Monday, January 31, 2011
In anticipation of my two-part interview with Brent Weeks, we're going to take a brief topical detour and come back to the book of Romans two weeks from now.
Many Christians have grown up with the understanding that some forms of entertainment should be off limits and are sinful by their very nature. And it's certainly true that there are forms of entertainment that stimulate sin in us virtually by nature, such as pornography. (Matthew 5:28)
But what about other forms of “unsterilized” entertainment that have had fingers wagged at them for decades? Role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, violent video games, movies and books with coarse language or sexual humor, or fiction with dark supernatural themes. The Bible seems to be nearly silent on the topic of fictional entertainment. Is there anything in scripture we can use to help us navigate this issue and avoid problems while not hindering the freedom God intends us to have?
There's actually more than you might think! And God wants us to take this kind of time to discern the difference between what is harmful and what is not, rather than just assuming based on tradition or cultural influence.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 “but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
The Greek word for “form” here means “appearance, fashion, shape or sight.” Paul is not saying to avoid anything that LOOKS like evil. (Good luck with THAT!) He’s saying to determine what is good and what is not, and then abstain from evil, no matter what it looks like or how it shows up.
Before we dive in, I first want to point out that the application for much of what we discover in this look at the Bible is only for "grey areas" of scripture. If the Bible identifies something as sin in black and white, it's sin, no matter how you or I may feel about it. But hopefully passages like these will help us navigate other waters more safely and confidently.
We should also be careful that we don’t try to use what we look at today as a smokescreen to get people off our backs so we can continue to live unexamined lives. My hope is that if nothing else, this will act as a conversation starter. As Christians we've got to get better at talking about what we believe, whether it’s with Christians or non-Christians, in a way that is humble and even -tempered.
First let's take a look at the issue of language. Although most Christians seem to have developed a list of words that are "bad", the Bible never gives us a list of words we should avoid using. But it does have a lot to say about our speech. Just a few examples include:
Proverbs 4:24 “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” (The Hebrew words for "crooked" and "devious" here mean "deceitful" and "willfully determined to do what is unexpected or undesired")
Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Ephesians 5:4 “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.“
The Greek for "filthiness" here means "that which brings shame" or "intending to stimulate sexual appetite or lust". The Greek for "foolish talk" here means "speech that demonstrates the lack of character in a person". The Greek for "crude joking" here refers to joking that intends to stimulate sexual appetite or lust.
In these verses we see that our speech shouldn't be manipulative or deceitful. We shouldn't say anything that validates a lustful mentality. We should speak with the intention of being favorable to the sensitivities of others. Beyond that, we have a lot of freedom!
You might notice that all of this is instruction about what we, personally, should or shouldn't do. They are not immediately related to fictional entertainment we might create or enjoy. In this regard, there are some other verses to consider:
1 Corinthians 10:31-32 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.”
In Greek, the phrase "give no offense" as used here can mean either "do not offend" or "do not cause to stumble". So as we tell stories (or run role-playing games), we should aim to avoid offending those our fiction is intended for. We should also avoid creating anything that validates sinful thoughts or behavior, since this can cause someone else to "stumble". However, within these guidelines, there is still a wide variety of "unsterilized" content we can and, for the sake of good fiction, sometimes SHOULD include. (After all, there is nothing "glorifying to God" about boring, poor quality fiction.)
When it comes to the kind of language we should allow ourselves to ingest in fiction, this is entirely based on the effect it has on our lives.
Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
As established before, we want to avoid offending others. And certain language can be offensive to others when used in conversation. So if enjoying certain kinds of fiction with certain types of language causes us to "slip" more often and offend others with our words, we should avoid that kind of fiction, or make sure it doesn't affect the control we have over our speech.
ROUGH LANGUAGE/ "4-LETTER WORDS"
But in a room containing only people who will not be offended or "tripped up" by rough language, there’s no sin in using it. I can't find any scripture that argues otherwise.
In my own life, I avoid most words that the average Christian would consider offensive… when I’m around the average Christian. But alone with my wife or a friend I know won't be the least offended, I’ll use the occasional “rough word”, for effect or emphasis.
Even the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul, being inspired by God to do so, used some pretty rough language as they represented God to others.
For example, in Philippians chapter 3, as Paul compares his "praiseworthy" background with what he has gained through Christ, he says he thinks of it all as "rubbish". The Greek word here for "rubbish" means “refuse, such as the excrement of animals”. So Paul was saying nearly the equivalent of the word “crap” and if we’re honest, very possibly the equivalent of a stronger 4-letter word. (Rhymes with "grit")
In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet says that our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment, or filthy rags. The Hebrew here refers to menstrual cloths. Yes, those kind. We're talking about the equivalent of a used tampon or maxi-pad. A pretty vile image.
As a side note, if you’re not accustomed to looking into the original language meaning of words in the Bible, you can make sure I’m not “pulling a fast one” on you by using a concordance and Greek/Hebrew dictionary (very easy to find) or a site like blueletterbible.org to verify the information I’m presenting.
My point is not that all language is appropriate at all times around all people. But clearly, we can’t assume that there is a list of “bad words” God unquestionably wants us to avoid at all times. Nor should we expect that “good Christians” will have that kind of view about language and four letter words. And when it comes to enjoying fictional entertainment with some rough language in it, even less immediate judgment should be made.
It may be a valid strategy to ban “4-letter words” from our homes until our children are old enough to understand when these words should and shouldn’t be used. But to teach our children or other Christians that these words are all “bad” by nature is to teach something unsupported by the Bible.
Doesn't the Bible say not to "curse"? What does that mean?
Here are two examples of how the Bible commonly uses the word "curse":
Ecclesiastes 10:20- Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.
"Curse"= (Hebrew) qalal- (in negative relational contexts) to make despicable, to curse, to treat with contempt, bring contempt or dishonour
Romans 12:14- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
"Curse"= (Greek) kataraomai- to curse, doom, imprecate evil upon
The Biblical usage of "cursing" has to do with wishing evil on someone or bringing contempt on someone. The word "damn" can be used in this way, which IS sin. And when used with the intention of actually wishing someone to be eternally "damned", it's also presumptuous and judgmental, since a person's final judgment is not our call, but God's alone. (For example, saying and genuinely meaning "Damn you".)
But most times "damn" is not used this way today, and is instead a thoughtless exclamation. Much like hitting my hand with a hammer and saying "crap!" is not a command for myself or someone else to actually poop. (Or a shocked observation that I have just seen poop.) In this way, "damn" is often a figure of speech that is not an expression of someone's desire to (as the Bible defines cursing) have evil or contempt come on someone else. So I have to conclude that, provided it doesn't result in offending anyone who hears it, the use of the word "damn" or even the exclamation "damn it" is often times not sinful.
It should also be mentioned that the same level of "cursing" can be committed (and most often is) without using a word like damn. Any verbal expression of contempt for someone without the use of four-letter words, is just as much a "curse" as an expression of contempt that does use a four letter word.
"TAKING THE LORD'S NAME IN VAIN"
Exodus 20:7- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
The Hebrew word for "name" here refers not just to God's proper name, Yahweh. It refers to his entire reputation. The Israelites were being commanded not to speak of or mention God in a thoughtless or disrespectful way.
And although we are not bound by Old Testament law, a similar idea is expressed in Mathew 5:33-35 and is naturally included in the greatest commandment, to love God with every fiber of our being. (Mark 12:28-30)
To use references to God(God, Christ, Jesus, Yahweh) as slang or exclamations could be strongly argued to be disrespectful.
Some may also argue that words like "gosh" and "jeez" are disrespectful as well, since they find their origins in an effort to substitute for words referring to God. But I don't see a good argument here, unless we can prove that when someone says "gosh" or "jeez" they are really disregarding or making light of a name that refers to God. "Gosh" and "jeez" are nonsense words. Even their origins (which have no relevance I can see to their actual use) are an effort to avoid offending God, rather than making light of him. So if anything, the natural intent in using "gosh" and jeez" seems to lean toward respecting God, rather than secretly disrespecting him.
I'm inclined to think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt on this one since mind-reading is not a spiritual gift. But I'm open to changing my position in light of a better argument.
In similar ways, we can apply some of these verses to sexuality/nudity in fiction. Most of the time, nudity in fiction is portrayed by people with beautiful bodies and easily results in temptation. I don’t see how one could argue that portrayals like this do not involve serious risk of lustful thoughts, which Jesus speaks against.
Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In rare instances, nudity can be non-sexual and unattractive or un-tempting for various reasons. (Several scenes in “Schindler’s List” come to mind.) Some may be in no danger of lustful thoughts in these situations.
It’s also very common in visual fiction for attractive people to have clothing (or lack of clothing) that draws attention to their physical attractiveness. People will have various degrees of sensitivity to temptation in these kinds of scenes. Individuals should not assume that others have the same degree of strength or weakness against temptation in this area. (More on this in Part 2) This is a realm that many will have to judge for themselves, as lust is often an internal, mental temptation. But let's also use caution here and not allow ourselves to use "it's a personal judgment call" as a smoke screen for unexamined living.
There are certainly forms of entertainment with sexual subject matter that many will find no temptation in. For myself, I can say that the typical kind of sexual humor on a show like “Everybody Loves Raymond” does not stimulate lust in me. If anything, the sexual humor I’ve seen on that show tends to take the fantastical Hollywood shine out of sexuality and showcase the funny, awkward realities of human sexuality through a married couple that, despite their issues, loves each other.
So what about other kinds of questionable content? Violence, gore, the supernatural, or material advocating false ideas about God or the spiritual world?
We'll take a look at those in PART TWO!
Friday, January 28, 2011
Recently I was interviewed about the creation of "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream" over at Audio Theatre Central! I had a great time doing the interview and they asked some interesting questions!
You can hear the whole thing at: http://atc.radiocss.com/Audio-Theatre-Central/episode-4-spirit-blade-productions
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Extras Junkies, rejoice! I've just released a new behind the scenes video on the making of the "Dreadgloom Swamp" sequence in "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream"!
I've been asked multiple times exactly how this sequence was created, given all of the water involved. It was easily one of the most challenging to record! And for the first time you can see how it was done!
You can see the video, along with all of our other production videos, at:
While you're at it, Mark you calendar for Saturday, March 26th at 6pm MST. That's when we'll be having a live chat for "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream"! It's a free event. All you need is your own copy of the audio drama so you can sync up with me as we listen to and talk about the project together.
I'll provide information here on how to sign in as we get close to the event, so stay tuned!
Monday, January 24, 2011
In previous verses, Paul taught that sinful passions in us are stimulated by the Mosaic (Old Testament) Law. But Paul clarifies, beginning in verse 7, that the Law is not sinful itself. Instead, the Law brings us knowledge of what sin is.
Paul uses the 10th commandment as an example, and it’s an especially good one. The command not to covet is the only one of the Ten Commandments that could have been broken without any outward behavior. Without explicit instruction, it would be very easy to assume that thoughts are not actually sinful.
The Law draws a line, distinguishing for us the difference between good and evil. But the sinful nature we are each born with naturally moves against obedience to God, and so the instruction from the Law results in even more sinful behavior. Those who are ignorant of the Law are not guilty of sin to the same degree that those who know the Law are. (v.8 and Romans 5:13)
At one point in Paul’s life (and everyone’s for that matter) he felt a degree of life and freedom, doing whatever we wanted, since he didn’t understand the difference between good and evil. But when he became aware of God’s standard for living and that he was being held accountable to live out that standard, Paul’s sinful nature was stimulated and took control of his life, while Paul himself “died” in a sense, condemned to suffer the “wages of sin”(6:23). (v.9)
Because of the sinful nature we are born with, the Law ultimately results in death for us(apart from Christ). Although if not for our inherited sin nature, the Law would be a source of life. The Greek word “Zoe” is used again here for “life”, meaning that the Law is meant to be a source of the best that Christ has to offer. The Law reveals God’s character to us, because it tells us what he values. The Law gives us instructions that result in a more fulfilled and happy life. If our sin didn’t make it impossible for us to obey it, the Law would be something we would all be thrilled about! (v.10)
But the sinful nature all humans have fools us into thinking that sin is not evil. We follow our desires in the short-term, resulting in eternal death in the long term. (v.11)
The Mosaic Law and God’s other commands in the Old Testament are holy. (Meaning they are purposed for God’s grand design.) They are perfectly in line with God’s standards and useful to God’s plan. (v.12)
To be clear, it is sin, not God’s Law, that is the ultimate cause of eternal death for humanity. And even though the Law stimulates a desire to sin, the Law also clearly defines and brings sin to our attention, even showing how sin goes so far as to manipulate good things (like the Law) toward a corrupted end. The Law shows how evil sin really is! (v.13)
In this way, the Law identifies our extreme need for salvation, motivating us to seek it out in Christ.
Galatians 3:23-25- “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,”
Next Week- The Conflict Within All Christians
Coffee House Question- In what way has the Old Testament Law been a source of discouragement to you? In what way has it been a source of “life” for you?
Friday, January 21, 2011
The Spirit Blade Enhanced Audio Book is coming, and YOU can help get it here! (And maybe even win a prize doing it!)
The unpublished novella on which the Spirit Blade Trilogy is based will soon be available to everyone for FREE in enhanced audio book format, read by myself and featuring sound effects and music from "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" and "Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual"!
I am planning to release it on multiple sites across the web, simultaneously. But I need your help!
For this to have the far reaching potential it's intended to have, I need to release the audio book on at least 10 different sites at once.
Once I have 10 viable sites to launch the audio book on, I will drop everything else* I'm doing and immediately launch the audio book for everyone to download and enjoy for FREE!
With all that I have on my plate right now(prepping the Brent Weeks podcasts, planning and creating behind the scenes videos, publicity networking, etc.) I don't have the time to find the best websites for this endeavor. I've found three so far: podiobooks.com, spoken network, and archive.org. Any suggestions from you would be HUGELY appreciated! And as I said, as soon as I have 10 viable sites, EVERYONE can have this audio book for FREE!
For a website to be a viable host for the audio book files, it must meet the following criteria:
1. I must be able to submit and have them host and distribute the files from their site for free.
2. If they sell audio fiction, rather than primarily give it away, I must have the option to give my files away or set my price at $0.00.
3. I must not be required to place my files in the "Public Domain", though "Creative Commons" is fine.
4. It must be a site where people primarily go for audio fiction. (As opposed to a site purposed primarily for something else that is simply willing to host the files.)
In addition, the first person to suggest the site that I believe will have the greatest traffic of all those suggested, will be awarded with a free download of their choice from the Spirit Blade Productions online store!
There is no deadline for this event. It's simply over once I have 7 viable suggestions. So you can send me one suggestion or send me seven! Just leave a comment here or e-mail me at: paeter(at)spiritblade(dot)net
The arrival of the FREE Spirit Blade Audio Book is entirely in your hands!
* - does not include the processing of online orders, blog posting, podcasting, caring for wife and children, eating or bathing. (Well, maybe bathing.)
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I was THRILLED this week to get on the phone and record an interview with New York Times bestselling fantasy author Brent Weeks. (The Night Angel Trilogy, Black Prism)
For the first time in any interview, Brent spoke openly about his personal faith and the role it plays in his writing. It was a fantastic conversation that I was honored to have with him. Both fun and fascinating, this is NOT something you'll want to miss!
I will be playing the two part interview on The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast on February 4th and the 11th.
In the meantime, you can read my review of "The Night Angel Trilogy" or listen to it on the podcast!
Monday, January 17, 2011
Paul has been using the metaphor of slave and master to describe the human relationship to sin and the believer's relationship to righteousness. But it's not a perfect metaphor, and Paul acknowledges this in verse 19. By nature, we have a hard time understanding spiritual realities. Because of the fall, we are no longer naturally given to pursuing God and engaging in spiritual life. Doing so now means relying on metaphors and comparisons that are ultimately a bit clumsy and imperfect at best. But Paul did not view this as a reason not to pursue deeper understanding.
So although the metaphor is imperfect, given the freedom we have in Christ compared to the slavery of sin, Paul says to offer ourselves as willing "slaves" to righteousness. Serving sin was a downward spiral, but serving righteousness (the standards of living established by God) results in being set apart by God and used for his purposes. (The meaning of "sanctification".) (v.19)
Paul pauses for a moment to further compare the end result of these two paths in front of us. Before someone becomes a believer, they are enslaved to sin, ultimately controlled by its agenda. They are also free from the call of righteousness, which certainly brings about change and challenges to life.(v.20) But what does someone in this situation, who is following their own natural desires, ultimately gain? Death. "Thanatos" (Greek for "death") as used here refers to an eternal state of death. Complete separation from God and the infinite blessings of being in his presence, as well as the absence of the common good things God allows us to experience in this life. (v.21)
By contrast, being "enslaved to God" and freed from the downward spiral of our sin results in being set apart for the special purposes of God (sanctification) and ultimately, eternal life. The Greek word for life here is "Zoe" and refers, in this context, to the highest and best life that Jesus has and that he offers to those who place their trust in him. The highest and best that the infinite God of the universe has to offer, is being held out in front of us to accept!(v.22)
Sometimes, as holidays like Christmas or other big events we enjoy come to an end, we feel let down in some way, either because the time is now over, or because it didn't live up to our expectations. We have a built in desire for emotional fulfillment and sensory pleasure that doesn't end or become boring. We live our lives chasing after it in our relationships, recreation and work. But it never lasts. By living in sin, always aiming to please ourselves, we earn death as payment. What Christ offers as a gift is complete and consuming pleasure and fulfillment that never fades and never comes to an end! (v.23)
But how does it make sense that just because we believe in and are "identified" with Christ, we are no longer accountable for failing to obey God's laws? Where else do we see anything like this idea? Paul points out that the law has no jurisdiction over those who are dead. We don't jail wanted criminals when they are found dead. There's no point. They are beyond the law now. (7:1)
Paul uses the example of a woman whose husband dies. She can marry another man without sinning, because her husband is removed from the context of the marriage laws by his death. (v.2-3)
You'll remember that believers have been "baptized into" (identified with) the death of Jesus. (6:3) As believers, our original nature is now dead and we have been joined to Jesus and his resurrection. We are no longer under ANY of the laws presented in the Old Testament, and have been set free with a new life, in order to "produce fruit" for God. (7:4)
In the "flesh" (the natural tendencies and fallen, corrupt nature we're born with), the laws of God, like "forbidden fruit", stimulated our tendency to sin, resulting in a path diverging from God and leading to eternal death.(7:5)
Believers, through their "death" with Christ, have been released from the jurisdiction of the old law, living now to serve in "the Spirit", rather than the written laws of the Old Testament. (7:6)
We'll learn more about what it means to live and serve "in the Spirit" in chapter 8!
Next Week- So is the Law good, or bad?
Coffee House Question- When was the last time you were disappointed to see something end, or were let down because it didn't meat your expectations?
Friday, January 14, 2011
After being pinned down for a couple of days with two sick boys at home, we're all sleeping a little better and I've been able to start getting ready for some fun stuff coming up.
First, I've scheduled my phone interview with the New York Times Best Selling Mystery Fantasy Author I mentioned last week. We'll be chatting on Monday, after which I'll be able to let the cat out of the bag and soon after announce when the interview will play on the podcast! Keep an eye here next week for the big reveal!
I've also determined my release strategy for the "Pilgrim's Progress" behind the scenes video features. I found that the kinds of things in the raw session footage were too diverse to edit together thematically (and still put them out this year), so I'll be releasing the raw footage in 10-15 minute segments with some text commentary embedded in each segment to hopefully provide another layer of interest. I'll begin work on the first one soon and hopefully release it next week or sometime soon after!
Lastly, I'm currently figuring out when to schedule the "Pilgrim's Progress" live chat. So stay tuned for an announcement on that as well!
I'm a big fan of Green Lantern, and it used to be that when I would tell people this, they might say "Oh, yeah! Kato was cool!" I got used to sighing as I explained that Green Lantern and Green Hornet were two different characters, and that Green Lantern was MUCH cooler. Green Lantern is still the cooler hero, but the new Green Hornet movie comes closer to competing than ever before.
Seth Rogen, best known for raunchy comedies like "Knocked Up" and "Observe And Report", brings his comedic sensibilities to bear as both writer and star of "The Green Hornet", while trading in most of his raunchy humor for some really cool action and gags with more general appeal.
Based on the radio and tv shows of the same name, the story centers on Britt Reid, the recent heir of his father's newspaper media empire. Realizing that he has wasted himself in a life of decadence, Reid decides to make a difference by becoming a masked crime-fighter. With one twist. He presents himself as a criminal, so that he is able to get closer to organized crime than a professing hero ever would.
Aiding him and providing the vast majority of practical skills, is Kato, the mysterious Japanese man who served as auto mechanic and "coffee maker" for Britt's father. His true talents, however, including martial arts mastery and technical wizardry, are the most potent tools he brings to the table.
This movie is just plain fun. The action scenes are very cool to watch, featuring a return to some of the stylized slow motion and crazy camera moves of the Matrix movies, with even more inspiration possibly being taken from Jet Li's "The One", in which the chief combatant movies in normal or slightly slower motion, while those he is attacking move and respond to blows at various slower speeds. It's really something to see and a visual high point of the movie. And if your action tastes are more down to earth, there's also a tricked out car and various forms of big, manly guns involved on a regular basis. Any fears I had about action being sacrificed to comedy evaporated in the first 30 minutes. This is a great action flick with some dazzling and clever stunts and effects that often had me grinning from ear to ear.
The writing and performances by Seth Rogen (Green Hornet) and newcomer Jay Chou (Kato) were a ton of fun to watch. The rest of the cast does a fine job, and the chief villain, played by Christoph Waltz of "Inglourious Basterds", is very unique and fascinating in every scene, offering a few laughs of his own. Cameron Diaz also does well with her relatively small role, playing off of Rogen's comedic timing to good effect. But the stars of this movie are clearly Green Hornet and Kato, and the bond they form with each other.
This Green Hornet is a fairly average joe who's a bit out of shape and just gets lucky a lot. But he's not so inept that every moment is played for comedy. In fact he has a few moments in which he rises to the occasion and pulls off some great super-heroics. But these are the exception to the rule, and his primary role is to create a character the audience can walk in the shoes of, enjoying the ride vicariously through him. The device works brilliantly and lends itself to some gratifying and hilarious moments. I don't often laugh at comedies, but this movie, not even a pure bred comedy, had me laughing a number of times.
The script certainly allows for some interesting themes to discuss. The idea of doing the right thing, even when being condemned for it, is central to the concept. A few other elements are worth pondering as well. But the forward energy of the comedy and action never lets up long enough for any potentially worthwhile content to be noticed on a casual viewing.
The tone of the movie is similar to the first "Iron Man" movie, although this film leans a little more on the side of comedy than action. But its a fantastic flick that I would highly recommend to almost anyone.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Once again I'm getting ready to record an audio commentary and this time it's for "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream". But I can't do it alone! This will be the second "Interactive Audio Commentary" I've created, but the "interactive" part means I need YOUR questions and comments! So fire up your copy of this re-imagined fantasy adventure and then let me know what's on your mind!
I will be producing the commentary in two parts, releasing them for free on the website in February and March. You can send me your questions and comments to include in the commentary by e-mailing me at paeter(at)spiritblade(dot)net, or calling 206-350-1226 and leaving a voice message that I will play as part of the commentary!
Your comments and questions for the first 30 minutes of the project can be sent my way anytime before February 13th. Questions and comments for the second half of the project are due before March 13th.
Be immortalized for all of... uh, however long Spirit Blade Productions is around! I hope to hear from you soon!
Monday, January 10, 2011
Paul continues to show how believers are “identified” with Christ. The old life of believers dies the moment they first choose to trust in Christ for their justification (clean slate). Likewise, believers live in and through Christ from that moment on, culminating in eternal life with new, immortal bodies. (v.8) This present and future existence is modeled after Christ, who was raised to life after his death and will never die again. (v.9) Believers will also never really die again. Our physical death will only be a transition into a new and better kind of life.
Paul personifies both sin and death as he writes, referring to them as slave masters and depicting humans as their unwilling slaves. Christ submitted himself to death, which is the result of the curse of sin. And when he did this, he did it once, on behalf of all who would ever trust in him for payment of their sins. And now he lives to serve the purposes of God. (v.10)
In the same way, believers should think of themselves as being dead to and forever separated from, sin, and now alive and equipped to serve God through the power given by Christ. (v.11)
Given this mentality, we shouldn’t allow sin to control our thoughts, moods and actions as though we are slaves and it is our master. (v.12) We shouldn’t put ourselves in positions that make us available and susceptible to doing or thinking things counter to God’s desires for us. Instead, we should present ourselves to God for his purposes, with the understanding that we have a new life, and the old nature we were born with is dead. (v.13)
We don’t have to “give in” to sin anymore, hopeless that we can change. God HAS changed the status of those who believe. And the law is no longer a source of discouragement, weighing us down. We aren’t under the jurisdiction of the law anymore, but under the jurisdiction of God’s undeserved favor (grace). (v.14)
God’s favor intercedes in the life of every believer to bring about change, empowering us to make choices in line with God’s will and reject the things that are counter to God’s will for us. (Titus 2:11-13)
Again, Paul responds to the argument that grace encourages us to sin without fearing consequence. (v.15)
Duolos is the Greek word used for “slave” in verse 16 and refers to one whose will is entirely consumed in the will of someone else. Believers have the choice every moment to either be the duolos of God, resulting in a regenerative, empowering relationship with him (the meaning of “righteousness” in verse 16), or the duolos of sin, resulting in a self-destructive path in diversion from God’s will (the meaning of “death” in verse 16).
As believers, we should thank God for rescuing us from a natural, downward spiral of obedience to sin. Instead, he is empowering us to be willingly obedient to God, serving and following him not out of obligation, but in heartfelt, grateful response to his loving actions toward us. (v.17-18)
Next Week- The “physics” of good and evil and how they effect our lives.
Coffee House Question- What might we do to help change our motivation for obedience from “obligation” to “gratitude”?
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman star in this movie about two medieval knights who have agreed to take an alleged witch to a distant monastery to be tried and, if appropriate, ritually purged and executed in order to lift a plague cursing towns across the land.
Performances by Cage and Perlman are on par for both, if not historically or culturally authentic. The characters themselves are pretty uninteresting, but their story helps make up for it, and the bond of friendship between them is strong and enjoyable to watch at times.
The dialogue is best when dealing with the story conflict and themes presented and falls flat when it attempts to be humorous. But much of the shortcoming could also be placed at the feet of the actors on the last count.
Still, this is a pretty good movie, especially if you give it a chance to get going. While not being creative in its shot design, the movie has a consistent dark and cold quality that fans of dark fantasy or movies like "Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans" will appreciate. It also has great, gory make-up effects and a few cool costume pieces that set the mood well.
Fight scenes are appropriate, but sometimes very forgettable in the first half of the movie. Nothing innovative happening here, but they get the job done. Things really pick up, however, in the second half of the movie and near the end, where the special effects budget becomes much more visible and the supernatural becomes more common. The bad guys in this movie range from rabid wolves, to undead witches, zombies and even demons! Plenty to satisfy genre fans, though the best creature stuff is clustered near the end. If you're looking for something to scratch your dark fantasy itch, this movie is no breakthrough, but it will likely do the job.
The themes and conflict presented in the movie were some of the strongest points. Cage and Perlman play knights in the Crusades who desert their unit after being part of a raid that resulted in the deaths of far more innocents than enemy soldiers. While they committed to serving God in the Crusades, and hold to that commitment, they make it clear that they no longer serve The Church.
As is common in Hollywood flicks, especially in any content referencing the Crusades, organized religion in general (or the Catholic church in specific) is criticized while belief in God of some kind is still mostly tolerated or patronizingly praised. This viewpoint is a popular one today, as many verbally support the idea of being "spiritual" (a vague, undefined pop-culture term) while preferring to avoid "religion" or "organized religion".
I'm certainly not saying that the Crusades were a good thing. Far from it. But we have a tendency to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" when it comes to Christianity. Even being a Christian while not engaging in a local, Bible-teaching church is counter to much of the New Testament books of the Bible, where letter upon letter is written about how to best "organize" believers into groups that can effectively grow and serve together.
While the Knights in this movie probably made the best moral choice in leaving their unit and their commitment to the church as it was, it is a scenario that is far different from those today, where many forsake involvement in any Christian church anywhere because of vaguely suspected corruption in churches "in general" that can most times be dealt with through simple investigation, accountability and conversation.
What's interesting about this movie is that it does not completely follow the normal path of this story type, where the church is corrupt and, as a result, basically wrong in nearly every way it can be. Instead, the church leadership is portrayed as largely corrupt (as it certainly was at that time), while the validity of some of it's claims holds true. Even the "outlandish" ones. Such as the existence of witches and demons. This creates a more complex view of religion for the film, in which religious leaders can be wrong and corrupt, without being completely wrong. This movie portrays some women being wrongly executed for witchcraft, but also shows that some were rightly accused. It's a mixed bag.
Other complex questions are presented. In a moment of despair and frustration, Cage's character shouts that "A benevolent God would not ask these things of man!" The apparent conflict between God's all-loving character, his omnipotence and the evil we encounter in life is a common one for many. More than once in this movie, the nature of God's character is the subject of a sentence during difficult situations. If God is all-loving AND all-powerful, why does he allow evil to exist? There are certainly answers to this question from a biblical perspective, though this script doesn't provide any.
There is a theme of redemption running through the movie with one of the characters that (as is common in Hollywood) implies that most any wrong can be made up for by sacrificing your own life in a good cause. Redemption through self-sacrifice is extremely common in fiction, though it runs counter to biblical teaching.
Lastly, one of the chief concepts we have to accept in order to suspend disbelief and enter the world of the story, is that priests and monks are kind of like wizards, who use ancient religious texts (other than the Bible, oddly enough) like spell books to ward off or destroy the powers of evil. These "spell books" (which are just undefined religious rituals) seem to gain their power by simply being old and mysterious. God's power or direct involvement in defeating evil is left virtually out of the picture.
Genre fans can certainly wait to rent this movie, though they are likely to enjoy more than a few parts and have plenty of good jumping off points for meaningful conversation.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content.
Friday, January 7, 2011
2010 was an extremely satisfying year for me, primarily due to the release of "Spirit Blade: Special Edition", which now allows me to confidently put our best foot forward as I aim to introduce more people to what we're doing at Spirit Blade Productions.
If you read between the lines there, you may be able to guess that I plan to spend more time "marketing" Spirit Blade Productions to a wider audience this year.
If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that marketing is my groan-tastically LEAST favorite thing to do. It tends to be extremely boring and repetitive. It's also very difficult for me personally to feel like I'm "selling myself" to people. And yet there's no getting around it. If we're going to impact people’s lives, people have to know about us and engage with what we're doing.
Still, if I have to tackle this necessary evil, I'm going to make it as freakin' fun as I possibly can. Especially for YOU guys!
So what's in store for 2011? Here’s a taste:
The Spirit Blade Audio book-
Okay, there may be some confusion at this point for some of you. Some may be thinking, "Didn't you already release this as the second Archive Disc at spiritblade.net/archives?" Others of you may be thinking, "Didn't you say you were going to release this for free?" The answer to both questions is "yes". Though unfortunately I didn't have time to release the free version in the way I wanted before the end of 2010.
One of my first agenda items this year is to make the Spirit Blade Enhanced Audio book available for free in as many places around the web as possible, hopefully drawing new attention to what we're doing at spiritblade.net. Audio fidelity purists and those who want the commentary for the audio book will still want to get the Archive Disc at spiritblade.net. But those who aren't interested in the commentary and don't mind listening to the audio book in lower fidelity audio will soon be able to find it in what I hope will be a wide variety of locations around the web.
The timing on that isn't set yet. My plan is to find as many sites as I can to submit the audio book to and then run an interactive promotional event with all of you guys that will end with the release of the audio book in multiple places at once. More news on that in the next few weeks!
Newsletter (more exciting than it sounds!)-
If you haven't subscribed to our newsletter yet, this is the year to do it! While continuing to be the place to get all of the biggest announcements from Spirit Blade Productions, in 2011 the newsletter will also be the VIP access portal for giveaways and secret sales that won't be advertised or available anywhere else!
You can subscribe right now at www.spiritblade.net by scrolling to the bottom of the page and entering your e-mail in the field provided! The newsletter typically goes out only once a month(if that) and we don't use or let others use your e-mail address for ANYTHING else.
I've already got at least one CRAZY sale in mind that only newsletter subscribers will know about, so don't miss out!
The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance-
In the last two years, this innovative volunteer community has produced four audio projects that we've made available as free downloads and the response to them has been great! Currently, the next episode in our vampire crime drama, “Of The Night”, is in development, along with the first episodes of a new sci-fi space adventure series and a futuristic, supernatural, “cop drama”. We also plan to return to the fantasy/sci-fi world of “Untold” soon. The outline looks great and the scripts are in development! And I’m very excited about a dark, stand-alone, post-pandemic murder mystery that we will be holding auditions for soon!
This year, I'll be looking for ways to expand the number of people involved in making audio fiction, particularly in the mixing/directing department. I'll also be looking for ways to coordinate the production of entertainment in other media formats for the SBUA. So no matter what kind of creative type you are, I'll be looking for ways to plug you and your skills into this fun, unique and growing creative community! For more information, go to www.spiritblade.net/alliance!
Free Downloads and Special Features-
Although things slowed down a bit in this department in November and December, I will begin releasing a new special feature every month, starting with this month! Now that the initial promotion for "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" is over, I will be going back and releasing the remaining audio and video "behind the scenes" features for "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream". I had a great time recording this project with the cast, and for the first time you'll have the chance to see video of recurring Spirit Blade Productions actors Randy Hesson(Vincent Craft, Vanger) and Michael E. Bryce(Isaiah Daniels, William Goodblade) as they record for the first episode of this ongoing series. You'll also get to see revealing video on how the Dread-gloom Swamp sequence, one of the most complicated in the project, was recorded.
I'm also excited to announce the future production of "Interactive Audio Commentaries" for both "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream" and "Spirit Blade: Special Edition"! I had so much fun using your written and called-in questions on the commentary for "Dark Ritual" that I plan to continue the tradition as long as there is interest in it.
Although the turnout for the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" live chat was less than I had hoped, I had a great time doing it and will be looking for an excuse to do it again! I also know that not everyone who wanted to was able to participate. So hopefully I'll do better at organizing and promoting the next one! Next on the agenda will be live chats for "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Dark Ritual"! Stay tuned!
If you haven't noticed the pattern so far, this year is about growing the number of people in the Spirit Blade Community and the number of ways they are involved in the various things we have happening. I'll be exploring ways to attract more people to the podcast and forums and will be looking for your ideas! My goal is that this year the Spirit Blade Community will feel more like YOUR community! My vision for Spirit Blade Productions has always been to develop content and community that is exciting, interesting and spiritually beneficial to the genre-geek community. So if you have any ideas, please send them my way! More than ever before I'll be looking for opportunities to make the community experience the best it's ever been!
Development Of Spirit Blade 3 AND Pilgrim's Progress, Episode 2-
My plan is to record both of these projects at the same time, using a few of the same cast members in both. I will then produce "Spirit Blade 3" first, followed quickly by Episode 2 of "Pilgrim's Progress".
Most of the first draft for "Pilgrim, Ep. 2" is finished and the main outlining for "Spirit Blade 3" is done as well. In the midst of developing the Spirit Blade Community this year, I will be writing the script and songs for "Spirit Blade 3" and finishing/polishing the next "Pilgrim's Progress" script in hopes of recording in late 2011 or early 2012.
Some of the most exciting stuff this year is still "To Be Announced"! There are a few other things simmering on the back burner that I’m DYING to tell you about, but I have to iron out some details before I can officially announce them. One is the addition of one or two Archive Discs featuring new and exclusive content. Another is a podcast interview I’m scheduling with a New York Times best-selling mainstream fantasy author. (He’s already agreed, but until we actually schedule the interview and record it, I’ll have to keep you guessing!)
When it comes to what God has planned, your guess is as good as mine. But the ride is sure to be an interesting one!
Thank you so much for your support and involvement here! I'm pulling out all the stops to make this a year where new people take notice and faithful fans are reminded why this is the place to go for exciting, unsterilized Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Now that the holidays are over, my wife and I are both back to our full time work schedules for the first time since our second child was born in late October.
It's proving to be a real challenge, since our youngest isn't sleeping through the night yet, which means I'm needed more around the house during the day to compensate for my wife's lack of sleep. Our work days are also both long enough that I have to spend some of mine juggling two kids as well.
The cherry on top is that I think I may have injured my shoulder in some minor way during my first workout this week. Nothing agonizing, but it makes it painful to do a lot of work and dad related things that need to get done. So I'm moving much more slowly right now.
I can't help but think that God is using these circumstances to get my attention about the ways in which I've neglected him lately. The time I once regularly set aside for expanding my Bible study, prayer and other things related to my relationship with God, have been put on the back burner more and more lately, and I can already see how it has weakened me in my day to day life as a husband and dad.
Something really cool happened this week that I think will be GREAT for drawing new, wider attention to Spirit Blade Productions.(Can't talk about it yet, though. Stay tuned.) And considering that my agenda this spring is largely taken up with expanding our listener base, it struck me as a reminder that God is still in this endeavor and hasn't forgotten about it or me. And yet I've had the tendency lately to forget about him.
So as I recalibrate my routine and patterns, aiming to give my relationship with God top priority, I'd appreciate your prayer support.
And come back here Friday for a look at what's coming for Spirit Blade Productions in 2011!
Monday, January 3, 2011
In previous verses, Paul compared the effect of Adam's sin on humanity to the effect of Christ's sacrifice on humanity. The perfect life that Christ lived was offered in payment for our sins. Those who trust in Christ for this are made righteous in the eyes of God. They are considered by him to have met his perfect standard in every way.
This leaves a question hanging in the air. If trusting in Christ makes us righteous in the eyes of God, then what in the world were all of the laws in the Old Testament for? Paul seems to anticipate this question as he continues his letter.
The Law was given to humanity, not to make us good people, but to make it more obvious that we are not. The Law actually makes our sin problem worse! We tend to be more tempted to do things that we are told are wrong, and the Law told us what was wrong. Sin is also more rebellious and evil when it is done knowingly, rather than out of ignorance. The Law made it clear what actions and thoughts displeased God. Even with this knowledge, we knowingly rebel against him. The Law has never been a method for making us better people.
Thankfully, to the degree that the Law made our sin problem worse, God extended grace (undeserved favor) to us in order to rescue us from the physical and eternal death that sin results in. By contrast, God's favor takes a hold of our lives in the form of the righteousness we are given because of Christ's sacrifice. Through Jesus, believers are able to have eternal, immensely fulfilling life. (v. 20-21)
This "get out of jail free card" makes some people uncomfortable. They see it as having great potential for abuse and so begin to emphasize or create rules that wrongfully add to God's plan to "justify" us (clean our "slate"). But God himself addressed this issue through Paul's writing.
Even though our sin showcases God's grace, that doesn't mean we should sin more in order to "give God glory". (A pretty ridiculous idea, but you can bet somebody would have tried this one if Paul hadn't said something.) (6:1)
Paul says that we as believers have "died to sin", and so shouldn't live in sinful patterns anymore. (6:2) Believers have been "baptized" into Jesus and his death.(6:3) The Greek word for "baptized" here is used in its most general sense, which means "to be identified with". Just as we are identified with Christ's righteousness when we trust in him, we are also identified with his death. When someone chooses to trust in Christ, they "die" and are "buried" in that moment as far as God is concerned, just like Christ died and was buried. And just like Christ was raised from the dead in a way that pointed to God's character and power, believers are raised out of the death of their old life and given new lives that serve as examples of God's power and love. (6:4)
Paul says that if we have become united with Christ in his death, we will reflect his resurrection through the new lives we live, understanding that the life we had without him is dead and gone and we are not slaves to our sin habits anymore because we have been made righteous before God. (6:5-7)
Genuine faith brings about genuine change. The Bible never gives us a "checklist" of changes that indicate when faith is genuine. So we shouldn't assume we can tell who is truly justified and who isn't. But if we don't see any change whatsoever in our own lives over an extended period of time, it may be good to self-evaluate the nature of our faith.
Next Week- What our new life means for the way we live.
Coffee House Question- Why is it hard for us to trust that we can't "earn" our justification? How might trust in our free justification bring about change in our lives that reflect God's character?