Hello. It’s me.

Hey friends, just checking in. Hope you’re well. Sorry for putting that song in your head. (Not really.)

Things are going well, on the whole. God is good. I’m grateful for what God is doing in my life right now.

Random updates/observations:

  • The Fox News GOP Debate: I listened to the debate on the radio. Going into the debate, I found myself lining up with Cruz and Rubio on a lot of issues, but I didn’t think either of them had a good showing in this one. Cruz sounded too much like Trump, and Rubio sounded shrill and reactive when contradicted. By the end of the night, the three people whom I thought acquitted themselves the best were Christie, Bush, and Rand Paul (believe it or not). Kasich and Carson were meandering and distracted, and while each of them has some good qualities, they wouldn’t make good presidents. In the end, this debate muddied my view of the race. While the key candidates in the primary season seem to already be locked in, I find myself curious about some of the also-rans. I will say this, though: I didn’t miss Trump. At all. It felt like the candidates could talk about issues because he wasn’t sucking all the air out of the room. Just my take.
  • Hamilton: If you haven’t heard the Hamilton musical, and you are interested at all in musical theater and/or American colonial history, it may be worth your time. (Content warning: there is some vulgar language scattered throughout, and some lewd references, so please be advised.) It’s a compelling and frenetic tour-de-force. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are top-notch, like the best of Sondheim, and the use of hip-hop as a musical language for story-telling is genius. (Congressional debates as rap-battles. Enough said.) Fascinating picture of a compelling and little-known individual.
  • Reading: I am slowly but surely working through my reading list. I’m having to balance the books I want to read from the reading challenge with books I’ve committed to reviewing on this site. My hope is to have at least 1-2 book reviews a week for the next few weeks (typically on Mondays). Once I get through the backlog of books I need to review, I’ll probably hold off on those for a while and focus on the book challenge list (unless new books become available that I can slide into those slots). Speaking of the reading challenge, I’ll have a post up on Monday, giving you an update of which books I was able to complete from that list in January, along with some capsule reviews/reactions. That will be a monthly feature for the rest of the year.
  • Goals: Month 1 of the new year has seen half-hearted adherence to the stated 2016 goals. One of the benefits of using Todoist is that I can see exactly how long it’s been since I’ve completed one of my daily goals. That gives some level of accountability. But I can tell you that, while I haven’t been consistent in the daily routines, I am performing these tasks more than I would have otherwise. So that is progress. Looking forward to hitting them on a daily basis by the time the year is up.
  • Marriage: My wife is an absolute gift to me. She challenges me, encourages me, cares for my day-to-day needs, and ministers to me on a daily basis. She is a living, breathing gift of grace. I’m deeply thankful for her, and love her immensely. God is good. My wife is proof.

I think that’s about it for me. Gonna go walk around in a circle for a bit. Have a great weekend, friends.

 

The4thDave Reviews: “Written in Fire” by Marcus Sakey

[I first wrote about the Brilliance saga here, after reading the first two books in the series. You can click the link in the description for my brief take on the first two books in the trilogy.]

The Brilliance saga takes place in an alternate reality, in which 1% of the population born after 1980 was born with a genetic mutation that gave them special abilities. While these differences brought new advancements in culture and technology, they also brought a growing tension. What if people with these enhanced abilities wanted to turn them against the rest of us normal folks? How do we keep that from happening? What are we willing to do to stop or prevent them from taking over?

These questions are the driving force behind this thrilling series. The main character is Nick Cooper, a US government operative in an agency created specifically to deal with these “abnorm” threats. Throughout the books, Cooper is on the trail of John Smith, a charismatic “Brilliant” with an unbelievable mind for military strategy, a host of loyal followers willing to die for his cause, and a vendetta against the society that forced him into government-run institutions that took gifted children from their homes and brainwashed them to become trained killers.

Along the way, Cooper also encounters Erik Epstein, a Brilliant who manipulated the stock market to create the largest fortune in the world, and used his billions to buy up a large chunk of Wyoming and create what he hoped would be a Utopian refuge for other Brilliants, a technological marvel where they can live their lives free of oppression from outsiders. However, at the end of the second book, A Better World, this safe haven (called the New Canaan Holdfast) is attacked by the US military, and Epstein retaliates, setting up what seems to be an inevitable war between Normals and Brilliants.

I had really been looking forward to the final book, Written in Fire, ever since I finished the other two. Now that I’ve read it? …Eh. I liked it well enough, but I can’t really recommend it, both from a story-telling and a content perspective.

[From this point forward, spoilers abound.]

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Slow-tech.

I don’t get this “wait-in-line-for-days-to-purchase-a-device” business.

