How It Should Have Ended: “Samurai Jack”

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(The following is a shameless rip-off of HISHE [How It Should Have Ended]. You should check them out on YouTube. They’re really funny and clever, and put a lot of work into their stuff…unlike me. :/ And if by some chance they ever do this one, I’ll be sure to take it down.)

“HOW ‘Samurai Jack’ SHOULD HAVE ENDED”

(Scene opens at the wedding scene, with Ashi walking down the aisle. Suddenly, her face falls and she collapses. Jack quickly breaks from the altar as the rest of the guests are shocked and runs down to her, picking her head off the ground and cradling her in his arms. She looks to him as she reaches out and touches his face.)

ASHI: Without Aku…I never would have…existed…

(To his horror, as well as that of the audience, she fades away from existence. Jack is left only holding her bridal attire. He bows his head and nearly begins to mourn…but then stops and looks up.)

JACK: …But…if Aku never existed, then Ashi would have never existed. If Ashi had never existed, then the time portal would never have existed. (Grows more thoughtful) And if the time portal never would have existed, then I would never have gone back to the past… And that would mean I would still be in the future…so Ashi would live…but if she lived, then I would go back to the past…so she would die…and…

(Jack is suddenly interrupted and goes wide-eyed as a cosmic ripping is heard. Everyone looks up in shock, but are helpless to do anything as they, the wedding scene, the land, the sky, and all existence itself is suddenly caught up in a huge vortex; warped and twisted into oblivion. As Jack cries out, all reality everywhere is sucked into a singularity, leaving only a blank white realm of nothingness.)

(Focus on it a moment, before Jack slowly floats by, blinking and confused. He looks around with a wide-eyed stare for a few moments, before a giant black monstrosity begins to float by in the opposite direction.)

AKU: Foolish samurai!

(Jack snaps his head up in alarm.)

JACK: What the…Aku?!

AKU: I merely destroyed the world of the future…but you, samurai? You just had to go back and create your little time paradox, didn’t you? I spent over 10,000 years turning this pitiful world into a realm of death and despair, and yet you outdid me in five minutes and destroyed all existence!

(Pause)

AKU: Wait…what am I saying? (Giant evil grin) Good job, samurai! I can’t thank you enough for destroying me and incurring some, shall we say, minor collateral damage! Never mind what I said! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

(Jack is left staring out into nothingness with a regretful and despairing look on his face…)

(…Before the scene shifts back to Aku’s lair with Jack and Black-Suited Ashi in the heat of the giant final battle.)

ASHI: …So that’s why I can’t send you back, Jack. I mean…even if I’m willing to get erased from existence, there’s still the whole problem of creating an unbreakable time loop.

JACK: (Musing a bit himself) Yes, I…suppose I never really thought about it that way. (Looks regretful) And…it would be pretty bad if I had gone through all of that just now just for you to end up a memory, exactly as I feared.

ASHI: (Also looking uneasy) Yeah… Pretty much the only way it would be worse is if I didn’t vanish from existence immediately like I should, but instead I stuck around for several months while everything got rebuilt and it was only at the exact moment we were about to get married that I vanished. I mean, if our lives were a show, that would be the writer just punching the audience in the stomach and laughing at them.

JACK: But, um… (Looks back up to Aku, who is staring down at them rather immobile this whole time while attackers continue to hit him with no effect) You have no problem…um…holding him still and keeping him from escaping while I destroy him, yes?

ASHI: Oh. (Morphs limbs into elongated scythes) Of course not.

AKU: (Looking at the camera) Uh-oh…again. Probably should have fled during that explanation.

(Ashi morphs her arms into more spikes and pins Aku to the flaming while while Jack cries out, leaps up, and slices him into one piece after another until everything is destroyed.)

(Cut to outside as Aku’s tower is destroyed with the rest of him. The possessed combatants are released and everyone is left in a smoldering crater. Everyone cheers and cries out loud shouts of victory. After going over the survivors, it finally returns to Jack and Ashi in the center.)

ASHI: (Smiling and looking to Jack) So…what now?

(Jack gets his normal grim look.)

JACK: Now…I must find a different way to return to my own time and end the evil that is Aku.

(Nearly steps away when Ashi moves forward and puts a hand on him.)

ASHI: Whoa-whoa-whoa…I thought we already pointed out how that’s risky? I mean, even if I don’t send you back in time, I still get erased from existence. And not just me…

(Motions around)

ASHI: Everyone gets erased from existence.

(The ones closest suddenly stop and looks back.)

FORMER-BLIND ARCHER: Wait, what? What did she just say?

DOG ARCHEOLOGIST: She just said Jack wants to erase us from existence!

(Jack looks shocked as he’s suddenly put on the spot.)

JACK: Wh…what?

APE JUMP-GOOD GUY: (Looking heartbroken) Jack…erase-good…?

WOOLIE: But…I thought we were friends…

(Jack shakes his head.)

JACK: Wait, no, no! It’s not like that!

(The Scotsman shoots forward glaring at him angrily.)

SCOTSMAN: Ya’ scabby roaster! Yer off yer hide if yer thinkin’ o’ erasin’ me an’ my kin! Not after ah’ll we did jus’ now!

SCOTSMAN’S DAUGHTERS: (In a unified chorus) Ya’!

(Jack puts his hands up defensively.)

JACK: No, no! This isn’t about erasing anyone! Don’t you understand? This is about saving billions of lives throughout history!

(Everyone is quiet for a moment.)

APE JUMP-GOOD GUY: Does that make old family come back to life?

JACK: Um…no.

FORMER BLIND-ARCHER: Does it give our people a better future?

JACK: No…and…there’s a good chance it’ll be worse.

SCOTSMAN: Wha’ ’bout me an’ my kin? (A legion of ghostly Celtic ancestors suddenly materializes behind him, all wanting an answer.)

JACK: (Uncomfortable) …All of you will likely never be born.

DOG ARCHAEOLOGIST: Does that keep us from ever being enslaved?

JACK: No, and…(Growing more nervous)…you’ll probably end up being non-sentient dogs as well.

WOOLIES: And us?

JACK: (Sweating) Not only will you never exist, but pretty much every non-human race that ever lived on Earth will never exist…the sea monkey people, the bird people, the salamander people, the emoji-antenna people…

BROKEN ROBOT: (Feebly raising a hand as shorting out) Does this future bring X-9 back…or reunite him with Lulu…?

(Long pause)

JACK: (Grimacing) …But billions of people! Billions of people who would have never been born or had a chance to be happy and grow up in peace!

SCOTSMAN: Yer bum’s out the windae! The way ah see it, billions o’ folks ‘re all panbread if ya’ do go back!

RAVER: What makes them more important than all of us, huh?

FORMER-BLIND ARCHER: And Aku’s dead. There’s nothing to worry about anymore. We can rebuild a new and more peaceful world. Isn’t your world still beset by petty infighting, lack of respect for natural resources, and run by self-serving feudalism?

(Everyone looks to the archer at his sudden insight. He shrugs.)

FORMER-BLIND ARCHER: Considering the fact I still look like this after 50 years, obviously I’ve been around a while.

ASHI: (Looking a bit tentative) Jack, did you, um…maybe ever think of…not going back to the past? I mean, all the time portals were going to be gone forever just until a little while ago anyway, right? Hadn’t you…kind of gotten used to the idea of living here in a world with no Aku?

(Jack stops for a moment and thinks about everything he’s been hearing. But then, he grits his teeth and shakes his head.)

JACK: Wait…no, no! I can’t! Think of what you’re asking me to do! You’re asking me to trade a few years of peaceful memories including painful ones of my father cutting a man in half in front of me for the only woman I’ve ever truly loved, a world full of friends who were willing to sacrifice themselves to save my life, countless alien and magical races united to build a peaceful and advanced society, the chance to see a destroyed world grow back and be restored to its former glory, and the opportunity to have a personal hand in it all and lead and guide the future to a glorious new destiny!

(Everyone stares back blankly. Jack stares back at all of them. Silence reigns.)

(Smash cut to Jack and Ashi kissing at their wedding, now set in the future with everyone in the series gathered around them and applauding them.)

THE END

(Scene opens on the white nothingness. After a moment, Ashi floats by, still in her wedding attire and looking around. Not long after, someone else floats by and bumps into her.)

NIA TEPPELIN: …So what do they have you in for?

My Little Devotional #128: “Toil and Trouble”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Buckball Season”

In this episode, when Applejack and Rainbow Dash find a new sport to get competitive about, they get a rather tall shock on seeing their friends Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy are natural pros at it, and decide to recruit them for the Ponyville team in a game against Appleloosa. Yet though Pinkie and Fluttershy have a natural love of the game, it isn’t long before Applejack and Rainbow are putting them through the wringer on demanding practice sessions and pressuring them to win for Ponyville. The game goes from being fun to nerve-wracking and miserable from pressure to succeed, and causes both to slip up repeatedly before it finally nearly drives them to quit the team all together rather than have to deal with the demands placed on them. It’s not until Applejack and Rainbow ease back on their approach and focus more on getting Pinkie and Fluttershy to enjoy themselves that they’re able to play at their best again.

There’s a folk saying that if you do what you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that’s one of those proverbs that’s more empty wind than anything meaningful. To me, following that advice is a quick way to learn to hate doing what you love.

