Blog Archives

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

Ancient Rules Lawyers

You know, they had real life rules lawyers in the first century.

There were these guys in ancient Israel that knew the Law of Moses inside and out. They knew all the errata, too. Scholars and clerics had added interpretations and clarifications of the rules over hundreds of years, and these experts in the law would debate them constantly.

They also made it a habit of enforcing every rule they knew. It got pretty burdensome for the average Jew, even those who earnestly wanted to follow God.

But that was the problem: the rules lawyers made it harder to follow God. Just like rules lawyers in RPGs make it harder to just enjoy the game. They both focus on the nitty-gritty details so much that they lose the heart of the matter. The RPG rules lawyers suck the fun out of a game; the ancient Jewish rules lawyers stole the focus of following God away from love.

As the church got started, Paul had to make this point in a big way:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-3

This is one of the main reasons Jesus came to earth.

He had already made the universe in a big game of Dawn of Worlds with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He had already picked the Israelites to be His example for the world of how to follow Him. He had already given them the Law. Then, as He knew would happen, He watched them turn the Law into a burden it was never meant to be. He watched them add more and more commands until the weight of it was unbearable.

Then, He came to Earth to show us what following God really looks like.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:34-40

God commands us to do — and not do — a lot of things. We can easily get hung up on the particulars. But never forget: at the root of it all is love.

One way God expresses His love is grace. We don’t have to follow His rules perfectly in order to have a relationship with Him. He loves and welcomes us as we are, then helps us to devote ourselves to Him and work toward perfection.

Don’t wait to come to God because you’re not perfect. And don’t let your imperfection steal the joy of your faith as you strive forward. God knows you’re not perfect yet. And He’s okay with it.

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.

~

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

Blasting Bad Guys

I’m just now playing through Fallout 3, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I love post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s also been a while since I played through an RPG, so it’s a nice change of pace from my usual shooters.

When I play video games, I get pretty immersed; that’s doubly true with roleplaying games. I try to keep a healthy distance from my characters, but I find myself getting into them all the same. Most often, I play characters somewhat similarly to the way I think I would act in their situation.

For example, when I found myself in the first subway area in Fallout, I was reluctant to open fire on the first raider I saw. I had put a lot of points into the Speech skill so I could talk my way out of problems, and I hoped I could do so with the leather-clad gentlemen with the handgun. Yeah. Not so much.

In RPGs like this one, you gotta have stuff to kill for experience. Enemies. And you can often tell they’re enemies because they’re marked as such: in Fallout 3, their names appear in red. It makes things simple. If someone has an actual name and it appears in green, chat ’em up. If they have a generic title that appears in red? Apply shotgun. Reload. Repeat until dead.

Neatly-labeled enemies are great for video games.

If we treat real people like that, we have a problem. Read the rest of this entry

Accountability: Rough, but Necessary

I hate being wrong. Even so, I know I sometimes need people to call me out when I am.

On Wednesday of last week, I taught the Bible study. We talked about one of the hardest but most necessary means of spiritual growth: accountability.

Do you have someone that will tell you when you’re messing up? Someone you’ll actually listen to?

Accountability (.mp3)

I had a feeling that the conversation would cover a range of toics, so I tried organizing my notes a little differently than I usually do. They are below.

~

//recap

So, we’re gonna continue through this period of Israel’s history when the kingdom is split in two. We have the Kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. You heard about Elijah a couple weeks ago. Elijah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom Israel and had some trouble with King Ahab and his wife, who are doing a very poor job of following God and leading the nation.  In fact, in this period of Israel’s history there were lots of ups and downs as far as following God, from King to king, or even for individual Kings.

//preview

During this period, God sent prophets to the kings of Israel and Judah to try to keep them and the people on track. Or, at the very least, accountable for the bad choices they were making.

Have you ever had a friend call you out on something you were doing wrong?

Did it ever save you a lot of trouble? Still, was it hard? Read the rest of this entry

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil

In this morning’s Sunday School class, I tackled one of the most troublesome questions in religion and philosophy: why is there evil in the world?

