Archive for May, 2012

In Christ We Have Peace

Posted in Bible Commentary with tags , , on May 30, 2012 by Alex

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 

 

At the moment humanity turned their backs on God Christ’s coming was promised (Gen 3:15), but it was wrongly assumed by many that He would come as a conquering king to turn Israel into a superpower.  And even today we are frequently just as confused.  For myself, I would say that the biggest lie about Jesus that creeps into my heart is that He has not overcome the world.

All believers do not count the world as home.  We are merely stopping by.  Is it a hard place?  Yes it is, but it’s also the closest that we will ever get to Hell.  Have I ever shed bled for the Gospel?  No and I don’t personally know anyone who has had that honor.

It would seem that the most important thing to me is that people would think well of me.  Which is silly.  God overcame the cross and revealed the innermost things of the universe – His own heart.  He loves us and is willing to die for us.

God is absolutely infuriated by sin and poured out His wrath, that would be laid on the Church, onto His only Son.  Obviously He loves me.  And I type that far too quickly without really drinking it in.

God loves me.  He gave everything for me.  If you don’t belong to Him you can.  He has made a way and it is in the person of Jesus Christ.  God has revealed Himself to the world through His Son.

We have no reason to fear anything.  If there is something that is keeping you from a more single sense of intimacy with the Father, realize that God has overcome that obstacle in the work of His Son.  He loves you.  Never forget this.  In Him, not in ourselves or in any other thing, we have peace.

The Futility of Our Modern Ephesus

Posted in Bible Commentary with tags , on May 28, 2012 by Alex

I found another interesting random Bible verse generator right here.  It’s probably not truly “random”, but I know the real deal, while being more comprehensive, might also be less helpful in the construction of a blog post.  Let’s go!

Eph 4:17

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.

Paul starts out the phrase with “Now this I say” as to refer to the preceding verses which talk about the unity of the Body of Christ being the under-girding truth beneath this verse.   But he also says that it’s not merely him saying it, but that it’s coming from God.  Paul’s mission is not merely to offer advice but to “testify in the Lord.”

If Scripture (or anything for that matter) was built essentially on the power of men speaking truth into each other’s lives, men would be the highest form of wisdom in the universe and thus be acting as gods.  But this is not the case.  James 1:17 tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

James also points out that of the Giver, “there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  So we are truly blessed because our God is always good.  Believers build their lives on the unshakable rock (Matt 7:24) and have no reason to question the future love of our Father.  But if our hope was in the shallow aim of men as gods, we don’t have a prayer!

So Paul makes the claim that we are to be unified by the Holy Spirit and because he is speaking on behalf of God, the Ephesian Christians are not to, “walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”  Now what Paul is talking can necessarily mean any number of things.

Consider Romans 8:7-8

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

So the will of the unbeliever is entirely bent away from God and can only constantly sin.  This is a terrifying notion.  But let’s narrow the focus down to sexuality because it’s probably the most profaned of God’s gifts to us both in Paul’s time and in ours.  In the ancient world there were temples where you could “worship” with prostitutes and our day is not too far off.

We are not merely fixated on sex, we are willing to destroy others for the unbridled pursuit of a nebulous “sexual fulfillment.”  It would also seem that sexual sin is the primary demon behind today’s all too common broken homes, shattered marriages, and the hardening of the upcoming generation.

Instead, we are told to not live like them.   We are to be in the world, but not of it (John 17:15-16).  Consider what Jesus said about sex in Matt 19:4-6:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

This is a terribly high calling and very unpopular in the world’s eyes.  One man and one woman for life.  This is the only way that God’s Word speaks about sex and the world has put forth numerous deviations.  Are we to batter the world because they disagree and look to the wisdom of men as gods?  No, we are to speak over them with grace (Col 4:5-6).  But we also cannot change or amend what God said about sex.  If we do, we are encouraging them into slavery.  Jesus said in John 8:34:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Why would we do that?  And for ourselves as believers, why would we want to be enslaved again?  God loves us and wants the best for us.  He is perfectly wise and His commands are a delight to be stored in our hearts.  How different would our lives be if we just lived by that?

