Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Quest

For the first few years, I made fun of people who watched Survivor... or any "reality" TV, for that matter. Then I watched a few episodes (of the now classic "Palau" season) and I was hooked. (Read my apology to those I made fun of at A Real Good Thing.)

Over the years, I've been drawn into other race/competition shows:
  • The Amazing Race
  • Treasure Hunters (kind of National Treasure meets Amazing Race 3-member team show)
  • Expedition Impossible (3 member teams racing across the wilds of Morocco)
  • The Mole (the non-celebrity seasons, thank you)
  • Capture (hi-tech tag in a forest)
My most recent (and possibly favorite) entry into this genre is ABC's The Quest - which you should be watching. And, if you hustle over to ABC's website, you can watch Episode 1 & 2 tonight and Episode 3 & 4 tomorrow... just in time to watch the fifth & sixth episodes on Thursday.

I don't quite know how to describe it:
  • it's a reality competition with no prize other than the honor of winning & defending the kingdom
  • it's not really a reality competition - because it's set in a fantasy world (and shot primarily in an Austrian castle)
  • the contestants (paladins) are immersed in that fantasy world - and whoever did the casting knocked it out of the park, as the paladins seem to have bought into enjoying the fantasy world & storyline
  • it's family-friendly... which can be a rare commodity in reality television
In short, just go watch it. And tell your friends about it. (We get the TV shows we deserve - if we watch garbage like Mud Lovin' Rednecks, they'll program more of that schlock. If we support wonderful stuff like The Quest, networks will pay attention.)

Heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever; a happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.      Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Eavesdropping on a Bunch of Gamers, Part II (Classic)

Yesterday, I posted Eavesdropping on a Bunch of Gamers, Part I... so today, I'll post Part II. I am nothing if not a man of numerical order.

I'm known in the gaming hobby not just for my love of "fluffy" games but also for my former "day job" as a pastor - and so I get some very insightful questions about Christianity & faith. Yesterday, you got to eavesdrop on a bit of conversation about evangelicals & mainline churches, as well as how I believe we're supposed to relate to non-Christians. Today, I want to share with you an exchange I had with Mister Cranky (real name: Josh Adelson; home state: Pennsylvania) on fear & religion.

Just a short note: it starts with a Mister Microphone joke, which probably means that all of you under the age of 30 will be scratching your heads... and some of the rest of you will wonder what I was talking about - and I'm sorry, but it's in reference to a very geek-y gamer thing and I won't waste three paragraphs trying to make sense of it for you. Just trust me on this one.

For this new version of the post, I have managed to find a copy of the Mister Microphone ad... yes, it was the 70s.


In the words of the Mister Microphone ad, "I'll be back for you later."

Mister Cranky: My goodness, that's ominous. No wonder I've always been too afraid to buy a Mister Microphone. Speaking of scary clerics, do you think that fear has any place in the promulgation of one's faith? [Note: "cleric" is another way of saying "minister" - used pretty commonly by gamers because it's a player class in Dungeons & Dragons.]

In just a second, you're going to ask me about fear. Here's what I fear: you, Mister Cranky, with a Mister Microphone in hand.

You said: "Speaking of scary clerics, do you think that fear has any place in the promulgation of one's faith?"

Well, yes... but you know I'm going to qualify that statement, right?! :-)

Gavin de Becker is a security consultant to the stars (who, frankly, spends way too much time on entertainment TV shows to make me entirely comfortable if I was one of his clients) who has also written a very good book entitled The Gift of Fear. (No, I don't get any royalties.) He ascribes our fear "instinct" to evolution (and since it's a micro- rather than a macro- kind of deal, I won't argue with him)... I'd attribute it to God. Either way, fear can serve a very useful purpose - to keep us out of danger.

Coercive fear ("become a follower of ___________ or I'll punch your lights out") is never OK... conversion by the sword was/is a dumb idea for Muslims & Christians.

OTOH, pretending that there isn't an element of fear in the Christian faith would be the rough equivalent of going through the Bible and cutting out passages you don't like. (The word "fear", btw, appears over 300 times in the NIV translation of the Scriptures.) But I think/believe that this is a healthy fear, similar to what de Becker talks about - fear that serves a useful purpose.
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.     1 Peter 2:16-17 (NIV)
Now, two caveats:
  1. Fear is not the only and/or the main motivator to follow God.
  2. Trying to increase other's fear levels in order to get them to knuckle under & cry a spiritual "Uncle" misses the whole picture of God as portrayed in Scripture.

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.     Psalm 86:15 (NIV)
So, the traveling evangelist who went church to church in the 1960's & '70's wearing a special shirt that he could light on fire - then scream about "this is what hell is like!" - is, let's just say, freakishly over the top. OTOH, if I don't preach from the Bible about hell, I'm simply editing out verses (a LOT of verses!) that make me uncomfortable.

