My 2015 Reading List, and My 6 Favorite 2015 Reads

It’s the last week of the year, which means it’s time for our traditional end-of-year blog posts!  First up, my retrospective reading list!

2015 was a slower reading year for me than past years, for a few reasons (a tough seminary class in the spring, moving at the end of the summer, drastic reduction in reading time in the fall, and NaNoWriMo). That said, I read some good books this year, so I wanted to take a moment and share my list. So here we go:

 

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Books Read in 2015

January 
>>The Art of Work — Jeff Goins
>>Take the Stairs — Rory Vaden

February

>>Scripture Alone–James White
>>Prodigal God — Tim Keller

March

>>This Momentary Marriage — John Piper

April

>>God’s Greater Glory — Dr. Bruce Ware
>>Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — Dr. Bruce Ware

May

>>Blind Spots – Collin Hansen
>>Luther on the Christian Life – Carl Trueman
>>This Paper World – Jeff Lane
>>Theological Fitness – Aimee Byrd

June

>>Centralia — Mike Dellosso
>>The Prodigal Church — Jared Wilson
>>Strange Fire — John MacArthur

July 

>>Praying the Bible — Don Whitney
>>What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? — Kevin DeYoung
>>Right Ho, Jeeves — PG Wodehouse

August

>>The Last Con — Zachary Bartels
>>Turn Around Bright Eyes — Rob Sheffield

October

>>The Killing Floor — Lee Child
>>Know the Heretics–Justin Holcomb
>>Onward — Russell Moore
>>Star Wars: Lost Stars — Claudia Gray

December 
>>The Last Policeman — Ben Winters
>>Countdown City — Ben Winters
>>World of Trouble — Ben Winters
>>Star Wars: Aftermath — Chuck Wendig
>>Pines — Blake Crouch

 

28 books. Definitely a let-down from the 42 I worked through last year–but there have been some interesting and challenging picks this year. It’s interesting to note how this year’s reading list shifted from mostly nonfiction at the start to all fiction in December. I guess my NaNo experiment made me hungry for more stories.

Also important to note is that my 2015 goal of “reading only books I already owned” fell to the wayside almost immediately, especially when I discovered that I could get free review copies of books. In fact, 24 of the 28 books I read were either from the library, bought for school, or procured during the year for review or discussion.

Here are my 6 Favorite Reads from 2015:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by Dr. Bruce Ware: I took Dr. Ware’s Systematic Theology class this spring, and this volume on the doctrine of the Trinity was one of the required textbooks. That said, it’s a book that I have recommended and will continue to recommend to anyone seeking to understand more about the Trinity. Ware writes with clarity and devotion, and this book is both instructive and worshipful.

The Prodigal Church, by Jared Wilson: I stand by my previous comments. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read about the American Church. You need to read it. Your pastors/elders need to read it.

The Last Con, by Zachary Bartels: This novel, along with Centralia, helped to restore my hope for Christian fiction. As I wrote previously, it was a gripping read that wove in redemptive themes without coming off as preachy or ham-fisted. Definitely worth checking out. I’m definitely checking out the rest of Bartels’ novels in the future.

The Last Policeman trilogy, by Ben Winters: The biggest literary surprise for me this year was Winters’ compelling story about a policeman at the end of the world. In The Last Policeman, we are introduced to Detective Henry Palace, a young police detective in New Hampshire who is trying to solve a murder. The problem is, everyone around him knows the world is about to end in less than 6 months (on October 3, when an asteroid nicknamed “Maia” will crash somewhere on earth, causing catastrophic damage). As people all over the world are “going Bucket List” and walking away from jobs and families to go “find their bliss,” Hank Palace is just trying to do his job. Throughout these three novels, we follow Hank as he solves crimes, searches for missing persons, and attempts to do the right thing in a world quickly going crazy. It should be noted that these books are not for everyone (rate them a solid “R” for language/violence), and they’re pretty bleak at times. But Winters creates a compelling scenario and a main character I couldn’t help but root for. I was pleasantly surprised by this fascinating series.

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Your Turn: What are some of the best books you read this year? Any recommendations for me for next year? Please include them below! I’d love to hear from you.

Putting on the ritz.

