Sunday Devotional: Psalm 54

“O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.”  (Psalm 54)

The Psalms are a great avenue to explore as far as taking in all the different ways we can see and worship God.  In this one, David writes about how God is a deliverer, He’s a helper, an “upholder of my life”, He is one to give thanks to and He’s a savior.  We need to be reminded of this regularly and the Psalms are great at doing just that.  So this week, remember who God is and what all he has done.  It will be an encouragement to persevere through those tough times.

Thursday Quote Day: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For this week’s “Thursday Quote Day”, here’s a quote from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his most famous book:

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship)

Sunday Devotional: Colossians 3:15-16

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”  Colossians 3:15-16

This past week, I taught the Adult class at Vacation Bible School.  One of the things I did before starting the lesson was ask everyone to share something God had taught them today or share a blessing.  I was reminded this week again of the importance of giving thanks.  It’s so easy to forget to give thanks for the many things God has blessed us with.  Our hearts should be filled with thankfulness.

I love how Paul in these words to the Colossians repeats the importance of thankfulness.  Thankfulness is an important part of teaching and admonishing one another.  Thankfulness is an important part of reading and studying God’s Word.  It’s also an important part of singing and worshiping together.

This week, be thankful.  Remember even in the hard times all the things that God has blessed you with.

Being Thankful: A Lesson Learned in Vacation Bible School

This week I’m teaching a class at Vacation Bible School at my home church.  It’s the church that I grew up in and where I began following Jesus.  I’m teaching the adult class.  That in and of itself is interesting.  Growing up (when I was a kid and went to VBS at that church) there was no adult class.  I don’t know when they started doing it but guess it’s a thing now.  Anyway, the majority of the class is older than me (I think there’s one or two that’s my age or younger) so that’ has been a challenge but overall the class has been good so far.

Something happened tonight that made me think and wanted to share here.  At the beginning of the class, I ask everyone in the class to share a praise or something God has taught them today.  This is something I’ve done in different contexts in different places I’ve served.  It’s a great opportunity to share how God is blessing each of us and how thankful we are for what He’s done.

Tonight I had a group that I would come to find out did not want to talk, did not want to answer questions and would just sit there in silence.  So when I asked about sharing something that God has blessed them with or something God taught them, I got mostly silence.  I got one who did share a praise, someone who had been regularly coming all week.  The other one that did speak did not share a praise or something God had taught them.  Rather, he shared a prayer request about someone being sick.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with sharing a prayer request.  But was there not one thing that God had blessed him with or something God had taught him that day?  How many of us are like that?  We forget to be thankful of all the things God does for us or teaches us and go straight to prayer requests.  For me, this is a huge reminder that I need to remember to share my praises and give thanks to God for all the things He’s done and gave me and taught me.

So next time you pray, take a step back and think and share those blessings and lessons God has taught you.  And share those with others too.  You never know how much those blessing and lessons can be an encouragement to others.

The Beautiful Game and Me

Soccer Ball

I’m a huge fan of soccer.  I admit, though, that I’m late to the party relatively speaking.  I did not grow up loving soccer.  I wasn’t a kid that played it at a young age.  I wasn’t even really interested in it growing up.  But I’ve come to love the “beautiful game”.

My first exposure to soccer and interest in soccer actually was in 1994 when the World Cup was played in the United States.  Though I didn’t attend a game (don’t think there were any within reasonable driving distance), I watched a little on TV.  I even got a soccer ball that was the official soccer ball for the World Cup that year (though I didn’t really play with it).

I didn’t really start liking soccer until I was in college.  My sophomore year one of my roommates was a missionary kid (MK) from Nigeria.  He was a soccer player and as we became friends I grew to learn more about the game hanging out with him and some of the international students.  Along with that I began to watch matches on ESPN from England that would be on weekday afternoons after class.

With watching more soccer I began to get more into the World Cup.  I didn’t see much of the ’98 World Cup (because I wasn’t as interested as I would become) or the ’02 World Cup (because I was working as a summer missionary and the games were on at weird times being that it was hosted in Japan/South Korea).  But the 2006 World Cup was the first that I was interested in watching.  Along with watching the matches, I bought my first soccer video game FIFA World Cup 2006 on PS2.

As time as went on, I’ve tried to learn more about the sport as well as cheer loudly for the US National Team.  I’ve also enjoyed watching European soccer and really into watching English Premier League (like watching Arsenal, Chelsea and Swansea City) and recently like watching Bundesliga (German top soccer league) (like watching Bayern Munich).

Now the 2014 World Cup is underway in Brazil.  I’ve been watching the matches and even live tweeting them.  It’s fun to get into and root for some countries.  But I’ll be excited when the U.S. takes the field.  And I’ll be cheering and live tweeting and getting excited to see how the U.S. team does.  I hope there will be lots of moments like in 2010 against Algeria.  I hope there will be a deep run in the tournament like in 2002.  But most of all, I want to be excited about my country’s team and be proud of the effort they put out there.

