2016 Year In Review

This year of 2016 is drawing to a close.  I know it’s really easy to pick on 2016 and say how horrible it was.  I will say it has been a tough year, one of the toughest but hopefully it has been a learning and growing experience.  I hope that your year was good.  If it wasn’t, I hope that 2017 is better for you.  As is tradition for me, I liked to look back and review the year.  Here is the year in review starting with the final book list of books I’ve read this year (one less than last year, there is one book that I’m reading now that will carry over to 2017 list).

Final reading list for 2016:

Film, Faith and Philosophy:  Big Ideas on the Big Screen edited by R. Douglas Geivett and James S. Spiegel

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster

Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue by Robert K. Johnston

It:  How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It by Craig Groeschel

Called to Coach:  Reflections on Life, Faith and Football by Bobby Bowden with Mark Schlabach

Boring:  Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life by Michael Kelley

Arise by Clayton and Ellen Kershaw

Soul Revolution by John Burke

Auschwitz:  A New History by Laurence Rees

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

College Ministry from Scratch: A Practical Guide to Start and Sustain a Successful College Ministry by Chuck Bomar

Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman edited by Jim Reimann

This is the 12th year of keeping track of books I’ve read. Here’s the number breakdown:

2005: 19

2006: 20

2007: 18

2008: 22

2009: 29

2010: 24

2011: 15

2012: 14

2013: 9

2014: 7

2015: 13

2016: 12

2016 Year in Review

Highlights of the year: The highlights were the following:  Board game nights with friends, Opportunities to preach, the joy of writing for this blog

Five things that 2016 taught me:

1) Words matter both what is said to you and what you say to others

2) A little kindness can go a long way

3) It is okay to say things are not okay

4) Keep plugging away and keep persevering

5) Reflection is important for perspective

*Five personally significant events of 2016:  (Well this year it was three again)

1) I celebrated the 3 year anniversary of this blog

2) Had opportunity to preach several times

3) Got to spend quality time with friends

4) ——————————————–

5) ——————————————–

Ten things I want to do in 2017 (in no particular order):

1) Continue to grow in my walk with the Lord

2) Find a full time job in ministry

3) Hopefully find and be in a relationship with a girl that is honoring God

4) Continue to pray for my friends around the world

5) Show grace and mercy to everyone around me

6) Find time for recreational reading

7) Travel to see friends

8) Be an encouragement to those around me

9) Learn as much as I can from the experiences I have

10) Smile every day

Five things I don’t want to do in 2017:

1) Grow weary in doing good

2) Not appreciate the blessings God has provided for me

3) Forget where God has brought me and where he’s taking me

4) Hurt people and lose friendships because of my actions

5) Grow angry and bitter at my circumstances

Five things I love beyond all reason currently:

1) God

2) My family and friends

3) Opportunities for the future

4) Reading

5) Writing

Five things I hate with good reason currently:

1) My sinful nature

2) Frustration about circumstances beyond my control

3) Being lonely

4) Being hurt

5) Bad attitudes

I hope that 2017 will be a better year than 2016.  That is my prayer for me and for you.

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My Favorite Films of 2016

Last year I shared my favorite films that were released in the past year.  I thought I’d make that a yearly tradition and so here is my list of favorite films for 2016.   They are in no particular order, just in the order that I can remember them from the beginning of the year until the end of the year:

Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday

Though Only Yesterday released originally in Japan in 1991, the English dubbed version came to North America this year.  Only Yesterday is the story of Taeko Okajima and her life in two parts.  It tells one part of her life as an 8 year old child in the late 1960s Tokyo as well as an adult in the 1980s.  It was one of the last Studio Ghibli films to be dubbed into English and includes the voicework of Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel and Ashley Eckstein.

I Saw The Light

I Saw The Light

Based on the true story of country singer and legend Hank Williams Sr., I Saw The Light tells the story of his life as a singer just before his big break to right before his tragic death.  Hank Williams is played in the film by Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Olsen plays Audrey Williams, Hank’s first wife.  I’m usually a fan of a good biopic and when it’s a subject like that of Hank Williams I was drawn to it.  I thought the performances in the film were done well especially that of Hiddleston and Olsen.  It is hard to act and sing especially to play an iconic figure but Hiddleston was up to the challenge in my mind.

The Legend of Tarzan

LEGEND OF TARZAN

The Legend of Tarzan is a new take on an old story.  It tells the further adventures of Tarzan and how he and Jane (along with American George Washington Williams) take on some corrupt Belgians who were trying to exploit the Congo.  There are several nods to the classic Tarzan character while telling a story that resonates today.  And while most people this year will look at Margot Robbie’s other big role in 2016 (Harley Quinn), her performance as Jane Clayton is a showstealer.

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

A remake of a classic (which in turn was a remake itself) The Magnificent Seven tells the story of a ragtag group of seven men who help to defend a mining town from a evil and corrupt businessman and his hired army.  The cast for this film included Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio among others.  I enjoyed the original The Magnificent Seven and to me this film honors that film while also telling it’s own story.

Amanda Knox

amanda-knox

Probably the documentary of the year for me in 2016, Amanda Knox was a Netflix film that tells the story of Amanda Know, who is most well known for being found guilty and later acquitted of the death of a fellow student in Italy in 2007.  For this documentary there is lots of archive footage and interviews as well as interviews today from some of the key people including Amanda herself.

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

Out of the two Marvel movies that released this year, Doctor Strange was my favorite of the two.  Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job as Dr. Stephen Strange.  Strange went from an arrogant doctor over the course of the movie to the Sorcerer Supreme.  It was a good origin story for a character that is not as well known in the Marvel Universe as others.  And it didn’t kill off the main villain at the end of the movie.  It is a good setup for what’s to come in Phase 3 of the MCU.

Arrival

arrival

If there is a “Film of the Year” for me, I would say it’s this film.  From the first trailer to seeing it on the big screen, Arrival was interesting and compelling.  With a cast that included Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, Arrival tells the story about humankind’s interaction with an alien species and the key to communicating lies with a language professor (played by Adams) and a physicist (played by Renner).  But it’s a different take on that familiar trope.  The visuals are stunning and the story makes you think.  This is a film I’m interested in seeing multiple times because of seeing the all the puzzles pieces in place.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

An interesting film that I found on Netflix, Blue Jay is the story of two high school sweethearts that meet up some 20 years later.  Jim (played by Mark Duplass, who also wrote the screenplay for the film) returns back to his hometown to settle some affairs after his mother passed away.  He runs into Amanda (played by Sarah Paulson) at a grocery store and the two reminisce about old times.  It is a very poignant film and one that deals with heavy issues in a thought provoking way.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one

Of course a list of my favorite films would have to include a Star Wars movie.  Rogue One is the first Star Wars anthology film and is set right before A New Hope.  It tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans for the first Death Star and the group that did it.  It had one of the best battle sequences I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie and there were a lot of cool references that tied into the Star Wars universe.  Thought I still have the original trilogy in my top 3 of Star Wars films, this one is right there in the running for 4th along with The Force Awakens.

Thursday Quote Day: Tim Keller

For this week’s “Thursday Quote Day” here is a quote from pastor and author Tim Keller:

“…God’s grace and forgiveness, while free to the recipient, are always costly for the giver…. From the earliest parts of the Bible, it was understood that God could not forgive without sacrifice. No one who is seriously wronged can “just forgive” the perpetrator…. But when you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.”  (Tim Keller)

Sunday Devotional: “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel”

Today is Christmas Day.  Today is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  The one who is called Immanuel (God With Us).  Before Jesus birth, there was a 400 year gap between the prophets last hearing from the Lord.  The people were waiting for the Messiah to come.  They were in bondage and needed to be freed.

However, when Jesus came He was not the Messiah that everyone expected.  He was born of a virgin in a manger in a town that was not expected to have someone of prestige be born from (Bethlehem).  But when Jesus was born there choirs of angels singing and there were shepherds praising.  And ultimately Jesus came to ransom everyone from the bondage of sin.