From academics to performances to hobbies to actual jobs, there are a lot of things in this world that people can have natural talents for and/or have to work at in order to be good or the best at. To some people getting that good is impossible, while to others who are “naturals” comes a love of both the activity and the challenge associated with it, as that’s “part of the fun”. I’m an amateur writer myself. Give me a subject and I can usually write a short story of it lickety-split, and even if I can’t I love the creative process of coming up with something for it. But I can’t draw for the life of me, and I’m astonished at people who can do that at the drop of a hat. There’s also sports, public speaking, leadership roles, cleaning, community organizing, singing…all sorts of things.

For the Christian, probably the biggest one is one’s own ministry or personal way of serving God; how they walk with him and promote the Kingdom in their daily lives. Often this one is a continual challenge, with finding new ways to minister and better ways to connect with people, to say nothing of all the need in the world there is for the Gospel and for other forms of assistance. Yet this sort of work, along with any other aptitude, hobby, or proficiency a person might possess, can still be vastly rewarding even in its challenge when it’s the right personality for the right job.

Yet often a problem that occurs is the same as that presented in this episode: it stops “being fun”; or rewarding, effective, stimulating, or any of a million other things that take something we like and make it a drudgery. Sometimes this is due to being stuck in a rut and becoming stagnated, but it can also be due to too much pressure, either external or internal, applied to a person. It goes from being a pastime to something more serious and pressing. Something that has no real reward or penalty for doing well other than our own satisfaction and enjoyment that now requires ever greater commitment and attention. And with that commitment and attention comes unnecessary and unwanted pressures that take something we are enthusiastic about and make it a chore.

And sadly, Christianity and serving the Kingdom of God is no exception to this, and the problem is made worse in some Churches.

Part of being a Christian is to grow toward being more like Christ, a process that will not (and cannot) ever be completed in mortal life but will only happen after our own death and resurrection. Yet some Churches have started what I tend to view as a potentially dangerous precedent. They talk about the blessings and power of God moving into the lives of Christians right now if they only have faith; leading to material prosperity, excellent health, and continuous miracles in their lives. The idea is you only need sufficient faith, prayer, and devotion to God and you can count on all problems in your life being resolved supernaturally as soon as they arise, and you yourself can be empowered to be a good and wonderful Christian to minister in every situation that comes your way; even ones you aren’t prepared for.

While that all sounds good, the problem is that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes misfortune still strikes. Sometimes Christians still suffer. Sometimes prayer isn’t answered the way we want it. Sometimes you don’t know what to say or do to minister to someone even after you pray about it. Sometimes you still feel awkward and uncertain in a foreign situation even if you’re committed to following Jesus. And that’s where the bad part comes in. This little voice in your head…

“Well, if you had really wanted your prayer answered, it would have happened.” “If you really committed more to your devotional life, you would have been healed.” “If your faith had been stronger, God would have answered you.” “If you call yourself a real Christian, you’ll have the power to succeed in any situation.”

And that’s where fear and despair comes in; the thought that if you did pray more or have more faith or, deep down inside, wanted to serve God better, you’d be a more natural Christian and be able to have all these blessings and do all these things, and the fact that you aren’t means you aren’t a real Christian. So you must do more things and act a certain way to prove you are a real Christian and have really been saved and to prove that you love God. Now you start doubting your own salvation and, even more importantly, the Power of God’s Grace.

This is a dangerous path to follow. As the message of this devotional goes, it’s not long into doing this that Christianity stops being about an outpouring of love and concern for other people and more about trying to earn yourself merit points to feel more comfortable about yourself and your status before God. Christianity loses all semblance of letting God work through you and of honestly sharing the Gospel and becomes all about the self. And that is the most fruitless and exhausting chore of all.

Just as in ancient Biblical times the old religious orders measured their worth before God by the good works they did and earning the titles of “rabbi” and “teacher”, nowadays worth is measured by how many miracles and blessings you have earned through your faith and devotion. I heard one author actually call this the “Gospel of Glory”, but not of God’s glory or the Lord’s glory but rather the individual’s; measuring one’s own spirituality and holiness by how much spiritual power and gifts they possess.

I don’t doubt that spiritual blessings, miracles, prophetic utterances, and straight up healings do happen, but it’s important to note that these things don’t happen as a result of any action on our part or by becoming “holier than thou”. Ultimately, we’re all the same. Through and by our own merits and good works, there is no difference between the faith-healing pastor at a pulpit and the drug-addicted criminal lying in a gutter. “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Both will eventually receive the same sentence for their sins, for God shows no partiality. It’s the Power of Christ and the magnitude of His Sacrifice that makes all equal, done without the input of man and without any conscious will or merit on their part. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) It’s all about His Glory and Majesty. Accepting Him as Lord and Savior makes us clean before God, with no remembrance of past sins or wickedness and no tallying of our own works. All done through Christ and not earned at all by any effort. All we can do is accept it when offered to us.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26)

Far from turning the Christian life into one of drudgery, fear, and doubt, this Sacrifice is to set us free from those things. Now that we know that we can’t “earn” any salvation or favor from God but rather we freely have it showered down on us, we should be empowered to be more genuinely loving and thankful. To reach out and minister to people out of care, affection, and thankfulness other than out of a meaningless attempt to gain favor or prove ourselves as Christians. No one can “prove themselves” to be a Christian because becoming a Christian had nothing to do with any meritorious action originating from us. God merely offered us the opportunity and we accepted. He is the one who declares us Christians, not ourselves or anyone else.

If you’re like me and constantly fighting battles with worry, self-doubt, and concern that you’re not doing “good enough” to be a real Christian, perhaps you’re looking to the wrong individual for the source of salvation. Instead, try to focus on the power of the Cross and the One who died upon it, and just how clean you have been made by the power of that Sacrifice. You are now a child of God.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 12-13)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I can never thank you enough for the blessed and holy Sacrifice of your Son, Lord Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty of all of my sins and to make me born again as a child of God. Now that I have this blessed assurance, grant me the power to never cheapen it by succumbing to false worry, self-doubt, and despair but to cling to the Power of Christ and His unbeatable Sacrifice. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #127: “Opportunity Rings the Doorbell and Finds No One Home”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Dungeons & Discords”

This was one episode I had to watch more than once to get the real hook for it, but once I did I found it to be rather poignant. Discord finds his normal time of the month with Fluttershy cut off due to her being called off on business, and ends up reluctantly heading out along with Spike and Big Macintosh for a “Guy’s Night”. However, when it turns out that “Guy’s Night” is nothing more than tabletop RPGing, Discord vents not only his distaste for the two as unsocial nerds, but ends up, in his usual fashion, trolling them to boot. Yet he gets a major shock not long after when Spike blows up and reveals the only reason they even invited him was because they felt sorry for him, and he, much to his own embarrassment, realizes as geeky and pathetic as he thought Spike and Big Mac were, he was the one who didn’t have any other friends to hang out with besides the one pony who would tolerate him. He quickly realized, far from being the life of the party, he was in fact receiving pity and had inadvertently thrown it back in the face of those distributing it.

This episode made me think a bit about how we can become so focused on achieving one thing or focusing on one good thing that we completely ignore what’s right in front of us.

Given the recent horrendous flooding in my area, it brought to mind a story I heard in a sermon once:

There was once a very devout and religious man. His faith was great and he put his complete trust in God in every situation. One day it began to rain very hard, and the river near him started to flood. But he wasn’t the least bit afraid. Instead, he prayed to God to deliver him from the flood, and he believed completely that he would save him.

The water climbed until it reached the doorway of his house. At that point, an emergency vehicle came by offering to evacuate him. Yet he shook his head, saying that he had already prayed to God and he would take care of him.

The water continued to rise until it entered the house and was up to the man’s waist. At that point, a boat with emergency workers came by and offered to evacuate him. Again, he shook his head, saying that he had already prayed to God and he would take care of him.

The waters continued to rise dramatically after that, until the house itself was submerged and all that was left was the roof. The man sat on top, but the water continued to climb and would soon cover that as well. At that point, an emergency helicopter came by and a man went down on a line to take him away. Yet once again, he shook his head, saying that he had already prayed to God and he would take care of him.

The flood waters continued to rise, the roof was covered, and the man was washed away and drowned. Yet being a man who had accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, he went to Heaven and came face to face with God. Only then did he express his disappointment. He told God that he prayed to him to deliver him and had been faithful and trusting the whole time, never wavering and faithfully awaiting him to save him, and yet in the end he had let him drown.

God, in response, could only shrug. “Well, I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter. What else did you want me to do?”

There are many people in this country and around the world who not only call themselves Christian but also pray for more power and more opportunity to make a change in the world around them. Yet how often do they witness to others? How often do they do charitable work? When there’s an emergency in their area, do they volunteer any time? When there’s a shortage on food for the needy or blood for the sick, do they make any donations? When a friend or co-worker is hurting, do they go out of their way to do something to make them happy? Do they try to connect with their own families and children, making a conscious effort to make time for them?

I’ve shared this in an earlier devotional, but now’s a good time to bring it up again. Back in college I volunteered at a soup kitchen. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to proclaim Jesus to the people who came in and out. Yet whenever people came in, I’d always get tongue-tied and tense as I tried to think of the perfect way to break the ice and share the message, and as a result I always ended up sounding stressed and miserable, and the few times I could bring up God I got into religious arguments rather than provided anything persuasive or constructive. Meanwhile, the other Christians who volunteered there connected far more readily and easily with people just by talking to them as fellow human beings. They didn’t even mention the name “Jesus” to them and yet frequently got “God bless you”s back from the people who came in. Clearly, I was doing it wrong…focusing so much on saying the perfect line or getting out the core message of the Gospel that I missed a golden opportunity to minister right in front of me.

