My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Friends Forever #18 (IDW My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Friends Forever #18): “Rainbow Dash & Fluttershy”

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Synopsis:

Fluttershy is out assisting Rainbow Dash in clocking her latest time trials when both of them suddenly get an invitation in the mail for a Flight Camp Reunion. Rainbow Dash is enthusiastic about the entire thing, relishing the idea to meet up with the old campmates and show off how much she’s improved, but as Fluttershy was bullied at it she’d rather skip the whole thing. Nevertheless, Rainbow Dash manages to get her to come under the assurance that she’ll remain by her, only to immediately break off as soon as they arrive to show off her skill and beat old campmates in races. As for Fluttershy, she runs into one of her old bullies, Cirrus Cloud, who is actually heading up the Reunion Committee and says she has a special surprise for her at the dinner that evening. When other former campmates seem to avoid talking to her, Fluttershy fears that she’s being set up to be pranked or taunted again due to being such a weak flier, but in spite of her best attempts to escape both she and Rainbow Dash end up at the dinner. While Rainbow has been enjoying herself all day, Fluttershy finally comes out and says that camp wasn’t a place of “happy memories” for her. On realizing how upset being at the reunion is making her, Rainbow apologizes for not being more attentive to her, but also says that she’s one of the most amazing pegasi she knows and she shouldn’t care what any of her former bullies think. With that in mind, Fluttershy steps onto stage when called, expecting to be pranked by Cirrus, only to discover she’s receiving a special reward and tribute for all of the service she’s rendered to Equestria. Rainbow Dash congratulates her by saying she’s the pony she’s most proud of, while Fluttershy says she’s “pretty awesome” too.

Review:

I’ve noticed there’s something of a trend that seems to come up with Fluttershy storylines. Namely, they all follow the same format of: “Fluttershy is nervous about something and learns to conquer her fear”. This contributes somewhat to the same problem I noted back in “Scare Master”, how Fluttershy never really seems to grow that much in episodes like these and, in the worst case situation, regresses. Nevertheless, this one really isn’t that bad.

Fluttershy does have a number of scared reactions in it, but she doesn’t have any of her “epic cowering” moments from the series such as fortifying her house or disguising herself as a tree. In addition, this is a legitimate fear. If you had to endure something that was nothing but one bad memory after another, the last thing you want to do is have to relive it through a reunion. As a result, this storyline has a bit of a moral that’s not exactly unique but is presented in a more unique fashion.

Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy are possibly the oldest friends out of the Mane Six, with the very events of the first Sonic Rainboom causing them to pair with each other. And over the years in the series, in spite of their wildly different personalities and talents, they’ve had lots of moments where they’ve both respected and encouraged each other in their respective fields. And this storyline shows off something that could come up as a result of their character traits. Rainbow Dash thinks she’s encouraging Fluttershy to do something outgoing and fun, but her problem is she has a bit of an egocentric viewpoint on what other ponies would think is fun–thinking something that is great for her would be great for someone else. While this was done with the best of intentions, she learns a lesson to not only realize that what’s good for one person isn’t necessarily good for another, and to be more receptive when someone tells you they don’t want to do something…that it might not just be due to shyness. As for Fluttershy, her own lesson is far milder, but also presented in a different way. Rather than learning to stand up for herself or try new things, she’s learned to not place value on the opinions of everyone but only on those who matter.

They’re both valid lessons and ones that haven’t been hit on exactly by the show, so that’s a good point. Yet that aside, the issue is mostly lackluster. The only “fun” part, other than the unique art style, is Fluttershy’s fantasy and, to a lesser extent, Cirrus Cloud’s appearance. I think this comic is good as far as the Friends Forever issues go, but that’s about all.

Fun Facts:

Another comic by Jay Fosgitt, who has the most unique and “non-pony” art style of the IDW writers. He makes Angel Bunny practically as large as Fluttershy in some panels.

In Season Two’s “Hurricane Fluttershy”, the taunt the other fillies made of filly Fluttershy was: “Fluttershy! Fluttershy! Fluttershy can’t hardly fly!” For the comic, the taunt was turned to “Fluttershy! Fluttershy! A pegasus who cannot fly!”

Fluttershy’s fear of what will happen at the reunion is similar to what happens at the prom  in “Carrie”.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Friends Forever #17 (IDW My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Friends Forever #17): “Twilight Sparkle & Big Mac”

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle, now the Princess of Friendship, has been running herself ragged trying to fix every friendship problem in Equestria. She’s obsessing so constantly over every problem that she’s constantly stressed out, unable to concentrate on anything except the problems all day and yet unable to solve even one. When Spike tries encouraging her to take some time off to hang with other ponies, she misinterprets that as a suggestion to do research on ponies who have a lot of work to do to see how they manage to accomplish it. As a result, she ends up on Sweet Apple Acres, but as Applejack and Apple Bloom are going to be out for a week making a delivery, on Applejack’s suggestion she watches Big Macintosh instead. After a day of research she sees he’s able to get a lot done, but she can’t see how. When she tries talking to him about it, he is (naturally) unable to explain why. As a result, she uses a special spell to enter Big Mac’s subconscious to find out, and ends up meeting with various sides of his personality including a Talkative Big Mac, Helpful Big Mac, and Smart Big Mac. She finds his mind is like an ordered apple farm with all of the trees representing ideas and problems he has, but each one is tended to in order and left to grow rather than being fussed over all the time. Curious Big Mac ends up going inside Twilight’s own head and taking her along, and sees that her own mind is like a library, only completely disorganized because she’s trying to think of everything at once. On leaving, she gets the idea to stop thinking of all of her problems for a while herself and instead helps Big Macintosh out with his chores. On returning to the Castle of Friendship, she’s surprised to find that she came up with a solution to one of her troublesome problems, and Spike says it’s great to have her back.

Review:

Been a while since I’ve done these, eh? Time to catch up to make room for “Legends of Equestria”… Unfortunately, the reason I’ve left a lot of these by the wayside is because there hasn’t been much to write about.

This particular arc is something of a rehash of “Lesson Zero”, with Twilight going stressed and neurotic and needing to learn to relax more. It’s a fairly basic moral and, with only one issue to work with, it needs to be summed up fairly succinctly. Where the arc is going to differ is in how it’s presented. Yet where “Lesson Zero” managed to do so with lots of entertaining goofiness and wackiness, this one…I dunno.

As I’ve said before, Applejack-themed episodes are fairly bland, and Big Macintosh ones aren’t much better. By this point there had been a number of episodes and issues that had explored more unconventional sides to the characters we know as well as surreal experiences. So while Twilight diving into Big Mac’s brain sounds entertaining enough, something about it seems strangely “mild” compared to the other arcs that we’ve gone through. Big Mac’s alternate forms aren’t terribly wild or entertaining, and while entering the psyche of another character has a lot of potential, all we end up with is a farm and a library. It’s never even really explained why a tidal wave of purple “stuff” suddenly appears in Twilight’s head. Learning to take time out for yourself and not worry about everything isn’t exactly a very poignant (or, for this series, original) lesson. Lastly…I find the nervous habit Twilight developed, namely chewing on her own hair, to be kind of gross.

Like so many of the comic arcs, it’s neither good nor bad. I give it a bit of credit for trying something that could have been a wacky idea, but with only a mild lesson to learn to begin with this isn’t a terribly memorable story.

