October 23, 2012

"I'm Not the Guy You Think I Am." -God


"Unfortunately some of you have come away with the view that God is restrictive, and that He's got a long list of do's and don'ts that you must abide by."
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If I could speak for Him, I think that’s one of the major things He would say to contemporary society here in the post-Christian West: "I'm not the guy you think I am." We've gotten very used to the God of the Bible, and as such, we lose more and more of our knowledge base of Him, because rumors, ideologies and cultural norms take precedent over our actual Biblical knowledge of Him. We as a collective tend to rely on secondary sources for our knowledge of God, and some of those sources may be pastors, theologians, and commentaries on the high end, or TV shows, movies and even one-line phrases on the low end.

As such, our mental picture of God is skewed more and more. And I saw this rear its head in an article on Investopedia: "Billionaires Who Don’t Mix Business With the Bible". The article cites Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, and George Soros as well-off men who do not let religious doctrines influence their business practices. I suppose I should take issue with this, and indeed I do, but given their possible knowledge background of God and the ways they have perceived Him or been exposed to Him, I'd say there are definitely circumstances where I could completely understand where they come from. In some instances, I would entirely support their decision. In fact, I will go as far as to say that when someone does step forward as if representing God in their business practices, I'm very leery and VERY anxious about their public relations. I'm almost waiting for them to put their foot in their mouth and make Christians look bad either because of their lack of grace towards people they disagree with or displayed ignorance that plays into the stereotype that Christians are dumb and believe in a fairy tale book with a fairy tale God.

And I also recognize that Renewal Corporation may be the next contestant to step onto the forefront as a Christian company and runs all the same risks as the other Christian companies before it. And it sucks that the track record before us is at least on the surface quite dismal. But it's our hope to bridge some gaps and bring some clarity. It is not my purpose to convince you about the Gospel or debate with you on any particular points; convincing is not my job. My job is to present the case with a degree of clarity that enables you, the reader or consumer of our products, to sit and wrestle with it and come to some conclusions. Dialogue on the matter is welcome, but I am under no delusion that I will be able to convince someone who has decided not to be convinced. But I digress.

When Investopedia's article talks about the men who don't mix Bible and Business, I actually find that quite unfortunate, coming from my understanding of God. Mind you, I come from a Reformed background, and one of the things that resonates with me about Reformed theology is that it operates with a framework that God has something to say about every area of life, because He cares about us and wants us to succeed in life and hand over the earth to the next generation who can also succeed and build on top of our work. So He's not just a short-term planner. He has an eye for how our success impacts others around us, and the future generations to follow.

And so I feel that the billionaires listed in the article are actually doing a disservice to themselves and possibly to other people by NOT consulting God's wisdom on how to run their business. Given their levels of power and influence, the stroke of a pen could put thousands of people out of work and impact many thousands of families, millions and maybe billions of customers and partners, etc. That level of power enables one to extraordinarily benefit society or do unfathomable damage to it. So if I'm in that position, the wisdom of God is something that I need like oxygen. Godly wisdom is placed at a premium. This is not the kind of thing I want to be left to my own devices with. And so it is good to know that God has wisdom for each and every area of life.

But to them, it is actually a bother, a stumbling block, if you will. I get the feeling that they still don't know what to do with it, and to my estimation, you the reader, might not either. And I think that comes down to your current perception of God. Maybe you can relate to this:

Ten years ago, if you would have told me I was called to ministry, chances are I wouldn't have told you that you were crazy, but I would have at least cursed under my breath. Why? Because my perception of ministry was being cooped up in some rinky-dink church full of old people singing songs I don't like and preaching sermons that no one was there to listen to, all while doing the back-breaking work of tending to the flock, reaching out to the community, maintaining the finances and upkeep of the building, etc. No thanks.

Add to that the contrast of my dream to make video games. It's profitable, it's fun, I can use all of my talents and gifts towards this: I can market, I can write, I can strategize, I can direct. So needless to say, my perception of ministry and God led me to believe that if I gave God the wheel and told Him to take me wherever He wanted me, He would promptly swerve off the road and crash my life into a ditch. 

"And so he tells me he gave control of his car to a 2000-year-old man who's never driven before. Just on faith."