There is never any shortage of need in the world, and God calls people both to higher vocations as well as to “lesser” ones that are all around them. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:4-8) In fact, the Bible indicates that if we want more responsibility, God wants us to prove ourselves responsible in smaller matters first. (“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10) And being a Christian isn’t just in one sphere of influence, but happens everywhere in every aspect of life. Therefore, we must be sure we aren’t so focused in one possibility that we let everything God is sending our way go unnoticed as it lands right in front of us.

I take today’s episode as a little friendly reminder to not be so focused on obtaining a goal, gaining a vocation, or making one achievement that we neglect to see the very answers to our prayers and callings of God spread before our eyes. I don’t think any of us would like to come to the end of our lives and see God shrugging in bafflement at our cluelessness. 😛

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that when I ask for opportunities to do your will and make a difference in the world, you always provide. And thank you for everything you have given me that enables me to serve some need in this world and make it better for those around me. Please open my eyes to all the opportunities you send me each day and not let any of them ‘float down the river’. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Junk Bin #19 – “Spice and Wolf”

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Well, it’s May of 2017. You know what that means. Convention season is nearly upon us. Right now it’s less than two weeks until Anime Central, the biggest anime/manga convention in the Midwest. And what better way to ring in the season than covering the anime that’s a tribute to crummy cosplay.

“Spice and Wolf”

Speaking of Anime Central, it seems every year I go there they end up really pushing a new anime or manga with the hopes it’ll end up being big. Some of them, like “Hetalia: Axis Powers”, end up following through. Others like this one…er…not so much. For me personally, while I appreciate romance being a good part of a story if it’s relatable and heartwarming, romance in anime/manga, especially a series devoted to it, is something I tend to avoid like the plague. I’ve only really ever seen two romance series: “Please Teacher!” (which I may get to one of these days…) and “Spice and Wolf”.

This anime is technically two seasons, but considering the fact that both seasons are 13 episodes, leading to your standard 26 episode series…yeah, it’s a one -season. The setting is purely fictional but very reality-inspired, appearing to be locales in Northern and Central Europe in a time and political climate vaguely around the post Middle Ages. A major factor in this universe is “the Church”, but although it has a similar hierarchy as the Roman Catholic Church, they refer to God a lot, and their associated religious orders are major players, the absence of crucifixes and referring to what could be statues of Mary as “goddess” indicates this is more of a parallel universe to real world places and things, similar to the normal setting itself.

The plot centers around a traveling merchant, or peddler, named Lawrence. While conducting business in one of the last remaining pagan worshiping towns, in particular one that venerates a wolf goddess of fertility named Holo, he gets a rather shocking surprise that evening to find that Holo herself has taken human form and is sleeping in his cart. After a bit of a rocky start, Lawrence eventually works out a “contract” with her to take her to her home far in the north, and until that time she’ll be living with him as his travelling companion. This is a little rough on Lawrence. Being a travelling peddler, his livelihood depends on constantly meeting and talking with people, analyzing them for clues on how to make better and more profitable deals and disarming them with his wordplay, and now he suddenly finds himself not only in the unusual position of having an attractive young girl following him around everywhere but, worse than that, the fact that even in human form Holo always has wolf ears and a large bushy wolf tail.

So the plot centers on Lawrence and Holo travelling from town to town and conducting mercantile business, all while having occasional arguments, running afoul of local trouble, and, most of all, constantly getting into wars of words with each other in which either one tries to tease the other to show they’re the wittier of the two. And…that’s pretty much it.

It’s actually rather awkward. The series feels like it has a definite beginning and a middle, but…rather than an ending, it sort of just stops. Of course, if you see the series and final episode, one could make the argument that was the intention all along, but…no spoilers.

So what did I think?

When I saw this series being advertised around Anime Central, I expected something far more dramatic and fantastic. I also expected something far more risque, since most of the artwork around the convention, in typical anime fashion, focused on Holo when she’s nude. (And like I said, Holo is probably one of the easiest cosplays to do, as all the cosplayer has to do is put on wolf (or even fox) ears and a tail…and there you go.) The series, content wise, was actually quite the opposite. Aside from the first couple episodes, the most the viewer will ever see of Holo nude is, really, in the opening theme. She usually sleeps with all of her clothes on, even. However, content wasn’t what I picked this up for. I expected it to be a bit cute and energetic and heartwarming with bits of the supernatural and fantastic all over the place.

As it turns out though, there really isn’t anything that amazing or supernatural about it either. There’s a handful of times throughout the series where we get into something magic or mythological, but honestly? Almost all of it is grounded in reality. More grounded in reality than most animes I’ve ever seen.

The landscapes and cityscapes are beautifully animated and detailed. From the clothes to the streets to the environment, you get a feel for the size and scope of this world. You can see the dampness, the dryness, the cold, and the warmth from scene to scene. That’s one of the big parts of the series.

Plot-wise, as you might have already guessed, this series is a romance. Yet I have to give it credit for being only in part a romance, and for putting it right in the middle of something rather unexpected: mercantilism. This series devotes a lot of time to mercantilism. Speculating, price inflation and deflation, buying and selling on futures, and, above all, the idea that what a merchant or trader really deals in is not the price of a product but rather the value of a product, which is really two different things that we nowadays don’t really think about going to and from Walmart. And…it’s honestly kind of ‘smart’ in that regard.

Mercantilism, and the idea of being able to read people, make deals, takes risks, and survive from day to day by your own wits, is the real core of this series. Not just in the constant trading, but in the characters of Lawrence and Holo themselves. They’re constantly ribbing each other, teasing each other, trying to trap each other in speech and manipulate each other. Basically their favorite pastime is sharpening their wits against one another before applying them to the world (“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17). Of course, there’s also real-life mercantilism too, and lots of it and all of the concepts associated with it. If someone was going into being a trader, I’d almost recommend this anime to start getting an idea of how it works. I’m sure the stock market doesn’t operate nearly in the same way as merchant trading did in those days, but a lot of the basic ideas behind everything is the same. In fact, this series is so devoted to these things that this is really one of the least action-orientated series I’ve ever watched. Instead, I’ll go so far as to say this is one series you want to watch dubbed, because so much is going on in the dialogue and on screen that you constantly have to keep your eyes and ears open to catch it all. This is a series that, plotwise, tries to pull the wool over your eyes just like the crafty traders. I compliment it for being so surprisingly intelligent in that regard.

Unfortunately, those two are the only things that are really good going for it. To me? What drags it down is ultimately the romance.

The issue is that this is your standard anime/manga romance played out with characters doing things that don’t really help to make up for it, and who aren’t really likable to begin with. The constant teasing and tricking that they do of each other, after a while, stops coming off as a playful game and starts just looking…mean. Lawrence himself isn’t much to write home about. He’s shrewd about trading and clever at his work, but…that’s it. Holo continuously tries to point out that he’s “a good person”, but, aside from his interactions with Holo, that really doesn’t come out. Because he’s so shrewd and so eager to make money, a lot of his actions are borderline morally questionable, and some just plain cross the line. In the second arc, there’s no dancing around the point–he exploits a nice girl to make himself a profit. And the only justification we ever get from that act is Holo throwing out some balderdash about her being “stronger than she looks” and that she can get herself out of any trouble they cause.

So…the moral is go ahead and use people if they’ll be alright afterward?

But Holo…ugh.

Look, if you’ve watched one romance anime, you know the drill. You know every single trope you’re going to see. If the guy catches the girl in a compromising position, he’s being jealous and is a fool for doubting her. If the girl catches the guy in a compromising position, he’s a dirty cheater who needs to give her a reason to come back. If the guy says something careless that hurts the girl’s feelings, he should be ashamed of himself and do anything possible to comfort her and atone. If the girl says something careless that hurts the guy’s feelings, he’s too sensitive and he should have realized it was just a joke…and by getting upset about it he’s a jerk for hurting her feelings anyway. If the girl takes out her anger on the guy and says or does something emotionally hurtful, it’s because she’s in deep pain and needs the guy’s warmth and compassion, and he should be sensitive to that and respond accordingly as quickly as he can. If the guy takes out her anger on the girl and says or does something emotionally hurtful, it’s because he’s an a-hole. Bottom line: the guy is always wrong; the girl can never be wrong.

This anime has all that and then some. Like I said, the two of them are constantly teasing each other to try and outwit each other in wordplay, but of the two Holo is the one who makes it the most mean spirited. In addition to showing off her cleverness, she almost always calls Lawrence stupid or dull while bragging about herself as being the “wise wolf”. Whenever Lawrence tries to make a decision on her behalf that considers her independence and demeanor, any decision, ANY one at all…it’s always, always, always something she gives him a physical scolding for and calls him an idiot about, even if it’s something she would have gone along with. At no point in the series does Holo really become sensitive about other people and, aside from Lawrence, there’s really no point in which she becomes empathic toward other people. She always sees them as stupid and inferior to her and doesn’t hide it. To her, there is no moral quandary ever about exploiting people or playing on their emotions to get her own way. To her, if people don’t want to be exploited, they should be smarter and should learn a lesson from the experience.