To hear my answer, click the links below. To save either file for later listening, right-click the link and select Save Link As… or Save Target As….

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil (.mp3 | .m4a)

Feel free to argue with me in the comments or send me an e-mail!

Below is the lesson as written.

~

Today, we’ll talk about what may be the biggest philosophical question people struggle with day-to-day: the problem of evil. Whereas some people will look into the historicity of the Bible, and some will dig into deep theological issues, everyone wrestles with this issue. Everyone has had something bad happen to them, and frankly, everyone has done something bad to someone else. We feel the impact of evil every day. It affects our lives. And it’s often one of the issues that keeps people distant from God.

We’re going to talk about the philosophy of evil this morning. But before we do, we have to recognize that this is a very emotional issue for some people. Some people have been hurt very badly – either by other people, or just by circumstances, or even their own choices – and they’re angry with God because of it. Read the rest of this entry

Apologetics: Intro

I’m teaching a class on apologetics at my church. It’s Sunday morning at 9:15 am, for the next few weeks.  Here’s the first lesson!

Apologetics: Intro (.mp3 | .m4a)

I invite your comments.

Below is the lesson as written.

~

The idea behind apologetics is to offer a defense of the faith. The idea is to use well-formed, well-founded arguments to demonstrate the truth of Christianity.

The idea is not simply to win arguments. It shouldn’t be our goal to use this approach to pick intellectual fights just so we can feel smart. Apologetics is not for beating down people who disagree with us. Read the rest of this entry

On Pretending to be Evil

Distant Silence is a bad, bad man. And so are his friends.

A Deathknight in the service of the First and Forsaken Lion, he was ordered to overthrow and corrupt one of the great cities of the world. He gladly accepted the mission.

He groomed an elderly couple of  miners to lead a revolution against their oppressors. He then quietly assassinated them, blamed their deaths on the local government, and whipped the rest of the miners into a bloodthirsty mob.

He kidnapped people for his co-conspirators to turn into undead monsters. Or just to eat.

He’s a roleplaying character. Played by me.

I debated with myself when my friend offered me a spot in the game. We’d be playing as Abyssal Exalted — arguably the worst kind of people in the Exalted setting. They’re beings with a corrupted essence. Evil by nature, driven to destroy Creation. Not for pastors, right?

I decided to play for a few reasons.

One, I have a clear boundary in my head between fantasy and reality. I can play a character with horrid motivations without living vicariously through him. Side note: if it’s hard for you to separate yourself from your character, it’s probably a bad idea for you to play an evil character.

There’s a certain comedy to fake evil. We can laugh at how awful pretend people are, especially when it’s ridiculously over-the-top (as it was in this game). I can’t laugh like that at the real thing. My conscience was paying attention to this game, but wasn’t offended at the idea.

Snidely Whiplash vs. Stalin and Hitler

Above: Bad guys and their moustaches

Two, I hadn’t spent much time with that group of friends in far too long. Mind you, if it weren’t for reason one, this reason wouldn’t be valid.

Third, I wanted to try something. It’s easy to think of an evil character as a cackling madman, bent on doing every bad thing he can think of doing. Burn down the orphanage. Kick a puppy. Have a light snack, then overthrow the government. Mwahahaha.

I wanted to try a more realistic route. I wanted to demonstrate how evil actually works.

So, I tried to play Distant Silence thus: I had him operate solely on his own agenda. I never let him question the morality of his choices; I didn’t let him care.

If he appeared humble and loyal, it was to avoid punishment. If he appeared self-sacrificing, it was because it suited his desires. And if he told the truth, it was only because lying would be less convenient.

I think it worked.

As I think about it, one of my real struggles slipped into the character. Distant Silence loved proving he was better than someone else. He did it by manipulating them. I often do it with scorn.

The difference between him and me is that I’m fighting that pride. He revels in it. I pray it will always be so.

Gamers, do you ever play evil characters? How do you play them? Do you ever stray across that line between fantasy and reality?

Gamers and non-gamers alike, what do you think of my take on portraying evil?