But God showed Himself to me, and did it in a way that challenged my notions of Him from growing up.

He showed me that I could make games that were top-quality and present the message of Christ through them, and do it in a way that doesn't inherently alienate people. He showed me I could direct, and market, and strategize and write for Him, and have fun and prosper and do ministry. I would be doing business-as-mission. And the games wouldn't just be some tool to exploit for God's purposes, but that the games themselves would contribute to the industry in real ways, because God created everything good and wants everything to be good. So the game industry was open game.

The implications of that meant I wouldn't be operating in conflict with my gifts and talents, but in conjunction with them, and that in doing so, I would be personally fulfilled, not malaise about seemingly throwing away my life. So by extension it shows me that God really cares about my life even more than I do. And because it became evident that He was always planning this, maybe He's got more inside knowledge I can tap into, and perhaps even transcend this world's way of doing things. And so I began to seek out knowledge and insight about Him. 

This does not sound nearly like the "restrictive" narrative we as a society have been fed about God and about faith. In all honesty, it seemed more and more like a "libertarian God" was at work, if I may. A God who wants us to be free to live our lives in service to Him. And so that your minds will be put at rest, I'll go even a step further: You don't have to run a Christian company to glorify God. You don't have to offer Christian or Biblical items or services in order to please God with your business. Don't get caught up in the tendency toward homogeneity. We have more than one way we can honor God in our work, whatever that may be. If you have a fast-food company, you can honor God by offering healthier, tasty food. Or if you make furniture, you could design them with the user's posture in mind. Notice, these are being done in certain ways already, through companies that aren't necessarily pursuing Christian goals. But their goal may be for the betterment of society. And this honors God. So do not feel compelled to have to pursue evangelistic ends in any and every business you can think of, but be thoughtful of ways in which you can honor God through whatever product or service you offer. And one way you can do that is by consulting Him for wisdom in that area.

We'll tie it all up with this: What you're really looking for in your life is understanding of your purpose and the meaning of your life. You look for insight in reputable sources, and make the best decision you can with the info that you have. Unfortunately some of you have come away with the view that God is restrictive, and that He's got a long list of do's and don'ts that you must abide by. In your inability or unwillingness to abide by those supposed rules, you abandon the topic entirely and do not see God or Scripture as a reliable source of info for how you go about business (and maybe even just life in general). But this inadequate view of God and His involvement in your life has hampered your search for understanding and insight; it has handicapped you. 

So my best recommendation, if this describes you, is to begin to ask yourself (or God directly) if you really understand who and what the God of the Bible is all about. And inquire if He has wisdom about the things you deal with in life, whether it's your business, or job, or church, or family. Ask if you really understand the full story or if there are critical parts you're still missing. 

Are you open to clarity about God and about your life? Then explore your faith.

July 23, 2012

Metanoia

Ever see that word before? It's the Greek word from where we get the word 'repent'. The way many people understand it, the word means admit we're sinners, to confess our misdeeds. But even that's not it. The way I used to understand it, it meant to change your behavior, to make a 180-degree turn. But even my old definition didn't capture the essence of this word. 


Metanoia means to have a change of mind. It means to think one way about something and forsake that thought for another. It's so fitting because God looks at the heart, not just the action. So when He wants us to turn from our old ways, He's first looking for a change of mind, a change of heart. You could convince me never to do something again, maybe through threats of punishment or some other means, but to truly get me to never do something again, you'd have to ensure that I thought differently about it. Problem solved. Why? Because you ONLY do what you believe. If it wouldn't have been helpful, you would never have done it.










With the world we currently live in, I wonder how people learn about God and how they view Him. And from what I've seen, the answers I'm getting is that our generation doesn't have much of a clue what God is really like. But sadly I cannot blame them. They are bombarded by images in the media, mostly always steering them away from God, and cultivating appetites for lifestyles and things God hates. It's to the point that the religion of our nation's youth (and many of our adults also) isn't Christianity, though they often try to wear the label. It's really Moral Therapeutic Deism. I touch on that in my personal faith blog.


As a missionary company, there are several goals that I hope to accomplish to help people have a changed mind about how they view life, how they view God, and how they interact with people.


