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Christian Men and Their Video Games
September 26, 2016

If you’re a gamer, or a Christian gamer at least, you’ve rolled your eyes through a hundred articles by now, each one telling you why your gaming is sad, wasteful, pathetic. You’re immature, you’re addicted to pleasure, you’re a dopamine junkie. You might even have found yourself compared to a porn addict since in many minds porn and PlayStations go hand in hand. That’s not what the articles actually say, of course, but it can sure feel like it. Gamers are an easy target and a lot of people line up to take their swings.

It’s not that gaming isn’t without its downsides, of course. It’s not like gamers haven’t earned at least some of that reputation. Gaming exists in this world, after all, and is enjoyed by imperfect people. But it’s not beyond redemption, not beyond what we can enjoy. Today I want to offer a few simple points about gaming and gamers.

Before I do that, a confession: I love video games. At least, I love some video games. I loved them as a kid, I loved them as a teen, and I love them today. That’s not to say I play them much. I rarely have those extended gaps when there isn’t a long list of higher priorities. But when I do find those times—usually in that slow week between Christmas and New Years or one of those lazy Monday afternoons of a long weekend—I often take advantage. I have fun. I might join my son in some strategic world-conquering. I might sit with Aileen as we work through an adventure or mystery together. Or I might just find something to play on my own. I do it without shame and without regret.

With that confession made, let me speak to other enthusiasts about the highs and lows of gaming.

Enjoy the entertainment. Let’s be honest: There is little intrinsic value in gaming. For most of us it is merely entertainment. But that doesn’t make it wrong. Entertainment is a perfectly legitimate way to expend time, money, and energy—within reason, of course—, and gaming is a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment. This is true when it takes its proper place in life, well behind the more important concerns of family, work, neighboring, church. Well-earned entertainment is a gift we are free to enjoy and I see no substantial difference between playing a game and watching a movie or between playing a game and reading a novel. It’s not substantially different from fishing, for that, or crocheting, or playing a bit of golf. Like all of these, it’s restful, it’s entertaining, it’s neither right nor wrong on the face of it. So enjoy the entertainment that games provide.

Skip the bad ones. We cannot deny that some games are unsuitable to anyone, much less a Christian. Today more than ever there is an abundance of games that revel in gore and bloodletting, that feature sexual violence, that are full of porn or profanity. Those of us who remember the scandal of Leisure Suit Larry or Phantasmagoria a generation ago will know that such games are practically quaint by today’s standards. We need to be okay with skipping the bad ones and we ought to do so out of conviction and conscience. Thankfully, we’ve got access to a thorough rating system and a massive collection of review sites that can steer us away from the ugly ones. Look past the bad ones and we will find many that are harmless, fun, beautiful, and at times even brilliant.

Play in freedom. Many games engage the reward system within the human brain—the same system that can lead to addiction. Even when games don’t lead to full-blown addiction, they can lead to compulsive use, late nights, or neglecting more important responsibilities. This quality of games is both their strength and weakness. Without it they would be boring. The “just one more turn” or “just one more mission” effect is part of the draw and the thrill of playing a great game. But we need to be careful that we assuage the potential of addiction or out-of-control gaming with integrity, priorities, and self-control—the stuff of Christian character. Play your games in freedom, the freedom of moderation that comes through character, maturity, and a clean conscience.

Play in community. Part of the joy of gaming has always been gaming with others and today more than ever games are created with multiplayer capabilities in mind. Sometimes this involves playing together on the same device and other times it involves playing on separate devices connected through the Internet. Either way, playing in community can be a great shared activity, especially between family members. My son and I love to challenge one another or take on the world together. We enjoy this as a father-son experience. As I said earlier, Aileen and I will sometimes settle onto the couch together for an adventure or mystery game, or we’ll join the girls for some Lego The Hobbit. We’ve even been known to get the whole family playing along with The Beatles in Rock Band. These are good times and good memories.

Embrace the challenge. I know it can seem silly to build an imaginary army to invade an imaginary nation, or to serve as fictional mayor of a town that exists only on a screen. And sure, there’s something a bit silly about it all. But each of these scenarios represents a challenge, and challenge is at the very heart of gaming. Whether the game is about solving puzzles, conquering worlds, or completing an adventure, great games face us with difficult situations and challenge us to overcome them. That’s fun! When our lives are mundane, these challenges can trigger a sense of adventure and accomplishment. When our lives are complex, they can provide a welcome respite. The challenge is the point. The challenge is the joy.