Good Suffering

Posted in Bible Commentary with tags on May 25, 2012 by Alex

Today’s psuedo-random Bible verse is 1 Peter 4:16:

 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

 

We like to think things “ought” to be a certain way for us.  We like comfort and pleasure.  We don’t like people to hate us.  And in loving people, if we’re honest, we often treat them in selfish ways.  We want things from them, even if it’s just their approval.

Suffering is rarely included in what life “ought” to be like.  We moan in suffering because we assume there is no gain in its trial.  But this verse says there is tremendous gain to be found in suffering.

We are to suffer as Christians (not as the previous verse says: murderers, thieves, and evildoers) and that we should not be ashamed.  Why not?  Whose name do we bear as Christians and children of God?  We bear Christ’s name, who apart from there is no greater sufferer!  Jesus hung Himself on the cross for our sake.  And when His glory shines through the preaching of the gospel, men get saved.

One of the best, simple prayers is in John 12:28:

 

Father, glorify your name.

 

When life gets nasty, pray this.  Lose yourself in the spreading of God’s glory.  You will find an inexhaustible sense of comfort because your glory does not matter anymore.  You will want to love people and will not care for their approval.  You will want to give of yourself.

On this side of eternity, God’s glory will be most clearly demonstrated through sacrificial love.  So we are to suffer in a similar manner to our namesake.  Many of us will not be given the privilege of dying as martyrs, but all are called to give up themselves in love.  Love all, do no evil, and give everything.  Do not be ashamed but shine forth the glory of God!

Brackenwood and Writing Backwards

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 23, 2012 by Alex

This is a link to the personal site  of the former Disney animator Adam Phillips.  He’s good, very good.  If you have a few minutes, I’d strongly recommend checking out his popular “Brackenwood.”  The series takes place on a giant forest planet and most of episodes center around a spiteful creature named Bitey.

“Prowlies at the River” was initially Adam’s breakthrough work, but all of them (even his non-Brackenwood work like “nightShift” or “hitchHiker”) really do merit a watch because of his immense gift in animation.

 

Outside of Flash, I thought I’d share Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 “rules” for writing (actually tips for writing a short story but they work in all species of narrative):

 

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.  (Note: Vonnegut takes this rule to the extreme in his novel Galápagos as he clearly tells you how characters will die way before the actual occurrence of the event.)

 

I bring these up primarily to highlight the 5th rule.  In my own writing I’ve found that I’ve had started building many stories and, being unable to create anything juicy or interesting, I would give up in frustration.  More often than not, they started with initial bursts of inspiration like “A demon queen falls in love with a Cactus Lord” or “A man has a lawnmower for legs, he better not run out of gas.”  But I would always get stuck.

Now when Vonnegut brought up the 5th rule, he meant opening up the finished story as close to the end as possible.  But I thought about it in terms of crafting the story from that very simple end point and then working backwards from that with further characterization, action, and background detail.  So get the climax down and work my way inch by inch to the opening.  And it’s working.  It’s working very well in fact.

I wish I knew this trick a long time ago because openings are so terrifically difficult. They have to grab the reader’s attention while assuming no knowledge of the story’s setting but also fit within that story’s spirt.  Now I get to learn as I go long what fits within the confines of that’s story’s writing.  I don’t have to determine anything until it’s necessary to do so.

Catching Fire AKA The Hunger Games Book Two AKA Snow Falls at Midnight

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 21, 2012 by Alex

So that last one has never been a title for the second Hunger Games book.  But I like it and it makes sense.  Anyway, on with the review.

Catching Fire is about the swell of political unrest that began in the first book.  We get a better look at the Capitol as viewed through previous Hunger Games, the life of the aristocracy, and the swift malevolence of the privileged elite.

I’ve certainly read worse books than Catching Fire.  It’s a fun read that, like the first, moves very quickly and is fun.  It’s brutal, it doesn’t get in the way of action, and there are plenty of great, “Okay, just one more chapter even though I had to be asleep two hours ago,” moments.

My main complaint is that while it starts out seeking to tell a very different story from its predecessor, it loses sight of this aim.  Catching Fire begins to be about the political intrigue and the slow bubble of unrest among Panem and then uncomfortably drags the reader back to all too familiar territory for the second half of the book.

Was the shift possible within the confines of the setting?  Absolutely it was.  I can’t deny that something can’t happen in the The Hunger Games because it clearly did.  But at no point does the mere fact of its placement automatically justify its own existence.