Restore Our Image of God


Our God-talk is partly responsible for the image people have of God today. And FYI, our collective lack of response is also part of our God-talk. Our platform doesn't just consist of what we say, but also what we don't talk about. So when our primary concerns are almost always gay marriage and abortion, we neglect poverty, we neglect war, we neglect political corruption, we neglect the persecution of saints worldwide, we neglect pollution, we neglect racism. The list goes on. Our platform has shrunk way too far down. As if God has nothing to say about this. But I digress.


Think about this: What does God look like? As in God the Father, specifically. Normally when people think about God, what they have to go off of is an image from TV, like the Simpsons or Family Guy. 



Notice how God is always old. His dress style is always depicted as from Roman times, His beard is always huge, going along with His age, etc. The Simpsons' depiction of God is more reverent, but is still not up to task. Part of that might be because of this image:


This image shows an elderly God reaching out to Adam in the Creation. He's advanced in age, though He has some muscle-build. His dress-style is reflective of Roman times, and His beard is long. This one image has shaped the way God has been depicted in modern media today, because it first resonated with someone when first painted, and its impact has carried on. It stuck out. It's our mission at Renewal to depict Him in a more Biblical sense, using our holy imagination. Perhaps that will change the image people have of God, which will hopefully help in translating to how we relate to Him. With these images above, God seems like the old man upstairs that we would prefer not to deal with, but have to. What about an image that shows how vibrant and lively God is, still in His prime. Because He always is. What if God was depicted as the "life of the party", where everyone wanted to be around? Because that's how He is. In His throne room is an array of angels, people, etc. There's the 24 elders who always bow their crowns before God proclaiming His holiness. There's the 4 cherubs looking like strange animals. There's the many angels and saints gathered together all around Him. Yeah, the rest of Heaven is nice, but the throne room is the place to be. 

Articulate the Gospel

I went into this in my personal faith blog recently, but I come back to it again this time because I have seen this demonstrated time and time again among people of faith. Question: Why should God let you into Heaven? This question has yielded answers like this: "Because I'm mostly a good person", "Because I don't do _____, ______, or _______", "Because I pray and read my Bible often", etc. And more important a question: What do I need Jesus for? What makes Him special? This is where things start to veer off wildly. I have seen that people know the right answer, but when asked to define what that means in practical terms, I see that they never really understood the Gospel to begin with.

"Jesus makes our lives better." "We need Jesus to be in our heart so we have companionship." "Jesus was the Son of God." These are the kinds of answers I get. But so what??? What do I need Him for? He was the Son of God? Great. Glad He came and paid a visit. Jesus makes life better? Sure. But what if I'm hated because of Jesus? What if following Jesus means having nowhere to lay your head at night because no one would welcome you into their homes? Or why can't I substitute money for Jesus and say money makes life better? Jesus is our companion inside our heart? Yes, yes He is. But why couldn't I just get married and say I have a wife for companionship? Or come up with an imaginary friend?

No. I wouldn't be convinced to come to Christ through those answers. I would come to Christ because I absolutely needed Him and His perfect record with God. Christ lived a perfect life without sin of any kind. He died in our place for the sins we committed, taking our punishment that we deserve. He takes our sin record in exchange for His perfect record. He takes the fall for our 'F' and we get the benefits of His 'A'. We need Jesus because He alone was perfect and died in our place. We cannot go to God and say we should get into Heaven because of the good things we've done, because He's going to see all the bad things we've done, said, or even thought. And one sin is enough to disqualify us from Heaven, because God is perfect and expects the same of us. If I baked you an apple pie using 6 apples, and one of the apples is rotten, you would never eat the pie. Even if the other 5 apples were good. That's how God is with our sin. He demands perfection, and knowing we all fall short, He sent His Son to live that perfect life and to die in our place, taking our punishment. God couldn't just forgive our sin and let us off the hook. He's just and holy and MUST deal with our sin. So He dealt with it through Jesus.

You make that exchange with Jesus (his righteousness for your sinfulness) by confessing and renouncing your sins, believing Jesus died in your place, and by receiving Him as your Lord and Savior, the way it was always meant to be. So your relationship with God is restored, your sin has been paid for, your record is now clean. So if God asked why He should let you into Heaven, it's not because of your good deeds, because you aren't going off your own record, but because of Jesus' death in your place. So God judges you off of Jesus' record. And He finds Jesus perfect. And you get in. THAT'S what you need Jesus for.

