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Jesus vs. Cthulhu

I’m sad that October is almost over. I love this time of year. Fall is here and with Halloween in a few days, we all have an excuse to indulge in some spookiness. As such, I decided to draw the themes for our first XLM weekly Bible studies from horror stories.

I love my job.

My notes are below.

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Cosmic Horror: the Universe Does Not Love You

Jesus vs. Cthulhu

Historical note: R’lyeh is not located at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.

H.P. Lovecraft was a pioneer of what’s called weird fiction. The bad guys in his stories are often these unspeakable cosmic horrors — vastly old, utterly alien creatures that cause trouble for humanity. Among them is Cthulhu, one of the Great Old Ones. He’s gigantic and has a squid head. Very creepy.

Lovecraft worked with that theme of alienness a lot. Much of the scariness of his stories comes as his characters learn unimaginable secrets about the universe. Because of that, one of the other themes that crops up a lot is madness. In the Cthulhu Mythos, when you learn the truth, the truth will drive you insane. Cthulhu and other figures in the mythos have evil cults that worship them and do terrible things. Their presence corrupts their followers. One of the things that happens in Lovecraft stories is that, if they don’t go nuts, people slowly become monsters.

Lovecraft’s work reflects his personal beliefs about the world. His philosophy is called cosmicism, which holds that the universe is an impersonal, chaotic, mechanical place. The universe was born of chaos, and produced only more chaos.

If that were so, what would it imply?

  • Our lives are completely and totally insignificant.
  • Good and evil are meaningless.
  • Life has no purpose.
  • There is no justice.
  • We could all be wiped out at any moment.
  • Suffering is arbitrary.
  • Love is, at best, a chemical reaction.

Ever feel like that? Ever doubt that your life, your experiences have any meaning? Isn’t it horrifying to think that they might have no meaning at all? Ever get the feeling like no one cares about what you’re going through and life is nothing but chaos?

Let’s look at some contrasts between the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos and the universe that Jesus describes. Read the rest of this entry

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Taking Correction

I got the chance to preach at Crossroads this morning! I ended up talking about how hard it is for me to take correction, even from God. Maybe you can sympathize?

The download link and notes are below. And if you like this kind of preaching, check out the Crossroads Podcast.

Taking Correction (MP3)

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Aside from being a sci-fi nerd, something of a comic book guy, and a gamer, I’m a Bible geek. I’ve read it in four translations. I love connecting different passages and seeing what they say about God.

That’s why I’ll be starting a Sunday School series next week about the minor prophets, those little books in the middle of the Bible that only a few of us have read. I’ll be talking about Nahum and Habakkuk and Joel and all those guys. When I decided to teach on them, I realized I had to preach out of them too. There’s so much good stuff they have to teach us. God spoke through them, as I hope He will to you this morning.

One of the reasons God sent the minor prophets to Israel — and so many of them — was to correct Israel. This really hit me as I was reading through the book of Amos this last time. Israel was in a really bad spiritual situation, and God send the prophets to warn them, to set them straight.

That’s what I want to talk about today: taking correction from God. Because when God corrects us, sometimes we take it hard. Or we get stubborn and don’t want to listen. Or we get bitter because we think He’s depriving us of something we like. But God wants us to be humble as He corrects us through the Spirit and through the Word. And I wanna talk about a few reasons why we should be. Read the rest of this entry

Encumbrance

We had another great XLM Bible Study last Saturday. Here’s the audio. The background noise is the Magic players from the next table over.

God vs. Your Baggage (MP3)

Here are my notes. Hope they’re useful!

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By baggage, I just mean the stuff that’s happened to us that we still carry with us. Maybe it was our fault, maybe it wasn’t (maybe we think it’s one way when it’s the other). Whatever happened, it weighs us down. It could just be depressing to think about. We might have developed a bad habit because of it, or one of those automatic reactions that gives us trouble sometimes. It’s something in our past that’s negatively affecting our present.

Baggage is stuff we don’t need to hold on to, but it’s tough to let go of.
Read the rest of this entry

Unintended Consequences

Sometimes, we think of sin like candy: a little bit is arguably good for you. It’s only a problem if you have too much. If you eat nothing but cheesecake all day, your pancreas will eventually give out, but a little indulgence here and there isn’t bad.

We should look at sin more like cancer. No one is okay with a tumor, no matter how small it is. When there’s cancer within you, you take drastic measures to destroy it.

That’s what I talked about last Sunday at Spring Valley Church.

Unintended Consequences (MP3)

Pastor Bill and most of the staff were away at a marriage retreat, and he invited me to guest-preach. It makes me particularly happy that he’d ask me because I took a preaching class from him a few years ago.

Spring Valley has been going through the book of Mark in their Sunday sermons. When Pastor Bill gave me a list of scriptures I could use, I knew I had to talk about the part where Herod chops off John the Baptist’s head. I had a direction in mind when I started researching the story, but God nudged me in a different direction.

In the end, my sermon was about how our view of sin affects us and those around us. I suggested three reminders for when we’re faced with temptation:

Don’t nurture death. There’s always a point behind temptation: to separate you from God, which is lethal to the soul. Think beyond what you’re being tempted with to the consequences of sin.

Don’t normalize evil. The more you’re in the midst of sin, the less it seems like sin. Like a friend of mine once said, “It’s appalling what people can get used to.” Remember that what you accept now may become your new normal.

Don’t bring trouble on those you love. There is no such thing as a private sin. Your actions affect others, whether by direct consequences or through your personal example. Think about how many of your parents’ hang-ups you inherited.

