Friday, July 21, 2017

Settlers of Catan - It's Life

Our family's favorite game is Settlers of Catan.  It's a board game, and the object of the game is to build roads, villages, and cities in order to gain points.  The first person with ten points is the winner. 

Before each game the various tiles and numbers are randomly placed so that every game is unique.  Since dice are used, a certain amount of luck is involved, and some strategy is required.

But what fascinates me about Settlers of Catan is how social the game is.

Players receive cards to "build" based on the roll of the dice.  However, any player rolling a 7 is allowed to "disadvantage" other players.

First, that player gets to move the Robber to a different tile, thereby limiting cards to any player on that tile.  

Second, the player rolling a 7 can also steal a card from another player. 

Even though everyone is mindful that the object of the game is "to win," I will often steal from the player who just stole from me...whether or not it helps my game.

And it gets worse...there are hurt feelings and pouting based on where the Robber is and who's stealing from whom. 

And it gets cards between players is allowed...but those who are mad will refuse to trade with the offender - even though a trade might be to their advantage.  

I am fascinated at the passion shown in this game.  It's just a game, but hurt feelings and vengeance abound.

My husband will often take a different approach - instead of joining the stealing, he will place the Robber on a desert area and refuse to steal from anyone.  It's a different type of strategy because everyone remains "happy" with him, doesn't hinder his play and will gladly "trade" with him.

We play this game as if winning means that we're important, that we matter, that we actually win the title "The Lord of Catan."

And isn't this just like life?  Every day, we play to our own advantage, seeking our own interestsLife is like a game that we have to win.  And when things don't go our way, we get bent out of shape and our relationships suffer.  Our feelings are affected, and we respond in kind.

Life is such a roller-coaster, trying to win, to be successful, seeking love and approval from others, or condemning others...until we remember where we truly stand.  

We stand before the throne of God, sinners who are loved and saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39
We don't have to win or be successful, and we can enjoy life, enjoy work and leisure, enjoy playing games...because Jesus is the only Lord of Lord and King of Kings, and our victory is in Him

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wonder Woman

Ok - I admit it.  When I was a kid, I watched Wonder Woman. And I dreamed...and knew...that one day I'd be like her - pretty, smart, wearing a cool outfit, and flying an invisible plane.  It's a familiar and comforting memory for me.

I've found that reading fiction and seeing movies often give me context for thinking about the Christian faith.  That context helps me to process and understand my faith.

When I read that, in the new movie, Wonder Woman's mother tells her, "They [mankind] don't deserve you," I made plans to see the movie.

My thoughts...

1.  On the way to their mission, Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) and Steve Trevor pass through the trenches of World War I.  Diana wants to help the people who are suffering and dying because of trench warfare, but Steve tells her that she needs to look at the big picture, that she can't save everyone.  She counters that looking at the big picture might be his way, but it's not her way, that she came for all the people who are hurting and she is going to do  And she does.  A very cool action scene follows.

When I saw the exchange between Steve and Diana - I thought of Jesus who came for all sinners.  Jesus knew the big picture, but He also took time to care for the hurting and needy people around Him.

2. Wonder Woman's enemy is the villian Ares.  She thinks that, once she kills Ares, mankind's problems will be solved.  She later realizes that men will always have an element of evil, and she decides her mission is to stay and help them.

In today's world, many people think that we can solve all the world's problems...if we just believe correctly, follow science in a certain way, or have the perfect political system.  I like that the movie recognized that all men are sinful, that our world needs help.

3. My favorite scene...Diana is on a bridge, walking and passing by hurting and wounded people, especially soldiers.  There was something about the compassion, the empathy in her touched me.  I thought of Jesus, walking among us, seeing hurting people, seeing the needy and the hopeless. 

I later asked my 17-year old son what he thought of that scene.  He said, "That's probably how Jesus felt."  

When I can enjoy a movie, and make those faith connections, for me, that's time and money well spent.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Real Jesus...

In 2013, I participated in a study that explored the journey of American Christians who were moving towards or had become Confessional Lutherans.  LCMS Pastor Matt Richard conducted this study for his doctoral thesis.  

Pastor Matt recently wrote a book, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?  I bought the book to support Matt, and last week, during some waiting around time, I started reading it.

