How many of your Sundays look like this?
You show up, and parking lot attendants greet you. Faithful teachers instruct you. Ushers find a seat for you. A well-practiced worship band leads singing for you. Your pastor preaches a faithful, God-glorifying sermon to you. Childcare workers care for your children. And after all that, you pick up your kids and simply return home.
“But, but, Jesus wants me to live my best life now.” I joke, but deep down I wonder if I sometimes believe it. Great piece from Things We Didn’t Know – about life & missions entitled “This Is America“.
If sermons in your church sound more like self-help, living your best life (“for Jesus” of course), or simply marital and family advice, then you need to be asking yourself some serious questions about what you are being taught. Jesus warns in Mark that many will come to deceive in the name of religion. They will say all the “right” things, dress in all the “right” ways, know the popular prayers and sayings and topics of the times, and they will be leading you astray from the path to Jesus. Guys, Jesus never promised a “better life” here on earth. Following Him is costly, dangerous, painful, lonely, unpopular, counter-cultural. And did I mention that it’s also worth it? *don’t quit yet, I promise I will get there.
Intro: More than 24 times in the Gospels, Jesus invited people to follow him. Who did Jesus invite?
- The wealthy and powerful.
- The casual observer.
- The spiritual seekers.
- The religiously devoted.
Read Matthew 4:18-20
18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
Note: Peter and Andrew knew Jesus. He had talked with them previously (John 1:35-42) and had been preaching in the area. They knew what kind of man he was.
Read Matthew 4:21-22
21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.
Note: Verse 22 says that they immediately followed him, no excuse.
Q: What excuses do we give God daily?
Side Note: When Jesus asks us to serve him, we must be like the disciples and do it at once.
Read Mark 1:16-20
16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon[a] and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
Note: The disciples were not men of great faith when they met Jesus.
Read Luke 5:1-11
One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee,[a]great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon,[b] its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.
Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Q: What is Peter’s reaction to the fish?
- Realizes what Jesus has done.
- Realizes his own insignificance/sin.
Q: What did following Jesus equal?
- Leaving old life.
- Being trained by Jesus.
- Learning to obey Jesus (coming under his authority and leadership).
- Having a life that looked like his (character, priorities, and practices).
Who are you living for today?
What does it mean to follow Jesus today?
How can you refocus your relationship/walk with Christ in 2019?
John 3:17 – “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (NLT)
These are my notes from teaching this morning. I thought sharing them might be helpful.
Just a few days into December and work is exploding. The environment is tense as a major project must go out soon after the beginning of the year. In other words, a typical stressful December here in my office. Knowing that things will get harder before they relax, I find my anxiety kicking in, causing my chest to tighten up. Feels like an elephant has taken up permanent residence on top of my heart. In the midst of fight or flight, God has reminded me of a snippet from Micah I read yesterday.
I want His peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding.
Taught my first Advent lesson for Sunday School yesterday. We talked about how Jesus is our hope, light, and peace. I shared how this holiday season can be one of darkness for myself. How Advent helps me focus on the light of the season, Jesus. Got me thinking about the things we bring into the holidays. I was telling Tab that we battled The Christmas Monster, even as a married couple, for a long, long, time. We’ve worked hard though to create our own traditions (which I love) and refocus what Christmas is all about for our family. Below is a post I wrote about the Christmas monster in 2015. Enjoy!
The holidays are a battle. A war filled with presents.
The Christmas list is a list that must be structured to maximize gifts received. I’m not sure what year I learned how much family members spent on me for Christmas, but I did. Strategic planning ensued. I would organize my list so that the most expensive items were at the top of the page. As one would read down the list, the items became cheaper. I would even take this a step further by listing the items retail price. I was a monster, used to three family Christmas events. One with my dad’s parents, one with my mom’s parents, and one with my immediate family.
My Aunt Jody has no children. She loves giving; she loves Christmas time. On the other side of the Christmas campfire, my mom felt the need to compete with my aunt and grandparents. Growing up, she co-owned a craft business with a friend. My mom would spend hours out in the garage, cutting out craft pieces with her scroll saw. She would then paint these items, piece them together, and then go to a weekend craft show to sell. Generating money for Christmas that we did not have. I remember my Grandma and Grandpa Ayers coming out to help her paint and get items ready to sell. The holidays were stressful for my mom. I’m sure she wouldn’t tell you that. I’m sure as a kid I couldn’t have told you that my mom was stressed over having to compete. But she was.
The gift overload distorted my view of Christmas. The season became all about what I could get. I didn’t see the stress it was causing those around me.
My mom has since learned to let go and not compete. But I’m still learning, shaping, what Christmas looks like for my family. I don’t want Wyatt growing up thinking that Christmas is about maximizing what he can get. Sure, maybe kids do that to a point. But I do not want to raise a Christmas monster.