[Today, a little something in the vein of Mark Lamprecht‘s “What Would You Do” posts.]

This week’s Christian blogosphere kerfuffle:

Video is circulating of this year’s Christmas extravaganza from a globally-known megachurch, in which you see a Great-Gatsby style version of a traditional Christmas hymn, complete with flappers and big Broadway pizzazz.

The reaction of some quarters of the Christian blogosphere is shock and dismay, as the dancing and costuming are arguably inappropriate, and the style and production of this Christmas classic are arguably irreverent.

In response, people from the church in question responded that this production was part of a larger narrative demonstrating how inappropriate such a response to Christmas is–arguing that this production shows how someone wicked and worldly like King Herod would approach the Christmas season.  They argue that this video is taken out of its proper context, and thus, commentary upon it is unfounded and unfair.

Items for consideration/discussion:

  • The tendency of Christians online, and Christian bloggers in particular, to take things out of context or paint situations in the worst possible light; and whether this is consistent with the Biblical command to tell the truth.
  • The consideration of prudence, dignity, and chastity, in the writing and production of entertainments within the context of the Christian church; and whether the church context is the appropriate place for entertainment.
  • The appropriateness of big-budget Christmas extravaganzas in church ministry and outreach as a whole; consideration of whether or not “putting on a show” is the best way to communicate the Gospel in that context; and what the reasonable and justifiable limits would be for this form of outreach.

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Want to weigh in on these questions? Comment below! (Please remember to be respectful and gracious in your comments.) 

 

 

 

Hulk no make word thing.

Struggling through work with a sinus infection. Tried to write a blog post about advent and the expectation of childbirth and the faith that Zechariah and Elizabeth had in their promise-keeping God, but nothing is coming. The words are not flowing today.

So instead, here’s a life update:

Church: Mrs. 4thDave and I are now members of Baptist Church of the Redeemer, and we couldn’t be happier about it. We are thankful to find a church close to our neighborhood (well, close-ish) that is committed to the Scriptures and faithful in doctrine and practice. We can’t wait to start serving and contributing to the life of the church in new ways in the coming year.

Star Wars: As promised, no spoilers, but I will say in summary that I really enjoyed Episode VII, and I’m sure I will like it more and more with each re-watch. (The first of which is coming this week–Men’s Night Out! Booyah!)

Christmas: We have welcomed our first house-guest of the Christmas season (a teenage boy), and will look forward to having up to 3 more teenagers stay with us at different times over the next 2 weeks. It’s something that Mrs. 4thDave and I have had the privilege of doing every few months or so since we got married, and it is always a joy (an exhausting joy, but a joy).

Marriage: Two weeks ago, my wife and I celebrated our first 18 months of marriage. So I guess you could say it’s getting pretty serious. But honestly, I can’t express how happy I am to be married to this woman. She’s not perfect, but she’s perfect for me. She is a gift from God whom I am thankful for every day. And I am a better man because of her influence. So, yeah–a year and a half! Wowsa.

Blog: Hopefully, if the words start flowing a little better, something more specifically Advent-y on Wednesday and Christmas-y on Friday, then a bit of the usual end-of-the-year nonsense next week (book lists, reminiscing, awkwardly avoiding discussing the goals/resolutions I failed to reach, etc.).

And hey, I know I don’t say it enough, but: thanks. I appreciate that y’all take the time to read this.

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What about you? How’s it going? Anything I can pray for? Lemme know in the comments; OR find me on Twitter at “@the4thdave.” I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

Reconsidering “Star Wars”: Classic Trilogy Edition (Part 2)

Following on the heels of yesterday’s discussion of the original trilogy and its many revisions, here are a few observations about the films themselves:

  • When you watch them all at once rather than piecemeal, you start to notice the unavoidable continuity errors. Some are negligible, but others are kinda huge. For example: why doesn’t Obi-Wan remember R2D2 and C-3P0? (I know, I know–I’m just saying, it would have been good to address this in the prequel films.) The best ret-con I can come up with is: protocol droids and R2 units are common throughout the galaxy. Maybe in 20 years of being on the run, Obi-Wan doesn’t recognize them as being the droids that were so instrumental in the events of the fall of the Republic. Yeah…that’s the ticket. Which leads into my next thought…
  • GeekDad raises a question that occurred to me as I watched the films: the droids are basically slaves, right?  Everyone in this universe, good guys and bad, buys and sells sentient beings as slaves, uses them as cannon fodder, and pretty much treats them worse than pets. Put them in harm’s way without telling them why? Sure. Shut them off (rendering them inert and “comatose”) when they annoy you? Absolutely. Just think back to how C-3P0 is freaking out about R2 being completely fried after the Death Star trench run, and Luke blowing off his concern. “Yeah, yeah, he’ll be fine, LET’S GO PARTY EVERYBODY!”  …That’s some cold mess, man.
  • Yoda in the prequel trilogy is a quiet, thoughtful strategist and a skilled warrior, who seems to use his crutch as a prop, more than for necessity. Yoda in the classic trilogy is an insane, old wizard (as Obi-Wan is called by Owen Lars) living in a swamp, gibbering to himself and sometimes acting like a child. Yes, I know that last part is probably an act to throw off Luke. But even after Yoda reveals himself as a Jedi, he’s still a wild card.  If you’ll allow an imperfect cross-fandom analogy: Prequels-Yoda is Gandalf; Classic-Yoda is Radagast.
  • Okay, we just need to admit it, folks: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a jerk. He lies to Luke about who his father is, then backtracks with some verbal judo to justify his lies. Then, when Luke (rightly) hesitates in taking on Darth Vader before his Jedi training is complete–something Yoda straight-up tells him not to do–“ghost” Obi-Wan guilt-trips him into going through with it by saying that he’s the only hope and otherwise their cause is lost. Lies. Justification of lies. Passive-aggressive guilt-trips. Manipulation. Our wise and beloved mentor, ladies and gentlemen.
  • Something I just caught for the first time: at the end of Empire, after our heroes have fallen into Vader’s trap, Vader says Solo is being interrogated, and it cuts to the scene where Han is strapped to a machine that is jabbing him with needles, causing him to scream uncontrollably. Later, in the holding cell, he tells Chewie, “They didn’t even ask me any questions.” They just tortured him, for no reason–which strikes me as incredibly sad. I can’t believe I’ve never picked up on that before.
  • You may have heard the theory that Luke actually turned to the dark side (and that this is why he’s not been in any of the press materials for Episode VII). As I watched the movies, I considered this theory again. While it does have some strong evidence in its favor, it can’t account for all of the evidence. So I’m going to go on record and say that I’m … at least 93% sure that Luke did not turn to the Dark Side.
  • One point in favor of Hero-Luke: both Luke and Anakin faced the murder of their beloved family members on Tatooine. Anakin slaughtered an entire village of sandpeople in a fit of rage. Luke decided to become a Jedi. Quite a difference.
  • Although, on the other hand, Owen and Beru were murdered by storm troopers, and Luke was instrumental in killing hundreds of thousands of Imperial soldiers, so in a way, his revenge was more bloody than Anakin’s…
  • Come to think of it, we see Luke mourn his aunt and uncle (whom he lived with all his life) for maybe a few hours, but as soon as Obi-Wan (a guy he’s known for all of A COUPLE OF DAYS) dies, Luke is heartbroken because his mentor is lost to him.
  • Everyone slams the prequels for terrible dialogue and a whiny lead actor. Folks, may I introduce you to Mark Hamill in Star Wars? Just re-watch his conversations with his aunt and uncle. Point, set, match.
  • Okay, I know it probably came up late in the writing of the trilogy, so there was nothing they could do about it: but every time Leia kisses Luke on the lips, it’s icky.
  • Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar are leading a briefing about what is basically a suicide mission to destroy the second Death Star–and then Luke waltzes in, interrupting the meeting and drawing attention to himself. Way to make it all about YOU, Luke.
  • The final celebration scene after the explosion of the second Death Star, when you see celebration of several planets like Naboo and Coruscant, gives the impression that the entire Empire fell immediately with the death of Vader and Palpatine. If you do any reading of the in-canon novels (and I expect this will bear out in the new movie), you’ll see that this was not the case. Even when the Empire falls, there are still pockets of resistance that have to be stamped out, like Nazi sympathizers at the end of World War 2. I think the celebration sequence gives the viewer the idea that the conflict is resolved as soon as the Ewoks start singing a song that is definitely not “Yub-Nub” (sorry, still bitter). But this is definitely not the case.