So I say go ahead and play your games. Enjoy your games. Play them for the fun of exploring, conquering, experiencing, winning. Just play them like a Christian and you’ll be fine.

September 26, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include several from Crossway on the Trinity: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (a personal favorite), Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (edited by Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic), Experiencing the Trinity by Joe Thorn, and more. Matthis Media also has several: God’s Good Design by Claire Smith, Born This Way by Steve Morrison, and Women, Sermons, and the Bible by Tony Payne. Then consider One Perfect Life by John MacArthur and The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. Get them here.

Also, on the subject of Amazon, their deal of the day includes DVDs of many great BBC natural science series: Planet Earth, Life, etc.

Appreciate Your Spouse

This is a good read courtesy of Melissa. “The truth is that there are a million different things about Chad that I fail to appreciate on a daily basis. I get in terrible ruts where I focus only on what he isn’t doing that I wish he would do. Or I wish that he would say no to a few things. Or that he would quit answering his phone. Or that he would write me daily love letters.”

Singing Man: Behind the Viral Video

“The students and faculty poured out of the buses and onto his lawn, and sang worship songs. With his window open, Ben leaned forward into view and sang along.” The video went viral. Russ Ramsey tells the story.

What Is God Doing in My Pain?

J.D. Greear uses the stories of Naaman and a little girl to illustrate some of what God may be doing in times of pain.

Trello Inspiration

Trello is really neat software that’s good for planning and organization. I use it for my blog’s editorial calendar. Here’s a great list of sample uses for it.

The Political Magic of C.S. Lewis

This column in the New York Times takes a look at some of what C.S. Lewis had to say about politics.

Accusations of Sexual Abuse

Randy Alcorn offers some important cautionary words for when we hear accusations of sexual abuse.

This Day in 1861. 155 years ago today Abraham Lincoln issued a national day of prayer and fasting “in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for his mercy” *

The Less Than Romantic Realities of Village Life

Dave Hare writes from his home in a village in Cameroon to dispel some of the romantic notions about village life.

3 Questions to Ask Before Long-Term Missions

David Sills writing for SBTS: “An old saying goes, ‘Marry in haste, repent in leisure,’ which assumes that the unhappy married person will not divorce but will quietly regret his or her decision for life. That same dynamic is true in missions…”

Flashback: The Excitement and the Anticipation

Why do we anticipate great things when we go to a conference but anticipate small things when we go to church?

All death can do to Christians is make their lives infinitely better. —Tim Keller 

Fall From Grace
September 25, 2016

You’ve heard of people who have experienced a fall from grace. The celebrity said something foolish, the media ran with it, and she never quite recovered. “You like me. You really like me.” The athlete was found to have used substances that enhanced his performance, earning him stolen medals, records, and victories. He lied about it, the truth came out, he became a punchline. “I have been on my deathbed, and I’m not stupid. I can emphatically say I am not on drugs.” We’ve all seen these dramatic plunges, these falls from grace.

The Expression

To experience a fall from grace is to undergo a great loss of prestige, a loss of reputation. It is to become an object of scorn and derision. A recent article in The Fiscal Times describes “Chris Christie’s Long, Slow Fall From Grace.” This decline “from brash tell-it-like-it-is frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination to designated liar for the man who ultimately deprived him of that honor, may be nearing its end.” And the expression is not only used of people. A piece in Entrepreneur tells “What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Theranos’s Fall From Grace” after “a Wall Street Journal exposé claimed Theranos exaggerated its services.” It’s a common phrase, a poignant one, always an unhappy one.

The Origin

Like so many of our English idioms, “fall from grace” originates in the Bible and is a direct quote from the King James Version. In his letter to the Galatian church, the Apostle Paul warns “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Or, in a more modern translation, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

Of course that fall is a consequence of the very first fall from grace, the one where Adam and Eve chose to sin against God, plunging themselves and all of humanity into a state of sin, of disorder, of chaos. The whole of the Christian faith is concerned with this fall from grace and how those who have fallen can be restored. Now Paul is warning this church against legalism, against thinking they can be restored to favor with God on the basis of their adherence to the law. He knows better. He knows that the law brings only captivity. “For freedom Christ has set us free;” he says. “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (1). If they reject righteousness by a gift of grace to pursue righteousness by works of the law, they will fall—fall from any hope of experiencing God’s grace.