Soccer is a cool sport.  Even though it’s not a home grown American sport, it has a lot of cool qualities about it.  And even more than that?  It’s a great way to connect with people around the world.  So, if you’re a soccer fanatic or barely know anything, I’d recommend tuning in to watch the World Cup.  Who knows?  You may become a fan of the Beautiful Game too.

Sunday Devotional: Matthew 9:9-13

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed him.And as Jesusreclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

This is the account of Matthew meeting Jesus for the first time.  Jesus offers him the offer that he had given to his other disciples:  “Follow me”.  The great thing about this account is that Matthew was given the offer even though he wasn’t looked highly upon by those around him.  Tax collectors were despised by many in that time because the people felt that not only were tax collectors cheats but also sellouts to the Roman government.  The fact that the offer that Jesus gave was open to a tax collector should encourage us today.  The gift that Jesus offers is open to anyone regardless of who they are and what their background is.  All we have to do is repent and turn from our sins and follow Him.  That is some good news.

Thursday Quote Day: Michaelangelo

For this week’s Thursday Quote Day, here’s a quote from that pizza loving, skateboard riding, ninja turtle, Michaelangelo:

“Well I guess that’s today’s moral, dudes. Search for happiness and you find an old tire.” (Michaelangelo Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Miyazaki Mondays: The Wind Rises

For this week’s (final “for now) Miyazaki Monday is the 2013 film The Wind Rises:

The Wind Rises is based on a true story.  It centers around the life of Jiro Horikoshi.  Jiro lived in Japan in the early 20th century.  He loved flight and grew up during the early years of aviation.  He longed to be a pilot but unfortunately had bad eyesight.  Instead, this drove him to being a designer and became fascinated with making planes.  Growing up, he read aviation magazines.  Inspired by these magazines, Jiro would dream about meeting famed Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni.

Years later, Jiro traveled to Tokyo by train to study engineering in university.  It happened to be during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devistated the country.  He would help a young girl named Naoko and her maid get to safety and to Naoko’s family.  After studying at university, Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to help design fighter planes and is sent to Germany to study abroad.

While on a retreat trying to find inspiration for a new fighter plane design, Jiro runs into Naoko.  Naoko’s family help run the retreat.  The two fall in love.  However, Naoko has tuberculosis and makes it difficult for the two to be together for long periods of time but Jiro loves Naoko.  He also loves airplanes and continued to try and design the best plane.  That would eventually lead to the Mitsubishi A5M, the predecessor to the A6M.  That plane is better known as the Zero, which was the plane used by the Japanese during World War II.

This film was a swan song for Hayao Miyazaki.  He announced publicly in 2013 that this would be the last film that he would direct.  While he had “retired” in the past, most people believe that this is his last film.  The film is based off a manga written by Miyazaki which itself was loosely based on the short story The Wind Has Risen written in 1937.  This film is truly a mix of fact and fiction.  Jiro’s public life (his design of planes and such) is true, his private life (relationship with Naoko) was fictional.  This doesn’t detract from the story in the least.

It was released in Japan on July 20, 2013.  It went on to be the highest grossing film in Japan for 2013.  It also was featured at several film festivals including Toronto International Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival.  Walt Disney Pictures held the North American distribution rights and did it through its Touchstone Pictures label.  The English dub featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Grey, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog and William H. Macy.  It released in theaters in North America in select cities on February 21, 2014 before nationwide on February 28, 2014.  As of last count, the film as grossed over $132 million dollars.  It also received several awards and nominations including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This is a very bittersweet film in a lot of ways.  It is some of Miyazaki’s best work and it will be his last with his retirement.  The relationship in the film between Jiro and Naoko is bittersweet because they love one another but tuberculosis kept them apart.  Jiro want to design planes for beauty and they end up being used for war.  If Miyazaki wanted to fly off into the sunset, then this film is the right sendoff.  It is in my top 3 favorite Miyazaki films and should be one that any film fan should see.  I cannot wait until it comes out on Blu-Ray and watch it again and again.

Sunday Devotional: Philippians 1:3-5

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”  Philippians 1:3-5

Paul in his letter to the Philippians opens with this greeting.  He thanks the believers in Philippi for the encouragement they have been to him.  We all have people in our lives who are a blessing to us.  God brings these people in our lives to help us grow and mature in our faith.  They help to partner with us to fulfill the mission that God has given each one of us separately and collectively.

As believers, we are not alone.  God provides the Holy Spirit to comfort us and to help us.  He also provides fellow believers.  This week, remember to thank God for those people who are such encouragers and blessings.