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So what’s my verdict? The classic trilogy is still great. It’s not perfect. There are technical issues and story issues. Some of the dialogue is cheesy, and some of the characterization is weak. But despite all its flaws, these movies are just plain fun, and that’s the ultimate argument for them. They’re imaginative, thrilling, funny, emotionally-engaging stories that are a blast to watch and a joy to share with others.

There are elements of all 6 films that could be improved, but as a whole, the Star Wars saga is rightly considered one of the most beloved film series of all time. And I have full confidence that The Force Awakens will only add to that legacy.

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Your Turn: Want to argue with any of the points above, or make your own observations about the classic trilogy? Sound off in the comments below!

Reconsidering “Star Wars”: Classic Trilogy Edition (Part 1)

As stated on Monday, my wife and I decided to rewatch all 6 Star Wars movies as a lead-up to tonight’s screening of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. As you can see, my opinion of the prequels grew with this newest viewing. Then it was time to watch the original trilogy.

Let’s be honest, folks: if you’re a Star Wars fan, the original trilogy occupies a sweet space of love and nostalgia in your heart. Fans of my generation remember seeing the movies, if not during the original release, at least on home video or TV. We played with the action figures and vehicles, or re-enacted the stories with our other toys. (I had more than one G.I.Joe that was encased in blue Play-dough “carbonite.”) The classic trilogy was always this perfect thing–both “of its time” and timeless.

This is part of the reason why the prequels engendered such strong feelings, both positive and negative. It was like renovating and expanding the house you grew up in as a child. Sometimes, different is good, but it can also be strange and uncomfortable.

If you’re one of these types of fans–fans who perhaps deny the existence of the prequels because they change the story too much–it may be good for you to take another look at the classic films. To pull off the visor of nostalgia and see them with your…own…eyes. What you’ll find is that they actually still hold up pretty well–even if you start to notice the imperfections.

So, to begin, we must again deal with the elephants in the room, which have to do with George Lucas’s revisions to the films:

First–as in, when Han shot. Easily the biggest complaint about every edition of “A New Hope” (ugh, I just can’t–look, I’m just going to call the first film Star Wars, okay?) is that Lucas decided to change the scene between Han and Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina so that Greedo shoots first and Han shoots in self-defense. Look, I don’t care why George Lucas decided to change it: no amount of digital manipulation changes the cold facts. As you watch the scene, it is undeniable that Han is fully prepared to murder Greedo in cold blood–he pulls his gun from its holster and prepares to fire. Even though (in the updated editions) Greedo gets a shot off first, it does not negate this fact.

han meme

Change the special effects if you want, George, but Han fully intended to shoot first. Always has, always will. End of story.

Second–the rest of Lucas’s revisions. I have argued many times that the ONLY way to watch the original trilogy is the mid-1990’s VHS editions that were digitally remastered but otherwise unaltered. I still own a functioning VCR primarily for this purpose. However, since we watched the prequels on Blu-ray, I decided to go ahead and check out the Blu-ray versions of the original trilogy. And folks, they are pretty, no question about that. But they are also very different in terms of visuals. Some of the changes are subtle, like the skeletons of dead creatures half-buried in the Tatooine dunes. Others are in-your-face and noisy, like the abundance of animal life in the exterior Mos Eisley sequences.

But I’m going to admit something that I’ve never admitted before, and may never admit again: I actually like a lot of the changes. I didn’t think I would. But I do. 

Would I remove some of the updates? Yes, definitely. For example:

  • Most of the creatures on Tatooine. The lizard-mounts that the stormtroopers ride are cool, but a lot of that stuff just makes the Mos Eisley sequences too busy. It doesn’t seem as much like a desolate Outer Rim planet if there is so much activity there.
  • The whole scene with Jabba and Han on Tatooine, because it completely undercuts the impact of Jabba in Return of the Jedi. It was a good idea to cut it in the first place, and it should have stayed a funny little bit of trivia.
  • The extra musical numbers in Jabba’s palace, in Jedi. Pointless padding.
  • I miss hearing “Yub Nub” at the end of Jedi, and the song will always hold a special place in my heart.

