Tuesday, April 16, 2013

BioShock Infinite and the importance of scripture




Bioshock Infinite, similar to the original BioShock, thrusts you into a city ripe with political and religious extremism. Unlike Rapture though, which is extremely atheistic, Colombia presents itself as extremely religious. The leader of the city, Zachary Comstock, is a self proclaimed prophet who has dedicated his life to God. From the second you meet him though, you realize how doctrinally incorrect his beliefs are.

Without specifically saying it, the game shows Comstock as a "Christian." The Bible is quoted in the voice recordings and as inscriptions on statues, Baptism and the washing away of sins is a recurring theme throughout the game, and God's forgiveness is spoken of often. Yet doctrinally he is extremely wrong. An early voice recording of the Prophet's wife says "Without the sinner, what need is there for a redeemer? Without sin, what grace has forgiveness?" Later the prophet says himself "The Lord forgives everything, but I'm just a prophet so I don't have to." This is very contrary to the forgiveness that is taught to the church, yet Comstock believed that he was serving God. This is because he trusted his view of God, over The Bible's.

What we believe in God must be based on what scripture says about him. We need to use our intellect to interpret it, and we need to discuss it with a community of believers, but scripture needs to have the final word. In Joshua 1:8, God says "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your ways prosperous, and then you will have success." The knowledge and study of scripture is essential to serving God.

Don't get me wrong, logic and reason are important as well, but using them alone poses the threat of "creating your own God" instead of worshiping the One True God. If we pick and choose which parts of the bible to believe, and which parts of the bible to disbelieve, then instead of us conforming to God's will, we conform God to our will, which is exactly what Comstock did. He was very religious, and devoted his whole life to what he believed. Unfortunately, he did not use The Bible as the basis for his beliefs, rather he took parts of the bible that aligned with his own and disregarded the rest. When we believe that we know better than the Bible, we do the same thing.

Even if you do not believe the Bible is perfect or always right, by giving our beliefs more weight than scripture, we do not worship the One True God, rather we worship a god of our own creation that conforms to whatever we wish him to be.

Application:
"Hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught so that [you] can encourage others with sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" Titus 1:9 (NIV82)

Examine what you believe about God. Do you have scripture supporting those beliefs?
    If not, then research. Ask a fellow believer or a mentor.

How much time do you spend reading God's word?
Is that enough time?

Going Further
Our belief in God should be based on the teachings of the bible, but is the Bible really that trustworthy of a source? Do research into the legitimacy of the Bible.

Comment with your findings, or with your questions.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Majora's Mask and Forgiveness



When Majora's Mask was released it had a lot of hype to live up to. Ocarina of Time showed people how awesome 3D gaming could be, and people wanted more. What they got was a game that broke free from the typical Zelda formula, and polarized their fans.

One of the "Zelda-isms" That Majora's Mask separated itself from was the bad guy. Normally, the
Skull Kid transformed Link from a capable
person, to a helpless Deku Shrub
http://gamefob.com/super-smash-sunday-majoras-mask-link/
bad guy is Ganon, or some minion who is controlled by Ganon. Instead the bad guy is Skull Kid wearing Majora's Mask. Right from the get go, Skull Kid proves his antagonistic qualities. He steals Link's Ocarina and transforms him into a Deku Shrub. He attacks, severely cripples you, and then abandons Link in a strange new world forcing him to face his new weaknesses alone. Yet as the game progresses, you learn that Skull Kid really is not to blame. Majora's Mask is what has made Skull Kid so evil. To really make a difference and save the world, you don't have to destroy skull kid, but the Mask itself.

In life, we are severely hurt by people around us.  Some people deal with complicated divorce, that causes problems in lives that no kid should have to face. Some were abandoned by their parents, and lack the loving family that most have. Some have been abused or mistreated by people close to them, and will suffer the effects of that mistreatment for the rest of their lives. People in our lives cause all of us issues, and we are left with weaknesses because of them. It is so easy for us to hate the people that cause us this pain. So easy to live our entire lives bitter and angry at them, without forgiveness even when they ask for it. We feel like were hurt and crippled and they don't deserve our forgiveness.

But they are not the real bad guy. They are not the true evil at work here. They are just the Skull Kid.

The real source of all our pain, and all our problems is Satan. He caused the fall of man which brought sin into this world, giving us all a sinful nature from birth. "Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-" Romans 5:12. These people who hurt us so greatly are not the true evil in our lives. They are simply pawns of a greater evil in our sinful nature. We need to realize that, and we need to take a huge step of faith and forgive. "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" Colossians 3:13-14.

Forgiveness is hard, especially when so much damage has been done. But they are only a lost soul as you once were. Let God use you to bring Him into their lives. At the very least, don't let your bitterness towards them hold you back from being the Servant of God you are called to be.

Application:

Who is in your life that needs forgiveness?

Have you forgiven them?
     If not, pray that God would give you the strength to.
Do you pray for them? That God would take care of them?
     If not do, and God will bless you for it.


Going Further:
Is there any wrong that is unforgivable?

Often Times, God can use or weaknesses, or things we struggled with in the past to help us minister to others in similar situations. Was there a time when God used an old pain in your life to help others get through theirs?