The Application

Deep within the sinful human heart is the knowledge that we have fallen from grace, and with it the conviction that if the fault is ours, so too is the remedy. We naturally believe we can and must be made right with God by our often efforts. Grace is too good, too foreign, too unbelievable for our minds and hearts to receive. And yet the Christian gospel calls us to abandon our own efforts and instead to embrace the work of Christ. The restoration can’t originate from within so it must originate from without. John Stott explains it well: “You cannot add circumcision [as the ultimate sign of law-keeping] (or anything else, for that matter) to Christ as necessary to salvation, because Christ is sufficient for salvation in Himself. If you add anything to Christ, you lose Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone.

We have all fallen from grace. Paul says elsewhere “For the wages of sin is death.” Our fall has taken us from grace to alienation, death to life. Thankfully, wondrously, he goes on: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Grace is there for those who will surrender their own efforts at righteousness and instead grab hold of the righteousness of Christ. No wonder, then, that so many Christian songs celebrate the beauty of grace, for grace is all we have. Why not listen to a couple of them.

“Grace Alone” by The Modern Post (or Dustin Kensrue, if you prefer) declares “By your blood I have redemption and salvation / Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown / And you rose that I might be a new creation / I am born again by grace and grace alone.” Here’s their acoustic version.

The old hymn “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” ends with a question: “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, / Freely bestowed on all who believe! / You that are longing to see His face, / Will you this moment His grace receive?” Here is Matthew Smith’s Nashville-inspired rendering:

Here are some other popular English idioms and their biblical origins: A Drop in a BucketGive Up the GhostBy the Skin of My Teeth!

 

Is Seminary Really Necessary
September 24, 2016

The church has been well-served by pastors who ministered without formal seminary training. John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are standout examples of men who had impactful and long-lasting ministries even though they never attended seminary. No wonder, then, that the question often arises: Is seminary really necessary? Might it be better to get straight into ministry instead of expending so much time and effort in preparing for ministry?

Jason Allen provides an answer in his book Discerning Your Call to Ministry, but he doesn’t do so without admitting his bias. He is, after all, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution that exists to train men for ministry. But he provides a helpful answer nonetheless: Seminary is not necessary, but it is advisable. Let’s track with him and see how he expands on this answer.

In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Allen says “Paul’s exhortation to Timothy rings through the ages, challenging every generation of gospel ministers to be maximally prepared for ministerial service.” The church has little use for ministerial amateurs. Amateurs are not necessarily those who lack academic degrees or formal training, but men who lack “the knowledge base, skill set, and experience for a particular task—in this case, Christian ministry.” A man with a fistful of degrees can be a rank amateur while a man without a single credential can be a faithful minister of the gospel. Yet in almost every case a man will benefit tremendously from receiving a formal theological education. Allen draws out four reasons why this remains true, and may even be especially true, in today’s climate.

The complexity of our times. While every generation of Christians faces challenges unique to their time, “our generation comes with unique baggage. It is not that the twenty-first century is more fallen or more secular than previous ones, but it may be more complex.” There are new questions of ethics and morality, there are “torturously complex ramifications of sin,” and a cultural elite doggedly committed to undermining Christians and their worldview. In the face of such challenges, “the lost need more than shallow answers from ill-equipped ministers. They need minsters prepared to bring the full complement of Christian truth to bear in a winsome, thoughtful, and compelling way.” This full complement of Christian truth is the core curriculum of any worthwhile seminary.

The centrality of teaching the Scriptures. The church has no greater need than the skillful teaching of the Bible and, for that reason, the minister has no greater responsibility than teaching God’s Word. This task requires “a renewed and informed mind. There is simply no place in ministry for sloppy exegesis, shoddy interpretation, or shallow sermons. One can be a faithful minister without a seminary degree, but one cannot be a faithful minister without knowing the Bible well.” Is seminary the only means of learning how to “rightly handle the Word?” No, but it is certainly an effective and time-tested one.

The consequences of ministry. “There is an alarming inverse correlation between the seriousness of the ministerial task and the casualness with which it is often approached.” We insist on trained professionals when caring for our children, our bodies, our dogs, and even our cars. Yet we content ourselves with very low levels of preparation when it comes to the care of our souls. No minister should be content to remain amateurish in his ministry. “Satan is serious about his calling; ministers must be serious about theirs. The ministry is too consequential to be taken casually.” Does this necessitate seminary? No, of course not. Does it make it advisable? Perhaps so.

The priority of the Great Commission. All ministers are to proclaim the gospel in furtherance of the Great Commission, and this requires “a great burden for the lost, a passion for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners, and an equipped mind to reason, teach, and persuasively present the gospel.” Though we often think of evangelism as first requiring zeal, it also requires knowledge. This is the very knowledge gained through a seminary education—knowledge that can set that zeal on fire.