That said, some of the changes/additions are fantastic, because they add a richness to the experience and provide visual and aural continuity with the prequels.

  • The space battles are more intense. It feels more like a war and less like random skirmishes.
  • I actually like the places where they replace the blank walls in the background with windows revealing the outside world. This is particularly cool in locations like Cloud City.
  • There are some great subtle changes as well–like changing Boba Fett’s voice to match Jango’s voice (since he’s a clone of his “father”).

And I’ll go ahead and say it: the “NOOO” at the end of Jedi, when Vader chucks the Emperor over the railing, actually works for me. (The first one, anyway. They could have stuck with just the one.)

So there you have it: Han intended to murder Greedo in cold blood (no matter how it’s been modified), and the updates in later editions of the classic trilogy are not all bad. (I’ll still watch my VHS copies, though–but purely for nostalgia reasons.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can move on to stray observations and bullet-points… However, this post is already over-long, so let’s save those for tomorrow.

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One last note: If you are not one of the happy few who have tickets for tonight’s showings of The Force Awakens, you may be concerned about hearing spoilers before you get to see the film.

Well, I’ll give you my person guarantee that, here at the 4thDaveBlog, there will be no spoilers or detailed comments about Star Wars: Episode VII until Monday, December 28th, when I’ll post a response/review about the film. That’s ten whole days. If you haven’t seen it by then, well, I’m sorry. Of course, if you want to message me directly on Facebook or Twitter, I’ll be happy to geek out about it with you before then.

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Your Turn: Do you have strong feelings about the Special Edition changes to the original Star Wars trilogy?  

Good… Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Type your comments. Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!  

…Um, what? Sorry, not sure what that was.  Anyway, please feel free to comment below. Thanks!

“Pull up! All craft, pull up!”

Your regularly-scheduled blog post is going to be delayed by about 24 hours. The force-field projected around the blog from the nearby forest moon is still functional. Don’t worry, I’ve got my top men working on it.

Tomorrow, around noon, come back here for another look at the original Star Wars trilogy.

Spoiler alert: I still like it.

Spoiler alert Part 2: Obi-Wan Kenobi is actually a huge jerk. We’ll discuss tomorrow.

Reconsidering “Star Wars”: Prequels Edition

[DISCLAIMER: GEEK-OUT POST AHEAD–BUT NO EPISODE VII SPOILERS, SO NO WORRIES.]

Mrs4thDave and I have been (re)watching the 6 Star Wars films in anticipation of Thursday night’s release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It had been years since I’ve seen some of these films (in the case of Episode III, I think I only ever saw it on opening night in the theater).

It’s easy to bust on the prequel trilogy. Over the last sixteen years, it has become matter-of-fact among some circles that the prequels were terrible, ruining the childhood memories of fans everywhere. (And that’s putting it extremely mildly, as the rhetoric in some dank corners of the internet is much worse–very much a wretched hive of scum and villainy). One only needs to mutter the word “midichlorians,” and almost ever Star Wars fan within earshot involuntarily sneers or shudders.

I confess that I’ve been one of these fans, jumping on the anti-prequel bandwagon. However, when your beloved wife suggests that you marathon the Star Wars films, you don’t say no.  And in rewatching the prequels, my opinions/thoughts about the prequels have evolved. Today, I’d like to share some stray observations. But first…

Let’s go ahead and address the first elephant in the room: Jar Jar Binks. So much fan angst has been directed at Jar Jar Binks, and sure, sure, we can understand that, right?

I mean, how bizarre and out of place is some weird creature with big ears who lives in mysterious water-based environment, acts in a childish way, and has a bizarre and awkward speech pattern? …Wait, sorry, were you thinking of Jar Jar Binks just now? I was talking about our first introduction of another character, in Episode V.

yoda just went there

Am I equating Jar Jar Binks with Master Yoda? No. Am I saying that the angry fan reactions to a silly and harmless character are over-the-top, even for Star Wars fans? Yes. Yes, I am.  (Am I going to get death-threats some day for saying that? Yes, because the world is bonkers.)