Mister Cranky: Very nicely answered, if I do rantlessly say so myself.


Notice something here - Josh (aka Mister Cranky) wasn't offended by my use of Scripture or my belief in hell when it was set in the context of an actual answer to   his question. Which is a nice reminder that sharing the truth about Jesus doesn't have to devolve into an argument... from either side! (Also note: part of the reason I get the freedom to write like this is that I'm a contributing member of the online boardgaming community - I didn't just show up & start spouting off about Christianity. People know me as an avid gamer with both a sense of humor & solid moral principles... and then as a spokesman for Jesus Christ.)

As well, the whole "fear & faith" topic brings up another question for you to consider: how well do you balance a legitimate fear of a holy God with the truth of His compassion & graciousness? Be honest with yourself - which one of those  sound more like the God you believe in?

Whichever side you're leaning toward, make sure you take some time to ask God to give you a COMPLETE picture of who He is... to expand your relationship with Him.

Quote to Ponder
People outside of the church who aren't in relationships with those inside the church might never hear the gospel or get to see it lived out in someone's life. Instead,  they'll only get an impersonal tract that focuses on hell or see a street evangelist who many times ends up making things worse. Sometimes when I talk to pastors about this, someone will quote Romans 10:14 - "And how will they hear without someone preaching to them?" - and tell me that their job is to preach the gospel in their church. 
But people who need to hear the gospel most likely aren't going to church. On Sundays, they are sleeping in, shopping at the flea market, going out to breakfast - they're anywhere but a church meeting. I don't know why we think that if we have good preaching or add a worship band or have coffee & candles that they will come. Those things are all good, but people outside the church aren't looking for a church with those things. They aren't looking for a church at all. 
It is in the context of relationships with missional Christians that they become inspired to come to worship gatherings. But the sad part is so many outside the church don't have a relationship with someone inside the church. I'm always amazed at how many people outside  the church say they don't know any Christians personally. It's not that they would mind hanging out with one if a true friendship was built, but the Christians they work with or attend school with don't make themselves known to them or befriend them and spend all of their social time with other Christians. And so we widen the chasm.     Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not The Church

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eavesdropping on a Bunch of Gamers, Part I (Classic)

Back in the day, this was the first of two posts in my church e-newsletter stemming from my "appearance" as Geek of the Week. I've spruced it up a bit for your reading enjoyment. (You can read Part II as well.)

Right around Christmas 2006, I was given the opportunity to write & answer questions for folks from around the world at the premier boardgaming website, BoardGameGeek. (Of course, the honor has the unfortunate title of Geek of the Week. Oh, well.) I talked about my favorite games, how I got thrown out of Disneyland as a teenager, traded quips with folks, and generally had a very good time. (If you'd like to read the whole conversation, you can check it out here.)

But I'm known in the gaming hobby not just for my love of "fluffy" games but also for my former "day job" as a pastor - and so I got some very insightful questions about Christianity & faith. What follows is an extended exchange with Virre AnnergÄrd (from FÀrgelanda, Sweden), David Seddon (from the East Midlands, United Kingdom) and myself.


David: Do you see any conflicts/tensions between evangelicals and more traditional Christians (of whatever denomination)? If so, how do you personally deal with and feel about that?

That's a tough question... I assume by "evangelicals" you mean "those who believe in the need for a personal decision to surrender your life to Jesus Christ" instead of some kind of political affiliation. [I was wrong, btw - David was asking about worship style issues... but that's a subject for another day.]

If that's true, then the tension between evangelicals and what commonly gets called "mainline" churches is not about worship style or organization but instead about theology - the prime question is the nature of Jesus Christ & our relationship to Him.

A blog I particularly like (GetReligion) has suggested over & over that the following three questions could tell you a great deal about the theological bias of religion reporters. I'd suggest that they would also help clarify the tension you're observing:
(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Was this a real - even if mysterious - event in real time? Did it really happen?
(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Is Jesus the Way or a way? Thus, it was highly symbolic that the Episcopalians tabled a resolution declaring the church's "unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved" and acknowledging "the solemn responsibility placed upon us to share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me' (John 14:6). . . ."
(3) Is sex outside of the sacrament of marriage a sin? The question is a matter of moral theology, not national policy. The controversial word is sin.
My answers, btw, are "yes", "yes" and "yes".

How do I personally deal with that tension? I choose to work with pastors/churches who disagree with those statements only as far as I can continue to express my personal convictions. When I'm considering whether or not to be involved, the explicit or implied pressure to "sit down & be quiet" is a deciding factor in me walking away.

A different question - one you didn't explore - is how do I deal with non-Christians as individuals? Maybe someone will ask that. :-)

Virre: OK, how do you deal with non-Christians as individuals?