Our times are complex, the church is in desperate need of men who can skillfully teach the Word, the ministry is too consequential to admit amateurs, and carrying out the Great Commission requires men who have zeal supported by deep knowledge. Is seminary necessary for a man called to the ministry? No, says Allen, but it is advisable. I cannot disagree, and if I had to live my life over again, I would certainly pursue such an education. I often feel and lament its lack.

September 24, 2016

It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to Autumn at last. It was a hot, beautiful, brilliant summer but I’m glad to see it finally give way to fall. I get to spend my day today in a church baseball tournament, but will leave you with a collection of interesting reading:

Glasgow University archivists find John Knox’s Bible

This is neat: “Experts believe a unidentified bible held by Glasgow University may have belonged to John Knox - a founding father of the Protestant Reformation.” 

In His Own Words

I enjoyed reading Grant Osborne on the thrill of learning and teaching God’s Word: “Even after fifty years of studying and sharing I still get thrilled as I uncover the deep treasures of meaning about Galatians or Romans, and then I have the privilege of writing them down to thrill countless others who will read them…” 

The Bible Project Reading Plan

This looks like it could be an interesting way to read the Bible beginning in January.

Which Parts Of The Brain Do What?

This short video explains how researchers figured out which parts of the brain perform different functions.

Breakfast Leftovers

James Faris has a strangely interesting one here: “My students seemed to find history more palatable when they see that they are already familiar with it. So, let’s check out your breakfast menu…”

This Day in 1986. 30 years ago today five Muslim professors in Pakistan demanded Daniel Scot to convert to Islam, resulting in Scot becoming the first Christian charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. *

The Hidden Hours of Ministry

Peter Tong provides a strong encouragement for pastors to take sin seriously. “I want to discuss how struggles with sin, even if they are hidden from others, can undermine your ability to serve God more broadly.”

What Type of Steward Are You?

Pastors (and others) will want to check out Mike Leake’s excellent article on two kinds of stewardship.

When Toronto Was Eerily Empty

Torontotonians will find this photo essay interesting. It shows a time when the city had huge pieces of empty land downtown, something that’s almost impossible to imagine today.

Sand Bubbler Crabs

God created some strange and remarkable creatures. Like these Sand Bubbler Crabs.

The Lord is a friend who never changes. There is no fickleness about Him: those whom He loves, He loves unto the end.J.C. Ryle

Free Stuff Fridays Updated
September 23, 2016

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Zondervan. There will be 5 winners this week and each of them will receive a great package of material from Nabeel Qureshi. The winners will receive:

  • No God but One: Allah or Jesus? “Former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi’s new, New York Times bestselling book No God but One examines the most important questions at the intersection of Islam and Christianity. Nabeel shares stories from his life and ministry, casts new light on current events, and explores pivotal incidents in the histories of both religions, providing a resource that is gripping and thought-provoking, respectful and challenging. Readers of Qureshi’s first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, will appreciate this careful and respectful comparison of Islam and Christianity. While Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus showed us the conversion of Nabeel’s heart, this new follow-up, No God but One, shows us the conversion of Nabeel’s mind. Both religions teach that there is No God but One, but this book will help you discern who deserves to be worshiped: Allah or Jesus?”
  • Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. “Nabeel Qureshi’s Answering Jihad is a personal, challenging, and respectful answer to the many questions surrounding jihad, the rise of ISIS, and Islamic terrorism. There is no question that innocents are being slaughtered in the name of Allah and in the way of jihad, but do the terrorists’ actions actually reflect the religion of Islam? Setting aside speculations and competing voices, what really is jihad? How are we to understand jihad in relation to our Muslim neighbors and friends? Why is there such a surge of Islamist terrorism in the world today, and how are we to respond? In Answering Jihad, bestselling author Nabeel Qureshi answers these questions from the perspective of a former Muslim who is deeply concerned for both his Muslim family and his American homeland.”
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Better Way Forward (Expanded Edition). “In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, complete with friendships, investigations, and supernatural dreams along the way. Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi’s inner turmoil will challenge Christians and Muslims alike. Engaging and thought-provoking, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells a powerful story of the clash between Islam and Christianity in one man’s heart—and of the peace he eventually found in Jesus.
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study (DVD). “Building on the powerful story and arguments he shared in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, author Nabeel Qureshi takes viewers deeper into apologetics and evangelism among Muslims with this complete video lecture course. In eight sessions of about 30 minutes each he explores Muslim culture, the most common Muslim objections to Christianity, and the core doctrines upon which Islam stands or falls. Compassionate and clear, Nabeel’s lectures will be a useful training tool for pastors, outreach leaders, and any believers wanting to winsomely engage Muslims in spiritual conversations. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study develops in further detail the objections to Islam and case for Christianity that Qureshi introduced inSeeking Allah, Finding Jesus. When used with the accompanying Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Study Guide, this accessible course is perfect for adult classes, small groups, segments in college or seminary courses, and motivated independent learners alike.”
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Study Guide. “The Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Study Guide develops in further detail the objections to Islam and case for Christianity that Qureshi introduced in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. When studied with the accompanying Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus Video Study, this complete course is perfect for adult classes, small groups, segments in college or seminary courses, and motivated independent learners alike.”