Elephant, number 2: Midichlorians. Yes, it’s unnecessary. Yes, it takes some of the “magic” away from the mythos of The Force. But does it really matter beyond Phantom Menace? No. It’s never mentioned again. Move on.  Honestly, I’m more irritated by the fact Shmi Skywalker says that Anakin was immaculately conceived.

Mary Midichlorians

Okay, with those two issues out of the way, onto the hail of bullet-points:

  • Can we start by giving big props to Qui-Gonn Jinn, the most Jedi-est Jedi in the Council? Seriously. The dude is boss.
  • The first movie is about taxes and trade embargoes. Just think about that. We got tricked into watching a movie about economic theory. Well-played, Lucas.
  • The “Duel of the Fates” sequence in Phantom Menace is one of the 3 best lightsaber duels in the entire series. Go ahead, prove me wrong. The next-best (but only by a hair) is Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar, in Sith. You might make an argument for the Luke and Vader fight in Jedi, but that’s only because of the emotional stakes involved.
  • The love story in Attack of the Clones is still wooden, awkward, and unbelievable. Padme flips a switch and is suddenly into a guy who has been leering at her like a creeper, admits he’s been obsessed with her for a decade, makes awkward romantic advances, and–oh yeah–has unchecked rage issues and homicidal tendencies. You picked a winner, lady.
  • Seriously, Padme, he slaughtered an entire village of sand-people. Maybe they are savage. Yes, they kidnapped his mom and beat her to death.  He murdered an entire village of men, women, and children. This doesn’t give you pause, Padme?
  • I somehow never noticed the fact that they say Boba isn’t Jango’s son, he’s another clone. Somehow I forgot or glossed over that fact. Makes me wonder about Jango’s story a little more. Makes him a little more tragic, in my opinion.
  • Clone or not, Boba saw Jango as his father–whom he saw a Jedi decapitate right in front of him. (Again, a detail I had forgotten.) His motivation for being a villain makes so much more sense.
  • Having watched a little bit of the Clone Wars animated series, seeing Commander Cody turn on Obi-Wan during Revenge of the Sith made me really sad.
  • Revenge of the Sith is just a really good movie, despite the awkward and still joltingly out-of-place “No, no, no!” of Palpatine as he fights Mace Windu.
  • Even if the dialogue and Hayden Christenson’s emoting are off-point, Anakin’s storyline and character arc are believable and consistent throughout the prequels. His greatest fear is losing the people he cares about–mirroring Luke’s fear of losing his friends.
  • Another cool mirroring moment: In Clones, Palpatine sits tied to a throne-like chair, telling young Skywalker to strike down an incapacitated Dooku (who is secretly Palpatine’s Sith-Lord apprentice). Eventually, Skywalker takes the slain apprentice’s place. In Jedi, Palpatine tries the same approach with Luke, who refuses to strike down the now-handless Vader. Nice.

I could list off several little details that somehow evaded me in previous viewings, but I’ll stop there.

So what’s my revised verdict on the prequels?  Honestly, they’re pretty good.

They aren’t perfect films, by any stretch, and they have moments of cheesiness and terrible dialogue. Of course, the classic trilogy falls into those traps as well. But I think the emotional arc of Anakin Skywalker and the Shakespearean tragedy of his downfall is still pretty compelling. The Phantom Menace gets more criticism than it deserves.  Attack of the Clones is actually the weakest film of the prequels, but it’s not without merit. And Revenge of the Sith is actually a pretty great film that gets overlooked when the three are lumped together.

So, if you’re in the mood, I would recommend rewatching the Star Wars prequels. In spite of their imperfections, they are a lot of fun and provide some surprising depth of character and feeling.

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What do you think? Are the Prequel Trilogy secretly great? Obviously awful? Somewhere in between? What are the best moments or most frustrating elements of the films? Sound off in the comments below–but BE NICE. What do you think this is, Mos Eisley?

Mote, meet beam.

I saw a pastor tweet something partisan and petty on Twitter just now, and I started writing a blog post about it. I was going to break out some scathing invective about how pastors who spend all their social media capital on playing politics are blowing a ministry opportunity and pushing people away from the Gospel. I was ready to sub-blog with both barrels.

Then I took a second and reviewed my own Twitter timeline. While there were some tweets about the Gospel, or retweets of Biblical thoughts or links from others, a lot of my tweets are really…meaningless. Contest entries to win silly toys and pointless prizes.  Comments on pop culture items and social media trends. Inside jokes with friends.

