Earlier this week, I wrote about the value of teamwork as seen in the book of Nehemiah. Just because the teamwork made building the wall easier doesn’t mean that there wasn’t opposition.

Nehemiah and the Israelites had to deal with haters in the form of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab. (Yep, even back then the Israelites were troubled by Arabs.) Like Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show, these three popped up several times throughout the narrative of the book of Nehemiah to taunt the Israelites, and at one point they even set up a plot to kill Nehemiah.

Nehemiah wasn’t fooled. He didn’t fall for the plot, and he did his best not to allow the Israelites to be brought down. Most importantly, he stayed faithful to God and remained determined to see the task through.  He even prayed to God to deliver them from the opposition:

Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.

Nehemiah 4:4 (NIV)

How do you handle opposition, especially when that opposition is also against God and His plans? It’s not always easy to look the haters in the face and persist in doing what’s right. But it’s worth the fight every time.

The Autumn Of Our Discontent

The Georgia Bulldogs are 1-4 as of this week. As a lifelong Dawgs fan, I not used to a record like that. Along with the rest of the Bulldog Nation, I’m trying to figure out what has gone wrong. We have so much talent between the players and the coaching staff, and as a program we have a history of success. So why are we 1-4 (and 0-3 in the SEC)?

This is definitely not a perfect team. Our quarterback is young. Our defense is in a learning curve with a new coordinator and a new system. But neither of those factors alone should account for the team’s performance. Special teams have been uneven, for sure, and the Dawgs have failed so seize on plenty of opportunities that could have made some big differences. The offensive line has struggled, and play calling has been far less than stellar at times. We’ve come so close so many times so far this season. There are plenty of small factors that have added up to more than the sum of their parts. Continue reading The Autumn Of Our Discontent

Out Of The Ashes Came Grace

I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture, particularly by Christians in Japan. I recently read an amazing book, which I highly recommend: A Song For Nagasaki by Paul Glynn. The book relates the true story of Taskahi Nagai, one of the pioneers in X-ray research in Japan.

Nagai was a doctor’s son, and he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps in medical practice. He chose instead to study the new field of radiology at Nagasaki University. While a student, he moved from blindly following his family’s Shinto beliefs (complete with 8,000 gods) to embracing agnosticism, still believing all the while that there was something out there.

Inspired by the writings of Blaise Pascal, Nagai chose to explore Christianity, going so far as to stay with a Catholic family in the suburb of Urakami, near the university. That family gently demonstrated the love of Christ to them, and in time, Nagai placed his faith in Jesus and married his landlords’ only daughter, Midori. His Christian faith and rock-solid marriage sustained him through a torturous stint in the Japanese army stationed in Manchuria as well as through the severe leukemia he contracted due to prolonged exposure to and inadequate protection from x-ray radiation.

In the waning days of World War II, air raids were common around Nagasaki, a strategic industrial city. Takashi and Midori Nagai sent their son and daughter to live with Midori’s mother in the mountains for safety. On August 9, 1945, the people of Nagasaki heard an air raid siren and moved to bunkers until they heard the all-clear signal. False alarm.

Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Nagasaki felt a blast unlike any felt by nearly anyone else in history — an atomic bomb. Urakami was practically ground zero. Protected by the walls of his office at the university hospital, Nagai was spared with minor injuries, but his wife at home, blocks from the impact site, was killed, rosary in hand. Their children were safe in the mountains.

Nagai grieved for his wife, for the devastation of the city he called home, but he wasn’t bitter. He poured his efforts into saving and helping heal victims, and, as the weeks and months passed, to offering spiritual counsel. Of the tens of thousands dead in Nagasaki, 8,000 were believers in Jesus Christ. (In an odd side note, the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki wiped out the largest concentration of Christians in Japan, long considered one of the most elusive mission fields.)

Nagai held an interesting view as to why Nagasaki suffered the atomic blast: he believed it was the plan of Almighty God. He believed that the city with the largest number of true believers in Him was a sacrifice to achieve Japanese surrender, and thus peace. His view was controversial when he first revealed it at the memorial service marking the one year anniversary of the bombing, but the Christian survivors came to accept the notion. Nagai became somewhat of a folk hero and an accomplished author, visited by such dignitaries as the Emperor of Japan, a papal representative, and Helen Keller. And Nagasaki became an example of how to handle disaster with an unbelievable amount of grace.

Urakami was the area of Nagasaki rebuilt the most quickly, including the homes of many Christians, the Christian school, and the majestic cathedral. A memorial to Nagai, who succumbed to leukemia in 1951, stands on the site of his home; Nagasaki also hosts a foundation dedicated to achieving peace. The Christians in Nagasaki were (and still are) a tremendous light to the people in that area of Japan.

It has been said that the two memorials to the survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan have completely different vibes to them. Hiroshima’s memorial is bitter and angry, while Nagasaki’s is peaceful, hopeful, and committed to a distinctly Christian view of forgiveness. It is the result of the actions of believers like Takashi Nagai that contributed to the uniqueness of Nagasaki’s acceptance of the fate that city suffered nearly 65 years ago.

Out of the ashes came grace…