Lavish the Poor

This is another part of our mission at Renewal. By trying to minister the Gospel to everyone, we are very much aware that many of the problems we face as a society are exacerbated by poverty. It's one thing to have moral character when life is easy and you have no worries about your living situation, your next meals, your access to opportunities to grow. But when you don't have those assurances, it tends to reveal character traits inside you that you never knew were there, where you may do anything to get out of your impoverished state. You think I'm talking about crime, don't you? Well, I am, but not exclusively. Because in addition to crime are also self-subjugation and  extreme validation-seeking. 

With crime, a lot of what you're seeing with that is either a desperate search for financial provisions or direct material provisions that somebody felt either unfairly deprived of or felt was too out-of-reach to afford but yet so desirable. And that's by no means an exhaustive definition. But with self-subjugation, the person has been so petrified by the fear of losing what little financial security they have that they'll put up with ANYTHING in order to maintain it. The system or organization overseeing them has succeeded in demoralizing them and they will endure unenviable working conditions to maintain some source of income. If a better opportunity came along, they would jump at it in a heartbeat. Lastly is extreme validation-seeking. In an effort to not come off as poor and needy, some poor people mask it by acquiring anything name-brand to put on a front of being well off. It's a facade for self-worth. Unfortunately for them, their identity and self-worth are wrapped up in what they wish they had. They do not (yet) know that the essence of "life does not consist of the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15).

How do we remedy that? Well, this is our target market, and understanding that they do not have money to throw around, we are willing to lower prices for their benefit, to increase access to the game and the Gospel's depiction therein. But does that mean we lower the quality? God forbid. When we put on that slogan "God-centered. Gold-standard." we are saying that we're going to deliver a quality product every time we enter the market. It's partly out of our pride in what we do, but it's also partly out of necessity, because Christian games have a bad reputation. Our job is to honor God with excellent work as much as we can. But another part of our job is to make sure our customers are treated like they are made in God's image. Practically, that means:

  1. Give them a good product.
  2. Build them up as people through our product.
  3. Address things in society that have torn them down.
  4. Introduce an alternative that restores what God wants in their lives.
Case-in-point: A new book I'm working on now, a prequel to "5th Grade Challenge" addresses whether moving to a new and better place will really change you and your behavior. Here's a hint: It won't. What must change is your heart. Though I anticipate it being a bigger book than 5th Grade Challenge, its price range should not differ wildly. It will be written up to Biblical standards as well as be well-edited for quality. It will address issues like bullying and emotional well-being. And it will introduce Christ-like values that help one transcend their environment's conditions.

So what I hope to accomplish with this goal of lavishing the poor is threefold. I want them to first have access to top-quality games and books on their limited budget. I want to empower them with principles that can help them transcend their current living conditions. Lastly I want our products to inspire them to live the kinds of lives God is pleased with.

In doing so successfully, it's my hope that other companies will follow suit and also begin to treat the poor not as wallets with legs or nuisances to society, but rather as valuable customers who deserve their attention, service and respect. So even if we're eating off-brand food, it is still of nutritional value and quality. Or if we're wearing off-brand shoes, that they can still retain their shape and integrity after getting wet or being worn day-in, day-out for months on-end.

At the End of the Day

It all comes down to fixing what is broken in society. It all comes down to treating each other with the respect we all deserve for no other reason than we are each the image-bearer of God. Therefore I cannot write you off as less valuable because you don't have money or because you don't talk the way I do, or because you come from a neighborhood riddled with crime. "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose hearts are entirely His" (2nd Chronicles 16:9). I can attest to the truth of that statement. I come from poor backgrounds. I haven't seen my father since I was 4. My neighborhood is sometimes really sketchy and the city as a whole has dealt with high murder rates, particularly among young people. But God has helped me. And He has inspired me to pursue this path I am on. I've been on this path since 7th grade. God first introduced Himself to me in 5th. And if God could begin to transform me and use me for His purposes, who's to say He can't do the same or greater in someone else whom society would have written off. Remember what they said about Jesus? "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

I'm looking to change the hearts and minds of people, not just their behavior on the surface. I want them to really understand God and His ways, not just adhere to religious traditions and rules. I want companies to change the way they see customers and how they treat them with their products. I want to change what it means to be poor in this world and give them the validation they've been conditioned not to expect. I want to even change the way we as companies treat our employees and our neighborhoods. But it all starts at the heart. It all starts with metanoia- a change of mind.