What does Christmas look like for you and your family? How do you go beyond presents?
This is one of the first pieces I ever wrote for another site (back in 2013). Still love this scenario. The Assassin’s Creed series is often the Adventures in Odyssey equivalent of the Imagination Station.
I left Christ in the Roman Coliseum; I left him to die.
Carefully scaling the Coliseum walls, I slowly made my way towards my first targets: three would-be snipers. Quietly, in succession, I stealthily stabbed each in the back. Not one of the snipers knew of my existence. I am the wind, the shadows, the reaper of death. I am justice incarnate.
My second target: saving the actor playing Jesus Christ in a play. The irony of a Passion Play in the Roman Coliseum does not escape me. Who knows how many Christians fought for their very lives within these walls? Some believers even torn to shreds by lions for the amusement of Nero and the people. I shudder in disgust and then slip on the disguise of a Roman soldier. Christ awaits my saving grace.
Events quickly unfold in a way I could not foretell. The actor playing Christ has been drugged! I effortlessly scoop him up as Borgia men flood in from all sides of the Coliseum. My mission: get Christ to a doctor. Holding him, I can clearly see his crown of thorns and the fake blood smeared on him. I know his only hope is a cure beyond the battle ensuing around me. Suddenly, the world grinds to a stop.
– Reality Confronted –
If you haven’t guessed, my PS3 locked up as I was escorting the drugged actor to a doctor. I was frustrated. A day has since gone by and I have yet to try again. My wife reminds me that it took Christ three days to resurrect, so why not give the game a rest? My conscience is restless. Nine hours of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has left me with questions. I find myself questioning the digital bodies I have left de-rezzed; I find myself questioning what I am learning about life, beyond the fact that assassinations from the air look awesome. Perspective is everything.
I know that at the end of the day I will return and continue my “historical” Roman adventure. But I want to keep in mind that violence is reality based. Violence is also something that is worshiped within American cinema and culture. I believe that the reason on-screen violence resonates with people so much is due to the fact that it is usually carried out in the pursuit of justice. The Bible says this though:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:19 (NIV)
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! – Isaiah 30:18 (NLT)
I realize that Ezio’s actions in Brotherhood are simply a part of a fantasy world. I also realize that God is an avenger and a dealer of justice. Though I know that the worlds of fantasy and reality can sometimes blend, I want to be mindful of who and what I am allowing to shape my soul. So God help me.
Justin Fox is a longtime friend I met through Theology Gaming University (TGU). He just launched a Kickstarter for his game, ReElise, a Hip-Hop RPG. Justin hopes to not only fund his dream but start a movement.
How did your values influence your game, ReElise?
The game started out about race. Mostly a coming of age story. Just exploring culture and how people deal with them. When I got saved (gave my life to Christ) the story completely changed. It became a story about how God can make dry bones live again. However the theme of race still plays a role in that it serves no real role in the story. The main character is a black female…. that is all. Sometimes, it’s just not important in contrast to the big plot, and it shouldn’t always be a plot to insert a person’s views on an almost ageless problem so they can be the guy who “figured out how we can get along”. It’s a problem of classifying people as ” those people ” and that’s not going away. Ever.
What exactly is a Hip-Hop RPG?
There’s a lot more to the culture of Hip-Hop than violence, money and abuse of women. There’s dancing, style, language, AMAZING art, and some would even say theology that’s not focused on quite as much. It was supposed to be fun in the early days. I like fun things. A Hip-Hop RPG is a game that leans into the dopeness that is Hip-Hop. I love it. I wanted it in there. I’m indie… so I do what I want I’m grown and sexy.
How long have you been working on the game and what have you learned?
Steadily for 4 years. I’ve been tinkering with it for roughly 7, but those were entirely different builds.
For me, it’s been the power of belief. Believing that something good can come out of an idea that’s not really been done before, and seeing how the power of that belief carried me through for 4 years. It’s a crazy thing. Not to mention how drastically my belief in Jesus changed the core of the game. Belief is really something else.
What would you like to say to anybody thinking about backing ReElise on Kickstarter?
This is more of a movement than it is about just one game. Traditional gameplay but with very non-traditional stories as well as concepts (I mean this is a 2D, hand-animated, Hip-Hop, turned-based, Mature Christian RPG… with sprinkles… definitely unconventional). I’d like to subtly offer deeper things to my audience. I’m giving my audience the chance to simply play a great game, and offer them a deeper story that I truly hope will be beneficial to their lives if they care to look. We’ve just gotta get the colorists, programmers, editors, travel expenses, and advertisements out of the way for this project first. That way we can make this first project everything it needs to be! There’ll be much much more to come with the support of backers.
Thanks, Justin, for giving us a slice of ReElise pie. We can’t wait to get a taste of your Hip-Hop RPG goodness.
If you’d like to back Justin’s work, check out his Kickstarter page.