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

Are You Going to Hurt Me
September 23, 2016

Autumn has descended at last. The heat of summer has slowly, stubbornly given way to the cool of autumn. The long summer days have surrendered to evenings that come too early, nights that linger lazily before yielding to dawn. Most days I find myself outside long before the sun has shown its face, running through darkened streets—my morning ritual. My mind works better when my body has been pushed.

Three vignettes, three glimpses through my early-morning eyes.

As dawn breaks I run across a lonely parking lot, cutting a long corner. As I pass a building, a depot of some kind, I spot a young woman walking. She must be going to the neighborhood I’ve come from. Our paths will cross. She’s eighteen, maybe nineteen. As I come closer her eyes search mine and ask, “Are you going to hurt me? Am I safe?” “Hurt you?” I hear my mind say. “I’m called to love, to love you more than I love myself. How could I ever hurt you?” I’m grieved that the world is this way, that the world has become this way. I smile what I hope is an assuring smile and nod as I pass by.

Pitch darkness lit only by sporadic street lights and occasional headlights. I run one of my new routes, down a brutal hill and back up, down and up again until I’m too tired to go on. A woman, in her fifties perhaps, is on the sidewalk ahead of me. I approach her, the hill’s steep grade propelling me almost to a sprint. She hears or senses me coming, she clutches something in her hand, her body tenses, flinches a little. I think, “I won’t harm you. I would never harm you. I live by an ethic that says that I need to be willing to die for you even though I don’t know you.” Between breaths I say, “Good morning!” as cheerfully as I can. I continue down the hill and by the time I loop back she is gone.

I am far down a lonely walking path, a brilliant running path, forest on both sides. A teen girl approaches on her bike. She’s all alone, far from anyone but me. She sees me. She digs into her pedals, urging her bike to go just a little bit faster. I see what looks like uncertainty in her eyes. Or is it fear? I think it’s fear. “Are you going to hurt me?” they ask. “I would never hurt you. I’d die before I’d hurt you.” I step far aside to let her by, I smile, I say hello. I find myself hoping, praying, she gets safely to wherever she is going.

I hate the fear I see, I hate the questions their eyes ask me, but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t—can’t—know their wariness, their fear. I get to run confidently in the darkness, without backward glances, without ears pricked. But from all I hear, all I know, all I’ve read, their fear is well-earned and their questions legitimate. I have a privilege they do not, a privilege I take for granted.

I’m haunted by words from Karen Swallow Prior. A tweet: “Running on a deserted road today I came upon unfamiliar vehicle pulled over, trunk open, man standing next to it, waving to me. Called 911.” An article: “I was running uphill on a two-mile stretch of a private, uninhabited dirt road when I saw an older model car with an out-of-state plate parked up ahead. A man was leaning against the car smoking a cigarette. Quickly, I pulled my phone from the pack that holds all my necessaries and called my mother, whom I knew to be home. I stayed on the phone with her as I ran a wide berth around the man and his car.” I could stop to offer help. I could run by without making a phone call. Without fear. But she can’t. They can’t. I hate it. I hate that it has to be this way.

But it does have to be this way because ever since our first parents were ushered out of that garden, men have proven their willingness to violate trust, to misuse strength, to blaspheme God’s good order. Not all men, of course. But some men. Enough men. Strength that was given to protect has been used to destroy, what was meant to bless has been used to harm. It has left this trail of fear, this trail of hurt, this trail of devastation.

Brothers, look and you will see. And when you see you are on your way to acknowledging and perhaps even gaining a glimmer of understanding—the fear is there, the fear is real.