Fun Facts:

Applejack refers to Big Mac’s full name as “Big McIntosh”, leaving the “Mac” silent. Comparatively, the title abbreviates his name as “Big Mac”.

Twilight mentions “Heisenbronc’s Uncertainty Principle”. This is a parody of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, one of the basic tenets of atomic physics.

In Big Macintosh’s mind, Ms. Smartypants is in a tree; a callback to Season Two’s “Lesson Zero”.

“Malus sylvestris” is the scientific name for the European Crab Apple.

The panel where “Helpful Big Mac” jumps into Twilight’s head might be an allusion to the anime “FLCL” where, in addition to many other items of craziness, it involved giant robots coming out of one character’s head.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #138: “Oathbreakers”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “A Flurry of Emotion”

Twilight Sparkle ran into the problem that everyone eventually encounters when they try to “do it all”: she made promise she couldn’t keep. In her attempt to show herself as not only being great at charity work but also great at being the “best aunt”, she made the mistake of agreeing to babysit her niece Flurry Heart while already scheduled to perform a major book-reading event for a class worth of sick foals in the hospital. In spite of Spike warning her that she’d wear herself too thin, she continued on with it, determined to keep her promises to both the foals as well as to her brother and sister-in-law. Yet in the end, it turned out to be a promise she couldn’t keep. Flurry Heart eventually lost patience with the lack of attention, especially when Twilight failed to notice that she lost her favorite toy, and when, doing what a baby would be expected to do, she made a mess trying to find it herself and ended up being yelled at, she broke down and cried; causing Twilight to learn the hard way how foolish it was for her to make a vow she couldn’t keep.

The Bible tends to have a singular view of promises, “oaths”, and “pledges”–namely don’t make them. “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.” (Proverbs 17:18); “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.” (Proverbs 22:26-27) When it comes to promises toward others, the Old Testament has very stern warnings. It says to never do them, likening such to setting a trap for yourself, and to, if one does mistakenly make one, resolve it as quickly as possible. “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.” (Proverbs 6:1-5).

When one makes a promise to God, on the other hand, the Bible stresses the sanctity and importance behind it and the grave seriousness of keeping it. “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2) “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5) This is done not so much as to stress the importance of a promise to God (although it is quite important) as to dissuade people from making such a rash oath in the first place. Essentially, what it does is turn something normal or commonplace into another occasion for sin when you violate your promise.

While some of the great figures of the Bible were renown for their promises to God, such as Jacob’s vow to worship the Lord (Genesis 28:20-22) and the dedication of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:10-11), some of the greatest tragedies and blunders in the Bible also were a result of rash vows. The Israelite Judge Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the first person who came out of his house to meet him if God would grant him victory against the Ammonites. Not only was that an abomination to begin with, but it became even worse when his own daughter ended up being the one who greeted him (Judges 11:30-40). King Saul uttered another rash vow when, after a successful battle, he cursed every soldier who had any food before evening so that he could keep after his fleeing enemies. Not only did this leave the army too weak to enact the vengeance he planned effectively, but eventually his own son Jonathan paid the price when he violated the ban (1 Samuel 14:23-46). The bottom line: promises, oaths, vows, and pledges might sound all well and good, but they’re also easy ways to shoot yourself in the foot before God and man.

And yet, in spite of these Biblical warnings, I have found myself setting these same traps. Over the years I’ve made a few promises to God: pledging to not sin, pledging to do some great ministry service, pledging to treat a loved one very dearly…I don’t want to go into the specifics of each one, but suffice to say they weren’t “generalized” like I’m making them out here but had specific conditions. Do you know how many of those promises I ended up keeping? Zero. Every last one has been violated. I’m trying to work on keeping one for right now but the others are pretty much lost causes. So what does that make me and what does that mean? I was warned by the Bible not to make rash vows and I did it none the less. Why?

The fact of the matter is most of those were made getting caught up in the moment, and when I wasn’t feeling very “spiritually close” to God. I felt inadequate and like I wasn’t doing much; like my commitments weren’t really commitments. I felt I needed to say or do something to really stand out and affirm my belief in God. In some cases, I was even encouraged by a church sermon, challenged to show proof of my devotion to God and the Gospel. And so I made these rash vows, and rather than feeling closer to God as a result I only felt more shame and a sense of failure when I didn’t keep them.

People do promise things to God all the time, and not all of them are “bad” promises. If it’s in tune with one’s calling, then maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a sign of resolve and a reminder to go for something greater than yourself. But when I made my own vows, it was either out of compulsion or out of a desire to feel better about myself. In other words, it was either for a feeling or out of personal selfishness. Those weren’t good times to make promises, and when oaths are sworn out of sheer passion that’s never a virtue.

Most of all, if the whole reason for making the promise was simply to “prove myself holy” or “worthy” to God, then I wasted my time all along. I’m a sinner the same as everyone else. All worth I have now comes from the power of Christ’s Sacrifice, and His Gift already makes me perfect in the eyes of God. To think I needed to prove myself was both meaningless and vanity. While I should try to improve myself and I shouldn’t look for excuses for my sins, I also have to realize I’m human. I will make mistakes inevitably as part of my human condition, and, as with all mistakes, they’ll occur when I didn’t plan for or expect them. Therefore, it’s madness to compound them by making rash vows and tempt myself not to keep them.

As Lord Jesus Himself cautioned: “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

My suggestion for this devotional is if you feel like making a change for the better, just go ahead and do it. Give yourself reminders and set it as a written-down goal if need be, but don’t be as vain as I was and think you can flawlessly keep it if you promise it. Like the Bible says, you have no idea what will come up tomorrow (James 4:14).

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that while we may be dismayed or disappointed by human oaths and promises, you are God and your word is always true and reliable. Please forgive me for the sin of making rash oaths and vows myself, and grant me the wisdom and prudence not to hastily and thoughtlessly tie myself up in them; so that I neither create an opportunity to sin against you nor set myself up for disappointment. Rather, grant me the faith to depend on the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus and rely on His saving power to change me. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #137: “Say As I Do”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “All Bottled Up”

While modern culture, especially on the Internet, might disagree, I think it’s a pretty clear fact of life that, when it comes to friends, loved ones, or the far majority of people we meet on the street, we don’t want to say things to upset them…even if we need to.

Such was the dilemma Starlight Glimmer found herself in within this episode. Trixie, the first friend she had ever been able to make on her own, had lapsed into one of her normal bouts of selfishness and self-centeredness that caused Starlight no end of trouble for an entire day. But while she desperately wanted to call her out on it and vent her frustrations, she was scared at what the reaction would be and feared driving away one of her only friends.

In this particular case, it led to a rather amusing sequence where Starlight continued to bottle up her anger until it figuratively and literally broke free, resulting in more mayhem. But considering this sort of problem in a more general sense, it’s representative of a special problem to the Christian.

Witnessing is the biggest point of contention in Christianity, whether you’re a Christian or (ironically) not a Christian. It doesn’t take a relatively great amount of effort to practice witnessing in small ways, such as praying for friends and family, sharing a verse, paying for someone’s meal at a fast food place, or comforting someone who is visibly sad and depressed. But, one way or another, we all will eventually get to the point where we get an opportunity to talk more concretely about the Gospel and the Bible, and that’s where things that require more of a conscious investment take place.

