Blog Archives

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

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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

How to Grow

The last XLM Bible Study was great. Thanks to everyone who came out! And thanks once again to Adventures in Comics and Games for hosting us!

We’ve got more events coming up soon. We’ll post more details soon on the Facebook page, the Twitter feed, the Google+ page, and here at the blog.

Below are my notes from the Bible study.

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Last time, we talked about how God can change us into new people, how he can move us past things that we think are insurmountable. We can grow beyond what we are now.

In Extra Life Ministries, and at Crossroads in general, we talk about growth a lot. We encourage people to really engage what God wants to do in our lives. So, the question is, how do we do that? What can we do to grow spiritually?

I want to talk about three areas we can grow: knowledge, faith, and practice. And as I was thinking about those, I realized there were some parallels to the Matrix.

Think about Neo at the beginning of the Matrix, before he’s really Neo. He goes through life with these lingering questions he can’t ignore. He’s literally enslaved, but he can’t do anything about it because he doesn’t even know he’s enslaved. Something in him knows it, and knows he needs to do something about it, but he has no idea what.

When we lack knowledge, we are left without answers to the questions that bother us. Sometimes, we don’t know enough to even ask the right questions. Read the rest of this entry

New People, New Places

Below are the notes from today’s Bible study.

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Today doesn’t have to be just another yesterday. God wants to transform us into new people, and take us to new places — and He can do it.

To illustrate, I want to look at Paul today. He’s one of the prime examples of the type of transformation God can bring about in us. To recap, Paul was one of the fiercest opponents of the church when it was just starting out. Then, he had a dramatic encounter with God, and became one of the founding fathers of the church. It’s like Red Skull had a vision and suddenly joined the Avengers.

I want to look at some of the details of Paul’s transformation because as we do, it’ll give us hope for our own personal growth and change. If God can make an apostle out of Saul of Tarsus, He can make anything out of anybody. Read the rest of this entry

Holiness is a Superpower

The second XLM Bible Study was a lot of fun. Thank you so much to Avrom at Adventures in Comics and Games for welcoming us!

Our next event will be in early December. Details soon. For now, here are my notes from the lesson.

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Last time, we talked about the power of the cross. Some people stop there when they talk about Christianity. Thing is, that’s just the beginning. Jesus was clear about that.

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
-John 14:15-17

Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and not just that we could pray to Him or know about Him, but that He would live in each of us. Now, make no mistake: the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus and the Father are. So what we’re saying is, God Himself lives in us as Christians.

That’s what we’re talking about today. Christianity doesn’t end at the cross. The Holy Spirit lives in us and helps us accomplish what we could never do otherwise. Read the rest of this entry

Push the Button

I had an unexpected moment in a police station that got me thinking about my life. Or rather, my character did.

A little while ago, Emily Reese of Top Score interviewed Normand Corbeil, the guy who composed the soundtrack to Heavy Rain. I was terribly intrigued about the music and the game. So, when Pastor Shep — our most experienced pastor and resident unexpected gamer — let me borrow his old, busted PlayStation 3 in a bid to convince me to join him in White Knight Chronicles, I also borrowed his copy of Heavy Rain to try it out.

Heavy Rain European cover art

Now, I dislike quick time events as much as the next guy. I found myself shaking the controller up and down, watching Ethan shake a carton of orange juice, thinking to myself, really? Our hero proceeded to help set the table and play with his kids. Hardly a fast-paced intro.

But it definitely picked up, and I got engrossed. Then came that unexpected moment.

My character was in a police station, being questioned, and his possible responses were floating around his head, each assigned to a button. I took a moment to pick a response; a moment too long, apparently, because my character gave a response without me pressing a button.

Dialogue options in Heavy Rain

Given the unusual game design of Heavy Rain, I was only a little surprised. Then, I found myself wondering how much the game would do by itself if I just set down the controller. Maybe I could get through large sections of the game without doing anything.

I remember living like that.

There was a period of my life where I just coasted. My basic physical needs were taken care of: I was living with one of my parents. Life was comfortable enough: I had my Game Boy and my laptop, and a few hours of work to do each week for spending money. Frankly, I didn’t do much.

Opportunities came and went. I wasn’t ready for them. I wasn’t in the right place to act on them.

Life is like some of those scenes in Heavy Rain. If you just sit there, life will move around you. Someone else will make decisions for you. Your circumstances will slide out of control.

The problem is, that’s seldom how we see it. When we sit still, we imagine our lives in stasis. We get comfortable, and ride it out as long as we can. But we always think we have longer than we actually do.

Then comes the day when we run out of money, or a relationship crumbles, or we get kicked out of the house. When we realize we have no goals and no forward momentum. When we realize we’ve been drifting more than living.

It took me a while to realize that I needed to change. My comfortable little world started to seem awfully small compared to what God was offering me. So, I found a regular, decent-paying job, saved up, and found my own place for the first time. I had to stop sleeping in until ten. I had to keep a tight budget. I had to be a little more conservative with my money and a lot more adventurous with my life.

God was calling me to push the button, and I’m glad I did.

Are you stuck? I’d be glad to pray for you. Have you followed God’s call out of complacency? I wanna celebrate with you. Let me know in the comments, or via the contact page.

Fail Better

I tried recording a podcast this morning for my day job. I moved our Mac Mini to an empty office, plugged in our shiny new Blue Snowball, and fired up Garage Band. My subject matter expert did great: very articulate. Good info. It looked like we were on our way to a respectable episode one.