Now, if Holo applied this sort of standard universally, including on herself, that would be one thing. But no, she takes that double-standard I outlined above and ramps it to 11. It’s never ok when it happens to her. Just as one case in point, one of her favorite things to constantly berate and insult Lawrence about are claims that he wants her to act like a helpless, weak, innocent little girl so he can get a thrill out of comforting her, because “that’s how he likes women”. So take a wild guess what happens whenever Holo is going through emotional distress or sadness and Lawrence doesn’t instantly jump to hold her and comfort her? That’s right…she flies into a bigger rage that he’s not more caring and responsive. Even the rare occasions in which she shows remorse for what she’s done to hurt Lawrence are rather half-hearted. Her usual method of “apologizing” is doing something to try and make amends to Lawrence behind his back and then going off on her own without a word or a look. I’ve done stuff like that before myself in the past, and do you know what that is? That’s being too prideful to face up to your mistake and admit you were wrong, let alone apologize.

I dealt with this pretty well for the first half of the series, especially in the second arc when Holo was faced with the realization that her often selfish and self-centered behavior (because, in addition to everything else I mentioned, Lawrence is constantly buying her nicer things to wear and groom herself with as well as treating her to lots of food and alcohol…leading to him also needing to put her to bed after she gets drunk every night and care for her when she’s sick) had actually potentially ruined Lawrence, she actually became apologetic and, for once, it looked like some of the anger she vented on Lawrence was really her being furious with herself. But that went away in the second season really quickly when Holo took out her emotional distress on Lawrence, saying a number of accusations that were both hurtful and all together untrue, and all before going off on a scheme behind his back that made him feel like crud for not treating her better and led to a multi-episode arc in which he thought he had to regain her trust and affection, where other characters were urging him to go after her and “gamble everything on her”, and forced him through a great deal of distress and heartache. And for what, you may ask?

Another physical scolding. Because Lawrence was supposed to realize that Holo meant this:

“I acted totally inappropriately when you’ve been nothing but good to me and I said a lot of hurtful things that were totally untrue because I was emotionally distraught. I’m sorry and I hope you forgive me. To make it up to you, I’m going to go along with your current scheme and look completely, even to you, like I’ve left you to side with that man you’re trying to get money out of, and I’ll make it look so convincing that I’ll even have a document written that I intend to marry him as soon as you release me as a legal guardian, when in reality what I’ll be doing is going behind your back and buying up the very goods you’re trying to get in order to make your latest money-making deal work and ensure everything works out for both of us…but of course I won’t try to tell any of this out in the open at any time because someone could be watching us and the illusion that I’ve gone over to him has to be perfect.”

When she said this:

(Staring blankly into space and half-vacantly muttering in such a way that this could apply to anything) “…sorry…”

Because…you know, obviously. You can’t win with Holo.

In addition to all that, the fact of the matter is this series is a bit too hard to follow. I had to pause it multiple times and occasionally rewind in order to know what was going on. Oh, you can try to ignore the gist of everything and just know where that leaves the characters at the moment, but that’s too confusing and you lose all the drama. And, unfortunately, in spite of my best efforts, things still left me scratching my head. There’s swindling the audience and then there’s leaving them too confused to know any better.

So what we’re left with, to me, is something that’s unique and even a bit intriguing, but ultimately something that won’t really appeal to anyone who picked this up. If you expected a supernatural fantasy, you’re out of luck. If you expected your traditional romance anime, you’re out of luck. If you expected something with more action and emotion, you’re out of luck. The only way you’ll get what you paid for is if you’re someone who wanted an anime about being shrewd and clever in trading, and even then things will probably go too fast for you to catch up with. But odds are if you were looking for one to begin with, you wouldn’t start by snatching up a box set with a wolf-girl on the cover smiling sensually.

The irony is that this anime itself might be a bait and switch. Perhaps one that would make Lawrence and Holo proud.

Rating: 2 out of 5

It certainly is a unique flavor of spice, but not really the kind that will make you want to wolf it down more than once.

What You Should Do With This DVD: If you’re a romantic anime fan, watching it once won’t be a totally wasted venture. Everyone else should hope they bought it low so they can sell it high.

My Little Devotional #126: “Mad About ‘Mongering'”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Times They are a Changeling”

There’s a new word trend in the USA in recent years: “(Insert-negative-word-here)mongering” (i.e. hatemongering, fearmongering, etc.). In politics it’s basically a cruder and more blunt way of performing the Appeal to Emotion logical fallacy. It’s trying to push forth a policy based on fear or hate toward something. Sometimes it’s applied correctly and sometimes it’s used as an excuse or misrepresented. I’m not going to use this devotional to pick on that, however, but rather to pick on the variant on the same practice that occurs in society, and in particular, once again, on the Internet.

This refers to the tendency to get people worked up over something by picking on a subject that can be hated or feared. While in it’s most basic form it’s just a variant on racism, stereotyping, and/or prejudice, I personally feel it’s a bit more of a special case or even its own thing. In the situation of more “pure prejudice”, there can ultimately be no justification for the fear and hate other than bias, misperception, or prejudgments. By comparison (and what makes it more potent) the latter situation usually involves at least one very real incident in which harboring a bit more fear and uneasiness about the subject at hand would have prevented a disaster. Just as a quick example, let’s consider the MMORPG “World of Warcraft”. Some people have become so addicted to it that they neglect their own lives and even, in some cases, the lives of their children to play it. If someone was to suggest that the game needed to be banned as a result of that, they would point to those instances even if they don’t represent everyone who plays the game. A bit simplistic and “light”, but it illustrates the point.

That’s the situation in today’s episode. Obviously, the Crystal Empire took a rather strong reaction to the presence of a potential Changeling…probably an overreaction. On hearing a report that there was a Changeling in the area, the entire Empire virtually went into lockdown, guards were hunting for Changelings in all corners, and even friends and family members of Shining Armor and Princess Cadance had to pass an identity test before they would be allowed anywhere near Flurry Heart. When the Changeling was actually spotted and everything degenerated into a witch hunt, even the rulers who instigated the situation began to wonder if they were taking things too far.

The problem, however, was that there had been a case in recent history in Equestria where not enough caution was used around Changelings. As a result, both Shining Armor and Princess Cadance were impacted, and all of Equestria ended up being put in jeopardy and nearly conquered by Queen Chrysalis. In addition, none of the residents of the Crystal Empire had ever encountered a “nice” Changeling before. So while everyone did go into a panic and, when the Changeling in question, Thorax, revealed himself they reacted unfairly with hostility and fear, it was unfortunately more justified and understandable in this situation. Even if they wanted to stomp or capture Thorax on sight, considering a rather bad past event, most others in Equestrian society would have thought nothing of it.

As a Christian, I think the ultimate thing that we preach that the world will not accept, will possibly reject, and (especially in many developing countries) will react to with violence and suppression is the saving message of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice for salvation of the world. Yet as Jesus told us to be the “light of the world”, I’ve always believed that this wouldn’t be the only thing. After all, if the only difference between a Christian and an atheist is a Christian tells you to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or spend eternity in Hell, then Christians aren’t much better (and possibly worse) than the other world religions we claim are false. To me, being a Christian also means outreaching to those in the world that have been rejected and made outcasts, to love the unlovable, and to stand up for those who no one else will stand for. That’s what Jesus did, and in His infamous parable about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) He set out quite clearly what it means to care for one’s neighbor as well as expressed how great of a commandment that was.

Yet one of the greatest fallacies that Christians fall into that conforms them to the world rather than to God’s image is falling victim to societal bias based on fear and suspicion. Christians may fear and reject certain people from entering their communities, or favor or oppose certain national policies, or endorse certain practices that all are contrary to much of the Bible; but they do so anyway because they’ve moved away from considering the Word or the viewpoint of Jesus and moved toward thinking about things in worldly terms, including fears and biases.

I don’t want to dig too deeply into this to try and prevent snap judgments and reactions, so I’ll focus on just one example for now: the death penalty. This is a situation that not only are most Christians in favor of maintaining, but so many are in favor of it that a Christian being anti-death penalty is the exception rather than the rule (enough to where most pro-choice individuals justify themselves against pro-life individuals by pointing out they’re in favor of the death penalty, meaning they obviously “don’t think life is that sacred”…but getting off topic). There are religious arguments that can be made for it, but that’s not what I see people defer to. I see people pointing out the most heinous of offenders and venting their raw hate and disgust of them, saying how there’s no point to keep such despicable people alive on a taxpayer’s dollar. Some of them, they might point out, are not only clearly guilty but totally unrepentant, although even if they were (such as with the Son of Sam serial killer) no one would ever risk having them in society again. Sometimes they even bring up cases like with Ted Bundy, a serial killer who escaped police custody to kill others before he was captured again. And if they want to make a “Christian” argument, it’s that it would be better to protect innocent people by killing these offender than keeping them at risk by leaving them alive.

I can’t answer for everyone, but for me personally…even if I was to completely ignore Jesus’ defense of the woman caught in adultery (a capital offense) (John 8:2-11), the fact is our justice system is beyond biased. Just as one example, African-Americans who are found guilty of killing Caucasian-Americans are far more likely to get death penalty sentences than Caucasian-Americans found guilty of killing African-Americans. Furthermore, in one state alone in this country, Illinois, over a twenty year period 12 inmates were executed…while 20 on death row were exonerated in the same period. There were more people wrongfully waiting to die than people actually put to death. Even DNA tests are only as good as the agency that performs them, yet the magic word “DNA” automatically biases a jury into thinking someone is 100% guilty. It’s a tragedy whenever we hear of people who spent decades serving life sentences only to be cleared of all wrongdoing, but at least then they have a chance of regaining their lives. Not so with someone executed.

