Sunday, March 22, 2015

Camping in The Rain

Last weekend we went camping at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park.  The forecast was for rain, so we took our 30' x 40' tarp to cover our camp.  Seth and Papa spent a long time figuring out how to make it shed water properly.

The Wades camped next to us in their trailer.

There was not much rain for the first two days, so we did many activities.


 Just as we were starting to sing around the fire, the rain came pouring down.  We quickly moved under the tarp.

On Saturday it rained all day.

The tarp held up pretty well, but we did have to push the water out of some places.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Movie Review: Beyond the Mask

Beyond the Mask is the latest film from Burns Family Studios, directed and produced by Chad and Aaron Burns.  I had the opportunity to pre-screen it last weekend, so here is my review.

Short version: I loved it!  I had high expectations for this film, and I’m happy to say that they were more than satisfied!  You should buy tickets right now!
 “The leading mercenary for the British East India Company, Will Reynolds has just been double-crossed and now is on the run in the American Colonies. Working to redeem his name and win back the affections of the woman with whom he's never been fully truthful, Will now hides behind a new mask in hopes of thwarting his former employer.” –from the movie website

The screenplay for the film was written by Paul McCusker, who has worked on both Adventures in Odyssey and Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre.  I found the story to be both engaging and compelling.

I particularly appreciated the balance and unity between different aspects of the film.  Action films sometimes suffer from too much action with too little plot to hold it together, but not this one.  There is plenty of action stemming from Will’s ongoing conflict with his former employer, as well as his attempts to thwart the plots against American independence, but the action sequences fit with and enhance the rest of the story.  There are important internal conflicts going on, which demand screen time and character development, and the makers of the film give those parts of the story the attention they deserve without allowing the pace to drag. 

I was also impressed with how tightly woven the storyline was.  The inner conflicts dealt with by the major characters arise naturally and unavoidably from what is happening around them.  These conflicts in turn lead to actions that become indispensable to the story.  Every incident drives the plot forward; I can’t remember a single scene that was superfluous to the overall plot line. 

There is really something for everyone here: action, romance, history, even some science, and a dash of humor.


Can a man overcome the consequences of a sordid past and lead a new life?  Is it possible for a sinner to truly change, or is any attempt just a mask over his real identity?  These are the questions that Will Reynolds faces throughout the film.  In the process, several themes emerge.

-The blackness of sin.  The guilt of Will’s past is real, and the film acknowledges that he deserves all the trouble that it brings on him.

-The sinfulness of man-centered “goodness”.  This was a depth of insight that I wasn’t expecting.  When Will decides to regain the honor of his name, he becomes a vigilante defender of freedom, coming to the unexpected aid of the innocent and oppressed.  He is lauded as a hero, but all the while he is only acting for his own honor in the hopes of reestablishing his reputation and gaining the love of Charlotte Holloway.  He does much that appears “good”, but his selfishness is clearly demonstrated and nearly costs him everything.

-The futility of making another person our hope or our standard of goodness.  When Will first professes his love for Charlotte, he makes it clear that he views her as his only hope for being able to live a new life.  She becomes his single-minded pursuit and sole motive for living honorably.  Instead of earning her love, his selfish motives only further demonstrate his unworthiness of her love.

-The undeserved gift of love, forgiveness, and redemption.  The climax of Will’s internal struggle comes when he realizes that his efforts to change himself and earn his own redemption have failed.  We catch a glimpse of both the gift of redemption and its cost—we cannot earn it, but it is only available to us because Christ earned it on our behalf.  This is the only way to true freedom, and the only way that Will, like the rest of us, can receive a new identity, unstained by the sins of his past.


I don’t have the expertise to thoroughly judge the technical quality of this film.  I usually only notice cinematography, music, lighting, and such if there is something that distracts me from the more important elements of action and story.  There was very little to distract in Beyond the Mask, so I would say that these technical aspects served the story well. 

The acting was excellent.  Andrew Cheney (Will Reynolds) and John Rhys-Davies (the villain Charles Kemp) particularly stand out for the great depth they brought to their characters.  There were several memorable secondary characters who helped bring the story to life, most noteworthy perhaps being Alan Madlane as Benjamin Franklin.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend this film.  It was an exciting adventure with memorable characters, an engaging story, and a thought-provoking message.

Beyond the Mask is coming out by a theater-on-demand model, which means that every showing must reach a minimum number of reserved tickets in order to be confirmed.  TICKETS MUST BE RESERVED IN ADVANCE.  Join us at the showing in Tomball! 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review: Get Real by John Leonard

A few months ago we read this book as a family.  Here is Anna's review of it.

Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day

By John S. Leonard

What does it look like to share the gospel of grace with those around us on a daily basis?  This is the question asked and soundly answered in this book.

Leonard begins in the first chapter by drawing the distinction between a “real” approach to evangelism and the conventional presentation-style approach.  He continues to develop this distinction throughout the book, but this first chapter shows how the conventional approach can be awkward and artificial at best, cold and uncaring at worst.

Chapters 2 and 3 lay the theological foundation for the rest of the book.  In chapter 2, Leonard describes the gospel of grace for us and reminds us that we can no more save ourselves from sin than fly.  This is crucial, for we cannot share God’s grace with others if we have not been transformed by it ourselves.

Chapter 3 builds on this picture of grace by expounding how Jesus Himself communicated grace to others in Luke 7.  His ministry touched the lives of a poor Jewish widow, a rich Roman centurion, the prophet John the Baptist, and the sinful woman.  Leonard refers to these as “the four compass points of humanity,” representing the full spectrum of both human and spiritual experience.  This shows that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace.  If we are to follow in the steps of Christ, we are called to get dirty in His service as we learn to love sinners well and communicate grace to those who need it most.  This is messy business that lies beyond our power, bringing us right back to our own need for God’s grace.

The remainder of the book (chapters 4-17) contains the practical development and application of these truths.  Leonard discusses good listening, being engaged in our communities, praying with unbelievers, using illustrations that apply to our hearers, raising curiosity, the importance of the local church, the nature of our testimonies, using apologetics with love, and the importance of asking unbelievers for help.  Liberally sprinkled throughout are fascinating anecdotes from Leonard’s own experiences.

The “real” approach that Leonard advocates is a breath of fresh air.  It is simple, humble, and loving.  It is also the natural expression of grace-centered theology; if we have been saved by God’s grace alone, then we know that it is only His grace that can save anyone else.  If it is not up to us to guarantee the salvation of those to whom we speak, we are free to simply love them as we have been loved and to allow the grace that we have received to overflow into all aspects of our lives and relationships.  The results are in God’s hands.

Leonard’s writing is clear, engaging, and accessible.  While the content is meaningful and thought-provoking, it is communicated in a way that is easy to read and understand.

I highly recommend this book to anyone!