From Across the Net – “Untangling the theology of Star Wars”

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Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Not sure I ever noticed the destiny vs. free will difference between the older and newer movies.

Lucas sold his production company and the franchise to Disney for $4.05 billion in 2012. But he continued to work as a consultant to the producers who created the third and supposedly final trilogy in the Skywalker saga. Those movies depart from Master Yoda’s obsession with destiny and focus on free will. The heroes strive to break free of their circumstances and discover their true selves: An Imperial Stormtrooper becomes a rebel leader, Luke’s Jedi apprentice turns evil, and the orphan Rey must decide whether to follow the path carved by her dark ancestry. The characters use the force mainly to communicate with one another, like an innate cellular network to which some people have stronger connections.

You can read more here

From Across the Net: “The Beguiling Search for Truth in ‘The Witness'”

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I enjoyed this piece from Jonathan Clauson titled “The Beguiling Search for Truth in ‘The Witness’“.

The idea of weaving exposition into the narrative, and then weaving the narrative into the gameplay itself, is a kind of holy grail for developers—and it’s one I believe The Witness achieves, even as it manages the additional impressive feat of creating a compelling conversation between science and religion.

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The Church of the Latter Day Player

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Do you think video games are the next big religion? This video, by Andy Robertson of FamilyGamerTV, explores this interesting idea. Yes, I realize the video is a few years old. That does not preclude the conversation Andy inspires. Take a look and then join the discussion below.

“Faith and gaming actually go hand-in-hand.”

Fight: Winning the Battles That Matter Most by Craig Groeschel

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“…within every man, God has planted a divine desire to fight for righteousness.” – Fight, p.13

As king of the flannelgraph boards, the Biblical/historical figure of Sampson is one that many a young boy wishes to be. Set apart by God from birth, Sampson is the original superhero. Fight, by pastor Craig Groeschel, examines the life of Sampson in parallel to the modern Christian male. Both have been created by God in His image; both are prone to utter and complete failure. Groeschel goes out of his way to point out that Sampson’s failures, like ours, are never due to one time events. Like the falling blocks in a game of Tetris, our decisions stack up and can eventually lead us down a road to ruin. However, like Sampson, we are never beyond God’s redemptive power.

Fight is organized into 3-4 page chapters. I enjoyed these easy to digest chunks of truth. My biggest and only complaint with the book was the unneeded machoism that permeates throughout. Much like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, Groeschel felt the need to add blanket gender assumptions such as:

“Think about it this way. There are two kinds of movies: chick flicks and, well, everything else. Do chick flicks inspire men? Do they make them want to be stronger, braver, better men?What about in Pride and Prejudice when Keira Knightley’s character says to her new husband, “You may only call me ‘Mrs. Darcy’ when you are completely and perfectly and incandescently happy.” And he responds with, “Then how are you this evening…Mrs. Darcy?” and kisses her on the forehead. And then, “Mrs. Darcy,” as he kisses her on the cheek. And then, “Mrs. Darcy,” as he kisses her on the nose. Again, if you’re a guy, you have no idea what I’m talking about right? Or if you do know, you’re trying hard to forget.” (page 14)

Despite comments such as the one found above, I enjoyed my time reading Fight. Craig does a fantastic job going beyond the Sampson depicted in Sunday school flannelgraphs and digs into the heart of what made him a man. I highly recommend this book.

I was given a copy of this book by BookSneeze. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

Tempus Fugit Thursday – Preoccupation

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Bryan Note: Sometimes I just need to follow my own advice and also remember what God has taught me/ is continuing to teach me. 

During my morning devotional I read this:

 1 After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.

5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. – Esther 3: 1-6 (NIV)

Notice how distracted Haman is with Mordecai. Instead of focusing on what he had been given, Haman became preoccupied with a single man. This preoccupation with Mordecai and the annihilation of the Jews would eventually lead to Haman’s downfall.