If I used the same standard to judge my own social media output that I used to judge that pastor’s partisan posturing on social media, I would be just as guilty.

What’s the lesson here? Two things.

One, I need to remember that social media is a gift from God and a tool that should be used for His glory and the good of others. There’s nothing wrong with fun and games, but if my online life is dominated by nonsense, I should take a moment to consider if I’m using it to its greatest potential.

Two, before I take a shot at someone for tweeting, posting, or sharing something that I think is “off-message” and distracting people from what’s most important, I need to take a second, check my own eyes for any stray logs, and *then* help my brother.

Seems to me I’ve read that somewhere before.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, andwith the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

(Matt. 7:1-5, ESV)

 

Thankful For Hard Times?

It’s easy to be thankful for the blessings and joys of life, but when you’re going through times of challenge and difficulty, it’s harder to see the good. As Dr. Don Whitney said in a sermon I listened to recently, “God allows suffering but decrees glory.” The “light and momentary” troubles may not seem so light and momentary, but through the difficult experiences of life, God works for the good of His children, ultimately to make us like Jesus.

So this week, I wanted to take a few moments and talk about challenging moments. 

Please understand: these may seem utterly insignificant to you. Maybe you’ve gone through real hardship, so even calling these things “hard” seems insulting. Please know that I realize how easy, how privileged, how blessed my life has been overall. This isn’t a “let’s compare who’s suffered worst” contest, because I know I’d lose.

What I’m getting at here, and what I hope you’ll consider doing, is to think about the times in my life where I’ve been disappointed and frustrated, and recognize how God was at work behind the scenes:

  • I’m thankful for losing that job. I was a high-school teacher for 4 months before I was asked to resign during Finals Week. It was crushing to my pride. But I needed that lesson in humility. I needed to recognize that submitting to authority includes those authorities that are frustrating, mercurial, or unjust. Plus, those 4 months in a classroom setting reminded me that I liked teaching the Bible. Without that job, I may not have ever become a Sunday School teacher.
  • I’m thankful for that painful break-up. I dated a girl in college whom I was convinced I would marry. However, neither of us had the maturity to even consider such a thing. I was utterly selfish and needy, and I made that poor girl into an idol in my life. So after a year-plus of dating, we broke up (about a month after I lost that job, actually), and I was devastated. But God was graciously prying my fingers open, so that I’d let go of that idol and turn back to Him.
  • I’m thankful for that bad evaluation. I’ve been at my current position for more than a decade. In the last several years, there was a clear decline in my work ethic and productivity. My heart wasn’t in it. When it comes right down to it, I was sinning against God, against my employer, and against my team, by not giving it my all. And a year ago, I received the worst work evaluation I’ve ever gotten (if you don’t count getting fired from the teaching gig). It was a punch in the nose. I was indignant. I was furious. I was…ashamed. And guilty. I had to look my wife in the eye and tell her what I had done. It took me a little while to admit that I deserved it–if not at that time, then definitely as a result of the last few years. That moment challenged me to stop and evaluate how I use my time at work. It made me consider how my work ethic (or lack thereof) affected others. And it gave me an opportunity to improve. By God’s grace, I have. My evaluation this year was markedly better (though there’s still room to improve). And I’m now more committed than ever to do my best and bless others in my workplace, even if it’s not my dream job or preferred position.

In I Thessalonians 5:16-18, God commands us to give thanks: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (emphasis mine). This is something God has been crushing me about, lately. I don’t do these 3 things enough, or consistently. 

This text can’t be clearer. No matter what happens in your life, Christian, God’s will for you is that you rejoice, you pray, and you give thanks.

“But Dave, you don’t know what I’m going through!” No, I don’t, friend. But God does. He sees. He knows. He declares the end from the beginning. And what does He say?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Even as I’m typing this right now, I’m listening to Todd Friel on Wretched Radio, as he talks about this great article by Rick Thomas on suffering well. (It’s worth your time and attention.)

God was intimately involved my break-up, my job loss, my bad evaluation, and a host of other “negative” events. He sovereignly orchestrated all of them for my good, for His glory.