The premise of the book is that many Americans, including many Christians, embrace and teach a false Jesus.  These twelve false christs include:
  • The Mascot - who cheers on his followers to pursue whatever makes them happy. 
  • The Option among Many - a Jesus who is one road, but not the only way, to God and eternal life. 
  • The Social Justice Warrior - who fights against oppression and works for just political and social causes.
Pastor Matt introduces each "false Jesus" with a compelling story of actual people who follow that particular Jesus.  

I was expecting the false versions to be superficial, and certainly not plausible to a thinking Christian.  

I was wrong.  

Each false Jesus is much more substantial than I realized, and I could see how some of our more popular Christian writings and teachings have led to these false beliefs.

Matt's book also includes two items that I found helpful.

First, in each chapter, Matt gives advice on responding to adherents of that false christ.  The advice is both sensible and easy to follow.

Second, each chapter contains break-out paragraphs, or mini-lessons, on key terms and concepts.  These include topics such as:  Free Will, Keswick Theology, the Two Kingdoms, Good Works, and many, many more. 

As I approached the end of the book, I was thinking, "This is really good, not what I expected, and I'm glad I'm reading it." 

Then, I got to the conclusion - the real kicker.  For the Real Jesus, Matt tells his story.  

And I choked up, because I knew what was coming.  I've heard Matt's story, and it's my story.  It's our story.  In Matt's words:
There is truly no bottom to the pit of our sinful nature, and as I was made aware again of the depths of my own depravity, I realized I needed an even greater Savior than I had previously understood...the real Jesus did not despise my crushed, collapsed, and broken heart but came to me with forgiveness, life, and salvation.   
And He comes to each of us with that same forgiveness, love, and salvation.  The Real Jesus is much more precious, unique, and authentic than any of the false christs we may invent.  
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.            Matthew 11:28-30

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thoughts on: The New Moral Code

We recently had a sermon series on Christianity vs The New Moral Code, or society's popular beliefs on life.  We're continuing the discussion with a Bible study in 1 Peter.
One aspect of The New Moral Code is that people believe the purpose of life is having fulfillment, doing what pleases you, and enjoying yourself.  Even many Christians espouse the idea that Christianity means success, pleasure, and fulfillment based on society's standards.

In light of that...I've been considering 1 Peter 1:6..."you have been grieved by various trials."  

In 1 Kings 18, at Mt. Carmel, Elijah "takes on" the prophets of Baal and defeats them...rather, the Lord defeats them.  That incident is a "Wow" moment of the Lord's power; and, if I had been Elijah, I'm sure I'd have great trust and confidence in my God, trust that could never be broken.  I'd know the Christian life is about success, even in spiritual matters.

But, the very next chapter finds Elijah running away, fearful for his life, even asking the Lord to take his life.  

And that's also my Christian life.  I "function" under The New Moral Code, and I waver in faith based on my circumstances.  

One moment, I'm basking in success; life is good and my faith "seems to be working."  The next moment, I'm cowering, afraid of what's happening.  Like Elijah, I forget who I am.  I especially forget who God is and what He's done for me - Jesus.

1 Peter 1:8 says that we "believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible" even in the midst of trials.  That "joy" doesn't mean a happiness amid pain.  It doesn't mean I'm rejoicing because of troubles.  

The rejoicing is a continual, underlying hope of the Christian life - and that hope is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus...and on His promise to come again, no matter the troubles or even the successes of this life.

I keep thinking of this quote from The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King: 
Gandalf! I thought you were dead!  But then I thought I was dead myself.  Is everything sad going to come untrue?
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:4 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Forgiveness from the heart?

Although I've often heard people express confidence that forgiving someone is easy, I know that forgiving someone who's acted to hurt you is easier said than done.

Just look at all the relationship conflicts between families, neighbors, and even church members.   If forgiveness is easy, we'd spend more time caring for each other and less time addressing our grievances.

In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus warns
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.  Matthew 18:35
That's scary, especially "from your heart."  And what does it mean to forgive your brother "from your heart?"  How do you do that?

Maybe a better question is, "What does it mean to not forgive your brother from your heart?"  

When I don't forgive someone, I not only continue in a broken relationship, I also poison my own soul.  I might brood on the hurt, debate it in my mind, and continue to look for faults in the other person.

Unforgiveness is not pretty, productive, or right...period. do we forgive "from the heart?"
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9
This I know...I can't do it, I can't forgive from the heart...because forgiveness doesn't come from me.  

I have to go back to that parable of the Unforgiving Servant.  

I am that servant, the servant who has a mountain of grievous debt.  All of my sins, all of them, are sins against God.  Others may be harmed and hurt along the way.  But, like Adam's sin, my sins all amount to idolatry - to my desire to be my own god.