In the age of social media and instant/constant communication, I find it easy to get preoccupied with other peoples lives. I end up wondering why I can’t:

  • Buy a new house, car, toy, etc.
  • Travel with all expenses paid by parents or relatives
  • Eat out five times a week (not that I’d want to)
In looking at everyone else, I fail to realize that God created something special in me. I am not like everyone else nor meant to be.
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Interesting thought: The word preoccupation has the word “occupation” in it. Now, we all work different occupations, there is certainly that definition of the word. But the use of occupation related to Haman’s preoccupation makes me think of this dictionary definition:
possession, settlement, or use of land or property.

When we become preoccupied with something not of God (like lust or greed), we are giving up pieces of our very hearts and souls to things that shouldn’t be entrenched in our lives. We end up becoming occupied territory; slaves to our conquerors.

Passion

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I am passionate about:

  • Solid Bible teaching. I want to see fellow Christians challenged in their faith straight from the Bible. 
  • Keeping the focus solely on the Gospel and not on personal preferences.
  • The videogames industry being influenced with the love of Christ. I’m still not sure what this looks like, whether it includes handing out beer and Bibles, but I’m always processing this one. Currently I am exploring starting a GameCell at my church.
  • Helping others avoid the same mistakes that the Internet helped me make. I want parents to be aware of the parental controls on their children’s devices; I want individuals to take preventative steps to protect themselves from the wild west of the Internet.
  • Blogging. Yeah, you wouldn’t know it from my posting frequency, but I have always enjoyed sharing my life and what I’m learning with you. I love writing and it is not something I allow myself the time to do enough.

Working the 8-5 grind, I often get lulled into patterns that prevent me from focusing on my passions. This walking dead-like slumber causes me to forget how much I love my wife and son and how blessed I am to have them in my life. I am noticing that it is only through being intentional with what I consume media-wise/what I do daily that I am able to overcome this personal apathy.

So what about you? What are you passionate about?

Off Campus: Bryan is over at Theology Gaming today. Come visit!

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Theology Gaming

Tried my hand at an interview. Special thanks to Mr. Josh Cauller for being a great sport. You’ll have to let me know what you think. Don’t be cruel.

The Theology Gaming Sessions: M. Joshua Cauller

My goal in these sessions is for you, the reader, to become better acquainted with the writers of Theology Gaming. So, without further ado, this week we have an interview with Mr. M. Joshua Cauller.

Q: Tell us about yourself and how you were first introduced to video games.

Josh: Christmas 1989, my cousins got a Nintendo Entertainment System with two controllers, the gray light gun, and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. Suddenly, the Nintendo officially became the coolest thing in the universe. I mean that thing even beat Transformers. And nothing was cooler than Transformers in first grade. Instantly, I learned what the word jealousy meant. My family certainly wasn’t the poorest in West Philly. But a $100 game system was an unheard of luxury at the time. Plus, my mom was pretty opposed to me owning something I could get addicted to. She said she heard stories of kids at the handicapped kids’ school who literally couldn’t do life without those things. So for most of my childhood, video games represented envy. .: Continue :. 

Rewind Wednesday: Invite Christ Into Your Hobby

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This morning, as I was reading through Bill Farrel’s The 10 Best Decisions a Man Can Make, I came across a passage that talked about inviting Christ into your hobbies. The beginning of Chapter 8 asked a question:

“What do you like to do to relax or have fun?”

The book followed up by asking you to:

“Brainstorm ways to invite Jesus to be part of this activity in your life.”

Bill gave a few personal examples of him inviting Christ into his hobbies: 1)as he is out in the garage tinkering around on his car, he prays and just generally communicates with God just as he would a friend; 2)as he is out exercising, Bill listens to worship music and sermons. Both examples show how easy it is to invite Christ into our down time activities.

Now my own personal ways of winding down do not include physical exercise nor picking up the odd tool and “tinkering”. I know that I need to be more active but I prefer reading a good book or enjoying a video game. I honestly cannot remember a time where I have ever invited God to take up the second controller (figuratively). I don’t think I have ever asked God for the amazing dexterity to accomplish a specific Mario jump either. No, I just mindlessly play and let the digital world envelope me as I would a movie. What does this mean?