Here’s where we were recording. Anyone who has any experience with recording audio could tell you how it sounded when I hit play.

My first attempt at a recording setup in a spare office at my day job.

Small room. Flat walls. No good.

The echo gave the recording a little bit more of an epic fantasy feel than we intended. I’m gonna have to re-record the whole thing in a better environment. Preferably somewhere without close, flat walls.

Say it with me: FAIL.

That particular four-letter F-word has crept into my vocabulary over the last few years, thanks to the Internet. It’s the verbal equivalent of the game show buzzer. We see it stamped unceremoniously on pictures that make us feel better about themselves. Hey, it’s good for a laugh. I don’t even know how many hours I’ve spend on FAIL Blog.

My problem with calling FAIL on someone is that it has an air of finality.

Read the rest of this entry

God’s Presence isn’t Always Comfy

I taught the Bible study at Crossroads last Wednesday.

I think Christians often think of “being in God’s presence” as comforting and peaceful by definition. It isn’t always. If we expect Him to guide us, and change us, we’ll experience Him more deeply and avoid a lot of angst.

Here’s the audio.

God’s Presence Isn’t Always Comfy (.mp3 | .m4a)

Below is the lesson as written.

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We spend a lot of time talking about the presence of God. Seeking it. We know it’s important. But what does it really mean to be in the presence of God?

What do you think?

We may think of it as a feeling of peace. An attitude of worship. Maybe being able to hear His leading or correction. All those things are good signs that you’re in His presence.

When someone is present, what does that mean? They’re right there. They’re in your immediate area. When we talk about God’s presence, we’re usually speaking in spiritual and emotional terms. There was a time in the Old Testament when they spoke of God’s presence in physical terms. Read the rest of this entry

Transformation Hurts

In Highlander, when one immortal kills another, there’s an event called the Quickening. There’s lightning and explosions. Energy roars into the victor, who lifts off the ground, racked with pain. But they end up stronger.

image from Highlander of the Quickening

SFX: BZZZZZ *pow* RAAAAHHHH! *crackle*

In Dragonball, the fighters gather energy to fuel their attacks. They’re not subtle about it. There’s blazing energy and flashing light and lots of screaming. They fill themselves with power, and when they release it, you know it.

SFX: One half-hour of screaming

 

When werewolves transform – especially for the first time – it’s not pleasant. Bones and ligaments pop, skin stretches and deforms, fur and claws burst out. Before they’re howling at the moon, they’re crying out in pain. Once the transformation is over, though, they’re big, bad, scary monsters.

SFX: Metallica's "Of Wolf and Man"

Even in our fiction, strength does not come easily. And when it does, we cry foul. If a character doesn’t have to suffer to become exceptional, it seems cheap.

I’ve often made the mistake of expecting awesomeness without effort, both from myself and from others. It’s not realistic, and it’s not fair.

Sure, some people can coast a long way on talent. But there will come a time when what comes easy won’t be enough. I, for one, didn’t have to try hard in school until college. When I got there, I didn’t have much in the way of study skills. That was less than fun.

“No pain, no gain” is a cliché for a reason. Gaining strength will cost you.

A couple reminders for all of us:

First, transformation hurts. If you want to grow, it may not be a smooth, pleasant process. When you’re in the midst of it, imagine looking back on it, having become something new.

Second, painful stuff is gonna come one way or the other. If you’re in the middle of a sucky experience, you may as well try to grow from it. Jesus’ brother wrote a letter that reminds us to “let perseverance finish its work.” That is, whenever you can, let the pain teach you.

You’ll be better for it.

Still Growing Up

I just got to hang out with a good friend of mine. We’d seen each other at church a bunch, but we hadn’t had a good, long conversation in a while. It seems like I was in his wedding, then a few years passed, and here we are.

That, I’ve found, is the biggest difference between adolescence and adulthood: the amount of time you get to spend with your friends.

That surprised me when I realized it. For most of my youth, I thought of adults as being very adult for the most part: wise, experienced, responsible, capable, confident, and well-resourced. I thought that by the time you got to be a grown-up, you’d basically have your act together.

I’m 27. I’m a husband, father, and pastor, and I don’t have my act all together.

I got out into the working world when I was 17 or so. As I spent more time around adults, I realized a truly horrifying thing.

High school really does prepare you for the rest of life. Some people never move past that level of maturity. Funny enough, my co-workers at church are some of the youngest, but most mature people I’ve worked with.

I was shocked to discover that experience does not always equate to wisdom. I was dumbfounded when I ran into well-educated-yet-immature people. I was frankly dismayed when I realized that, quite often, “experts” are people that know just enough to be dangerous.

I kept expecting that, someday, I would feel like I knew what I was doing. Then, I looked around and saw other people having the same thought.

To be fair, I have grown a lot since high school. A lot. I continue to mature, quicker in some areas than in others. Still, adulthood doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I thought I’d be done growing, and be all sophisticated.

On one hand, this bodes well for us geeks. I recently read (most of) an article in Salon about grown-ups playing D&D. I thought I’d automatically grow out of gaming at a certain age, like shedding a cocoon. Not necessarily.

This could work.

The only problem – as I mentioned at the beginning of the post – is finding the time. I have to be really deliberate about scheduling my life compared to even a couple years ago. I’m still not very good at it, but I’m better than I’ve ever been. There’s that growth I was talking about.

Being an adult is more a matter of steadily maturing than finally being mature. It’s a matter of shifting my priorities from myself to others.

But I still get to play video games occasionally, so… woot.