And for that, I can be thankful.

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Your Turn: Can you look back at something “negative” in your life that God has used to shape you and mature you? If you’re willing, please share that in the comments below.

An Open Letter to A Political Fundraiser

I did something I knew was foolish: I got on a political candidate’s mailing list. Why? Because the campaign was giving away bumper stickers, and I like free things. Of course, it helps that this is a candidate I would be willing to support–maybe even to the extent of putting said bumper sticker somewhere visible (though not likely on an actual bumper).

I signed up for this mailing list, assuming that I’d get the occasional fundraising email or talking points memo. But I had hopes for this candidate. I hoped they wouldn’t resort to the typical nonsense you see in American politics.

You can guess what happened.

The other day, I got an email from this candidate,whom we will call Bob Smiley. This pseudonym isn’t a clue, by the way; it just makes me laugh. Also, there’s an actual comedian named Bob Smiley, and I am imagining him running for office, which makes me laugh, as well. In fact, let’s give you a good visual here:

vote for bob

The email subject line read: “THIS MUST BE WRONG: SEE ATTACHMENT.” The text of the email was as follows (names obviously changed):

Hi Dave, Bob emailed me asking for an update on whether or not we are are going to reach our target before midnight

I’m about to send this list (attached below) over to Bob, and I know he was really anxious to see your name in the confirmed column — but it’s not.

This must be wrong, will you look and help me correct it ASAP? I need to email Bob in just a few short hours.

fundraiser

If you can donate in the next two hoursI’ll personally make sure you’re marked confirmed on the list that I send over to Bob. If you already responded or our emails have crossed on the web…please forgive me.

Dave, it’s imperative that we don’t come up short of our target.

Thank you,
[Sally]

National Finance Director
Smiley for President

P.S. The crowded field of presidential candidates is thinning out…money is a key factor, and I need your help to keep Candidate Smiley in this race. Can I count on you?

For the record, I did reply to this email. I wrote that I still supported this candidate’s ideas but felt that this sort of fundraising was transparently manipulative and beneath the dignity of the candidate in question. I was supportive and very polite. But that’s not the reply I really wanted to send.

What I really wanted to send back was the following:

Dear Sally,

Thank you for your urgent letter. I agree–there is something wrong, and your previous message was a bit disconcerting.

First of all, from the very-official-looking image you have included in the body of the email, it appears that the Smiley campaign is using a very outdated version of Microsoft Excel. I am concerned that running a campaign with older computer software could jeopardize Bob’s ability to maintain up-to-date records–especially if you have to stop everything and upgrade to Windows 98.

Secondly, I want to assure you that I am not “missing,” as the very-official-looking graphic indicates. I am safe and sound and resting comfortably with my family. Tell Bob not to worry, and thank him for his very deep, very personal concern.

Thirdly, I am very happy to support Bob’s campaign through word-of-mouth campaigning and possibly the strategic use of bumper stickers. This is called “grass-roots” campaigning, because grass roots can be found easily from sea to shining sea, literally all across our great nation [Void in AZ/NV/NM], as I know you want the message of the Smiley campaign to be spread.

Fourthly, in an era of pervasive online scams and internet hacking, sending a virtual stranger a message marked “THIS MUST BE WRONG–SEE ATTACHMENT” and urging them to open the attachment is the very best way to make sure your email is deleted immediately, or at least mocked slightly on a no-name blog with a readership of fewer than 3 dozen.

Fifthly, and most seriously, the use of emotional manipulation that plays upon the reader’s fear of letting down a respected and even beloved political figure/celebrity may work with a handful of retirees in Boca Raton, but what it tells me is that Candidate Smiley is not serious about running a different kind of campaign. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and it’s beneath you. It’s beneath Bob. We don’t want to let Bob down, do we, Sally?

I am glad to continue considering Bob Smiley as a presidential candidate, but tactics like these have guaranteed that I won’t be contributing financially to his campaign.

High-fives and side-hugs,

–The4thDave

P.S. The crowded field of candidates is thinning, and I understand that money buys airtime to get your message out there. But it doesn’t buy respect or dignity (see: Trump). The way we make a difference is through ideas, not attack ads. Don’t let me down, folks. I hope I can count on you, too.