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

As a Christian, everything I do is to be done to the glory of God. I need to be keeping God at the forefront of my mind. Even as I play a video game, I need to not be mindlessly consuming but actively engaging the media. This means filtering the game through what I know is truth in scripture; this also means asking God for the endurance to take on that last boss fight. Video games can easily be all about the glory of the player, I want that glory to instead be directed at my Creator.

Rewind Wednesday: Ask, Seek, Knock

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Note: My wife and I made a rather difficult decision last night. One of those “burn the ships” sort of decisions. I thought this post from the past was appropriate as its truth is timeless.

This morning I read in Matthew 7. Something that really stuck out to me was in verses 7-8:

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. – Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

Ask = Prayer

Seek = Actually Look/ Gather Information

Knock = Test/ Forward Motion

Thinking Aloud: Growing Closer to Christ

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Note: I could write an entire series on what it means to grow closer to Christ. I realize that I barely scratch the surface of this subject and wanted to recognize that. You are now free to read.

Last year, I read an article on a Christian video game site that extolled the virtues of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. The article talked about how the game’s protagonist, Lee, was a Christ-like figure due to his sacrificial death at the end of the game. Spoiler. All I could think was that Lee was a murderer, Christ wasn’t.

As a Christian, I should be constantly growing closer to Christ. What does growing closer to Christ look like? Is it a combo of:

  • Giving up/walking away from things that are shrouded in helpless darkness? Perhaps coming to the realization that The Walking Dead, with its unimaginative curse-filled vocabulary, just isn’t for me?

OR

  • Embracing the darkness and trying to find Christ’s redemptive story/ God’s redemptive plan in everything? An effort of trying to find the good, the light, that exists within the darkness we often consume?

Phillippians 4:8 comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I want to be willing to give anything up for Christ. Even if this means walking away from a gaming series that I really enjoyed, like The Walking Dead or even God of War. I want to be careful with the games that I endorse because my endorsement, as a Christian, is like saying Jesus approves of this. I do not want to lead anyone away from Christ. A difficult road to trot down.

The Gospel of Simplicity

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In high school, my youth pastor’s heart beat was to the drum of the Book of Revelation. He could be somewhere completely different in the Bible, a book like Matthew, and somehow we would end up closing our time in Revelation. After awhile, I honestly grew tired of hearing about the end times. However, I knew that his heart was in the right place and that he was genuine in his faith due to how he lived his life.

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Attending a Christian college, I encountered a lot of hypocrisy. People would say one thing one moment and then live something completely different the next. I almost walked away from Christianity during that time. God, in His mercy, reminded me not to look at others and instead focus on my own personal relationship with Him. Throughout the years this has been a lesson that I have had to continually come back to again and again. Simple and sweet.

I am thankful that I do not serve a God that requires me to follow lists; a God does not require a specific amount of works for me to be deemed right. I am thankful that:

  • I do not have to walk down an aisle or pray a specific prayer to be saved.
  • That I do not have to build up a certain amount of disciples.
  • I do not have to engage in the latest “church” fad.

All I have to do is believe, embrace God’s hand, and walk on.

Thinking Aloud: Why We Don’t Need Another Church Building

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In East Texas, especially in the City of Longview, the locals jokingly say that there is a church on every street corner. If you think about this, this means that the city’s original churches fractured and then multiplied. Division beget division; street corner after street corner was soon bestowed with a church.

Just as the Internet does not need another Christian video game site, the world does not need another church building. While it is true church buildings serve as a central place for Christians to receive Biblical teaching and fellowship with fellow believers, we were never meant to stay in one place. If you think about it, what do church buildings help foster? Isolation. Sure we can invite our “lost” friends to church, but do we? Most of the time, we fail at reaching out to those that Christ came to save for the sake of comfort. I’m guilty of this. Why invite an outsider to Cheers, right?