Thanks for reading.

June 24, 2012

Myopia in the Church



Earlier today I imagined myself speaking before my home church giving a powerful illustration to them about myopia in the Christian community, and I felt it was worth sharing, so here it is.


This is a picture of a church sanctuary. And I have never been outside of it. All I know is from what I have seen in that sanctuary. All I can ever speak on is based on what I have seen in the sanctuary. And so here’s what I can gather as I stare out at the crowd from the pulpit:
  • I know what carpet is and how it decorates the floor.
  • I know that wood can be used for building furniture and framing the building.
  • I know that paint can be used to decorate the wood.
  • I know that lights make it easier to see, and that there is even more light outside, depending on the time of day.
  • I know what stain-glass windows are.
  • I know that people grow older over time by looking at the people that come in the building over a period of years.
  • I know that most people who come here bring Bibles and that we study from it.
  • I know that microphones and speakers amplify my voice.
  • I know what music sounds like when the choir sings and the musicians play.
  • I know that upholstery makes the wood pews a little more comfortable to sit on.


Judging by that list, I know a lot, don’t I? However, a full life inside the sanctuary with no exposure to the outside world (or even the rest of the building) would be a miserable existence. So imagine that one day I decide to explore outside the sanctuary. I would see that there are rooms where people gather to eat food together. I would see and get an idea of indoor plumbing and waste disposal. I would also get an idea of different types of flooring.
Wow. What a new series of revelations, huh? But let’s take it a step further. 

Let’s say I start looking out the windows to see what the outside world looks like. Stepping into the church lobby where I can see outside the building, I notice it’s very bright outside, even brighter than inside the sanctuary. In fact, there’s just one big light that shines down and lights up everything I can see. I can also see that there is a different type of flooring outside that isn’t nearly as decorated as the carpet. One of them looks really hard and rocky, while the other is strange and green. It seems so green that it’s inviting. I wonder if it’s plusher than our carpets.

Looking outside, I can see the outside walls of our sanctuary. It looks like our building is one of many! So many other buildings surround ours and I wonder what each is like. Off in the distance I see these tall brown stalks with lots of green stuff on the top. They cast a lot of shade and I even see people standing under it as if seeking shelter from that one big light up at the ceiling. By the way, the ceiling is really high and looks blue. It has white splotches all over it, but they can be seen moving. So it’s like a moving paint job. I don’t know how high they go up, but maybe there’s a tall ladder for that.

The last thing I saw as I looked outside the windows at the world beyond was a shiny thing with paint on it that moved back and forth, seemingly on its own. I could see a person inside it, and there was music coming from it as it moved. As far as I knew, we didn’t need those things because we have legs. How big could this outside world be?

The last thing I saw as I looked outside was people who didn’t look anything like the people I saw inside the sanctuary. Some of them looked like they were poorer than those in the church, some richer than those in the church. Others, though, even just in passing, sometimes displayed character traits that didn’t seem to reflect the character of God or Christ at all. And seldom would one ever step foot in this building. But what will happen to those people? Will they go to Heaven? And if not, what are we going to do to get them there? Are we, the people inside the sanctuary prepared to do what it takes to reach them? Can we get them inside these doors? And if we can’t, can we still give them the message of Jesus Christ?

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Now, I know this illustration isn’t very realistic in literal terms, but it’s quite real in practical terms. Unfortunately, even though our society has changed a lot over the last hundred+ years, we in the church have not responded in strong enough fashion to keep up with the times.

