my 2020 goals. I also want to share about five things I’ve been enjoying lately. Maybe your interest will be piqued, and you can enjoy them, too!

So, first, let’s get to the goals. Here’s a brief list of my 2020 goals and an update on how I’m doing:

  • Read the Bible more – My goal was to use the 5-day Bible Reading Program during the week and then on the weekends, use a 12-week study on 1 Corinthians. At this point, even though I’m a day or so behind, I’m still plugging along with the 5-day Bible Reading Program. However, I’ve sidelined the 12-week study. I feel the 5-day program gives me plenty of Scripture to ruminate on. I’m also trying to write down at least one verse a day from my daily Bible reading and have it on a card near me as I telework. I’m doing this because I don’t just want to be inhaling God’s Word in the morning and never thinking about it the rest of the day. Instead, I want to chew on God’s Word throughout the day. For instance, one day this past week, I wrote down Luke 10:20: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirts are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” What a wonderful truth to remember in a world where disease and death seem to be knocking at our doors! In this next quarter, I’d like to catch up with my readings for the 5-day reading plan and continue to ruminate on Scripture as much as possible.
  • Write more – My goal was to write more, so that I could more actively think about the world around me. While I have written a few blog posts this year, I’m not as consistent in my blogging as I’d like to me. For instance, I’d ideally love to complete a movie, book or game and then blog about my experience. However, I let time slip by and then whatever thoughts I did have flutter away. So, to rectify this, I’ve been sensing a need to take a slightly more disciplined approach. For a short time in our family life, I deemed Tuesdays, “Tech-Free Tuesday.” On Tuesdays, when I got home from work, I would try to step away from screens as much as possible. I think I’d like to reinvigorate that practice. On Tuesday evenings, I’d love to devote some time to reading, writing and developing a new skill / craft (see below). Even if I don’t always post what I create on Tuesdays, at least I will be unplugging from the digital world for a little bit and collecting my thoughts about life (Note: Using my laptop to write, not surf the web, is an exception I’m making for now).
  • Stretch more – My goal was to work on warming up, stretching and overall, being more flexible this year. While I’m still not a human rubber-band, I have been exercising consistently during the quarantine. I’m also more mindful of warming up (particularly my leg muscles) and trying to stretch at the end of a workout. As a side note, here are the workouts I’ve been doing (and largely enjoying!) lately: walking on the treadmill (30 min. or so), pushups (using an app to keep track), Fitdeck cards & Fitness Blender.If you’d like to shake up your workout routine, check some of them out!
  • Hone a new skill/craft – My goal was to reclaim a bit of my leisure time by mixing it up and honing a new craft. Originally, I stated that my wife and I were going to work on cultivating a raised garden bed this year. I’d still like to do something like this, but as we wait to start that project, I’m considering both working on my writing (see above) and getting back into … Legos! Recently, our family has been watching Lego Masters on FOX, and I’m finding it incredibly inspiring. To see what these adults can do with what many consider to be a “child’s toy” is truly impressive. While I don’t think I’ll ever have the time, money or ability to do what these true master of the brick do, I still think it would be fun to have an idea or scene in mind and then create it out of tiny plastic bricks. For instance, recently, I worked with my oldest son on building some Lego catapults. The results weren’t award-winning, but I enjoyed the iterative process of going from concept to working model. Just this past Saturday morning, my oldest and I worked on building our own planes. While I’m probably not going to be the one flying them around the house, it was fun to build one and then watch my middle son playing with it later in the day. I’m excited to see what the next few months hold as I continue to try to hone this (old) skill!

Finally, before I sign off, I wanted to briefly share about five things I’ve been enjoying lately. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • All or Nothing (Philadelphia Eagles) – The newest season of All or Nothing follows last year’s Philadelphia Eagles as they seek to make a run at the Super Bowl. Although they ultimately fell short, the Eagles had a very interesting season. I’ve only watched a couple of episodes, but I’m interested to see how the gridiron drama unfolds.
  • Retro Bowl – Sticking with the football theme, I picked up this free phone game. Essentially, it’s streamlined Tecmo Bowl with some interesting roster management. Fun stuff!
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – This novel is the first in Sanderson’s multi-book Stormlight Archive series. After finishing Lord of the Rings, I was eager to dive into another carefully crafted world. I’m almost done with this book, and while it started off slow, I can’t wait to see how it ends. More than that, I’ve been very impressed with how Sanderson approaches the topic of leadership in the book. There are many lessons on leadership (both what to do and NOT do) in this book.
  • Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, et al – I’ve been reading this well-known book for work lately. The authors describe a crucial conversation as: “A discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.” While I don’t agree with everything the authors have to say about holding crucial conversations, there is much here that Christians can profit from (i.e. importance of dialogue, building safety in conversations, importance of listening, etc.). Definitely a book to pick up and read (with discernment)!
  • Kingdomino – I was able to get this fun, family board game for my birthday. Imagine playing dominos but instead of connecting dots, you are connecting terrain tiles to build the best 5×5 kingdom you can build. Easy to learn, quick to play and truly, fun for the whole family!

That’s all I have for now! Feel free to share about your progress on your 2020 goals or what you’ve been enjoying lately!

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?

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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.”

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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.

End

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?