Instead of hanging out in fortified churches, how should we be reaching out to those around us in our community? My friend Scotto happened to hear the rapper Lecrae speak on this at The Resurgence Conference the other day. Lecrae talked about how:

…he intentionally lives in Atlanta because all the other major rappers live there. He wants to be in the culture, because he knows that God can use him there. Same goes for him using rap to spread the Gospel.

His points were:

1. Engage the culture. (Learn the culture, speak the language.)

2. Love the culture. (Really develop relationships. Care about people. Don’t just wait for opportunities to give your gospel points.)

3. Rehabilitate the culture. (How can you restructure what you already do to glorify God?)

I do think that it is important that we, as Christians, grow and fellowship with one another. I just think that the emphasis on the building, that some churches put into theirs, is wrong. The Church isn’t about the building but about the people. We need to be engaging, loving, and acting as Christ’s hands and feet in this broken world, with or without a building.

What do you think?

Thinking Aloud: Why We Don’t Need Another Christian Video Game Site

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9 years ago I noticed that the Christian worldview was sadly lacking in the mainstream video game press. I wanted to find a web site that discussed the theological impact of the games that I played. A web site written by actual gamers that attempted to go beyond discussing the surface elements of video games (violence, language, etc.). My questions all revolved around:

  • What thoughts, ideas, and experiences am I being exposed to by video game developers?
  • How do these worldviews differ from my own?
  • As a Christian, what should my response be?

I envisioned a web site that could compete with the big boys at the time, Gamespot and Gamespy. So I created JohnnyBGamer.com to go against the best. Quite quickly I learned that a large amount of time, talent, and money are needed to compete in any real way. In short, I couldn’t compete. Eventually I relaunched JBG as the personal blog it is today. I wasn’t defeated, just confronted with reality.

Almost a decade has gone by, and I now find myself questioning the need for a Christian video game web site. Why do we, as Christians, have to segregate ourselves from the world and form our own personal ghettos? Instead of having a Christian video game site, why can’t we have writers writing for major publications that are Christians?

The digital landscape has changed a lot since 2003. Sites such as GameChurch and The Cross and the Controller (which seems to have gone missing) now exist to plumb the depths of video games and the Christian worldview. I am in no way against such ministries, but I openly wonder at the audiences they reach. Would it not be better to influence the gaming culture from inside a major web site versus from outside in the ghetto?

What do you think?

Verse of the Day: Philippians 4:6-7

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

Invite Christ Into Your Hobby

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This morning, as I was reading through Bill Farrel’s The 10 Best Decisions a Man Can Make, I came across a passage that talked about inviting Christ into your hobbies. The beginning of Chapter 8 asked a question:

“What do you like to do to relax or have fun?”

The book followed up by asking you to:

“Brainstorm ways to invite Jesus to be part of this activity in your life.”

Bill gave a few personal examples of him inviting Christ into his hobbies: 1)as he is out in the garage tinkering around on his car, he prays and just generally communicates with God just as he would a friend; 2)as he is out exercising, Bill listens to worship music and sermons. Both examples show how easy it is to invite Christ into our down time activities.

Now my own personal ways of winding down do not include physical exercise nor picking up the odd tool and “tinkering”. I know that I need to be more active but I prefer reading a good book or enjoying a video game. I honestly cannot remember a time where I have ever invited God to take up the second controller (figuratively). I don’t think I have ever asked God for the amazing dexterity to accomplish a specific Mario jump either. No, I just mindlessly play and let the digital world envelope me as I would a movie. What does this mean?

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

As a Christian, everything I do is to be done to the glory of God. I need to be keeping God at the forefront of my mind. Even as I play a video game, I need to not be mindlessly consuming but actively engaging the media. This means filtering the game through what I know is truth in scripture; this also means asking God for the endurance to take on that last boss fight. Video games can easily be all about the glory of the player, I want that glory to instead be directed at my Creator.

