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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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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!

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

Christianity 101: God

Christianity 101: God

Last week, we talked about how the Bible is the standard for our worldview. We might have a lot of different ideas about God, but if we really want to understand Him, we should look to the Bible. In fact, we can learn a lot about God from the first words of the Bible. Turn with me to Genesis 1.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

-Genesis 1:1

We’ve read one verse of the Bible, and we can already answer some of the most important questions about God. For example, where did God come from? This verse tells us: God was already there.

God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. He didn’t come from anywhere: He always was, and is now, and will be forever. Before there was anything else, there was God. 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.

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