It’s not that I’m technology-averse. Over a decade of online content creation would indicate otherwise. I read books on a Kindle as much as I read physical copies (though Kindle has yet to match the glorious smell of fresh ink).

It’s just that I’m a really late adopter. I mean, I refused to get a smartphone until a little over a year ago. For YEARS, I made fun of people who texted, and told people I didn’t text because “I’m not a seventh-grade girl.” (I definitely ate those words.)

It’s not that I always prefer to be low-tech. I’m just more “slow-tech.” I’ll wait a long time before adopting new tools. That way, the early adopters can work out all the bugs for me. I don’t need the newest, latest, greatest. I just want something that works, and sometimes it takes a while for me to be willing to let go of the familiar and try something new.

However, I am trying to become a little more open to tech. For example, it took me a little while, but I started using Evernote about 2 years ago (though it doesn’t seem that long ago). I love it. It’s become my digital brain, storing lists and information that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to recall if my life depended on it. If you don’t use Evernote, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

But thanks to a new book by Tim Challies (which I’ll be reviewing soon on this site), I decided to bite the bullet and take another leap into the 21st century. Until now, my calendar and to-do lists have been mostly paper and pen (or marker, or colored pencil). I bought big monthly desk calendars and week-by-week planners. I had countless scraps of paper to keep track of my tasks (until I started jotting them down as a “note” on my ipod).

Last week, I made the leap. I’m now on Google Calendar and Todoist — two applications that have been recommended and praised by bloggers and productivity gurus and tech geeks alike. (I realize the Venn diagram of those groups is not very broad.) I was a little nervous at first, entrusting my calendar and task lists to the ephemeral zeroes and ones of the interweb. But I have to admit, in the early going, I’m starting to wonder how I functioned without it.

“So much for one day going off-the-grid,” says my beloved wife. And I think she’s right. (Sorry, dear.) I wonder if I’ll ever want to go back to a low-tech option for my scheduling and task lists. At this point, I’m pretty enamored with the easy accessibility of these online platforms.

That’s really all I’ve got for you today. Nothing profound–just a little bit of geeky giddiness about how technology is actually making my day-to-day go a little more smoothly.

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Your Turn: Are you an early-adopter or a slow-techie? Do you have favorite apps or devices for increasing productivity or helping your life and work function more smoothly? Share your recommendations in the comments below! (But be nice: if things devolve into a pro-Apple/anti-Apple slugfest, I will turn this blog around and drive home, just you watch.)

 

The “Honest Witness” Challenge.

“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.” (Isaiah 59:11)

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:25, 29-32)

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:1-2)

Let’s take a trip in the way-back machine to 2004. There was a bit of a dust-up about George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard records, and eventually the controversy exploded to reveal that trusted network news anchor Dan Rather was reporting this story based on forged evidence. He defended himself by saying the documents were “fake but accurate.”

Oh, how conservative bloggers, pundits, and talking heads hooted and hollered over that phrase.  Oh ho! “Fake but accurate,” indeed!

And yet.

When you examine the landscape of social media today, you find yourself awash in a sea of “fake-but-accurate.” Recycled yarns intended to shame the politicians and public figures we don’t like. Pretty easily falsifiable, but if we like how it paints our opponents, we’ll hit that “share” or “retweet” without a thought.

But here’s the problem: If we pass on a story that we know is inaccurate, or can’t be bothered to verify ourselves, that’s “tale-bearing” (gossip) at best, and outright “bearing false witness” (lying) at worst. (And “best” and “worst” here don’t even really apply, since they’re both SIN.)

I’m gonna say that again, in case you got distracted for a second: If you pass around stories that make your ideological enemies look bad without taking the time to verify them, you are in danger of being a gossip and/or a liar. 

And if you’re a Christian, you should take this VERY SERIOUSLY. Why? Because the credibility of your words and witness is affected by it.

I’m not the only one to say this. But I want to add my voice to the chorus: The sort of shameless rumor-mongering I have seen on my Facebook and Twitter timeline from professing Christians needs to stop. And it needs to stop now.

So here’s my challenge to you, Christian:

Go to your Facebook page or social media platform of choice, and take up the challenge by posting the following:

Because I believe that all my speech (including online speech) should be truthful and beneficial to my hearers; and because knowingly spreading inaccurate or unverified stories about others is morally wrong: 

I pledge not to share or perpetuate news stories online about any person (public or private), unless:

  • I am able to confirm from credible sources that the story is accurate and verifiable; AND
  • Doing so will benefit my friends and social-media followers. 

If I unwittingly share something that is later proven to be objectively false, I will gladly admit my fault and apologize publicly.

If I am challenged on a matter of opinion and/or interpretation of facts, I will seek to speak truthfully and graciously, so that–as far as it depends upon me–I can live at peace with everyone.

We need to set a new standard for honesty on social media, Christian.

Are you up to the challenge?

Some Scattered Thoughts on “The Force Awakens”

Last month, the latest episode on the Star Wars saga was released, and at this writing has earned just shy of a kabillion dollars (or at least better than the current Powerball jackpot).

I saw the film twice, and wanted to throw out some observations. I’ve tried to read and listen to as little commentary on it as possible until I could get this posted. And the real reason I’m writing is that i’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on the film, as well.

Obviously, the rest of the post is going to be CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen the film…well, it’s been almost a month, so if you get spoiled, that’s on YOU.

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The man who gained the world.

David Bowie just died. I keep catching myself humming or singing his songs this morning.

Celebrity deaths are often occasions for people to mourn the passing of someone they only knew through the lens of media and art. We feel we really connect with this person, though in life they couldn’t have picked us out of a line-up. We feel we truly understand them through the art they made or the words they said. They were a part of our lives in some small way. When they pass, we treat them like heroes, if just for one day.

But celebrities are often enigmas, and the persona we grow to adore is often just that, a mask that one sinful person shows to other sinful people because he or she is thrust into the spotlight, the serious spotlight.

I don’t come to bury Bowie or to praise him. I didn’t know “the real David Bowie” and certainly don’t pretend to. I enjoy his music, and have sung his songs more than a few times at karaoke nights. I don’t have anything good or bad to say about the “true” David. By all accounts, he seemed like a nice person. He had a beautiful voice. And now he’s gone.

Here’s what I know about David Bowie, only because I know it about every person in the world, including you and me: we are born broken, sinners by nature and choice. Because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath for being a rebel-rebel against His righteous rule. And each of us, because of our rejection of God’s law, has earned death.

However, just as God is just and wrathful against all evil, He is also merciful and gracious. He made a way for sinful humans to be spared from their just judgment by sending a substitute: Jesus the Christ, the eternal son of God, the second member of the Trinity, fully God and fully man, born of a virgin, born under the Law. Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience and righteousness before God–the perfect life we all have failed to live.

Then, by the preordained plan of God, Jesus was executed on trumped-up charges, and his death was the perfect sacrifice that satisfied the sentence of death hanging above all whom God would graciously choose to save.  Jesus died in the place of all of us who deserved death, and then rose again in victory, so that we who turn from our sinful rebellion can trust in Jesus as our Savior and sacrificial substitute, and be saved from the condemnation we so woefully deserve.

I don’t know the state of David Bowie’s soul. There’s no point in speculating on the spiritual fruit of his life. But I will say this: unless you repent, you will likewise perish. There comes a day where each of us will meet his end. You and I will one day die as well. On that day, who will rescue us? We cannot look to some vague “starman waiting in the sky”–our only hope is the God who drew near and lived among us, robed in flesh, and made a way for us to be cleansed from our sin.

Here is the lesson we should take from every celebrity death, no matter the circumstances: fame and money and power and influence all go into the wooden box with us when we die. They account for nothing. You may gain the whole world but give up your soul in the process.

On the last day, only what we have done with the question of Jesus will matter.

Friend, I’m pleading with you: turn from your sins, turn to Jesus, and find true life. 

Yeah, about those 2015 goals…

In a comment on Monday, Michael Coughlin asked me how I did with those 2015 goals I set last January. While I’m not sure anyone else would be interested in this, I decided I’d go ahead and report on those, briefly.

The short answer is: 2015 was a colossal failure from a goal-keeping perspective…but I’m okay with that. 

The only one I definitely accomplished was my goal to take at least four overnight trips with my wife. Turns out, I really like hanging out with her, so getting away on a regular basis is a really refreshing thing. (Crazy, I know.) And our relationship is growing stronger, which is such a blessing.

As for the others:

  • Reading through Bible / memorizing Scripture: Not even close. But I’ve begun again, and am now just seeking consistent daily Bible intake and prayer.
  • Weight loss: I actually gained 4 pounds over the course of 2015. But I’ve still maintained a total weight loss of more than 50 pounds since June of 2014. Something to build on.
  • Paying off debt: We made some progress but not nearly what I had hoped. However, that’s partly due to changes in household income, increases in cost of living with a move across town, and some unexpected large car repair bills. But God is faithful to provide for us, and He has given us everything we have needed. For that, we are most grateful.
  • Catching up with old friends: I have been able to spend time with a few old friends in recent months. I’m glad of that. But there are still a few I’d like to see.
  • Reading only books I own: HAHA, not even close. I do have a plan in place to dive deeper into my To-Be-Read shelf this year, however.
  • Consistent Writing Production: Nope. I probably hit about half of the total word count I was originally shooting for. However, I did take part in NaNoWriMo for the first time, and I really benefited from that experience.
  • Getting all A’s in Seminary: Missed it by that much. Got a high B in Systematic Theology 1, my only class in 2015. However, I really enjoyed that class and benefited from taking it, and one of my textbooks made it on my 2015 top 3 list.