If I wanted to quote the Old Testament, which most consider to be nothing but God’s wrath and vengeance, even then it would be revealed that God would have spared Sodom if there had been only ten righteous people in it (Genesis 18:22-33). If God finds sparing ten people worth letting thousands endure in wickedness and depravity, I personally think that God would think for the sake of sparing the lives of  wrongfully sentenced individuals it’s worth tolerating keeping many genuinely wicked people alive.

Of course, this is only one example. Stances on pro-life and pro-choice, immigration, foreign policy, national charity, outreach to others, issues with the homeless…those are all things that I feel God’s Word says one thing and, due to fear or distrust, Christians flock to the “world view” because it’s safer and easier. It’s these points, as well as in witnessing, that we are challenged to go against what the world says is acceptable and even, in many cases, to risk their ire. Probably in these situations more than ever. After all, decisions made out of fear and distrust are usually based on a societal fear and distrust. To go against these likely means we’ll not only become an object of fear and distrust ourselves, but that people will misread our motives and level accusations against us, as people tend to do. From personal experience, I’ve had a moment in my life I was fearful to come out publicly with my stance on something because I knew my own close relatives would call me foolish and idealistic at best and a traitor at worse; even though neither were true and I knew they weren’t in my heart.

But ultimately, a serious question we all have to ask ourselves is whose interests we’re wishing to defend and who we want to look good in the sight of: the world or God.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word, the Bible, which gives man insight into who you are as well as direction for eternal life. Give me a love for it so that I can know the mind of God and what he wishes for this world and for others, and then help me to follow that in spite of what other powers in the world try to do to dissuade me or persuade me. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #125: “A Matter of Justice”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “28 Pranks Later”

Rainbow Dash gets rather out-of-hand in this episode. While it’s well-known that she likes causing pranks, in this episode she got into a rather bad streak; constantly pranking those who wouldn’t appreciate it and being more interested in her ability to fool and trick others rather than making a laugh both she and the “prankee” would enjoy. Eventually, it got so bad that the residents of Ponyville decided to teach her a lesson. They worked out a town-wide prank of a zombie invasion as a result of eating tainted cookies to fool Rainbow Dash, ending up scaring and upsetting her quite a bit; showing her firsthand what it felt like to get pranked by someone more interested in getting the best of her than making sure it was enjoyable for everyone involved.

There’s a lot of terms for this sort of thing. “Teaching a lesson”, “giving a taste of their own medicine”, “getting even”, etc. The fact of the matter is those are all nice ways of saying one of two things…and possibly both: justice or vengeance.

Humans naturally long for justice. I think it’s part of our makeup, DNA, or even souls. As children, obviously when something happens to us such as another child steals one of our toys, or we get blamed for something a sibling did, we feel a desire to do the same back to the offending child or go to an adult to administer retribution. Once we get to the point where we start feeling empathy for other people, such as when we see those in public, on TV, or in books who are starving, oppressed, stolen from, or otherwise abused, we may feel sadness but we also want the offenders to be punished for it. We feel when someone does wrong, they should be made to feel the same unpleasantness that they themselves inflicted. And usually that carries forth into adulthood. Sure, there are some adults of certain qualities of character who are able to forgive and overlook wrongdoing, but that’s usually a matter of moral choice and self-discipline, and, at least at the more basal level, they likely still have the feeling of wanting to inflict retribution even if they don’t act on it. The reason we seem to gravitate to the idea of superheroes is, in part, because we like the idea of someone having the power to impose justice on those who, through their own power or cunning, can avoid having to suffer the penalty for their actions.

Yet there are many times in which people shy away from the idea of justice. In some cases, such as with many (but not all) Christians, it’s because we think of the times we ourselves did something wrong that demanded retribution, but we wished that people would have been compassionate and understanding of our motives and, therefore, been lenient. We are even encouraged to think of that in regards to forgiving the sins and crimes of others, or simply giving people another chance. In other cases, it’s because people realize that humans are imperfect. We’re prone to bias and hate that clouds our judgment for giving people the punishment they deserve; whether we defer to an easier punishment on people we favor or whether we condemn with a stronger punishment on people we hate.

Another reason, however, stems from the other side of the “justice coin”: vengeance. Justice is seen as a good thing, while vengeance is seen as a bad thing. While administering justice is seen as an important thing for society and even an invaluable virtue, vengeance is seen as something terrible: the feeling of positive energy, thrill, or even a rush from hurting someone in response to having been hurt by them. Some say that vengeance is distinct from justice. For one thing, vengeance is applied to all situations, including where the hurt that is being redressed is imaginary or unwarranted. (Case in point, if you turned in a co-worker for lying, causing them to get fired, and they responded by slashing your tires, that wouldn’t be considered justice but vengeance.) For another thing, justice is considered to be something fair and equitable to the hurt, while vengeance is something that can go beyond what was called for and disproportionate to the crime.

But the fact is one can make the argument that justice falls entirely within the sphere of vengeance as “righteous vengeance”. Some can even make the argument that the only difference between justice and vengeance is that vengeance is where you punish someone yourself; justice is where you get your peers to do it for you. We are left with a situation in which we feel unpleasant and uncomfortable about something we pride as a virtue. As a result, something that we all feel and are told to aspire to becomes something potentially miserable and terrifying.

When considering the Bible in the view of justice and vengeance, things become more troubling than ever. One of the leading criticisms non-Christians have of the Bible is the claim that God has such a different stance on vengeance in the Old Testament and the New Testament that he’s two different individuals. In the Old Testament, God was often severe: smiting and killing men, women, and children by the tens of thousands. Punishing those who violated his commandments and, in one case, even nearly annihilating everything on Earth as a result of sin (Genesis 6:5-13). Great, terrible, and wrathful. By comparison, in the New Testament God is portrayed more as a loving father; having such compassion and mercy toward Israel as well as the human race as to have his only Son put to death for the sins of mankind that they may be with him forever.

The contrast is so stark and sharp that many Christians largely ignore the Old Testament and focus on the New, or find themselves in turmoil as they try to envision how the great and terrible destroyer and conqueror of the Old Testament can possibly be as compassionate and merciful as the God of the New Testament. How can the God who visits such wrathful vengeance be the same as the God who abounds in endless mercy? And is this a testament that justice and vengeance is righteous and good or a condemnation of the same?

Those are complex questions that religious scholars have thought about for centuries and it would be wrong to try and trivialize them with pat, easy answers. (I feel many pastors do more harm than good trying to do so.) It’s likely questions we will never have fully answered in this life. However, while I will not presume to know the motives and reasons people back in the days of the Old Testament did what they did or received what they received, much less the mind of God in administering it, I can say that the reason this duality is presented to us in the Bible is far simpler.

The fact is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same individual, no matter how hard it is to reconcile. What that means for those of us who live here and now is two things.

The first is that God is overwhelmingly holy (sacred and set apart) and perfectly just. And this shouldn’t so much as strike us with manifest awe (though it does when you think on it) as fill us with fear and trembling. A God so holy and righteous that even the slightest sin can’t abide in his presence. The smallest transgression or evil is a terrible and loathsome offense to him and cannot co-exist with him in the least. It can only be met with swift, terrible, severe, and eternal judgment. In the case of our own sins, that takes the form of eternal separation from God and everlasting condemnation to Hell. The examples of the Law in the Old Testament and God’s severe punishment of those who transgressed it, brutal and intense, to say nothing of the warnings of punishments for transgressing it (Deuteronomy 28:15-68), serve as a warning to all about God’s inescapable and mighty wrath for those who violate his holiness. It is meant to impress upon us the total impossibility of trying to please God by our own efforts and to make ourselves holy in his sight and escape his terrible judgment, as well as the severe sentence that all will be under for even the smallest violation of it.

As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.'” (Romans 3:10-18)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23)

When God promises vengeance, it means total vengeance toward all who sin…which is every last one of us. In that case, vengeance is indeed fearsome and perfect justice becomes horrifying.

The second, however, is that God fully recognizes how impossible it is for anyone to escape this eternal wrath or to become holy through their own merit, and that if he was to count the sins of mankind and administer true justice there would be none who would withstand it. He also manifested his love and mercy for us by not creating us to merely one day endure this fate, to be all but eternally condemned from the moment of being brought to life due to the demands of justice and holiness, but gave everyone not only a way out but a way to become sons of daughters of God. And, therefore, there is the New Testament and the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In His death over 2,000 years ago He fully took upon Himself the sins of all mankind and then endured the total, absolute wrath of God as perfect justice demanded inflicted on His body. In doing so, He fulfilled the towering demands of God’s justice and made a completely clean record for everyone who sinned.

“And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26)

Now God makes his mercy manifest to everyone who accepts that sacrifice made on their behalf. They now have a fully clean record and no longer need to fear God’s vengeance. Just as God in the Old Testament made manifest his power and justice, he manifests his mercy and love in the New Testament. No need for a futile attempt to “be good” or practice self-sacrifice or mortification in punishment or atonement for one’s sins, but in just accepting the precious and perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in their place, one is now clean enough to be a child of God in his eyes.

“Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

“So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7)

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Romans 8:15)

The Bible says that humans are made in God’s image, and perhaps no way is that made more perfectly clear than in our ideas of justice and vengeance. Part of us wants to enact justice in exchange for the evils that other people do, but part of us also shies away from the idea of vengeance–wanting to show compassion and mercy on many of the same people. God must be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful to be God, and he achieved that through the miracle and sacrifice of Jesus.

If you would like to accept this free gift and sacrifice yourself, free to all whenever they want it, you can do so by first praying the following prayer and then learning more from your local Church:

“Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner and am sorry for all the wrongs that I have done. I believe that your Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for my sins. Please forgive me. I invite you, Jesus, to come into my heart and life as Lord and Savior. I commit and trust my life to you. Please give me the desire to be what you want me to be and to do what you want me to do. Thank you for dying for my sins, for your free pardon, for your gift of eternal life, and for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #124: “Tunnel Vision”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Cart Before the Ponies”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders don’t have a very good day in this episode. When it’s time for the annual Applewood Derby in Ponyville, each of them has their own idea for how to design their carts and what awards to go for. Yet when they recruit their “big sisters” to help them with their respective projects, they find out that the older ponies already have their own pre-conceived ideas for them and, in spite of their best efforts, ignore any attempts to get them to build the carts the way the CMCs want them. In the end, the big sisters they looked to for inspiration monopolized the entire thing and made it all about them racing and what they wanted, and, as a result, not only took over the event from the girls but ruined it for everyone else.

Anyone who’s looked into Christianity, whether they be Christians themselves or not, knows that it comes in a lot of “flavors”. There are, of course, the major denominations with their own belief systems, but I find that what differs even more than that is the amount of different ways Christianity is expressed.

I myself grew up Roman Catholic with occasionally attending Lutheran mass, whereas later in college I joined up with a nondenominational Christian group called Chi Alpha Campus Ministries…so I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve seen a lot of different Church events, outreaches, methods of worship (including song, chant, prayer, and even dance), and a lot of different ways of preaching. I’ve been in places that are pretty much just a gathering of people around a couple guys with instruments, in places where everyone dresses up nice and rises and sits in unison to the tunes of pipe organs, and in places where everyone just surrounds a preacher in a speaker’s circle shouting out about how we’re all sinners going to Hell. While I definitely have ones I prefer to others, I won’t be so bold as to say one is “better” than the other. What ultimately measures the value of preaching and ministry, to me, is how effective it ends up being. (And even if I criticize, I’ll say that with few exceptions the worst preaching I’ve seen beats the best “non-preaching” I regularly practice… :/ )

What gets me is when Churches start to act like the big sisters (Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity) in this episode: when they become so fixed on seeing their own way and methods as perfect that they completely ignore not only other opinions but who they’re doing this for to begin with.

I have a feeling most Christians are acquainted with one (or more) Churches that are spiritually dead. If this was a problem back in the times of the New Testament when there were those still alive who could remember Jesus walking in the flesh, how much more 2,000 years later? You know the kind: Churches that never challenge anyone, never outreach to anyone, never seem to grow, and just seem to say and do the same pat things day in and day out. People may go in and get temporarily enthused or even a brief sense of spiritual empowerment, but it never leads to anything lasting in the community, whether that community be of the Church itself or the greater community around it. They basically do the same things all the time and, to coin a modern proverb, as they keep doing what they’ve always done, they keep getting what they’ve always gotten and stayed where they’ve always been.

I experienced this early on in the same place most Christians I have discovered experienced it first: the Roman Catholic Church. Services are always highly ordered, highly controlled, highly regimented, and so predictable that I’ve been in some masses where the congregation mechanically began to say: “And also with you” when one of the readings read: “The Lord be with you”.

I’ve read arguments in favor of these practices and, to be fair, they have some weight. The idea is that experiences with God are not meant to be ordinary but “holy” in the sense of the root of the word: “set apart”. There is a reverence to certain actions and a way to do things that is not just random or each person doing whatever they feel is best. That you only do these things to begin with because it’s a special time and place. It’s treating the very experience of being with God as something deserving special significance, and therefore they don’t like to endorse any kind of uncontrolled behavior or expression. It’s drawing attention to the Word, because of the belief that the Word itself is living and sacred and is an experience with God.

This is well and good and it would be fine…if it actually had that desired effect. The fact of the matter, however, is that most Roman Catholics I know personally find these services to be repetitive, humdrum, and boring. Far from appreciating the sacredness of the situation, because it’s the “same sacredness” every single week in the exact same way it takes something that should be holy and special and makes it as routine as brushing one’s teeth. The Bible does indeed place special emphasis on the Holy Eucharist, and yet by treating it the exact same way week in and week out the congregation is encouraged to think less and less about how special it is and more like it’s the same empty gesture as saying “peace be with you” during the communal handshake. But this is unlikely to change, because everything in the Roman Catholic Church is handed down from the hierarchy of the Vatican, and that, in turn, while it had made major concessions in the past fifty years (at least masses are no longer in Latin…) wants to stay with tradition.

That’s probably the most extreme example, but the fact is it can happen anywhere and in any Church. Everyone likes to do certain things over others. Everyone is more comfortable trying one thing over trying something else. That’s just human nature and the “comfort zone” that we all possess. Where it becomes a problem is when someone in power decides to use this position to influence others and, as a result, one person’s comfort zone becomes an entire Church’s detriment. In the case of Church leadership, it’s when the congregation either alienates themselves and/or discourages other people from coming in and joining; whether it be in the form of not responding to the needs of the community, engaging in ministries that are continuously ineffective, or even endorsing beliefs that are more about giving the leadership and Church recognition and power rather than the Kingdom of God or are even non-Biblical (Again, Roman Catholicism is a big sinner there). In effect, they are sabotaging the very Mission of the Church to begin with.

Naturally, in the Bible, when one thinks of leaders who preferred to cling to their own way rather than what mattered to God, one looks at the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Yet a good portion of the New Testament is also devoted to being on guard against those who masquerade as Christian leaders. The Apostle Paul reserved strong condemnation for those who went about frustrating Christian principles about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-34), boasting that they had better “credentials” than him based on his own way of preaching (2 Corinthians 11: 1-15), and especially those who tried to impose the Mosaic Law on new Christians [“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12)]. Whereas Paul seemed to feel sorrow or pity for his persecutors of the Jewish background [“For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race,” (Romans 9:3)], he had nothing but contempt and condemnation for those who tried to warp the Gospel to suit their own tastes. Even the last book in the Bible, Revelation, starts off with a strong warning about Churches being on guard for false leaders (Revelation 2:8-29).

All of this serves as a warning to us. While I do trust in the Word of God in regards to “submitting to authority” and that some people are gifted to be in authority over others, we also are to be on guard for trees that bear “bad fruit” and against false and ineffective leadership. To me, the best Churches are ones that see the situation they are in and respond to it as best and appropriate as they can, and look for opportunities to be more effective. Ones that simply seek to serve the status quo, and usually their own status quo, while refusing to listen to anything that may make them better or pay attention to the times are ultimately serving their own glory…and the Bible makes it clear the end of all mortal things that serve their own glory. Let that be a cautionary message that we need to seek a different Church.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the Church, for which you sent your Son, Lord Jesus Christ, as ransom, and thank you also for your Word, which is the cornerstone of our faith. Grant that I may always challenge myself to grow in Christ, and that as I do I pay attention to your Word, learn from it, and see if what is in my life…including my choice in Church and who I choose to listen to as my religious leader…is in accord with it. Help me to know you better so I can discern your will better, and thereby be on guard on all attempts to get me to obey a different will while submitting to ones that reflect yours. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #123: “Holier Than Thou”

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Before I begin, I’d like to start by saying my thoughts and prayers go out to my brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt following this Palm Sunday bombing.

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Stranger Than Fanfiction”

“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is one show not afraid to target its own fandom, whether its for massive fanservice or to hold a mirror in the face of the darker aspects. That’s certainly true in this episode when we’re introduced to Quibble Pants. Although he says he’s a fan of Daring Do, in truth he only cares for the earliest entries in the series. The rest he constantly criticizes, scoffs at, rambles on and on against, and even goes so far as to dislike people who enjoy those parts of the series. He takes it to such an extreme that even when the impossible happens and he is confronted with the very fictional character brought to life, he still clings to his disdain and criticism. He seems to think he pretty much knows the best way to do everything in the series…even better than the creator, who happens to be Daring Do herself actually living out her books. In the ultimate show of hubris, Quibble Pants not only sets himself as a greater authority than the source, but actually feels justified in criticizing reality. 

Whereas the last episode dealt with someone who was knowledgeable in their own estimation and set that as the standard for others, this one deals with someone who is genuinely knowledgeable, but believes that justifies them in all of their opinions and gives them a status above others. I called the former example a “snob” in my last devotional. This one is too, to be honest, but for this case I call it being prideful, arrogant, or “haughty”.

As you have probably noticed, as I myself blog reviews about MLP:FIM, this is going to sound a lot like the pot calling the kettle black, but here it goes. (After all, if I really think this devotional is good advice, I should heed it myself. :P)

I mentioned last time about how the Internet has led people to believe their opinion is worth more than it really is. Extending that a bit further, it therefore also logically makes many people think everyone is entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately, that’s not limited to the Internet. I’m sure we have all met someone who suffers “the curse of giving advice”.