On what I would call the “soft end” is stances on things like abortion and homosexual marriage. The harder stuff is the “first part” of the Gospel. To tell people about the glorious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and His love for the world, naturally we first have to tell people about why that sacrifice is necessary as is the need to accept it.

That’s not a very pleasant message to the nonbeliever. (Sometimes I think Christians lose sight of that in their witnessing. What someone might think is a glorious message of saving power and salvation might only be one to fellow Christians. To everyone else, it might sound very much like “join us or die and suffer eternally”. It seemed to be a pretty big theme in the New Testament that before people accepted the saving message of the Gospel, they were convicted, either by others, the Word, or themselves, that they were sinful and wanted more.) But nevertheless, sometimes we have to get into the “hard” stuff about the message, and that’s usually not a pleasant feeling. Most of us don’t want to say anything to upset or anger friends and loved ones, let alone total strangers. And to me that’s perfectly natural. We were designed to be social creatures. Again, contrary to what Internet posters or the news media would like you to believe, most people want to live in peace with each other. We don’t like doing things that will get society or even individuals upset at us.

Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes telling someone something unpleasant for their own good is something that needs to be done, like in this episode. And when it comes to the saving message of the Gospel, sometimes there’s no other recourse but to avoid any sugarcoating, dancing around the issue, or even being able to get away with sharing the Gospel “without words”, so to speak. The time will come when we’ll just have to come out and say it. The analogy that’s often used in sermons is if you see a person about to walk over a cliff and they don’t realize it, you would have to shout at them to stop to save their lives even if they didn’t want to hear it. And if we truly believe all people are doomed without the Gospel (“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]; “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”” [John 14:6]), then we have to share it as well in spite of how uncomfortable it might be at times.

And while this is a good point, it only introduces me to the main idea I want for this devotional.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any way to make this kind of testimony easier. But getting back to what I keep referring to, our modern culture and the need to always express our opinion about everything in our society, I have one item of advice that I think is worth noting.

I do see Christians online who preach the more difficult parts of the Gospel to accept, and I commend them for boldly doing so as it’s more than what I do, but often I strongly believe how they’re doing it is shooting themselves in the foot. Obviously, when they speak out like that, it invites nonbelievers to come in and start attacking the message and, occasionally, they themselves. That’s understandable, and it’s also an opportunity for dialogue if handled right. Yet this is where I see what could be an opportunity get hamstrung.

Oftentimes the Christian will get sucked into the same “game” and start attacking the individual and their own beliefs right back, which lowers them to their level. Not to mention that when other nonbelievers see this behavior, they conclude that all the Christian is trying to do is disparage everyone who isn’t one of them, which is what everyone else online does and, as a result, they consider Christianity with the same dim view as any other religion.

Other times I see Christians falling back on the same defense: saying that the reason their opponents don’t think their message is brilliant and good is because they are destined for destruction and the Word of God has been hidden from them, whereas all people who truly belong to Christ see how great it is. That may very well be true (See 2 Corinthians 4:4). It also may be true that the particular message may impact some and not others. It further might be true it was a message only “the choir” would appreciate. Finally, it might be true that the message was, quite simply, a bad message. After all, if every single word ever preached was good, proper, and perfect, we’d all still be Roman Catholics. (“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [1 John 4:1])

Finally, and most infuriatingly, so many Christians will outright insult their opponents on a long post and then end it with a “have a blessed day” or “God bless you” and a smiling emoji…as if that somehow negates the fact they insulted someone just to make themselves feel superior and clever. That is the absolute worst. In those instances, Christians don’t look like everyone else…they look worse than everyone else. Now everything they accuse us of is justified: that we’re snooty little busybodies who think we’re better than everyone when we’re supposed to recognize how broken we are. (There’s an easy way to avoid this one: don’t insult people to begin with.)

I’ve heard things from my loved ones before that were unpleasant to hear. Oftentimes I was angry at first and even reactionary. However, I also ultimately considered what they were saying and, in time (usually an hour or two), I began to accept what they were telling me. Why? Because I know them and I know they love me. I know they truly care about me and my well-being. Most of all, I know that they would not say something like that to willfully get me upset unless it was really for my own good, because they generally don’t say things to get me upset because they don’t want to.

And how does a Christian who goes out of their way to start political fights, mocks people of different races, creeds, or affiliations, and is always trying to be smarmy with biting insults toward people who disagree with them look when they’re saying something that says, in essence to the non-Christian, that they’re smarter and more favored by God than them?

To me, a good rule of thumb is to not look for trouble. It’s the responsibility of the witnessing Christian to police themselves and not be drawn into this modern culture tendency to vent hate and disgust at everything. While I don’t always succeed, I try not to start a fight about anything unless it’s something that’s worth fighting about…and, frankly, unless it’s a matter of life or death like the Gospel, there is nothing worth starting a fight about.

If we must look like “jerks” in the eyes of the world, let it be about something that we know is worth the reputation. Don’t take extra steps to earn it. As Paul cautioned in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you again for the sacrifice of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, by which the world is redeemed and reconciled to you and we can have eternal life in Heaven. As I have received this wonderful good news, I choose to share it with all those around me in some way today and every day by both the words I say and the life I live. As I commit myself to your commission, please strengthen me to avoid clinging to anything petty, selfish, or what serves to only justify myself and, as always, “speak the truth in love”. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Honest Fake Trailer: “Castlevania – Season One (Netflix)”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(The following is a ripoff of “Smoosh Games” as well as “Screen Junkies”, with the latter involved in making “Honest Trailers” for movies and the former involved in doing the same for video games. Both of them are great, funny, and voiced by Jon Bailey’s epic voice, so make sure to check them all out on YouTube.)

*WARNING! SPOILERS!*

From NETFLIX…

The odd hybrid of TV network and website that makes you get down on your knees and beg for additional seasons of your favorite shows…

And Adi Shankar…

The producer best known for that movie where Liam Neeson punches wolves and making obscure comic book fans cry for joy on giving them Judge Dredd media that doesn’t even mention the name Rob Schneider in it…

Comes the most shocking, disturbing, and bizarre work of the supernatural that the world has ever witnessed…

A video game adaptation that’s not terrible!

“CASTLEVANIA”

The time period is 1400s Wallachia, and the Inquisition is getting medieval on pretty much everybody…

When LISA TEPES is burned at the stake after being falsely accused of witchcraft…

Because being married to a guy with clearly visible giant fangs, pointed ears, and taloned hands who only comes out in the darkness isn’t suspicious at all…but owning a microscope and test tubes? DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS!

Her husband LORD VLAD DRACULA TEPES decides to pull a Frank-Castle-vania and carry out his violent genocide of the entire human race in retribution.

DRACULA: “Any one of them could have said ‘no’!”

(Shot of demon gargoyle carrying away a baby in its teeth.)

Yeah, that’s right, helpless babies! You should have shielded her with your rattles and screamed: ‘Goo-goo-GAH!’

Watch as the legendary lord of the undead unleashes a nightmarish army from hell to plague the earth…

…with a very grotesque sense of humor.

(I mean, come on. These things are strong enough to just rip and grind people up with their bare hands and blow up buildings with fireball breath, and yet rather than destroy this one town in one night they act like a bunch of demonic trolls. They kill kids in the middle of the night without killing the rest of the family, somehow rip out this one guy’s throat while he’s sleeping right next to his wife and she doesn’t notice until the next morning, and decide to take the time and effort to “redecorate” with heads and human entrails? And they’ve been doing this for, like, a couple nights now? Why are people still putting their kids in other rooms or sleeping above ground anyway?)