Comfort & Control

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Yesterday (9/10), I started reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I am now on page 100 out of 250 pages. I don’t know what it is, regardless of my political differences with Miller, he somehow always manages to rope me in with his writing. I often feel like him and I are sitting down having a conversation, man to man. This morning (9/11) I woke up and continued reading. In reading, I came across this:

Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better. – p. 100, Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

This got me thinking about my penchant for comfort. Even if the roof is caving in all around me, as long as I have perceived “control” I’m not leaving. This is what happens when I decide that I can do things in my own power; when I tell God that He is not enough.

This past Sunday, the new pastor of my church preached on Nahum 1:7 (NASB).

The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

This got me thinking about whether I truly believe that God is good. I don’t think that this is something that I ever question. What I do question is whether He is enough. Is God big enough to handle whatever situation I am going through? Time and time again, God reveals himself in the Bible showing that he is more than capable of anything. Heck, he created the world! Somehow though I delude myself, in the delight of my comfort, that I have more than enough strength to get myself through this life. This is exactly what satan wants me to believe, that somehow I am better than God. All I have to do is un-tighten my hands, open them up, and let God take what I’ve been trying to control. Surrendering myself, submitting myself to God and his authority are actions I must take on a daily basis. I don’t want to be comfortable, I want God to be in control.

Rewind Wednesday: Haggai

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Imagine your nation being plundered/ destroyed and you are taken captive. All that you have ever known is now gone, quite literally. You soon find yourself immersed in a new culture. A culture that is foreign and very unlike what you are accustomed to. At this point you can chose to blend in with the new culture, adopt some of it’s customs; or you can chose remain an island, a remnant of your own culture.

Many years pass, the king of this foreign land allows you to return home. He gives you a green light to rebuild the temple that had been a central part of your life, your existence. Some around you chose to stay immersed in their new lives; others around you chose to return home. The table scraps, what is left of your nation/cities/ and towns, is the new reality that awaits you. The comforts of “home” have long disappeared.

Charged with the task of rebuilding the temple, you quickly become discouraged. Opposition from outlying neighbors and the overall futility of restoring the temple to its former glory is overwhelming. So you give up. You focus on yourself. Soon you have a roof over your head and crops planted. Everything you do though somehow doesn’t seem blessed. You are constantly in want. You are distracted by your own needs and ignoring what God has called you to do. This goes on for years.

After some time, the prophet Haggai speaks. He tells you that the reason your endeavors don’t succeed is due to the fact that you are ignoring God. In denying God by not building the temple, you are denying God worship and thus his blessings. You, and the remnant of people around you, quickly put two and two together. The reason for the failed crops and hail. God. He has been trying to get your attention. So you decide to obey. To do what God has called you to do. To complete his temple. God assures you that he is with you. You know that everything is going to be okay because God is sovereign.

As Christians, it is very easy to get distracted by the things around us. We often lose focus of what God is calling us to do and instead focus on ourselves. In doing so, we are not allowing God to fully bless us. I know that I want that blessing. Do you?

Basic.Fellowship – Francis Chan

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As part of his Basic.series of films, Francis Chan tackles the topic of fellowship in his Basic.Fellowship short. After watching the quick fifteen minute video, I was left with the following question:

  • Beyond potlucks, going to out to eat in large groups, and having large get-togethers that leave homes in shambles, what does fellowship look like for the modern Christian?

To answer my question, I immediately thought of where Acts 2 talks about what fellowship looked like for Biblical Christians:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2: 42-47 (NIV)

Notice that they simply got together and took care of one another as one body of believers.  Those that needed help were helped; those that gave did so with sincerity. So again, what does fellowship look like for us?

Fellowship looks like:

  • Calling a brother in Christ during the week, randomly, and seeing how they are doing
  • Meeting up for lunch, sharing life together
  • Playing a game of softball with some of the guys from church
  • Serving at the local rescue mission
  • Passing on clothes that are no longer needed (like kids clothing)
  • Making the most of every opportunity to grow closer together in Christ (our glue)

Verses of the Day: 2 Timothy 3:1-7

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But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.

– 2 Timothy 3:1-7 (NIV)