Most of us probably know someone who always has to give their two cents on everything. Who always seems to know better than everyone else. Who always seems to be an authority on this or that life event. In some cases, this is mild. The individual in question is just a bit of a bore or annoying in conversations and gatherings. But in other cases, when the person in question is in a position of authority (or at least thinks they should be…), it can become unbearable. These sorts of individuals can be overbearing, bossy, domineering, and, in the worst situation, become like Quibble Pants in this episode and grow toxic. At this point, these people don’t simply have a bad habit but likely a psychological need to be right about everything and condemn or rage against those who disagree with them to get a sense of personal superiority and pride.

Unfortunately, there’s very little that one can do to change these individuals, or anyone for that matter. You can try distancing yourself from them and sending cues that this sort of behavior isn’t really appreciated by you personally, or perhaps even confront them about it in a tactful and polite way. Yet ultimately, the only person who can change anyone is the person themselves, and if they fail to see a problem with their own behavior it’s likely nothing will change. And, equally unfortunately, if the problem is a matter of pride then they might have a hard time seeing the issue to begin with.

What we can do, however, is make sure it doesn’t happen to us; that we don’t become inflated with our own pride.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to in my last devotional, there seem to be more temptations than ever for that. I’ve seen otherwise great and good Christians get utterly warped by the Internet. Rather than use it as a vessel to spread love or the Gospel, they use it to insult, to shout, to condemn, and, more often than not, to try and be smug and superior to others. It would be one thing if they simply slipped up and did that once in a while…but no, sometimes they seem to make a point to do it at every opportunity; always looking for places they can throw their unsolicited opinion and rarely to encourage or build up. They seem to be taking the Great Commission as an excuse to throw their two cents in on everything, and then they use those two cents to incite other people. If I’m an atheist or agnostic, and the biggest Christian I know uses their time to be as smarmy and insolent as the secular crowd, only with a sense of more self-importance because of their status as a Christian, am I going to be attracted to that? Most of these people know full well they would never talk that way to others face-to-face in real life. Why does the Internet give them the excuse?

The most shocking thing to me about the non-Christian’s view of the Christian is that they tend to think all of us go around “thinking we’re better than everyone else”. To me, Christians, far from being proud and arrogant, should likely be the most humble people of all. Sure, we can’t be “ashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:16) and we need to call out injustice when we see it (Exodus 23:1-3), but as Christians we should be self-aware that we have less reason to boast or brag than anyone. Far from thinking we’re better than everyone else, the Bible calls us to remember just how low we really are and hopelessly bound to sin (Romans 3:23). The only thing we can claim as Christians that other people cannot is that we recognized our need for a Savior and accepted Him in the person and sacrifice of Jesus. “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)

Nothing else that we have was earned by our own efforts. We can’t claim to know all the mysteries of God and life. Whatever power we have that does conquer the impossible comes from God, and we are aware of that. In the end, it’s about the glory of God, not about us.

Even our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified the utmost humility: first emptying Himself of all power and glory to become a tiny, mortal baby, then in living a human life of service to others (even going so far as to wash the feet of His own disciples like a common servant [John 13:1-11]), and finally in the death on Calvary. If we take Christ’s life as a model for us and He made Himself more humble than anyone in history, what right does that give us to be arrogant or domineering?

Similar to my last message, my suggestion for this devotional is simple: think a bit more before we act and speak. Especially now, on this Holy Week. As Good Friday and Easter Sunday near, let’s all take time to ponder the magnitude of just how far our Lord’s humility took Him to pay the price for our own sin and arrogance, and let that lead us to being a bit more humble and thoughtful in our own responses to others.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, on this Holy Week, I remember and am eternally grateful for the greatest gift I have ever received: the gift of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that He made to grant the world salvation. As we enter Easter and the days beyond, help me to remember that from day to day and live in the humility and gratitude of the marvelous gift I have been given at the price of His Blood. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #122: “Everybody’s Got One…No One Wants to See It”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Spice Up Your Life”

Today’s episode was what I personally felt was one of the more timely episodes of the series, especially in our modern culture and with our modern fandoms. In this episode, we meet Zesty Gourmand, a Canterlot eatery critic. While she’s infamous throughout the entire city and almost everyone hangs on her every word to approve or disapprove of local eating establishments, refusing to give any place a try that doesn’t meet with her approval, it is eventually revealed that her personal tastes, which she grades everything by, are rather unique and not shared by the majority. Yet rather than recognize those tastes as unique, she not only sets them as a universal standard but gets so outraged when they are violated that she can’t understand why others would even try a place she didn’t approve of, and refuses to even try a place that doesn’t meet her preconceived standards.

Why was this so timely? Because there seems to be more people like this in the world all the time, and most of them are a lot worse than Zesty Gourmand.

In recent years, I’m astonished at how polarized and hostile most people have become in regards to their opinions. The old maxim “everyone’s a critic” seems to be coming to life, and not in a good way. Certainly this is most pronounced in the political arena, but really it’s happening everywhere. Movies, TV, sports, local news, (especially) fandoms…people seem to not only be growing more opinionated but more fiercely defensive and antagonistic regarding their opinion. More people nowadays can take their opinion on something, anything, and not declare it so much their opinion but an objective moral truth of being either right or wrong, and anyone who disagrees with them gets met with such hostility that it’s borderline madness.

I don’t claim to know why this is the case exactly, but what I point my finger at the most is the rise of Internet culture. In high school the Internet was almost exclusively the domain of younger people, but now it’s become so ubiquitous, accessible, and prolific that everyone is into it in one capacity or another; especially in regards to blogging, twittering, and other forms of social networking. When I was a child you had to look to editorials, journals, and the occasional opinion column to get anyone to dissertate or something. We clung to certain columnists and pundits for opinions and discourses. Now anyone in the world can, at any time, make their voice and opinion known all around the world. Everyone can, in theory, make their thoughts and feelings have the same exposure as anyone who is nationally syndicated.

What seems to have happened as a result, at least to me, is that people have started to put more value in their opinions than what they’re worth. After all, everyone likes it when their comments get “likes”. Everyone likes it when their blogs get “hits” (myself included). And my guess is most people who tweet hope that they’ll make the one comment that will go viral. Since the Internet is so vast and international and yet so vague and ephemeral, people now value their status on the Internet by how much their comments (and, hence, their opinions and feelings) are liked, admired, and approved. In other words, how much attention they gain from those opinions. The thought that hundreds or even thousands of people around the world are paying attention to what you are saying.

Because of that, we have a great deal of Internet “trolls” nowadays–people who make comments specifically to incite responses, usually negative. Those are still “wins” to Internet trolls because they still command the attention of thousands of people, even if it’s only to vent anger or hatred of them. Yet in truth everyone really subscribes to the same idea. Everyone wants the same attention and the same quantity of responses if not quality. Hence, when anything comes out that we have a strong, or even reasonable, opinion on, we rant, rave, snark, and/or go off on it in long-winded litanies to hope to create something that resembles being profound or poignant so that people will flock to it. And if we can shoot down the opinions of others, proving them to be invalid at the same time, that only enhances our prestige and guarantees more reaction.

And that, to me, is what has given rise to our modern polarized culture. Obviously, we’ll garner more attention and sound better if we orate on how something is the “best thing ever” or the “worst thing ever”, because no one really cares so much about someone who says something is “alright” or “has its good and bad parts”; and certainly no one will be convinced to take our side or another in that case. We’ll also gain more attention and audience members if we tear down people of the opposite opinion, especially in a clever, biting, or humorous way. However, it’s likely those people are trying to do the same thing, only to us, and both sides are likely failing and succeeding at points and keep trying to come out on top. A feedback loop begins, and as it continues, more often than not, tempers flare and the comments stop being cordial and start being angry, hostile, and finally vicious. It begins to degenerate into insults and hate-mongering, and playing off of anger and hate to try and win arguments by demonizing the other side while “sanctifying” our own; making everything look like a black and white issue and, as a result, the world is split into smart saints(me) and stupid fools(you). Soon everyone gets so emotional and into it that the opinion no longer really matters so much as making the more “clever” or “biting” comment that silences the other person. That, of course, is equally futile as responding to a comment on the Internet takes almost zero effort on anyone’s part, so things keep escalating. Especially since this is rarely a one-to-one argument but usually is groups of people raging against other groups of people. And that’s really bad because then hate and anger becomes collective rather than to one individual in particular.

We’re left with a world of people taking stronger and stronger opinions about simple things, creating stronger animosity and polarization, and all due to sinful pride: the desire to be more watched and admired, ironically, in a forum designed to give all people the same weight to their voice.

There are many things the average American Christian does that is exactly the same as the secular citizen, but I think this one is the saddest. Like everyone else, we’ve been lured into the trap of wanting our opinions to have the greatest value–even in regards to sharing the Gospel. We’re so concerned about looking smarter and more knowledgeable than other people and pointing out fallacies in their thinking that it all becomes about enhancing our own wit, sophistication, and “glory” rather than God’s. Especially when we do the same laughing and mocking of our opponents that everyone else does about everything else.

And I’m sure all of us have encountered a Christian who will go off on a chain of insults, make a comment like “LOL” about how the other person can be so foolish…and then have the audacity to end their comment with something like: “Have a nice day! God bless!”…as if that somehow nullifies all of the above.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did His share of public speaking where He condemned others and their practices (Matthew 23:13-36, Luke 11: 39-52). Yet He never did anything, great or small, for His own glory. It was all about giving glory to the Father (John 5:30; 8:50, 54; 14:10; 17:1-5). In the same way, Christians are called to speak forth boldly (Acts 28:30-31), but we are also told to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). To me, those seemingly contradictory statements are made clear when we get our priorities in order. When we speak out and challenge others, the ultimate motivation has to be to give glory to God and the Kingdom; to do his will first and not our own. When we start doing so out of a desire to win an argument or prove someone else to be a fool, then our priorities are toward enhancing ourselves. Then it not only stops being about God, it might actually be sinful.