When Dracula’s rather-cool-looking-yet-incredibly-impractical-and-impossible-to-build castle rears its ugly flying buttresses and sends out its PM-shift-only hoards to slaughter mankind…

(Because those demons in the second episode are clearly out in the sun.)

It will be up to TREVOR BELMONT…house Belmont…last of the Belmont family…the legendary vampire killers…

To spend 85% of the series going around sulking and brooding in a Ned Stark cape and repeatedly try to convince the audience he doesn’t care…

(On leaving the Speakers) “I don’t care.”

(On meeting Sypha) “I don’t care.”

(On fighting Alucard) “I don’t care.”

…Until he finally does.

ALUCARD: “Do you care, Belmont?”

TREVOR: “Honestly, I didn’t. But now? Yes…it’s time to stop it.”

Took you long enough! There’s only seven minutes left in the season!

For years you’ve enjoyed the “Castlevania” franchise as it’s pit you through the many dark halls of Dracula’s castle, destroying every candle in sight and scarfing down pork chop a la wall as you battled nightmarish legions of the undead…

Now watch a series that features a mini-skirt wearing Belmont doing 90% less whipping and 300% more:

Swearing…

“Sh’t…” “Sh’t…” “F***…”

Ball-busting…

(Numerous groin hits)

ALUCARD: “This isn’t a bar fight. Have some class.”

And falling through floors.

(The pretty much continuous floor-falling of the fourth episode)

Brace yourself for an adventure with a legendary vampire killer who kills a grand total of three monsters…

(The two demon gargoyles and the stone cyclops)

And the rest of his time just maiming and killing normal humans…

(The various scenes of Trevor whipping and killing the bar patrons and corrupt clergymen.)

Because this plot makes the Roman Catholic Church look so demented, corrupt, insane, and evil that it practically makes the legion of wretched spawn from hell and their infernal undead overlord bent on massacring humanity actually look like the good guys.

BISHOP: “My life’s work is in his name!”

ALPHA DEMON: “Your life’s work makes him puke.”

But…there was Token Unnamed No-Lines Priest who was able to make holy water, so…good for Christianity…?

So sit down to binge watch and enjoy the entire imitation anime series…which should be pretty easy because even if you sit through the credits and the production logo at the end of every episode the entire season is shorter than the average movie…

And sink your teeth into a video game adaptation that doesn’t suck because it did one thing all the others before it didn’t do…

Wrapped the obligatory 10 minutes of pure gamer fanservice inside a DECENT PLOT.

And feel Dracula’s own personal anguish as you yourself are forced to wait one year for Season Two, all while debating the eternal question…

“Was this ‘Berserk’-knock-off really that amazing? Or has the bar for video game adaptations just been set so painfully low that anything above decent seems like ‘Citizen Kane’?”

STARRING…

Thorin Leatherwhip… (Trevor Belmont)

Hell-lander… (Vlad Dracula Tepes)

Medieval Belle… (Lisa Tepes)

Saipha Bellnadeez…S…Seefa Beelnaids…Sifha Bellnadas…Ugh, the witch from the game!… (Sypha Belnades)

Vampire Hunter D-elicious… (Alucard)

An old guy who took up way too much of Season One’s short run time… (The Head Speaker)

A fat guy who took up way, WAY too much of Season One’s short run time… (The guy going on about the goat in the tavern…)

Judge Claude Frollo… (The Bishop)

The Great Goblin’s Hideous Neck Sack… (The Archbishop)

AND NOT STARRING…

The one character you will hear nothing but whining and complaining about for the next six months from Internet trolls for not being in the series… (Grant Danasty)

And the one character the Internet trolls are being surprisingly quiet about for not being in the series. (Death)

“CASTLEVANIA: CRY OF JUBILATION…THAT IT’S NOT LIKE THE STREET FIGHTER MOVIE”


 

TREVOR: “What’ll one coin get me?”

SHOP VENDOR: “Bit o’ dried goat.”

TREVOR: “I’ll take it.”

Uh, Trevor, this is a Middle Ages market in a city with no sanitation or way to enforce laws that just got a surplus of ‘meat’ that’s not goat. I wouldn’t trust anything from the local butchers if I were you.

My Little Devotional #136: “What’s It Worth to You?”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Celestial Advice”

It’s a maxim so old, tried, and true that it doesn’t even need a proverb: you never know what you have until it’s gone.

Such was certainly true in this episode. Going in a bit of a different direction, I won’t so much refer to what happened to the characters as my own reaction to it. Like many fans, I didn’t like Starlight Glimmer that much going into this. I thought her redemption was too rushed and weak, she was made too much into “Pony Sue” and she distracted too much from the other characters. I also thought the Season Six finale was rather contrived in a flimsy attempt to make her look good by having her save everyone.

Yet in spite of all of that, I found an odd thing happening when this episode neared. The promos indicated a very real possibility that she might leave being a regular on the cast and only appear more at random like many other characters. The thought of her distancing herself from the rest of the Mane Six was something I thought would make me happy. It was, after all, what I thought I had wanted. And yet when the episode arrived, I actually found myself regretting it. I had learned to appreciate her character flaws for making her more real and relatable rather than someone to hate. I could see aspects of her in myself and in other people around me which made her easier to connect to. And her mere existence allowed greater possibilities for plots and the ability to see sides of others we hadn’t seen before. Finally, I appreciated her character type and way of doing things. To my astonishment, I didn’t want her to leave. And I actually liked it when the end of the episode revealed she was staying on.

This was kind of a flimsy example, but it got me thinking of more serious cases. It’s a common theme among older people, myself included, that we have lots of regrets about vast periods of our lives that were devoted to pointless worrying and wasted on what amounted to nothing. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and not everything that we see as unimportant as adults wasn’t important when we were younger, but that doesn’t make it any less regretful. It doesn’t make us think less of how much time we spent on things that didn’t matter and how much more we wish we had spent on things that were worthwhile. Part of that is a natural result of growing older. A lot of it, however, is maturity and the ability to gradually see things beyond yourself and the immediate desire.

A classic example is with friends and loved ones. It’s a common thing that when someone is alive you focus on things about them that annoy you or make you angry. Perhaps we even look for reasons to stay away from certain people, rant about what annoys us about them behind their backs, and even use them as anecdotes for what to avoid or who not to emulate. And then, when they pass on, we turn around and speak nothing but good about them and wonder why so much time was spent arguing and fighting, or focusing only on the “parts we disliked”, and not making more memories together while we could.

Perhaps years of family reunions pass in which one finds the experience boring or tedious and frequently excuses themselves; only for a patriarch or matriarch in charge of everything to stop holding them and, suddenly, they find themselves fully losing contact with the rest of their extended family. Perhaps one day one hears a news story about how an old acquaintance or even an old friend from high school ended up in an accident or died, and they realize they were so close by to where he or she lived yet he or she never bothered to stay in touch.

This, of course, doesn’t begin to get into times spent not trying out a new pursuit, or going on that vacation or mission trip, or pursuing that career or dream. Or other cases about deciding whether or not to build a family or visit an old home, school, or hangout more before it was torn down. Yet in all of these cases and many others, the same things always come to mind:

“Why did I spend so much time worrying about my job, or my car, or my house, or how I was going to pay this bill or wanting to watch that one TV show or wanting to do that hobby? Why didn’t I spend more time on this? Why did I think that other stuff was so important?”