God's forgiveness of us is different and hard for us to grasp.  And, because God's the one offended by my sin, He's the only one with the power and the ability to forgive my sin.

My forgiveness wasn't easy and it wasn't cheap.  But Jesus took care of it with His life, death, and resurrection.  Because of Him, I'm forgiven.  

So how does that relate to forgiving others from the heart?

I've found that when I "bask" in His forgiveness and His mercy to me, it heart is softened...and I love and forgive those who've hurt me because He first loved me.  

Forgiveness of sins comes from Him, and my ability to forgive is also from Him.  

It's not logical; it's not an act of my will.  But it's reality that I know and experience.  And it comes to me and it happens in the place that everything in the Christian's life, everything that truly matters, actually happens - at the foot of the cross and the door of the empty tomb.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ssgt Hancock

I'm currently reading the book Good and Angry by David Powlison, and this quote jumped out at me:
Meanwhile, we are to hate evil, but love our enemies.  We never know which enemies might become our dearest friends.  After all, Christ loved us when we were his enemies.  Until the Day comes, the door of life is open.  Enter all who will.
I immediately thought of Staff Sergeant Hancock.  While I was a Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant stationed at Parris Island, Ssgt Hancock transferred from our sister company to my training company.  She was an experienced Senior Drill Instructor, but she also had a reputation in the Battalion for being difficult to work with...and she was immediately assigned to my training team for the next three months.  

During that time, Ssgt Hancock and I had a professional relationship, but I left her alone personally, figuring she could handle things.  And besides, I was afraid of upsetting her.  

Right before that training cycle ended, Ssgt Hancock told me that someone had said that I didn't like working with her.  She actually said I called her a "_ _ _ _ _."  I was surprised since I'd never said that or even thought it.  But, since we were almost finished working together, I didn't respond, just let it go.

Then, due to some unusual circumstances, for the next training series, Ssgt Hancock and I were again assigned to work together.  And this time I was worried.

But instead of backing off and leaving her alone, I decided to "get to know her."  

And well...I got to know her and like her.  I fondly remember the night, towards the end of field training, while the recruits were out on patrols, Ssgt Hancock and I sat in the dark under a tree, wrapped in our poncho liners, and had a "girl talk."  No kidding.

About a year later...Ssgt Hancock asked me to participate in her reenlistment ceremony.   And I was honored to do that.

You never know which "enemies" will become dear friends.  People are worth the effort and the "risk" of time and friendship, even if it seems difficult and uncomfortable. 
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Transgender - What's going on?

That Hideous Strength, the third book in C.S. Lewis's science fiction trilogy, is not your typical science fiction book.  The book takes place in "present time" earth, a setting that should be familiar. But when I read it, I don't see any "direction" or "cohesion" in the subplots and scenes - it's a world gone weird and bad.

Two story lines in the book continue to disturb me:  First, the book's representative married couple has chosen not to have children;  Second, the cutting-edge science of the day is about transforming humans into "disembodied talking heads."

Lewis also points out how Satan hates humans, hates the human race; and those two subplots are something that Lewis says Satan would rejoice in.

Satan would feel victorious in bringing about the demise of the human race - in one way or the other - by people no longer having physical bodies or by people not having children.

Fast forward to today...we have abortions, many couples are choosing not to have children, homosexual marriage is legal, and people are transitioning to another sex...and all of these behaviors have an impact on babies not being born, on the future of the human race.  That's reality.

And I have to think that Satan rejoices as evil "wins the day," as the human race, as those made in God's image, decline and fall.

I feel for those struggling with homosexual feelings and gender identity issues But I know, "It's all thoughts and desires gone bad" - gone bad because of Adam's fall, with sickness and death in our bodies, gone bad in our thinking and our emotions. 

And it's not the way God intended. 

So what's going on? 

It's a battle between good and evil.  It's a battle in our own hearts, thoughts, bodies, and minds.  And it's also a battle against the forces of evil, in the heavenly realm.  And I don't claim to understand.

This is not what God intended.  Something's wrong.  Like Lewis's story in That Hideous Strength, it's a world gone weird and bad.  And we don't even know how or what to think about it.

But the answer - Christ came to die for sinners, of whom I am the chief.  Somehow that makes everything better - not right, not least not yet.  But better...and with hope that all will be okay.  Because Jesus is on the throne.  

Amen - come Lord Jesus.