Comment with your thoughts.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

BioShock and The Gospel



*MAJOR SPOILERS are used to prove a point. Be warned.*

BioShock is a mind blowing game. From the second you go into the lighthouse to take you down into Rapture, to the end credits, you are in awe of the game. Rapture is such an interesting and engaging setting that you cannot help being drawn in.

Then comes the famous plot twist. One realization changes how you view the whole game. Everything you had done was pointless. Your cause was not just, your goal was not real, and your true motivations were not what you thought they were. You were a slave to a greater evil than the one you were facing, and you did not even know it. Only after you have discovered the truth and have been set free from slavery, can you finally face the true evil at work in Rapture.
Sadly, our lives before finding Christ are the same. Like the main character in BioShock before the memorable confrontation with Andrew Ryan, we live our entire lives as slaves to sin. We may have tried to do good, but we were all selfish at heart. "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" Romans 3:10-12. That was because, like in BioShock, there is a plot twist that we had not yet reached. We had not learned the truth. "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" John 8:34. Nobody can live a perfect life. We all sin, and we all screw up. Therefore we are slaves to sin, and like in Bioshock, many don't even realize it. Because sin is our master, we have earned death, "For the wages of sin is death..." Romans 6:23a. The life changing truth is, that we are hopeless, and doomed. Enslaved to an evil master.
But there is more to this truth. The verse continues "...but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" Romans 6:23b. We are offered freedom. Though our debt is great the price has been paid. "If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" 1 John 2:1-2. Jesus came to earth, and paid the debt for our sins. All we must do is accept his free gift and we are free from our captor. Free to fight against him who enslaved us, and like in BioShock, our former master will be defeated.

Application:

Have you ever thought about how amazing a gift God has given us? That, even though we deserve death, God became a man and died so that we could live. Think about that for a while before moving on.
 Jesus died to be "the propitiation for our sins...but also for the whole world." What steps are you taking to help your friends accept this free gift?
 Are you praying for them?
 Are you living a godly life around them?
 What else can you be doing?
Jesus' last words were a command, telling us to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit" Matthew 28:19.
Are we making disciples as we were commanded?

Going Further:

Comment with some ideas on sharing this truth with others, or with people in your life that we can be praying for God to reveal this truth to. Video Link: http://youtu.be/14pQ5B0iTUs 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mass Effect Trilogy and Theological Doctrine




The Mass Effect Trilogy is one of my favorite game series of all time. I remember to this day watching the commercial for the first time and thinking "I have to play that game." The game featured difficult morale dilemmas that impacted the games outcome. There were so many significant choices in the game that everyone's Mass Effect story was a little bit different. After finishing the third and final game, I realized that even with these differences the story basically ends the same way. *WARNING! This is the part with the spoilers* In the end, after it is all said and done, the Reapers are defeated. Civilization survives, and Commander Shepard saves the day. Your choices impact who saves it with him, how many lives are saved, how soundly the Reapers are defeated, and how awesome certain events are, but in the end the good guys win regardless.*SPOILERS OVER*
SPOILERS This is a critical point in Mass Effect 1 where you
  decide how to deal with an angry teammate, possibly ending
in his death
http://9999hitpoints.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/mass-effect-1-and-2-choices-retrospective/

The Mass Effect universe is more than just games. There are books, movies, spin-off games, etc. In order to maintain a cohesive story between all of these "Extended universe" stories, Bioware had to basically decide what "actually" happened at each choice in the game and establish a cannon. This means that while we get to create our own Mass Effect stories, there is one story that is canon, or true. It is still Mass Effect though, because the main points are still the same. Commander Shepard still has to save the galaxy, and he still either succeeds or fails in the end. All of the important things are still the same.

As Christians, we often forget what is truly important in our doctrine. Throughout history, the church has gotten caught up in complex theological debates and created dissension amongst believers simply because of a petty disagreement. Between the years 400 and 500, there was a huge argument between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church. Angry words were said, and the two churches absolutely could not work together. In the end, the Pope excommunicated the Patriarch, and the Patriarch excommunicated the Pope. This fighting and arguing was only about one thing: Whether leavened bread, or unleavened bread should be eaten when taking the Lords Supper. They let such a small disagreement escalate and create so much dissention.

I struggle with this as well. I often get frustrated when my close friends and I don't see eye to eye on more modern religious matters, (such as the impeccability of Christ, or a literal or figurative interpretation of certain old testament books). As Christians we need to remember what is important; that "If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1 John 1:9. By focusing on the gospel and what Jesus did for us we can be a unified body of Christ and "preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace" Ephesians 4:3. Because in the end, once we are all in heaven, the specifics will not matter.

There are many different ways that Mass Effect can go, but all of the paths have the same themes, major events, and ending. Likewise, there are many different faiths and denominations in Christianity, but by focusing on the same themes, major events, and the ending we can work together as a unified body making us more effective tools for Christ; because in the end when we will be in heaven and it will not matter who is right. Only God will matter.

Application:

What are the most important doctrines of the Christian faith?

What are some that are not as important?

Do I treat any of the less important ones like important ones?