Thanks to Pastor Bill and everyone at Spring Valley for the chance to preach!

Why it’s Good

In the end, Good Friday is not about guilt and shame. It’s about hope and love.

I’ve spent far too much of my life dwelling on the fact that my imperfection caused Jesus so much suffering. Understanding the impact of our sins is crucial to understanding the magnitude of the cross, but I’ve spent too much time agonizing over my mistakes. Sin is real and its consequences are dire, but that’s not the central message of Good Friday. If it were, we wouldn’t call it “good.”

Jesus endured the suffering I earned for myself. I could feel guilty about that, but that’s not what He wants. He just wants me to be grateful and live out that gratitude.

I do an awful job of it sometimes. I’ve done, said, thought things in the past couple days that He paid for on the cross. But that’s the point of the cross: it gives us a chance to try and fail. Our debt to God is paid, so He can extend overwhelming grace to us. The cross is our second chance.

Our extra life, if you will.

That’s the message of the day. Jesus’ sufferings mean hope for us. And think about it: if His death accomplished so much, what about His resurrection?

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
-Romans 5:10

There’s hope for us. That’s why we celebrate Easter. And that’s why it’s called Good Friday.

Christianity 101: The Church

Here’s the last lesson in the series. Hope it’s been useful!

Christianity 101: The Church (MP3)

Last week, we talked about personal disciplines, actions we can take to grow in holiness. We know that it’s the Holy Spirit that changes us from the inside out, and disciplines simply help us cooperate with what He’s doing.

Now, holiness isn’t just an individual matter. God is a God of holy love, and He wants us the world to become holy again. And He wants us to help Him accomplish that. That’s why He created the church.

To be clear, the word “church” can mean a lot of things. It can mean the building we’re in, or the property we’re on. It can mean the people we’re surrounded with. It can mean the collection of churches that we’re a part of. It can even mean the collection of all the churches of all time.

Today, we’ll be talking about the church largely on the local level. We’re talking about the group of believers you spend your time with. it’s not really about the building: it’s about the body of Christ. Why do we call the church the body of Christ? Read the rest of this entry

Christianity 101: Personal Disciplines

[This is actually a bonus lesson! I didn’t teach this lesson at Crossroads because I was at my Grandma’s memorial. The incomparable Pastor Ashley Jennings filled in for me. These are the notes I would have taught from. Enjoy!]

Last week, we talked about holiness.God is a God of holy love, and He wants us to lead lives that please Him. That starts with our confession of Christ: accepting Him as our Lord and Savior. Then, the Holy Spirit indwells us, lives within us and changes us from inside out. He helps us to let Jesus truly be the Lord of our lives.

To be honest, it takes us the rest of our lives to work out, and we’re not even really done until we die. And as we discussed, that’s okay. God expects us to keep moving forward, though. We’re expected not to just stop growing. We should be secure in where we are with God, but not satisfied enough to just get comfortable and quit striving. Does that make sense?

To that end, God has given us tools to cultivate our own personal holiness. He wants us to engage Him, to cooperate with the changes He’s making in us. Let’s talk about some of those tools. I’ll also refer to them as disciplines. Read the rest of this entry

Christianity 101: Holiness

Christianity 101: Holiness (MP3)

Last week, we talked about God’s solution to sin: Jesus’ death and resurrection. He died as a sacrifice for us. He paid the penalty for our sins and restored our relationship with God.

Before the cross, we were enslaved to sin. We couldn’t avoid it. But because of the cross, we’re free to live lives that please God.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

-Romans 6:6

Now, people throughout history have been tempted to say that since God forgave us, we can do whatever we want. Even the Jews were tempted by that idea: after all, they were God’s chosen people.

But remember, God is a God of holy love. He loves us and accepts us and forgives us, and He also wants us to do what’s right. That’s why He gave the Law to the Jews in the first place: to show them right and wrong, to show them how to live a life that pleases Him. Read the rest of this entry

Christianity 101: Jesus & the Cross

Christianity 101: Jesus & the Cross (MP3)

Last week we discussed how pervasive and destructive sin really is. We talked about how, because the first people screwed up, we all suffer the consequences. But today, we’ll talk about the reason we have hope — hope for this life and the next. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the answer to the problem of sin.

Now, to understand the cross, we need to understand the Incarnation: Jesus coming to Earth as a human being.

When we discussed the Trinity, we saw that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We saw that Jesus is the Son; that is, Jesus is God. Let’s look at one passage that illustrates that.

30 I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

-John 10:27-33

Jesus claims to be God. Yet it is also clear that He was a human being. Read the rest of this entry

Christianity 101: Sin

Christianity 101: Sin (MP3)

Today, we’re talking about sin and its impact. It will be a little bleak, but don’t worry: things will brighten considerably next week when we talk about the cross. This week, we’ll talk about the problem; next week, we’ll talk about the solution.

Now, we use the word “sin” to refer to a few different ideas. The word “sin” can refer to an act, or the consequences of an act. “A sin” is something you do: “sin,” in theological terms, can refer to the repercussion we face because of it. Perhaps the most helpful description is this: when we describe something as “sinful,” it means it’s contrary to God’s nature.

As we talked about last week, God is a God of holy love. He’s both merciful and just. He’s a moral being; His character is what defines good, and therefore evil. He is our standard.

We can find an illustration of sin and its effects very early in the Bible, unfortunately. Let’s turn to Genesis 2, and the story of Adam and Eve. Read the rest of this entry