Time, and age, is the greatest aid toward focusing one’s priorities. I’m at the age of my life where I find myself starting to realize some doors I didn’t go through when I had the chance are now closed to me forever, and I start wondering about what it will be like one day when I’m in my 70s or, God-willing, 80s. Thinking like that, a lot of priorities start to shift.

One of the reasons I believe I see a heavy bias toward older individuals as Christians is not just due to the changing times but the fact that, at some point, everyone is going to reach a time in their life where they’ll take a good look at where they’re at, see that they have fully come into their own as an adult, that they’re providing for themselves, making ends meet, perhaps are married and have a family of their own, and then ask themselves: “What now?” Do you just keep this going until you get too old to keep it up and then wait to die? Will all the thoughts, the hopes, and the dreams you had, fulfilled or unfulfilled, and all the feelings and experiences you went through all your life simply fade to nothing? Will I ever see those people who left an impact on me growing up again, or are they gone forever? What happens if I’m the last of my family to die? Will anyone know I was ever here in 100 years?

Some atheists and agnostics would say this is the point where the “cowards” turn to God. Fair enough. I’m sure some people embrace Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and any other religion you can think of simply because they’re scared to die and they want reassurance…although I would consider you a true rarity of an individual if you weren’t, at least at one point in your life regardless of your faith or lack thereof, afraid to die.

Yet death can happen at any time. You don’t have to be elderly to die tomorrow. And while death seems far more real as we get older, as I said before there’s more than just death that takes significance as you get older. You learn to appreciate life better. You learn to see how foolish some of the things we did as children and teenagers were; not just in how we treated ourselves through reckless behavior but how we treated others, such as parents we used to think were “smothering” us or acts we did to others out of spite or meanness that we realize served no purpose. We reach the point where we’ve mastered things such as driving, housework, and home repair and have become totally self-sufficient, where we have the ability to treat ourselves to what we like, and we start realizing there’s always something else we need to get, drink, or do in order to get the “buzz” that we thought we would get from the last thing we indulged in. We start realizing small moments such as sitting together on a porch or taking a walk were far more important than we ever realized, and we put far more stock in time than in our youth when it seemed that was all we had. We stop thinking about taking care only of ourselves and start wondering what sort of legacy we’re going to leave behind. All of these things come with age and also turn people to the Bible, God, and Lord Jesus…in my experience far more than the fear of death.

Lord Jesus Christ came to Earth to give people life and give it more abundantly, as He promised (John 10:10). He did so by paying the ultimate price for the sins of you, me, and everyone in the world through His crucifixion on Calvary; wiping away all of the evil we have ever done and will ever do so long as we trust in Him and accept His Sacrifice so that one day we can have eternal life with Him in Heaven. “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Yet He didn’t come simply to make us spend our lives toiling in misery and hoping for death so we can collect on that gift. The Kingdom of God is at hand within us (Luke 17:20-21). He came to give people liberty from their worries, their fears, their pasts, and their pains now. To turn people away from living in dread and fear of the future and in its place to give them hope. To have them stop thinking only of the pain, toil, drudgery, and ultimate futility of this life and to live in happiness and faith at our destiny and joy at how every person, no matter who they are or where they are, is not only a precious Child of God (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26) but can make this world better today. To not focus so much on ourselves and everything wrong that we can’t see the beauty and opportunity in what we have all around us.

If you would like to invite Jesus into your life to become your own personal Lord and Savior, to be freed from your sins and have the promise of eternal life, and to start seeing this world and everything around you in a whole new way with new appreciation, you can do so by praying today’s suggested prayer (borrowed from In Touch Ministries) or something like it:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

My Little Devotional #135: “All for You”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “To Where and Back Again”

Starlight Glimmer was in her own personal worst-case scenario in this episode. After inadvertently reliving her disastrous past where her “leadership” was used as an excuse to intimidate and dominate others, she finds herself unwillingly thrust into a situation where she must reluctantly take the mantle of leadership again to direct three very unruly individuals on a rescue mission against Queen Chrysalis; made worse by the fact she has no magic to handle the problem herself for once. Although this is quite possibly the last thing she would want to do, she realizes there’s no one else to help, and that if she wants to save her friends and her country she has to bite back her fears and hesitation and go ahead regardless.

As children, we often daydream of adventure and action and going through lots of extreme situations involving danger and brave decisions, much like characters in books and movies that we enjoy. As adults, once reality sets in, the fact is we’d usually prefer to avoid such things. While I believe the greatest enemy of Christian action in the world is apathy, I think a close second is a very emotional reaction: fear.

When it comes to trying to share the Gospel, or even simply standing up for Biblical values, fear always seems to be a factor. There’s the natural fear of public speaking or sharing something about Jesus or the Bible, as they’re not part of what is normal conversation or interaction (especially when ministering to a stranger). Then there’s the fear of not saying or doing something in the right way–trying to convey one message and then being so stunned and awkward that it becomes completely botched and misses the point we were trying to make. And, of course, there is the fear of rejection. Hostility, anger, insults, or even simply starting an argument from who we’re trying to share the Gospel with are all unwelcome possibilities.

The worst part to me of all of these fears, which can and have left me crippled and tongue-tied…unable to even say “hello” to people before, is the knowledge that this is nothing compared to the fears that Christians have around the world in more persecuted countries. Knowing I’m tongue-tied about sharing a Bible verse or two with someone else while in other countries Christians boldly preach the Gospel in the face of threats of violence, loss of job, loss of property, loss of social status, and possibly even death leaves me feeling disheartened, meager, and inadequate.

I imagine I’m not alone in these feelings, and as such I imagine some, if not most, of us often enthusiastically pray to God to be used by him in the safety of Church only to grow nervous, shy away, and try to think up an excuse when the time actually comes around. The question is how do we conquer this fear to do what needs to be done when we see a genuine need in the world that will require some effort and, dare I say, danger and un-comfortability on our part to satisfy it?

I wish I could say it was simply a matter of “just pray about it”. While I still encourage everyone to do that, there’s no guarantee that will take away the fear all together–just give the courage to proceed in spite of it. That’s not always easy. I also would say in spite of the fact that the sufferings and issues of American Christians might be insignificant compared to those of Christians around the world, that doesn’t de-legitimize whatever holds us back. (After all, would you go up to a parent who just lost a child and say, “Buck up; Job lost ALL his children plus his livelihood and savings in one day!” and expect them to feel encouraged?) But how do we overcome this fear?

To me, I think a large part of the answer lies in the Bible quotation: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) At the time, John the Baptist was referring to his own glory diminishing to make was for the Glory of the Son of God, in particular within their respective earthly ministries, but this is one Bible passage that I take in a different light to apply to us all as Christians. Like many passages in the Bible that encourage the gradual maturation and perfection of the self, this one, at least to me, focuses on the point of maturity to shift away from the self and toward God and others.

Case in point: let’s say you’re outdoors somewhere with a group of people and one person accidentally upsets a hornet’s nest. Odds are you’re going to bolt for it immediately along with everyone else. If the person who upset it trips and falls, there’s a chance you might be brave and altruistic enough to go back to help them up, but it’s more likely you’re thinking about letting them be stung rather than get yourself and them stung. Now…let’s say that person is your child. The hornets are just as dangerous as before but something tells me the danger and fear matters considerably less now. The focus of your fear, now, is on the well-being of your child. And most of us would probably not only go back but, if the child was small enough, we’d pick them up and run faster with them and try to absorb as many of the stings as we could. Again, the threat was just as bad as before…perhaps even worse since you went back…but it mattered less because someone you loved more than yourself was in danger.

And to me, that’s the ticket. That’s what I get from that verse. As we mature and connect with other people and with God, we grow not only to love God and others but to love them more than ourselves (which are the two greatest commandments to begin with [Matthew 22:36-40]). And when you love someone, care for them, and wish their safety and well-being more than your own, then all those other personal fears and dangers don’t really matter. There are plenty of places in this world I could go and things I could do that I would never do on my own even if you paid me. Yet if it was to try and help a family member or someone I loved who was in danger, I’d go and do anyway because I wouldn’t care what happened to me. In the same way, the more we move past our own fears and insecurities and think about others, the more inclined we will be to act without fear…and, in my personal belief, the more inclined we will be to act on God’s Word and direction without prompting or “needling”.

Last but not least, remember that if you’re feeling too nervous or fearful to carry out what you feel is the Will of God in your life, be encouraged to know you’re in good company. Gideon required not one but three miracles before he acted on God’s word (Judges 6:17-21,36-40). Peter denied Jesus three times when he was close enough for Jesus to actually see him doing it, and right after a few hours ago swearing he would go to death with Him (Luke 22:54-62) (although even that was better than most of the Apostles…who simply ran and didn’t look back). Jonah tried putting himself as far away from the place of his ministry as possible (Jonah 1:1-3). And as for Moses? He practically begged God not to do his will (Exodus 4:1-17).

Into everyone’s life, so long as they’re human and carrying out God’s Word, will come fear, hesitation, reluctance, and failure. That’s inevitable. What’s important is to keep growing toward maturity, keep focused on others and God outside of our own fears and doubts, and to keep picking yourself up and trying again.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that failure is truly never final; that so long as there is life in me each day I can become whatever you desire me to be in spite of whatever happened the day before. Please grant me the same love for others that you have, so that all of my actions today will be motivated by love of you and of others; and that by feeling the same love you have I can better do your will. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #134: “My God Ate It”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Top Bolt”

Today’s episode featured a pair of Wonderbolt Academy candidates: Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail: two pegasi who had been friends since childhood and flying together for years. Unfortunately, their friendship hadn’t entirely been a healthy one, as it was revealed that while Sky thought of himself as being an expert flier, many of his more amazing stunts and feats were a result of Vapor assisting him by flying alongside him. Furthermore, Vapor herself was pretty much not thinking about what to do with her life beside help Sky succeed, only intent on devoting her energy to assisting him at her own expense. This came to a head when both reached the Wonderbolt Academy and the two learned they would have to perform in solo trials, which would expose Sky’s shortcomings and force Vapor to evaluate her own decision to be in Wonderbolt Academy.

One of the big conflicts in this episode that Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle went through was the decision to expose what was happening to Sky, as he was unaware of how this relationship was working out and attributed all of his success to his own talent. Rainbow Dash and Vapor Trail alike insisted that the truth be concealed to keep him from losing his confidence, and Vapor was even more upset at Dash and Twilight when the truth came out as it prompted Sky to accuse her of trying to sabotage him when he found his previous “swelled head” opinion of himself wasn’t justified. Yet for all of the anger and shaken confidence that resulted, none of that changed the simple fact that it was all going to come out in the solo trials whether Sky and Vapor liked it or not. Both had to “pony up” and take responsibility for their own performances. Hiding from the truth wasn’t helping anyone or changing anything; it was only making it worse the longer it went unexposed. (And truth be told, it probably would have had a much lesser strain on their relationship if it had come out before they both hit Wonderbolt Academy.)

There’s a couple of bumper stickers that came out years back, one after the other. One read: “God is my Copilot”. Yet not long after that one became popular and widespread, another sticker came out reading: “If God is your Copilot, switch seats”. The idea behind the latter sticker was one that’s prevalent in a lot of churches nowadays: everything should be a complete and total dependency on God. No decision should be made that’s not influenced by God, and every single matter, great or small, should be relied on God to overcome rather than our own effort. While I can agree with this to an extent, I personally think it might be taking things too far.

I believe God wants us to trust in him at all times and to live lives devoted toward bringing the Kingdom of God and glory to him, to rely on him and his Word when making decisions, and to trust in him in times of trouble. But to rely on God for absolutely everything and not the slightest bit on our own work or actions is unhealthy and irresponsible.

Here’s a basic example. Let’s say I have an unhealthy lifestyle of eating a lot of junk food and not exercising enough. I start getting overweight with high blood pressure and shortness of breath. So what do I do? During an altar call for “faith healing”, I pray to God to miraculously take away my high blood pressure and shortness of breath, and then I resume my unhealthy lifestyle. In this case, would it make sense for God to give me a miracle to heal me so that I can go right back to my unhealthy habits?

Here’s a darker example. Let’s say that my habit is alcohol. I go out every weekend and get intoxicated, and a number of times I’ve lost control while drunk and said and done things to others I’ve regretted later, and on top of that I regularly try to drive myself home. Before I get in the car each time, I pray to God to not only get me home safe but to miraculously restore my relationships with people I may have hurt through my bad choices. Would it make sense for God to “fix everything” there?

Constantly relying, either consciously or unconsciously, on someone else to spare you the consequences of your own poor choices isn’t a mark of faith or trust; it’s a mark of personal irresponsibility, immaturity, and dependency. Often, in the case of with people (such as in this episode), it involves the “enabler” being a friend or loved one who is determined to spare the other party the negative consequences of their actions for fear of what will happen to the dependent (just as Vapor didn’t want Sky’s confidence ruined or to be yelled at and accused of backstabbing). That is when it becomes co-dependency.

God does not encourage co-dependency. While God desires people to follow his Will and instruction, he never promises that there will be no difficulty. He promises that he will see them through any difficulty. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Hardships and challenges are what push us and drive us to make us grow. Being delivered from hardships and challenges keeps us where we are. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

There’s no baseball player out there who just got up one day and started hitting home runs and making double plays. There was an awkward time where they clumsily swung the bat and missed pitches being hit to them. No one just wakes up and goes out to pick up their driver’s license. They have to go to a parking lot or out somewhere and fumble trying to master control of the car before they’re suitable enough to pass a test. You can’t go up to a professor at a university, have them wave their hands over you, and say: “boom, you’re an engineer now”. You have to put in the time and hours to study and learn how to be one. And you can’t pray to God to miraculously make you a star ball player, mechanical engineer, or a car driver either. You have to do these things yourself and take responsibility for them even if God is directing you to become or do those things.

And sitting around saying: “those classes are too hard”, “I don’t need to practice”, or “these rules are boring” are just excuses to exerting personal responsibility. So would be blaming the instructors for being “out to get you” or pouting and refusing to exert any effort, like Sky ended up doing.