The ending is not, however, unnecessary.  It’s actually quite cool.  I saw most of it coming, but I felt it at least tried to justify the shift.  Did it work entirely?  Nope, not really.  But I’m happy for the ending.

So my overall impression?  Catching Fire is a step back.  It’s not a terrible book by any means, its just uncomfortable.  Not in the Martian Sunrise Canon.  I would not recommend it to my great, great grandchildren.  But the first half is pretty decent, I’ll give it that.

And as an unfair, last minute nitpick before we brave the territory of spoilers, a coal miner’s daughter should not use a word so highbrow as “mollify.”

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CATCHING FIRE BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CATCHING FIRE BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CATCHING FIRE BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CATCHING FIRE BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CATCHING FIRE BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CATCHING FIRE BOOK

So here we are.  Perhaps what made the jump back into the arena so annoying was the intrigue of the Capitol.  We have the heroic couple touring the Districts, the rumors of District 13 still carrying on, the gross display of the citizens binging and purging, the strain of an impending loveless marriage, President Snow creepily breathing down Katniss’ back, and the flashing of Plutarch Heavensbee’s mockingjay watch.  This is interesting, juicy material that I was enjoying mightily.

And then we’re taken away from it all.  Was the new arena fun?  Of course.  We saw new traps, new mutts, and colorful characters.  But it really wasn’t necessary.  Why can’t the book be about Katniss and Peeta skulking around before the wedding?  It would have been a great sequel.

So how’d I do with my predictions?

Yes there’s a love triangle.  I’m still holding out that Katniss will choose Peeta.  His capture will make him all the more tantalizing.

Yes there’s already a resistance and all three are connected to it.  It least it seems like they are.

Muttations don’t return.  I’m not holding on to them taking down the Capitol.

Going forward, I’m guessing that:

The love triangle will be resolved.  Madge will lure in Gale.  Katniss will get over herself and pick Peeta.

The Capitol will fall.  Haymitch will die as a hero of the rebellion.

Peeta will not only play a crucial part in the downfall of the Capitol, but will take a high office in the new government.

Giving Thanks

Posted in Bible Commentary with tags , on May 18, 2012 by Alex

I started Catching Fire and blazed through about 3/4 of it in two days.  Yes it’s fun, but it’s not ready for a review today.  By Monday it will be finished and my review will be posted. This is, of course, if the Lord wills.

So I was not entirely sure what I’d writing this Friday.  I picked a random Bible verse through here, and upon closer inspection realized that the chosen verse was not truly random but picked from a preselected list.  I remember thinking, “What if we got something very difficult out of the Levitical law?”  Well, I didn’t.  Let’s just go with what was almost randomly selected.

Psalm 107:1

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!

This verse consists of a command and two qualifications that under-gird that command’s legitimacy.  We are not told to give thanks so that we might earn God’s favor, we are told this because of the pefection of His character.  We are told that God is good.  Chew on that.  God’s actions cannot be separated from His perfect character.  Whatever God does, He is good.  I would encourage you, reader, slow down with that statement.

I hear myself saying “He is good” and I can only begin to understand the verse.  It is simple, but also perfectly complex.  Whatever you’re going through in your life, be it preferable or horrific, God is good.  My words are pitifully inadequate.  God is good.

As I look back to my dark days and to the better ones, I am brought to tears at the recognition of His goodness.  I should never forget His goodness.  If I trust that He is good, I have hope.  If I question that goodness, I am lost.  Please reader, I know I would prefer to use big flowery words but I simply cannot.  God is good.

The verse goes on with a second qualification for this command.  We are to give thanks “for his steadfast love endures forever.”  God’s love is perfect.  It’s an enduring work that does not rust, corrode, or rot. We are promised in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (1:6):

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”

God’s love endures.  It does.  If you belong to Him, He will not lose you.  Reader, if you belong to Him through Christ, don’t let anyone tell you that God might one day wring His hands of you in dissatisfaction.  They would be lying to you.  They do not believe that God’s love endures.  If you build your life on the enduring rock of Christ, you will not be swept away.  In passing away, you have a home with Him.