My challenge for this devotional isn’t anything new or sophisticated: just think before you speak or comment. Ask yourself if you are trying to upset or unnerve someone whenever you speak, whether in person or not. If you are, ask yourself if what you are trying to upset or unnerve them about is something that truly merits getting someone angry or incensed over. Finally, if that is also true, then ask yourself if ultimately it’s because you believe that it’s important to God, or if it’s just to “justify yourself”.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for all the times in which you have granted me the bravery to make a stand for the Gospel or any other worthwhile issue and to speak boldly in your Name. Please grant that whenever I do so it is always for your glory and kingdom and not for my own. And whenever I am about to give my own opinion on something, especially to persuade others, or in anything I say, I ask in the words of the Psalmist to “set a guard over my mouth, Lord” and “keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3), so that I can always use my words for building the kingdom up and not in breeding wickedness or evil. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #121: “Lover’s Leap”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Flutter Brutter”

Ever hear of the expression “tough love”? I’m sure you have. For most of us, we never have to see it put into practice. But a lot of us do, and, with the current situation in American society, I imagine more of us will have to do it as time goes on.

The core idea behind “tough love” is doing or (usually more appropriately) not doing something for an individual that may seem to be an act of cruelty or heartlessness, but is really designed for their benefit. It’s not to be confused with codependence, controlling, or manipulative behaviors; although such things may be misconstrued as love when they’re really a form of abuse or even addiction. On the contrary, it’s usually quite the opposite–designed to break one of the aforementioned behaviors.

This episode illustrates a good example. Zephyr Breeze obviously suffered from a lack of self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy–having a fear of failure when trying to do anything independently. As a result, he had grown to the point where he naturally depended on other people to not only do everything for him but had altered his own behavior to be manipulative and intentionally slacking, so that others would grow frustrated with him and do the tasks themselves; thereby absolving him of any need to do things for himself or assert his independence…and consequently allow him to continue his dependent behavior.

Yet this was also an example of codependence. The only way this sort of individual can really get away with this behavior is if they have enablers, and he did in the form of his parents. Unwilling to be faced with the thought of their son being unemployed and homeless with no means to support himself, and not wanting to be “cruel” in that regard, they instead kept bailing him out whenever he quit something. As a result, Zephyr never felt any pressure to make any changes in his life or try to do anything for himself. Furthermore, he could always go back to his parents with the threat of being left alone and homeless and count on them to bail him out. Both parties were involved in a vicious cycle of sustaining each other’s bad choices, which is codependence.

The solution was as Fluttershy pointed out: break the cycle. She had to get her parents to essentially kick Zephyr out, and later she had to kick him out herself. Only then was he forced to try to get by on his own and, as a result, be willing to finish his education to try and become independent without making excuses or worming his way out of responsibility. At that point, Zephyr finally started to learn some personal initiative and independence, and his parents were free to get on with their retirement. But it didn’t come without cost. Zephyr had to be allowed to struggle and fail at eeking out a pathetic living in Everfree Forest first, which, considering the number of dangerous creatures that have been shown to dwell in it in the past, might have represented a threat to life and limb, but also made him miserable enough to want to change.

In my experience, “tough love” is a rather hard subject for a lot of Christians. There’s the fact that many people who became Christians as adults were in bad spots where there was toxic love or even an absence of it. Many of them probably needed someone with compassion and understanding to come into their lives rather than someone who was more strict and took harder lines. Yet even if that’s not the case, one of the big maxims of Christianity is to give people another chance who most would feel do not deserve one, and to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22). If we’re dealing with someone who is addicted or has a codependent personality, and who has consequently drawn us into it, all of these represent barriers to wanting to break the cycle as we may feel we aren’t being a true “loving” and “forgiving” Christian if we do that.

Those factors may make tough love difficult, yet what makes it nearly impossible is when the addict or codependent in question is our own loved ones. Then, on top of everything we’ve learned from Christianity, we have the thought of abandoning someone very important to us. The thought that they will suffer discomfort or harm if we cut them off. In the most extreme cases, such as when the individual in question is engaged in drug abuse or sexual misconduct, we might even reasonably fear that the individual could suffer death. Now…when we are faced with the choice of either continuing codependent behavior or having the codependent actually die, we naturally think there’s only one choice to make…and it’s definitely not breaking the cycle.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, when you, or anyone, is a child, they are not responsible for what happens to them. But when you, or anyone, becomes an adult, now they are fully responsible not only for what happens to them but how they respond and the choices they make. If a person is caught in an addictive, unhealthy lifestyle and they know it, and they have reached a point where their life is in danger, as scary and hard as this may be to accept…that individual is there by their choices and no one is responsible for the outcome, no matter how brutal, except for them. I wish I could say that what we fear the most will happen to those people will never happen. I can’t. Yet those same people will never have any reason to stop subjecting themselves to that danger if someone keeps “rescuing” them. No one will ever want to get themselves out of a situation, no matter how self-destructive, that feels perfectly comfortable and has no lasting negative consequences. Only when it becomes too painful to feel “good” anymore is there a personal motivation to get out. Like with Fluttershy, someone has to break off the toxic relationship. While I can attest personally that it is occasionally the addict/codependent themselves, it’s far more likely it will have to be the enabler. After all, they’re the source of the “comfort”.

Second, the Bible encourages reliance and dependence on God, but it never advocates the same reliance and dependence as an excuse for personal inaction and personal irresponsibility. All humans have free will. We have the choice to do good or bad, but also choices in regards to how we live our lives, what we learn, what we hear or refuse to listen to, how we respond to difficulties, how we work, how we raise our families, and all the individual choices we make during the day. That will and capability entitles responsibility on our part. And it did in the Bible. God told Abraham to get up and leave the land of his fathers to become a great nation (Genesis 12:1-4), but he didn’t pick him up and relocate him there. God gave the ancient Israelites the Passover (Exodus 12:1-13) but they had to follow the guidelines to ensure the Angel of Death passed over them. God also didn’t just teleport all the Israelites to Canaan, and say: “There you go. Enjoy.” They had to journey there themselves and then decide for themselves to take it, to either believe in God’s promise or be too scared of their own shortcomings (Joshua 1:1-9, Joshua 24:15).

And when they did possess it, it was their responsibility to keep the commandments of the Law that God gave them. He promised them blessings if they kept it and curses if they did not (Deuteronomy 28). And when the Israelites started to disobey God by following the idols of the surrounding countries, he progressively stopped protecting them from their surrounding nations–ones that they were only able to stand against to begin with because of God. And when they still refused to keep the Law, he let it get worse until they decided to turn around. This wasn’t God so much purposely sending destruction upon Israel as simply standing aside and letting them get what he warned them about if they chose to follow the gods of other nations and all of their following practices. It didn’t make sense to keep having them be the “blessed nation of God” when they weren’t even trying not to sin, let alone keep his commandments. And it was only after the fall of Israel and the Babylonian Exile that they did begin to return to him, after they faced the consequences of their actions (Nehemiah 9).

Likewise, Jesus was certainly loving and forgiving, but He also showed tough love. When others made excuses not to follow Him, He was quite blunt about the choices they had to make (Luke 9:57-62). He freely warned His disciples of the penalties for not heeding His words as well (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:31-46). And when it came to His miracles in the Bible, it was often a result of the person coming to Him first, of wanting “to be made well” (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 1:40-42, 7:24-30, Luke 19:1-10, Luke 7:36-50). He was indeed approachable by and a friend to the outcasts of His society, but it was the outcasts that flocked to Him first. They were looking for repentance and redemption, or wanted to do so after listening to Him preaching. Even in Jesus’ miracles, and especially in our own choice whether or not to accept Jesus Christ’s offer of Salvation, there is an element of conscious action on our part. A responsibility that Jesus doesn’t allow us to shy away from.

It’s also fairly obvious that if God was to immediately provide us with food, clothing, and shelter just from us sitting around and praying, it wouldn’t be long before we’d stop being human and start being idle sheep. Not only would we see no need to go out in the world to reach other people, we’d see no reason to do anything for or with anyone period. And if we are in a habitual sin and suffering sever consequences for it and praying to God for deliverance, it would also not be responsible of God to spare us the consequence so that we could go on sinning and destroying ourselves and potentially others.

As someone who has had experiences with needing to exercise “tough love” before, my encouragement to anyone who finds themselves in a situation like this episode (or worse) is to try and see the situation as God does. God loves us all unconditionally more than we’ll ever know…and it’s because he loves us so much that he won’t let us stay in a cycle of abuse or dependence by making it “easy on us”. May we have the prudence, bravery, and faith to do the same.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, in all the times of my life I needed a change or to leave my situation, I thank you for making it ‘uncomfortable’ and unpleasant to the point of driving me out, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time. If I find myself trapped in a cycle of dependence, please give me the wisdom, prudence, bravery, and, above all, the faith to do what needs to be done and to depend on you to take care of the rest. Let my trust in you be strong enough to make that bold step of faith. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”