I know why I failed to reach each of these goals–I stopped thinking about them. I didn’t keep them in front of me consistently. I put them away and moved on to other things, and time kept passing. I understand that, in order to be successful, I can’t lose sight of what I want most.

With all that said, it was a good year, and set up a lot of good things to come in 2016, so I’m actually really hopeful about what comes next.

Do I have goals for 2016? Yes, I do. They’re simpler than last year’s goals. You could argue that they are not totally specific, quantifiable, or measurable. But I think they could work for me.

My buddy Trevor chooses a “word” for each year as a guiding principle. I think my word for 2016 could be something like “rhythm.” I want to create consistent, steady rhythms in my life concerning the following areas:

  • I want to read the Bible every day in a meaningful way. No specific reading plan or hard deadlines–just read some portion of Scripture and take time to meditate on it.
  • I want to pray every day. I am using Dr. Don Whitney’s method of praying the Scriptures, taking a Psalm a day and using it as a guide to prayer.
  • I want to be active for 30 minutes every day, no matter what the activity is–just something to get my heart-rate up and work up some perspiration.
  • I want to choose an eating plan and stick to it all year. Still working out the details on this.
  • I want to keep writing–both on the blog and on the novel I started during NaNoWriMo (the first of a possible series).
  • I want to read a book a week, using Tim Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge as a guide. The list forces me to be a little more diverse than normal, which is good.

That’s it. I want to begin building the habits of the man I want to be in the future. And you can bet that I’ll keep you posted of my progress along the way.

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Your Turn: Any new goals, resolutions, anti-resolutions, or buzzwords for 2016? Post them in the comments below!

My 2016 Anti-Resolution.

[Disclaimer: I know that blogging about blogging is like telling other people about your weird dreams: fascinating to you, but dreadfully dull to everyone else. That said, here’s a post about blogging. Happy 2016, friends!]

Want to hear something really crazy? I read a “motivational quote” meme on Twitter the other day that actually stuck with me. It was a quote from a 2010 article/interview with famed fantasy author Neil Gaiman, in which he said, “Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t ‘network’ or ‘promote.’ Just talk.” 

This goes against all the advice of professional bloggers and online-platform builders and portfolio-lifers out there. And something about that is incredibly refreshing to me.

This past year, I really wrestled with whether or not I wanted to pursue becoming a “real” blogger, and how that could impact a possible future career as a writer and freelance editor. While I re-discovered a bit of my writing mojo during NaNoWriMo, I haven’t yet parlayed that into consistent word production.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written anything here at the 4DB in the last couple of weeks. Why? We had a few teenagers staying with us for a bit, and I decided that time spent watching and discussing Avatar: The Last Airbender and playing board games with them was important–more important than rushing out my review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or discussing the latest whatever-people-were-freaking-out-about.

I did the thing that all the pro bloggers out there say you shouldn’t do. I just hit pause. I didn’t post explanations for my absence. I didn’t repost “best-of” rerun articles or invite guest writers to cover for me (though I would love it if Mike or Web posted on here once in a while!).

Like everyone else at the beginning of a new year, I’ve been thinking about changes I want to make in my life. But when it comes to this blog, I’ve decided on a change I don’t want to make.

So here’s my 2016 4thDaveBlog Anti-Resolution: I’m not going to turn this blog into an SEO machine or a self-promotion platform. I’m not going to slavishly chase pingbacks, retweets, or links from more famous bloggers (though if those things happen, I will dig that, for sure).

I’m not going to subject you to posts that I wouldn’t want to read myself. I actually have a “Top 5 Food Trucks I Enjoy in Austin” post in the can that I wrote but couldn’t bring myself to post. Why? Because it’s nothing more than a gimmick post to boost blog traffic. I wrote it for that very purpose, and I should have known better than that. (That said, if you’re looking for recommendations, hit me up on Twitter, and I’ll point you to some good food in the ATX.)

Rather, I resolve to be honest on this site. I resolve not to let it become something unreadable and soulless.

I may not post on a consistent schedule, though I will try, because regular writing is good for me. But when I post, my hope is that it’s interesting, encouraging, challenging, and fun to read.

(Suggestion: If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can sign up to follow my posts or get them emailed to you. This way, if you like what you’ve been reading, you won’t miss any random posts that fall outside the Mon-Wed-Fri-morning format I try to stick to. Like, um, this post.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens in 2016!

–d.

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Your Turn: Do you have any anti-resolutions for 2016–things you resolve not to start doing? Post them in the comments!