Excellent question. :-)
When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn't talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don't even eat with such people.
It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you."     1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NLT)
Shortened down, the real problem for people who claim to be believers in Jesus is not how they relate to non-Christians... it's how we relate to those who claim to follow Jesus but then live something else.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.     Brennan Manning
As long as folks who believe differently from me allow me the freedom to speak about my faith & live it out, I'm a happy camper. It's my job to do the same - to give others freedom to worship in ways that I think are wrong & spiritually dangerous without interference.

BTW, let's define "interference" - that means I don't physically or emotionally intimidate or prevent people from doing what they want. That doesn't mean I can't criticize, debate or point out the foibles of a religious system. (Of course, any critique I offer should be seasoned with grace & respectful.)
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.     Colossians 4:5-6 (MSG)
Does that make sense?

Quote to Ponder
We are witnessing the emergence of a new world... The phenomenon has been noted by many who tag the emerging culture as post-Christian, pre-Christian, or postmodern. The point is, the world is profoundly different than it was at the middle of the last century, and everybody knows it. But knowing it and acting on it are two different things. So far, the North American church largely has responded with heavy infusions of denial, believing the culture will come to its senses and come back around to the church.
     Reggie McNeal, The Present Future

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kickstarter Thoughts for A Monday

Some thoughts on Kickstarter and some projects I've backed:
  1. While I wish that both Dungeon Roll: Winter Heroes and Coin Age were on time, I do NOT begrudge the good folks at Tasty Minstrel Games taking copies fresh off the boat to sell at GenCon this week. GenCon is the largest gaming convention in the U.S. and as a publisher, it just makes sense. There are some whiny folks out there... and, in the words of Lloyd Dobbler: "You. Must. Chill!"
  2. Running late is not the sole province of board game companies - I'm still semi-patiently waiting for the new CD ("Goliath") from Steve Taylor & the Perfect Foil. I will admit to being entertained by Steve's very humorous backer updates.
  3. If anyone at Gamelyn Games is paying attention to this, my son & I would be happy to playtest/print-n-play review Tiny Epic Galaxies for y'all... because we've backed both of the previous Tiny Epic games after trying the print'n'play versions. (Here's my thoughts on Tiny Epic Kingdoms, which should be showing up in mailboxes across the world this fall.)
  4. I think I'm most excited about Baseball Highlights 2045... I do so love Mike Fitzgerald's game designs.
Anyone want to chime in?

Monday, August 04, 2014

Hey, I Think You Missed Something

This was originally written in 2006... and I was preaching through 1st Thessalonians verse by verse. (For those of you who care, it's called "expository preaching".) In the process, I "jumped" past a few verses - but felt like I needed to cover them in some way - and so this article/blog post was written.

Those of you who've been following along with my message series on 1st Thessalonians (Overloaded) may notice this week that I skipped some verses between last week's message & this week. (Or you may not have noticed until I pointed it out - oh well.)

Either way, I want to take just a moment to comment on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10:
How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy in the presence of God. Night & day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill up anything that may be still missing in your faith. (New Living Translation)
I don't know about you guys, but there are some days when my faith feels like it's missing something...  or lacking something. Or, if I want to be bluntly honest (and that's not a given, people), I feel like my faith is the 90 pound weakling of faith. Other faiths come along & kick sand on it and takes the good-looking girl away by flexing their faith muscles, while my faith lays there on the beach towel, dreaming of whatever the faith equivalent of a workout program might do.

So, why doesn't Paul (or somebody like him, since the Apostle Paul's been dead about 2000 years) show up and...
  • "supply what is lacking in [my] faith" (NIV)
  • "mend and make good whatever may be imperfect and lacking in [my] faith" (Amplified)
And then I have to dope slap myself - God has been sending me Paul (yep, even though he's deader than a doornail) to me since I was old enough to read. All I have to do is walk across the room and pick up a copy of the Bible. (If I'm really desperate, I can check myself into a cheap motel & swipe the Gideon Bible in the bedside stand.) Either way, I have access to 66 profoundly spiritual books compiled into one easy-to-carry volume.

As if that weren't enough, it's stunningly easy get "face-2-face" with a diverse crew of people who walked with God, thanks to the magic of Guttenberg's printing press. Everyone from the Bishop of Hippo (Augustine) to a guy who worked in a monastery kitchen (Brother Lawrence) to a Oxford professor of medieval literature (C.S. Lewis) can "walk with me" through their writings.

Finally, God did this crazy thing & created "the church" - not some monolithic bureaucracy but instead local groups of people who'd surrendered their lives to Him and were/are trying to live all of their lives in the light of God's grace & love. Which means that there are ready-made crews of people who want to do just what Paul talked about - "fill up anything that may still be missing in [my] faith." I just have to go and get involved.

My problem isn't a lack of options to grow & mature in my faith... it's a lack of follow through to enjoy the stuff God is sending me by the truckload.

Quotes of the Week
God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.     Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.     .     Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
Though our feelings come & go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.     C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity