Thursday, December 20, 2012

Captain Marvel and Superhero Movie Reviews

Ben Avery shares his thought clouds on Captain Marvel, Travis talks about Superhero Movie and Paeter takes a look at The Incarnation.

Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:


visit to leave a recorded message with your phone or computer for me to play on the show!I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!
(For more information, visit


For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast is written, recorded and produced by Paeter Frandsen, with additional segments produced by their credited authors.
Copyright 2012, Spirit Blade Productions
Music by Wesley Devine, Bjorn A. Lynne, Pierre Langer, and Sound Ideas.
Spazzmatica Polka by Kevin MacLeod ( effects provided by: FreqMan

Direct Download-

Holiday Break

Beginning tomorrow I will be away from my office until Wednesday, January 9th, at which time I'll begin reading/answering e-mails again and processing any physical product orders. (Digital product orders will be processed automatically as usual in the meantime.)

I'm still putting out the podcast this weekend (as early as today or tomorrow if I can manage it), but I'll be off-grid otherwise. Also, my plan is for the podcast to return on the weekend of January 11th.

I do sometimes still pop in to the forums briefly once or twice while on vacation, so you may still see me there. But if not, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebration with friends, family and hopefully a few geeks among them! It's been great to spend the year with you and I look forward to what 2013 holds, whatever it may be!

-Paeter Frandsen

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Search Of Truth, The HOLIday Season, Part 2- Christmas

In the last few months we've been looking at some Old Testament passages that lay the groundwork for an examination of the sacrificial system, which God put in place in order to maintain a relationship with humans that was also just. (In some ways similar to how we visit convicted criminals in prison that we care about, but still do not allow them to live free of consequences for their actions.)

God loves each person far more than any other love we will ever know. But at the same time his perfect sense of justice will not allow evil to run unchecked in the universe or in his presence.

Thankfully, God is willing to delay justice, instead of carrying it out immediately. (If he didn't do this, there wouldn't be a single living person left on the planet!) Although he has every right to eliminate evil instantaneously, he delays carrying out justice to give everyone a chance to turn to him for forgiveness. It is this very character trait that made what we call "The Incarnation" possible.

Fair warning, we're about to get into some theological brain-bending, where metaphors are required but are also limited in their descriptive power. I'll do my best to walk us through the topic at hand, but if you think of better descriptive language, or something occurs to you that I may have not considered, always feel free to bring it up.

The Incarnation is God taking on all human attributes except those involving sin, adding them to himself in some way. God didn't change from God into man, because God does not change. (James 1:17) He didn't subtract any of himself, grow or evolve.

God has always been three persons, identifying those persons to us as "Father, Son and Holy Spirit". The Incarnation didn't create this status. However The Incarnation does directly involve one of these three, The Son.

The Son took humanity onto himself. I'm trying to avoid saying that he "became" human, because to "become" implies change. And The Son didn't change when he took on the name and essence of Jesus. But something monumental and permanent happened here that we don't often think about.

Usually, when we take a moment to soberly reflect on the significance of Christmas, our minds fast-forward from the manger to the cross. This adorable, precious baby we sing about would grow up and suffer unimaginably for his love for us.

But consider that what Jesus did, this change he experienced (not to his being, but to his status quo), was eternal. When Jesus rose from the dead, he did so physically. In his resurrection appearances he had a body that others could see and touch. He walked on the ground and ate real food. (Luke 24:38-43) His body was "glorified", in its ultimate state, but still physical.

This is huge because God is spirit. (John 4:24) A non-physical being. (Luke 24:39) A non-linear being unlimited by time or any other dimensions. So unfathomably different and "other" that we have to just give up trying to describe him and use the word "Holy" to imply all those things about him we're unable to put into words with our limited minds.

We tend, in an effort to relate to God better, to make him too much like us in our minds. But despite his intimate love for us, he is unimaginably different from us.

Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. "

Stretching back into eternity he had always been this way. But in The Incarnation, God entered into creation on a deeper level than ever before, and linked himself with it...forever. The body of Jesus will never perish or be destroyed. Think about that.

We're all familiar with John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life." But how often do we reflect on the fact that God didn't just give his son up for humanity for 30+ years. He invested his son in humanity...for eternity.

Humans are not a little project that God, in some distant age, will grow tired of before he moves on to something else. God is all in. He is invested in us, connected to us, forever.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review (SBU Podcast)

A review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Paeter's thoughts on the latest Superman and Star Trek Trailers and a look at the first year of the Wonder Woman monthly comic book since DC Comics rebooted their universe in September 2011. Plus, a look at Hanukkah and its potential relevance to Christians in part one of a two part look at December's Holidays and their connection to the Holiness of God.


Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



visit to leave a recorded message with your phone or computer for me to play on the show!I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

(For more information, visit


For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast is written, recorded and produced by Paeter Frandsen, with additional segments produced by their credited authors.
Copyright 2012, Spirit Blade Productions
Music by Wesley Devine, Bjorn A. Lynne, Pierre Langer, and Sound Ideas.
Spazzmatica Polka by Kevin MacLeod ( effects provided by: FreqMan

Direct Download-

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Movie Review)

I should start by saying that I'm not a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's books. That's not to say I think they are bad books, but the writing style is too dry and formal for my tastes. I read The Hobbit in Junior High for a reading class I was in, and re-enacted Bilbo's slaying of the giant spider in my book report presentation to the class. But I soon moved on to Terry Brooks, then later Terry Goodkind and Brent Weeks, and have never been able to force feed The Lord Of The Rings books to myself. Today I remember more about presenting that book report than I do about the book itself.

That said, I'm a huge fan of the fantasy genre, which owes much of its existence to Tolkien. I also loved the Peter Jackson Lord Of The Rings movies. So when I heard that he would be back in the saddle to direct a movie based on The Hobbit, I was more than interested.

Of course then came the news that his film version of The Hobbit would be split into two movies, which smelled a bit like a money grab from the studio, but ah well. Should have expected as much. However not much later it was announced that The Hobbit would not be two movies, but three. And though I heard that Jackson and company would pull from other Tolkien Middle Earth material to fill things out, I couldn't help but sigh and lower my expecations. It sounded like studio execs were hoping to relive the glory days of the Rings trilogy box office sales, rather than create one really great movie that would perform well for them.

Trailers looked just as great as the previous Lord Of The Rings films, but I went into the theater wondering if story points and action would just be too spread out to amount to an experience of the same calibre as Jackson's previous Tolkien films. How much would this movie rely on our love of what has come before and how much would it stand on its own merits?

From the very start it's clear that this is a different story from Lord Of The Rings with a very different feel. From the opening music to the last moments, this is not a "quest" movie as much as it is an "adventure" movie. The visual design, the score, the script, the characters, all have a much lighter feel to them when compared to the largely serious tone of the Lord of The Rings, even though you still see limbs being chopped off now and then to earn that PG-13.

Much of this shift in tone is because of the underlying motivation for the quest. This movie is not about saving the world or defending against a coming evil. It's about seeing and experiencing the world and reclaiming something that, although wonderful and good, is not vital to anyone's survival. The stakes are much lower and we all know Bilbo will survive the tale. There are also numerous action sequences that are extremely improbable, even in Middle Earth. Much of the film feels more like a funhouse ride than a quest that actually puts anyone in danger.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit scooped up into a quest by Gandalf the wizard, who is traveling with 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland. Although by the end of the film his motives become a little deeper, Bilbo initially joins this quest purely out of a spirit of adventure.

The displaced Dwarven prince leading the expedition has a much deeper motivation, and I think the story would have been strengthened by making his story more central, perhaps even making him the lead character. Of course then we'd have to call the m ovie "The Dwarven Prince", but honestly I think that has a better ring to it and would have made a more compelling central story. (Yes, yes, Tolkien fans. You may now scream "blasphemy" in response to my ignorance and disrespect.)

The narrative as a whole also has a slight "anthology of Middle Earth stories" feel to it, as flashbacks are dipped into a little more often than you'd expect. At one point the story even awkwardly shifted to focus on another character in another place, whom I thought might have nothing to do with the main story until he eventually joined the main characters later on.

The camera work is as superb as ever and the performances, though serving a lighter story, are all high caliber. I'm a little dissapointed that the effects don't look any better considering how many years have passed since Return Of The King was in theaters. Orcs and Goblins were also mostly CG creations instead of using make-up, even in close-ups. A choice I'm confused and let down by. Peter Jackson didn't seem to be putting quite as much effort into this film (though it's hard to blame him as he put his health at risk at times whole working on The Lord Of The Rings).

Even so, this is a very good movie that fantasy fans will probably enjoy more than most fantasy films released since Return Of The King.

There are a few relevant moral themes in the film, but they don't stand out too strongly. One I notices was that of courage, and the idea that sometimes courage is about NOT killing your enemy, but letting them live. The principle remains true in less dramatic circumstances as well. Sometimes it takes more courage and strength of character to walk away from verbal fisticuffs than it does to pummel someone in a heated exchange.

Selflessness also comes into play near the end of the film, as Bilbo's motivation shifts from wanting to have an adventure to wanting to help the dwarves have a place to call home again.

While you shouldn't let your love of Lord Of The Rings force you into seeing this movie in theaters, if you're a fan of the genre you definitely ought to see it sometime.

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Quality: 8.5/10

Relevance: 6.5/10

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New 52: Wonder Woman - One Year Later

Review by Comikate

This is a review one of DC’s New 52 comics that I don’t hear very much about – because it’s a pity if you don’t try it out just because you’ve never heard people talk about it. Fair warning though, my review contains some mild spoilers, since its main point is to encourage you to start reading it from issue 13 – that is why I will summarize the main story of the first twelve issues for you so that you don’t have to buy and read them all yourself. I will then share some likes and dislikes, tell you whether you should buy, borrow or ignore this comic, and finally, give you my quality and relevance scores.

Wonder Woman has a certain nostalgic meaning to me: when I was seven years old I lived in the US for about eight months because my parents had to be there because of my father’s job. It was 1978, and Wonder Woman was one of the popular tv series of the time, with Lynda Carter playing the role of Wonder Woman. While we may not have heard very much about Lynda’s career lately, she has recently done some voice acting for several parts of the popular game series The Elder Scrolls, with Skyrim as their most recent hit.

Being from the Netherlands I didn’t know Wonder Woman at all – we didn’t have any superhero tv series in the Netherlands back then. Nor now, for that matter. But from the moment I saw her on tv in our family apartment in El Paso, Texas, she touched something in my very soul: the part that wants to be both a princess, and a warrior and a superheroine!

I think that these precious childhood memories have stopped me from reading Wonder Woman as a comic up until very recently. On the one hand because I couldn’t imagine how a Wonder Woman comic could be a great read – I mean, she was like Superman in that she was invincible and practically invulnerable, which – frankly - sounded rather dull. And on the other hand I really didn’t want to spoil the nostalgia of that old tv series from my early childhood by reading a comics version of her that was no doubt way more modern.

However, since I’ve started a series on the first year of New 52 comics on my blog Gadgets and Geekery (which, I’m sorry to say for all American and English readers, is in Dutch) I felt I couldn’t leave out one of the DC Trinity, you know, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. So, with some apprehension I decided to read the entire first year of the New 52 Wonder Woman after all, issues 1-12.

And lo and behold, this series managed to very pleasantly surprise me. The first twelve issues of this series consists of one big story arc, has a very interesting story concept and its artwork, though taking a little getting used to, is frankly nothing less than very beautiful. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s truly written very well – something I find can really not be said about every comic.


We meet Wonder Woman as Diana, princess of Paradise Island, an island populated only by women. These women still live like in Roman times – though not very ladylike: instead they are amazones, female warriors that train for battle like gladiators.

Their queen is Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s mother. Or rather, adoptive mother for legend has it that Hippolyta was barren and one day formed a baby out of clay. She then prayed to the Greek gods, fell asleep and woke up to find her clay baby transformed into a little baby girl, who she called Diana and raised as her daughter.

Despite all of the amazones, the story does take place in our own time. Wonder Woman takes on the task of protecting a young woman, called Zola, who is pregnant by Zeus, the supreme god of the Greek pantheon. This is why Zeus’s jealous wife Hera threatens to kill Zola and sends supernatural assassins to hunt the girl down.

Wonder Woman and Zola are assisted by messenger god Hermes and find an extra enemy in the goddess Strife, daughter of Zeus and Hera, and sister to the god of war, Ares.

Zeus himself remains mysteriously absent during the entire run of the first twelve issues, with no-one knowing where he is. His absence kindles ambitions in several of his divine children and it doesn’t take long for gods Apollo and Artemis to hunt for Zola. They intend to deliver her and her unborn child to Hera. This way Apollo intends to buy Hera’s allegiance, his ultimate goal being his father Zeus’s throne.

When Wonder Woman strikes a deal with Zeus’s brothers Poseidon and Hades, the deal goes south and it takes everything she’s got to not only keep pregnant Zola alive but also to simply survive herself.

And as if she hasn’t got enough on her mind already, Wonder Woman also has to deal with the discovery that the legend surrounding her own origin is not exactly true – and turns out to be quite a bit less romantic than she thought.


I’ve always loved Greek mythology ever since I was about 13 years old, so I was not exactly thrilled when I found out that this comic sported all kinds of Greek gods, fearing the writer would concoct a story that would not be consistent with Greek mythology. However, the original way in which writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang modernize the Greek pantheon enough to transport it to our modern day society is actually quite believable – after you suspend your disbelief of course. In fact, they manage to pull this off so greatly that they really won me over to this comic!

Almost every god in the story has characteristics of both ancient mythological times and our modern day era. For instance, Apollo’s black metallic skin makes him look truly as a being not from this world, while at the same time he wears high fashion 3-piece suits. Hades, while still being king of the ancient underworld, looks like he’s been designed by a painter of the modern arts, and Hermes, while looking like some kind of bird-human hybrid wears very hip outfits that would almost let him blend in with young adults. Almost. Best of all, Eros, the god of love we also know as Cupid, still shoots at people’s hearts to make them fall in love, only this time he doesn’t use his famous bow and arrow, but a couple of slick guns that have the same effect.

Is it a bird, is it a plane…?! No, it’s…… Hermes…?

I really recommend Artist Chiang for the way he draws the goddess Strife, who looks particularly cool with her shaved head, heavy make-up and fashionable mini-dress – I don’t know whether it’s punk or high fashion, but it’s an original nowadays rendering of what’s supposed to be an ancient goddess.

Of course Wonder Woman herself shows that same combination of ancient and modern times: when “on the job” she looks the amazon we know and love, sometimes even carrying a sword and shield, but in her spare time she dresses like any modern day woman and lives in an apartment in 21st century London.

But enough about the gods. Like I said before, the story is well-written and often reminded me of tv series that I like to watch. An example of this would be the dialogues between the several rivalling gods, full of layers and hidden agendas, which could be taken from scripts of series like Boss (which is an awesome series btw).

Hera and her rebellious daughter cross verbal swords

Another instance is the way in which Hera transforms ordinary farm horses into aggressive centaurs – this definitely contains horror elements and seems straight from a particularly bloody episode of the X-files or something.

Thirdly, I really got to like the artwork although it took me a little while to get used to Chiang’s somewhat stylized way of drawing the human form. His cityscapes are gorgeous and together with colorist Matthew Wilson he succeeds in adding specific atmospheres that contribute to the storylines in the comic.

Furthermore, I liked the subtle humor in the story, like the way in which one of Wonder Woman’s brothers in arms consistently tries to light a cigaret by holding them against gods that either contain or work with fire. It may sound a bit strange when I describe it, but the humor is in the art itself.

And last but not least, I appreciated the fact that gods in the comic are not immediately mentioned by name, so that readers have a couple of panels to figure out for themselves which god this is. For instance, when a certain god says “I’m the sun of a king” this is clearly a hint for the reader – for it is only the reader who can see that he is referring to the sun as in “star”, instead of son as in “male child”, thereby enabling the reader to figure out that this is in fact the god of the sun, Apollo – who is of course also the son of Zeus, the king of the gods. Oh well, perhaps most of you are bored to tears by these things, but to mythology geeks like me these kinds of hints are totally awesome.


Frankly, I couldn’t really find many negative things to say about this comic – and not for lack of trying. I only have two real criticisms.

To begin with, like in most other New 52’s there was a change in the artwork team somewhere along the way, for a couple of issues. I can not get used to this, however much I may understand deadlines and that artists need their time off as well, etc. I always immediately notice, probably because they always seem to choose fill-in artists that have totally different styles from the original artist. I cannot begin to understand why they don’t even try to find someone who does a serious attempt at keeping the artwork at least somewhat consistent. Fortunately it only lasted for a couple of issues and I sighed with relief when Chiang returned.

And secondly, on a related note, Chiang’s coverart does not do much for me. His human forms are even more stylized and the backgrounds are either boring or ugly. And I really dislike the color schemes. So no, hating the cover art. Of course other opinions are available (although they would be wrong).

So, should you Buy/Borrow/Ignore this comic?

This is a definite buy! Yes, it is, just try it.


I give Wonder Woman’s first year a quality score of 8/10 and a relevance score of 7/10 – since all this mythology should have some potential to lead to meaningful conversation, for instance about the existence of gods in this day and age – and their true nature.

So, please let me know what you think, and if you’re going to try out the New 52 Wonder Woman!

Katja from the Netherlands, ComiKate on the Spirit Blade forum

Monday, December 10, 2012

In Search Of Truth, The HOLIday Season, Part 1- Hanukkah

Hanukkah began on Sunday, and though I don't know any Christians who celebrate it, there still may be something of value in it's history that Christians can remember and celebrate in a way that honors Yahweh.

Hanukkah, or "The Festival Of Lights", finds its origins during the reign of Antiochus IV around 160 BC, when his forces occupied the Temple and desecrated it. When the Jews reclaimed the temple, they found only enough oil remaining to keep the menorah lit for one day, although it was supposed to remain lit at all times. This was a huge problem.

The menorah was a lampstand for seven candles that God instructed Moses to make for use in the tabernacle and temple. It was kept in the same room as the ark, where God met with his priests. (Exodus 25:31)

We'll take a closer look at the menorah and this special place in the temple when we look at Exodus in the coming months. But at the very least we can say that the menorah was a vital component in ancient Israel's connection with God. It facilitated worship of God and relationship between God and his people.

As the story goes, the Jews that reclaimed the temple only had enough oil to keep the Menorah lit for one day. However, the menorah miraculously remained lit for eight days.

Do I believe this story is true? I'm undecided. And it's still not clear whether or not Jesus celebrated The Festival Of Lights. (References to him possibly doing so are very vague, and it was not a day that scripture required the Jews to observe.) But it sounds like Yahweh to me.

God is holy. In other words, he is perfect, and totally different from us. He is so indescribable, so... "other"...that the only rational response is fascination and obsession with him, or as the Bible calls it, "worship". And this is what we were made for.

Unfortunately, we made the choice to separate ourselves from God and his will. Ever since then, in order to connect with God and know him more, God has had to "stoop down" as it were, and help us out. The Bible shows us repeatedly that, although we were made to be in God's presence, we fall incredibly short of that amazing role. As a result, God instituted the sacrificial system, which culminated in the sacrifice of Jesus. He knows we can't properly meet his standards on our own, so he does the work for us.

This is what we see happening in the story of The Festival Of Lights. The Jews had reclaimed the temple, wanted to worship God in the way he instructed... but were unable because there was not enough lamp oil.

It makes perfect sense to me that God saw the sincere desire of their hearts and took care of the rest himself. God doesn't need or want the various sacrifices and rituals he designed in and of themselves. They are merely tools and illustrations to help us understand who he is and who we are. What he really wants is our hearts. (Hosea 6:6)

Next time we'll take a look at God's BIGGEST example of "stooping down" for us, as we take a look at Christmas in light of God's Holiness.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rift Jump Review and Geek Games For Families (SBU Podcast)

Our review of Greg Mitchell's "Rift Jump" and Geek Games even your non-geek families will play with you this Christmas!


Submit Questions, Comments or Content(written or audio file) to:



visit to leave a recorded message with your phone or computer for me to play on the show!I'd love for you to be a part of this podcast!

(For more information, visit


For Community, Free Stuff and TONS more, explore the rest of the growing "Spirit Blade" universe at-

The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast is written, recorded and produced by Paeter Frandsen, with additional segments produced by their credited authors.
Copyright 2012, Spirit Blade Productions
Music by Wesley Devine, Bjorn A. Lynne, Pierre Langer, and Sound Ideas.
Spazzmatica Polka by Kevin MacLeod ( effects provided by: FreqMan

Direct Download-

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Geek Games Your Family Will Play This Christmas

For many, a big part of the Christmas season is spending time with extended family. Family gatherings with food and games are fairly common, but these aren't exactly the best opportunities to get your geek on. Most non-geek adults don't enjoy playing games with complex rules, preferring light "party games" instead. And there are also kids to think about, as large family gatherings tend to be littered with them and you may be called upon to help keep them busy.

Is there any hope for geeking out in times like these? I can think of at least two games to help get you started.

The first is "Ultimate Werewolf", a conversation-based party game that plays anywhere from 5-68 people. (Yep, 68!) One person serves as the moderator and a kind of storyteller. (This should be you the first game or two with family.) The moderator gives each other player a card which they keep secret from all other players. Each card contains a "role" on it. (Though you can assure your more mundane relations that this is not a "role-playing game".) The game includes a wide variety of roles, but the most common are Villagers, Werewolves and Seers.

The game plays in day and night cycles. At night the moderator tells all players to close their eyes. He then tells all werewolves to open their eyes and select a victim through silent communication with each other. All werewolves then close their eyes and the moderator tells the Seer to open their eyes and point to a player. The moderator then silently indicates whether or not the player pointed to is a werewolf, and the Seer closes their eyes again.

During the day cycle, the moderator tells all players to open their eyes and informs them which players has been killed by a werewolf. The killed player is removed from the game and must remain silent but may now keep their eyes open at all times. (I hate player elimination, but this game is just as much fun to watch as it is to play!)

All players now nominate and vote on one or more players to execute (removing them from the game) in hopes of killing all werewolves. (At least those who are really just Villagers hope for this!) This is the meat of the game as players passionately accuse each other or defend themselves until the final vote is called for.

When a player is killed (by werewolf or execution) they reveal their role card at last and "I knew its" and "I told you sos" are exchanged as the game moves forward.

The werewolves win if they are ever equal in number to the remaining Villagers. The Villagers win when the last werewolf is executed.

Now, if your extended family is like mine, getting them to play a new game called "Werewolf" might be a hard sell. Especially if they have a sensitvity to supernatural fiction. The good news is that Ultimate Werewolf can easily be re-themed and re-titled. (In October I ran a version of the game with my adult Sunday school class that I based on John Carpenter's The Thing. They loved it!) You may also be familiar with the game "Mafia" on which Ultimate Werewolf is based, and which simply uses a normal deck of playing cards to assign roles to players.

"Ultimate Werewolf" comes with a wide variety of roles that endlessly spice up the game and alter winning conditions. (For example, the "Tanner" hates his job and life so much that if he is executed, he wins the game! And the "Ghost" is a villager who sits out the whole game with their eyes open, but gives a one letter clue to the villagers each day cycle.) The cards also come with point values to easily self-balance the game no matter what combo of roles you use, and great thematic art to get everyone in the mood.

But you can just as easily play the basic game using the rules for Mafia found on its Wikipedia page.
Just create a variant theme that will work for your group (such as silly B-movie "pod people" or "secret agents") and you're good to go!

If you're stuck playing with the kiddies and would rather claw your eyes out than play Uno one more time, give "Dungeon" a try. This game is only $20 brand new. While the components aren't made of the best materials, the art is great and surprisingly not "kiddie-looking" or cartoony, despite the game's 8+ age recommendation.

My son just turned five, and with just a little help with math now and then he is able to play the game just fine (four games and I still haven't beaten him!) and begs to play it every week.

In Dungeon, each player takes on the role of a Fighter, Rogue, Cleric or Wizard, moving their piece through dungeon rooms, defeating monsters and gaining treasure. The first to get to the exit with their allotted requirement of treasure wins. (A Co-op variant is also included.) The roles each have different strengths and weaknesses against the numerous monster types in the game. Although there is some strategy involved, there is plenty of luck too.

This game can also serve as a simple introduction to the serious fantasy genre for those afraid of complex rules or "concerned" about games like "Dungeons and Dragons". Inviting parents to try playing this game with their interested kids may open some wonderful doors for worthwhile conversation about the fantasy genre in general.

While the game is very simple, it's inexpensive, comes in a portable thin box, and passes a babysitting geek's time far more enjoyably than most of those boring kids games you can find at Walmart.

So have no fear! This year you can make plans with family and bring your inner geek along too!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Genesis 4:1-7

For years this passage puzzled me. What was wrong with Cain's offering? Why were Cain and Abel even bringing offerings, since the "official" sacrificial system isn't mentioned until the time of Moses?

Not all of my questions about this passage have been answered, but I've gained much better understanding since the first time I scratched my head over it.

First off, the difference between Cain's and Abel's offerings has nothing to do with the materials themselves. Both animals and produce would later be a part of the sacrificial system. And although blood sacrifices would eventually be required to deal with sin, this offering is not about sin, but gratitude and love.

And given the separation that now existed between humans and God because of sin, it makes sense that some kind of regular but limited "meeting time" would take place during which God and humans could still connect, but in an appropriately "distanced" manner given humanity's general rejection of God.

The Hebrew word used here for "offering" contains the idea of a "donation", or a voluntary gift. We don't know whether this was the first time Cain and Abel brought gifts to God, or if this was a pattern they had developed. But each brought something they had produced to give to God.

Why would anyone do this? God doesn't need to eat. And if he did, he could make food for himself. (Psalm 50:9-13) I think the answer is love.

When we love someone, we give to them. We give them time, money, or effort. And the gift costs us something. (We have less time, money or energy for other things.) We are wired to love and be loved. And although God doesn't need our love or anything else from us, we are meant to love him and he enjoys it when we love him. This is why God had "no regard" for Cain's offering. Cain's offering lacked genuine love for God.

How do we know this? What was the difference? Look closely at the description of their offerings. Cain's gift consisted of "the fruit if the ground". Pretty vague and generic sounding. Abel's gift is a little more specific. He brought "the firtsborn of his flock". Abel brought the very first "profit" he achieved in his work and gave it to God.

That's a scary thing to do sometimes! We prioritize our time and money to take care of ourselves and our families. We don't know what tomorrow holds, so we take what we can for ourselves right now. But Abel gave his first profits to God, apparently trusting that more profits would come and his needs would be met. He believed he could afford to give the first or the best to God and still be just fine.

Although we don't know that Cain necessarily brought the rotting leftovers of his crop, he certainly has more of a sulking attitude of entitlement here than one of trust and gratitude.

The writer of Hebrews confirms the "trust" factor in this story by singling out Abel's gift as one motivated and carried out "by faith". (Hebrews 11:4)

As we eventually move into looking at the formalized sacrificial system, this "faith" idea is foundational and important to remember. Sacrifices are about trusting and loving God. And when that trust and love is not present, when we give to God by just going through the motions or from a sense of reluctant obligation, we're missing what "sacrificing" to God is about.

Our "sacrifice" can become empty routine motivated by pride or guilt. But God designed us for a relationship with him based on love, gratitude and trust.