These are some of the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas songs.  It has been a tradition on the blog that I post different versions of this song every year on Christmas Day.  This year here is a version by Jeremy Camp:

Team Building: Thoughts on Rogue One & The Magnificent Seven

I finally got around to watching the remake of The Magnificent Seven that came out in the fall (which the one that released in the ’60s was a remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai).  I really enjoyed it and would put it up there as one of my favorite films of 2016.  As I finished the film, I had some thoughts that marinated in my head between that film and another film that I just recently watched: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (FYI there will be spoilers)

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

For those that don’t know the story of The Magnificent Seven, the premise of the film is a small town out in the Old West has been taken over by this crooked baron who wants to run everyone out of town and take over the mines for himself.  Some of the townspeople seek out a group to protect and avenge the town.  A team of seven men, outlaws and misfits in their own right, come together and fight for the town and for the people in it.

The team consists of a warrant officer (essentially a bounty hunter), gambler and ladies man, tracker and a mountain man, a war veteran and sharpshooter, an immigrant and assassin, a Mexican outlaw and finally an exiled Comanche warrior.  Each one has their own unique story.  Each one has their past which in some ways haunts them.  And each one chooses to fight for honor and for the people of this town that had been oppressed.

These seven men are gathered together by the warrant officer Sam Chisholm (played by Denzel Washington in the film).  Several of the men he knows personally going into this fight, others he comes to know along the way.  By the time of the battle, each man has a vested interest in the fight beyond just the “payout”.  They want to avenge the wrong taking place.

In a similar way, Rogue One has that same kind of vibe.  There is the collection of a ragtag bunch.  They eventually come together and fight a group that has been oppressing people.  And they know going into the fight they are facing and overwhelming force that opposes them.  This group of six, like the Magnificent Seven, have their own back stories and come together to fight for a good cause (here to steal the plans of the Death Star and get them to the Rebel Alliance).

rogue-one

After watching these two movies, I tend to think one of the flaws of Rogue One is something that is addressed better in The Magnificent Seven.  In my initial thoughts post I wrote immediately after seeing Rogue One, I mentioned how I thought the character arcs of several characters seemed rushed.  At the time I said it is a minor thing and in most ways I still think that but it does merit discussion.

As an audience we are supposed to be invested in Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, Bodhi Rook & K-2SO.  They are that ragtag group we are to rally behind and cheer on as they make their way to steal the plans off of Scariff.  But by the time this group is lifting off of Yavin IV and on their way, there is still some character building that could’ve been done.  I was more invested in some characters than I was in others.  But in The Magnificent Seven, it felt like they took the time to develop all the characters in a way that made you fully invested in them.  When you have Sam Chisholm, Joshua Faraday, Goodnight Robicheaux, Jack Horne, Billy Rocks, Vasquez and Red Harvest all together ready for the big fight, it feels like you really know those characters and are invested in all of them.

The other big thing that stood out was essentially the ending.  At the end of Rogue One, all of the team end up dead.  This in and of itself isn’t bad but when you couple that with not feeling like you’re fully invested in the characters, it doesn’t resonate as much as say the death of Han Solo at the end of The Force Awakens.  Also, in my personal opinion, there should’ve been at least one make it out at the end.  To have someone standing at the end to feel the weight of the accomplishment while at the same time feel the burden of the loss of friends is a dramatic storyline that is worth pursuing.  At the end of The Magnificent Seven you had three men at the end alive.  The majority of the seven sacrificed their lives for the town and for their “team” so that the battle could be won.  But you had the three that lived on who could remember the sacrifice made and tell the story.

The Magnificent Seven and Rogue One are two films that both tell compelling stories.  They ultimately remind us that we are better in community.  We are better working together as a team to solve problems and to overcome evil.  In the end, that is what a good story truly has in it.  It’s about team building and fighting the good fight.

Sunday Devotional: Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

This is a song that Mary the mother of Jesus sung just after her visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary had just received the news from the angel that she was to give birth to the Messiah.

Mary in these words reflects on God’s greatness and glory.  She shares about God’s might and holiness.  And how in all His glory, He chose someone like Mary to be the one to give birth.  She is just a humble girl but yet God will use her for His glory.

God in his goodness and lovingkindess uses us as well.  He calls us to follow Him and to help proclaim the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  The message that was given to Mary is the good news that we get to proclaim as well.

As we get closer to Christmas, let us remember the great message that comes from it.  Immanuel = God with us.  What a great gift indeed.