The entire generation that God personally delivered from slavery in Egypt was brought to the borders of the Promised Land; which God had guaranteed to them if they would rise up and take it. Yet when they saw that they were going to have to fight for it and that there were opponents to overcome, they started making excuses of how it was impossible for them to win, which eventually turned to lamenting that they had ever left Egypt at all and even to wanting to stone Moses for bringing them that way to begin with. As a result, that entire generation died in the desert around the Promised Land without ever setting foot in it; because they preferred to make excuses rather than exert any personal responsibility toward seizing the promise God had given them. (Numbers 13-14)

To me, that’s one of the greatest Biblical examples of need for personal responsibility. We would all do well to take it to heart.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your promise never to leave me or forsake me, and to be with me always until the end of the age. Grant that I have the faith to believe in this wholeheartedly and act upon it; both in carrying out your will for me and in doing what I need to do in order to be a mature individual and grow past my sins and deficiencies. And give me the wisdom to never use you as a crutch or excuse to doing what I need to do for myself. Let me seize everything you have set out for me to take. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #133: “Bending the Rules”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Where the Apple Lies”

In my college days, when I was more prone to starting arguments over Christianity, one of the big complaints I heard from non-Christians about my faith was the claim that the Bible contradicts itself. And, admittedly, I can see how that would be an issue in certain places. Jesus Himself addressed it in the New Testament when referring to the case in which David and his followers ate the “showbread”, bread that could only be eaten by the priestly class according to the Mosaic Law, and yet that was never counted as a sin against him (Mark 2:25-26). Yet there are a lot of other heavier examples than that one.

The old Mosaic Law clearly stated that killing was prohibited. It was one of the Ten Commandments that all of the Israelite community heard and wasn’t just handed down to Moses, for that matter (Exodus 20:13). And yet, not long after that, the Israelites waged a God-ordered military campaign against the resident tribes in the land of Canaan. The Israelites were also ordered not to intermarry with any of the Moabites, who were not only often regarded as perpetual enemies but also were feared for turning the hearts of Israel away from worship of God toward pagan gods (1 Kings 11:1-2), and yet King David’s great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabite and actually has a book of the Bible devoted to her. The Mosaic Law had prescriptions against defrauding and cheating with an emphasis on being honest in dealing with others (Leviticus 19:11, 13, 35-36), and yet the nation of Israel’s founding started with Jacob cheating his brother out of his father’s blessing (Genesis 27). And there’s no question that the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ seemed to nullify some parts of the old Mosaic Law (we no longer stone people for doing work on the Sabbath, after all) while some parts remained completely intact (you still aren’t allowed to steal; Sacrifice of Lord Jesus or not).

What all of this gives a sense of is, in spite of the claims of objectivity, that morality according to the Bible is nothing more than whatever is relative: whatever gets the “right” party what they want at the time. The rules only apply whenever its convenient. This is certainly the impression that many non-Christians receive, and what those who are against religion in general claim Christianity is guilty of the same as all other major world religions. If nothing else, one can make the claim that there are no “hard rules” when it comes to Christianity. That everything is ultimately based on a standard at the time. And if that’s the case, is what we call “sin” permissible every once in a while? Is sin even something concrete and objective to begin with? Is there really anything that can be considered definitively evil?

The fact of the matter is I don’t know what the answer is to all of this. I struggle with it every once in a while myself, and when other Christians have tried to “explain” the heavier portions I’ve been left either unsatisfied with the answers or even angry with them. I could argue that no system is absolute all the time, and that if people will criticize religion for it then human secular institutions are far more guilty. After all, most countries on Earth forbid murder for any reason yet they definitely have militaries and police forces that can do so whenever they need to. Neither does any country have a totally blameless past even if they laud themselves now. The United States, for example, prides itself in the modern day as being an example of freedom and liberty, and yet it spent decades instituting laws that denied its own citizens full citizenship and freedom, and enacted policies of murder of the native inhabitants of North America and theft of their land. That means that there are two principles that apply to human society and history regardless of which religion (or lack thereof) that you endorse: (1) there are some times people have to do certain things even if they never would normally do so or if they had no other choice; and (2) just because a society or people are where they are today as a result of doing something genuinely evil does not make that past act morally right.

This devotional, however, focuses on the former case in regards to individuals: are there times when it is “ok to sin”? Applying the case of killing to an individual, we can all agree that murder is morally wrong, but we would be excused if we were trying to defend ourselves from someone seeking our own life and had no other choice. Yet what about in smaller situations, like in this episode?

Applejack made a deal that she shouldn’t have as she had no authority to make it, but when it looked like it might hurt her family business she tried telling a “little white lie” to hopefully get out of it. Obviously, Applejack was trying to cover up her own mistake, which might not be too acceptable; but she was also trying to keep from inadvertently hurting her family’s business relationship, which is more of a gray area. When her own mistake could lead (unjustly) to her grandmother’s reputation being hurt by telling the truth, what should she do then?

In the same vein, what about when we want to tell lies to avoid upsetting people, such as telling them the dinner they worked hard making for us tastes horrible or honestly telling them how they look when they’re sick in the hospital? And surely if someone was a government agent who had been captured by a hostile nation and was being interrogated, it would make sense to lie to protect one’s own nation and people. Or think to places like Nazi Germany where a citizen might be hiding a political refugee, perhaps even saving their lives, in their homes, and a corrupt government comes to their house demanding to know if they are hiding someone. Surely we would say it would be idiocy or even immorality to not lie in that situation. Is it acceptable to sometimes deceive via lying if the truth could lead to disastrous consequences?

I’m not going to pretend that I know what to say for all situations. This isn’t something that can be answered with an umbrella statement. Yet to me what everything ultimately boils down to, and what Jesus Himself seemed to indicate, was what’s on the inside. Motive, spirit, and intent. It was keeping with the spirit of the Mosaic Law that Jesus emphasized, as it is impossible for mankind to keep the Law perfectly to begin with anyway. In doing so, in some cases He lowered the standards set by the Law (John 8:7) while in other cases He made them far stricter (Matthew 5:27-28); yet at all times it ultimately came to what was the spirit of man in committing the deeds. If I tell a lie, is it because I don’t want to hurt someone or because I want to protect myself? If I cause another harm, whether mentally or physically, is it because it was pain that was needed to unsettle them from where they were or was it out of spite, anger, vengeance, or a desire to see them suffer? If I’m going to engage in an act of civil disobedience, is it because I want to draw attention to a greater crime that needs to be addressed or is it because I want to use it as an excuse for lawlessness to sate my own personal anger?

Yet even then, it’s important to always note that sin isn’t sin simply because some stone tablets say so. Sin is what it is because it’s destructive and brings death and misery to those who practice it and end up on the receiving end of it. God’s commands and instructions aren’t just to give us special hoops to jump through but because things that are prohibited are almost always genuinely bad. We can probably always find an “exception” to most crimes (i.e. stealing might be wrong; but if you have to either starve to death or steal a piece of food to save yourself it might be possibly overlooked that one time, especially if restitution is made later), but the reason the rule is in place is because in the far majority of cases it’s a genuine crime, and in the small set of cases in which it might not be it’s dangerously easy for a potential transgressor to fool themselves into thinking it’s for a good cause rather than their own selfish desires. As said in earlier devotionals, the key is always to be honest with yourself and strive for a pure heart and a clean conscience. When your primary motivation is to love and to serve God and others wholeheartedly and selflessly, then that motive should help guide you toward making the right choices.