And if you do not belong to Him, then you will be cast off.  Your life, as happy as it might be right now, will not endure forever.  This may be the closest you will ever get to God’s goodness and when your time is up, you will not have a hope.  I don’t say this because I hate you, but because I love you.  If I did not tell you about His goodness in salvation, then I would be keeping you from mercy.

If you reader do belong to Him and yet feel something missing in your walk with the Lord, do as He tells His children to do.  Give thanks.  Whatever you have, good or bad, give thanks.  For He is a good God and He loves you.  He has loved you and chosen you in adoption before you were born.  We see this in Eph 1:4-5:

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

He loves you.  Don’t go by a moment without preaching this to yourself.  God loves you.  He is good.  His steadfast love endures forever.

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back, Lather, Rinse, and Repeat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 16, 2012 by Alex

So I had another idea for an RPG system.

Take a character’s attribute that can be used in combat.  We’ll say his strength (or even total weapon skill) is +7.  In attacking a creature he rolls a d100.  Often, we would expect him to add it to the roll and see if it exceeds his target’s defensive stat (such as Armor).  But instead of adding to get high numbers, why not add to get wide numbers?  What if the sweet spot within that 100 digits was not meant to be reached for but sought for?

Take that roll and go either 7 up or down (including that original value).  So rolling a 57, he could declare his attack range to be 51-57, 57-63, or any range that is 7 digits wide but includes the original roll.  The value the player is looking for might be within that range.  If the GM declares it a miss, the player knows to aim differently on his next roll.  He can hunt through the digits till he gets a strike.  The enemy’s Armor could also be a range or it could be sprinkled in digits (or separate ranges) across the 100.  It could be:

Goblin

4-20 (3+weapon damage)

31-49 (2+ weapon damage)

52-60 (8+weapon damage)

70-79 (6+weapon damage)

With the player’s original roll, this would be a successful strike.  He would indicate within his notes where the sweet spot was found, and then use that on the next goblin he faces.  But he can’t transfer it cross monster.  Another might be:

Dragon

2-3 (6+ weapon damage)

50-56 ( 5+ weapon damage)

90 (20+ weapon damage)

You’ll see on the dragon it has fewer vulnerabilities, but within those sweet spots they are higher damage overall.  The 90 is particularly brutal and is meant to represent an amazing strike that saves the day.  But it’s very different, obviously, from the goblin.  This would be, in a sense, a game where advancement was actually on the part of the players as they get smarter and not an abstract sense of progression of raising numbers.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the traditional “You’re stronger now! Add 3 to you strength score.”, this is just an alternative to the accepted model.  And it would work wonderfully in a low magic game.

The problem would be is that the idea is clunky.  Since their own advancement is built on keeping records, combat would not be quick die rolls but built on looking through their personal archives.  It would be cumbersome, especially for seasoned soldiers with a big combat history. And that doesn’t sound very fun.  So is this the white flag for the Martian Sunrise Tabletop RPG?  Sort of.

In contrast, the FUDGE and FATE systems have caught my attention because they are built around being narrative driven, rather than mechanically driven.  These games are designed for “fudging” the numbers if something’s not abundantly clear.  To be fair, all systems do run into this problem because players get creative.  But none of them cover all contingencies, because this would be impossible.  Some reach for the edge of reality and detail everything.  Those games are also very slow.  FUDGE and FATE encourage the players to think outside the box.  It encourages liberty and speed, rather than perfectly simulating the details of an adventure.

They are also completely generic systems and very useful for running any sort of setting.  FATE has been built into the high flying pulp adventure Spirit of the Century, the hard science fiction Diaspora, the urban fantasy Dresden Files (as in the Jim Butcher books), and is being worked to fit into the world of the recent Atomic Robo comic book.

FATE is actually built out of the older FUDGE.  FUDGE, from what I understand, has been much more of an underground thing because it came out before the Internet really flared up.  But for what it’s worth, there exists somewhere the home brewed rules for FUDGE made into things like Animorphs, Wizard of Oz, Call of Cthulhu, Transformers, Chronicles of Amber, and many more.  So they’re definitely out there sitting somewhere on a hard drive, but only some of them still remain accessible to the public through the Internet.

So I happily don’t know where this is going.  If I get something that’s substantial (for example, a workable squirrel mafia game), I’ll be happy to share it with you guys.  Otherwise, let’s comfortably continue on with humor, reviews, and Scripture.