How can I better show a "unified body of Christ" with those who disagree with me?

Going Deeper:
Are some doctrines really more important than others?

What belief or action separates Christians from non-Christians?

What are some practical things that different churches can do to show a unified global church?

Please comment with your answers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Super Meat Boy and Prayer

http://www.gamesradar.com/super-meat-boys-retro-reference-guide/?page=2
A couple years ago, my friend bought me Super Meat Boy on Steam. I started playing it and was pleasantly surprised with the difficulty of the game. It took me a while, but I beat the first world with A+ on everything. I was struggling,  but I overcame every level that I faced.

I then advanced to World 2, anticipating the greater challenge with excitement. I started Level 2-1, and about 100 tries later gave up. I could not get past the first real jump on the very first level. There was a seemingly insurmountable mound of salt (which kills you in the game) in my way, and no amount of wall jumping could get me past it. I tried and tried and tried, but I simply could not move past this obstacle and advance in the game. I finally looked to the forums for help and discovered a fatal flaw in the way that I played. One huge part of the game that I had never known about. A sprint button.
The jump that taught me to sprint.
Screen shot from Super Meat Boy Level 2-1

If you ever played Super Meat Boy, you know how important the sprint button is. I had played through an entire fifth of the game without utilizing this huge resource that not only allowed me to run faster, but also jump farther and higher. If I had been using the sprint button, not only would I have been able to beat the level, but all the levels before it would have been much easier.

Often as Christians, we neglect to use the biggest assets that we have been given. We go to church and bible studies, and have theological discussions on our own, but we don't spend enough time on something that is not only crucial to  the development of our relationship with God, but also gives us the strength to face the problems we come up against in life. That thing is prayer. Prayer is crucial to developing our relationship with God,
 and it helps us face trials in our life.

Plain and simple, prayer is communicating with God, and you cannot have a relationship with someone that you do not communicate with. Even long distance relationships need some form of communication, whether it be letters or phone calls. Jesus is a perfect example of how important prayer is to developing your relationship with God. "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." Mark 1:35. You would think that if there was anyone who would not need to pray, it would be Jesus because he was God. Yet Jesus still made it a point to have one on one prayer time with  God in his daily life. If Jesus needs to pray, then we need to even more so.

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" Philippians 4:6-7. When we pray about the things we are facing or struggling with, God may not take the thing away or make things easier, but he does promise that he will give you peace. Jesus did this in the garden of Gethsemane right before he faced crucifixion. Jesus could have been doing anything, but the most important thing for him to do, right before he faced the greatest trial of his life was pray.

Prayer is like our sprint button. If I had been utilizing the sprint button for the entire time I was playing Super Meat Boy, not only would I have been able to progress even further in the game, but all of my progress before that would have been much easier and faster. If we make it a point, to pray alone with God daily, then our spiritual growth will progress much faster, and if we try to serve God, we will hit an impossible road block.

Application:

Questions to ask yourself:
Am I setting time aside to pray to God every day?

When I pray, am I following Jesus' example in the Sermon on the mount by...
Praying in solitude?
Praising and thanking God for his blessings?
Asking God to take care of me?
Confessing my most secret sins, and asking for forgivenss?
Asking God to protect me from temptation?

Going Further:
Prayer is not the only thing that we need to develop our relationship with God. What are some other essential parts of a Christian life? How can me make sure that we are pursuing those things? Comment with your answers.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Introduction

Howdy! My name is Luke Strain and I am an adult Christian Gamer. I was inspired to start this blog a long time ago by one bible verse, and just now got enough outside motivation to begin.
"For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made..." Romans 1:20

God reveals himself through everything in this world. Through the trees, the mountains, and even modern media. Video Games are no exception. I learn a lot about life as a Christian through video games. This blog is about sharing these lessons that I have learned with my fellow Christians, and gamers. I AM NOT trying to find the "true meaning" of these games, but instead use examples from video games to prove points, and teach about God.

But my aspirations for this blog go even beyond the posting of devotionals every once and a while...

Most of the Christians that I interact with through video games or online forums are adolescents whose faith is really based on the influence of their cool hip youth pastor and have not made their own yet. Which is great, truly. I was there once too. But now I have grown. Done some soul searching. Asked myself hard questions and found answers myself (well, God helped too I guess). I am now a stronger Christian than I ever was. Unfortunately, the place that God has lead me to is quite unique. My friends who were Christians and gamers are now Christians or gamers. Sure my christian friends may play video games, but they do not have a passion for games as I do. And yes some of my gamer friends are still Christians, but they do not have a burning desire to live their entire lives glorifying God as I do. Very few of my peers have both a passion for games, and a burning love for God as I do.

Yet James 5:16 tells us to "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed," establishing a community with one another. We are not meant to go through life alone.  Instead we are meant to pursue God's will in fellowship with one another, glorifying God in whatever social group we fall.

That is what this blog is meant to be, a unifying place for Christians, Gamers, and Christian Gamers alike to find fellowship, and glorify God. I don't want this to be just a place for devotionals, but a unifying community for Christians and Gamers everywhere.

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone" Ephesians 2:19-20