For that reason, devotional life can never be discounted. Reading what God’s Word says about a certain situation and praying over a course of action are both good ways to make sure that we’re always treading the right road and that we do indeed have the best motives. So can being accountable to someone else. As Proverbs says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (14:12). Most translations add “to a man”, and to me that illustrates that it’s very easy to talk ourselves into something that ends up appearing perfectly good, but once we talk about it to someone else the truth becomes clear. It’s yet another reason why the true essence of Christianity lies in the community and not the individual.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the instruction found in your Word, which guides us in truth even when we are tempted to rationalize or reason away our actions. Help me to always strive to live in harmony with it and to place you and your Kingdom first in all of my actions and deeds, and thereby maintain a clean conscience and keep from sinning against you and others. Please help me to pursue accountability for my own actions as well so that I can keep from deceiving myself into committing transgressions and selfishness. Lastly, as far as I am able, please help me to live an honest and truthful life with you, with others, and with myself. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #132: “The Way I See It…”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)”

I had a devotional about this topic before, but as it’s a timely one that doesn’t get touched on much, I feel it’s appropriate to revisit it.

In this episode, Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie have a disastrous time on a boating trip, yet when they try to explain who was at fault to Twilight Sparkle she receives three different accounts…none of which agree with each other. After carefully considering all three stories and the common elements, it turns out none of the stories reflected reality at all, yet it wasn’t fair to call them “lies” either. Each individual believed they were giving the honest truth, but the problem was each one focused only on certain aspects, distorted and warped them to suit their notions, and ignored everything else. That didn’t stop them all from insisting that their stories were perfectly true, however, and actually getting angry when disbelief was indicated.

I rarely read political news anymore, because whenever I do I feel like I’m losing my mind. Part of that is due to the fact that I look in on both right-leaning networks as well as left-leaning networks, and some days the same reporting on the same incident is so wildly different between the two you’d think the same thing happened in two alternate universes. That clearly shows that objective reporting is dead, as I highly doubt that one of the networks is saying the completely honest truth while the other is telling bold-faced lies. Nor do I believe that either side (at least not completely) is out to totally distort everything to delude people. Rather, I think either network is made up of people of the same political ideology and they, like all of us, see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. Back when I was in college I heard the Christian Science Monitor had a reputation for being one of the genuinely unbiased news sources out there. I read an article from them and I was overwhelmed. Seeing a news report that genuinely just reported facts without any spin or bias was so shocking that it hardly even looked like what we call “news” nowadays. (I can only hope it’s continued that trend…)

Usually it’s impossible to get either side to look in on the other’s network. In fact, usually when you suggest it, you get mocked for being a “mindless sheep”…as if the person who did the mocking wasn’t already clinging to their own source as absolute “Gospel”.  The fact this exists at all in news is distressing, but it really does just simply illustrate the greater truth about people in general.

People claim that they want to hear all of the facts to know the truth about something and then make a decision, but this is usually a lie or, at minimum, a form of self-delusion. The reality is none of us see the world the way it is no matter how many facts we read. We always see the world the way we are.

This isn’t any clearer than in the political stories I just mentioned. I’ll take the recent incidents with the James Comey hearing. Once it was concluded, one side claimed that it completely vindicated the Trump administration of any wrongdoing whatsoever. The other side claimed it was such a scathing indictment that they could start impeachment proceedings immediately. That’s insane. The exact same factual event happened, and yet two different news sources said two completely different things occurred. But this sort of self-delusion and distortion of truth can happen anywhere, especially within us.

Just as a personal example, as I’ve said before, I suffer from perfectionism; the need to be externally pleasing and do things just right in order to be a good and conscientious person. Sometimes that can interfere with my work. Let’s say I put in a full day during a busy schedule and it’s time for me to head out. Sometimes, however, I’m afraid to. Knowing it’s a busy time, I’m afraid that this will reflect poorly on my work ethic because I’m not willing to put in extra time. Sure I’m not required to put in more, but if I don’t will that show I’m not willing to make any sort of sacrifice for the team? And sure, my supervisor may be fine with me putting in normal hours, or perhaps even has said to me before not to work later, but I second guess myself. What if he didn’t really feel that way? What if that was just something he said to be polite? What if he naturally expects that advice to be ignored by anyone else on the team? What if he expects me to put in at least a little extra time? What if I inadvertently slacked off today and I really am “in the red” when it comes down to it? It’s not long before I start imagining scenes of my supervisors being disappointed with me or angry about failure to turn things in. Sometimes I even obsess over it all weekend, ruining what down time I do get. And this is all in the face of compliments and praise I get both at work and on my performance reviews. None of those things matter anymore. My perfectionism now dictates reality to me rather than having the ability to see things the way they are.

Bad childhood experiences, past hurts, phobias, irrational fears…all of these things can do the same to people. People might stay isolated and alone because they think everyone is untrustworthy and “out to get them”. Or maybe people choose only to see acts of violence or crime by individuals of a certain race on TV and conclude an entire race is bad, while ignoring hundreds of thousands of members of the same race who are neither violent nor criminals. Perhaps they say all Christians or Muslims are psychopaths because of a terrorist attack, while they ignore millions that live normal, peaceful lives. Or maybe they demand that a particular race, creed, or religion “prove” their peacefulness by demanding they denounce and rally against an act of violence or terror…while at the same time if a member of their own race, creed, or religion does the same they get angry if someone tries to say it’s representative of them.

From a personal standpoint, I believe that one can conclude God is real and that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Savior of Mankind through exposure to genuine Christians, one’s own conscience, and the natural world along with the Bible. And people who are honestly seeking God or truth have indeed become Christian as a result of doing so. Yet there are others who demand more concrete proof before they will say they believe in God. For them, there’s all sort of books like “Jesus Freaks” and “The Case for Faith”, as well as personal witnessing, testimony, and miracles from thousands of Christians worldwide; but more often than not they’ll say: “that’s not ‘concrete’ enough…I need real proof”. For those people, I’m not even sure Jesus Christ manifesting Himself before them would be enough, because they’ve already concluded God isn’t real. At this point, in their mind it’s simply rationalizing away anything that says contrary.

If you’ve read the first few books of the Bible, you’re familiar with how the Israelites that left Egypt during the Exodus almost continuously complained against Moses and sought to return to Egypt after every difficulty that arose, and this was after they saw God bring the plagues of Egypt, part the Red Sea, feed them daily with manna, and guide them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It’s easy for us to shake our heads and laugh at these people, but I take it more seriously. If even they continuously doubted God when he acted explicitly on their behalf, how much less would it take us to fall away from faith and start seeing the world through our own narrow vision?

I believe one of the most important instructions the Bible emphasizes is the need to be honest with ourselves and, above all, to strive to remove any inner lies and deception from inside ourselves. I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (Psalms 36:1-2); “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24); “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

So long as we aren’t honest with ourselves, we will distort the world and everything we see and hear to fit our own warped lenses. And when that happens, we will never accurately see any truth, including God’s Truth.

A good prayer for today (and perhaps regularly) might be to ask God to confront us with anything that we are being dishonest or in denial about, so that we can remove it and clearly see what we’re overlooking. This isn’t necessarily easy, because the first step of this is admitting that we’re currently wrong about something we may have a strong opinion about and even adamantly defend. Yet if we want to keep growing to become more mature and perfect in Christ, we have to be willing to face it. As Lord Jesus said: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your instruction to be on guard against self-deception and the warning for the consequences. Please help me to always be honest with myself so I can see the world clearly and truthfully, as you do, rather than to suit whatever distortion I want to see. In doing so, help me to live a life more eagerly pursuing genuine truth, including your truth. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”