What I mean is this: We’ve gotten locked into a tradition that prevents us from seeing the need for change with the times. Currently we live in a postmodern society. But we in the Church are still holding onto tenets of Modernity. So, when the people respond more to seeing the people of God in daily life or experiencing the love of God through their interactions with Christians, we’re stuck on reaching out to them with apologetics or factual matters as to why they should receive Jesus Christ. When the people have a hunger to see the God of the Bible in action with healings and other miracles, we settle for showing them Scriptural truths expressed in our sacraments and doctrines. Or when people want deeper knowledge of God and the Scriptures and we give them booming music, praise dances, and clichés. Instead of giving the people a full vision for their lives and how they connect God to daily life, we give them “When praises go up, blessings come down.”

We have lost sight of the world passing us by, and it has harmed and will continue to harm our ability to reach the lost. But I can understand why such traditions have taken on lives of their own. They usually stem from some success of the past. Once we find something that works, we stick with it, hoping it will continue to work for us. However that usually comes at the expense of retaining its original meaning. Case-in-point: When Black women wore long dresses down to their ankles in church, during slavery, the reason was because they were able to control their bodies and not be raped by their slave master. This gave them a sense of dignity, however brief it may’ve been that Sunday morning. Applied today for a younger woman, the long-dress-standard may come off as awkward to them, uncomfortable and needless. One could wear a shorter dress and still have a godly carriage about her. This example shows us how important it is to recognize why our traditions exist in the first place, and when to let them go. Once you lose sight of it, you attach meanings to them that were never intended and perhaps detrimental.

One of the biggest advantages Christianity had through the millennia was its adaptability. Missionaries had a practice of moving into a new territory, and spending their first months there just learning the culture and the finer points of where they lived. They had to learn the language, for starters. They had to learn the geography. They had to learn the people’s values. And only then after getting a good idea of what these people’s lives were really like did they open their mouths and speak the Gospel. But the Gospel always had different points of emphasis, according to where the people were at spiritually. It was never altered or changed, just positioned differently so the people could grasp it.

So for the people outside the church walls, instead of trying to constantly bring them in, it’s our responsibility to go out to them and learn how they think, and position the Gospel accordingly so they can understand it. Otherwise we’re just wasting our time. But the good thing is the Gospel has the versatility to reach any culture, any people group. If only we’d go out to meet them.

The problem is, however, that we ourselves are oftentimes not properly equipped with a strong enough understanding of the Gospel to be able to share it with anyone else.

Question: What does it mean to say Jesus died for our sins? What is the significance of that? How does that work out on a practical level?

We all grew up hearing that phrase “Jesus died for your sins”, but we can’t articulate why. Here’s why: Because God is merciful, He wants to save us. But because He’s also just, He has to punish sin wherever it’s found. So what Jesus did in living a perfect life without sin is He set us up for a blockbuster trade. He had earned Heaven Himself. He earned the rewards that come with obeying God, and He could have cashed in. But He instead took on the wrath that should have come our way for every time we sinned. He took our punishment that we deserve, satisfying God’s justice. Because sin has been punished, we’re able to receive God’s mercy which comes from trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus. So we get to Heaven with the righteousness of Jesus, but Jesus took on the wrath from our sin. What a trade.

So by understanding justice and mercy and the character of God, you were able to grasp why Jesus had to die for our sins for us to be forgiven. And I even used a bit of sports terminology.

In evangelism, just like missionary work, we have to be willing to listen to people and get an idea of how they think so we know how to shape our presentation of the Gospel. It’s not an inherently bad thing that people like music. Some or most of it may be broken, but it can also be used for God’s purposes. Video games may also be broken, but they too can be used for the spreading of God’s message. TV may be raunchy, but that, too, can be used for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

I want to challenge you, people of God, with this Scripture: “If you’ve raced with men and they have worn you out, how then will you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5) God is calling His people to do great things for Him, things the world has no grasp of yet. My only question is, are you willing to do what it takes to be useful to God? Are you willing to be stretched to learn something new? Are you willing to be discomforted and stirred to action about something God cares about? Are you willing to get outside of the church to go reach people who won’t come inside? Will you learn and understand the Gospel of your salvation, and will you then take that to someone else? There’s a whole world of possibilities at how to reach people, so explore them. You’ll find that you, specifically, were needed for the expansion of God’s kingdom because of the way God made you. We need you out here. Please respond to the call.

May 27, 2012

5th Grade Challenge: Meet the Characters

As promised in the previous post, I wanted to roll out the characters and post an excerpt of the story from one of the games I plan to develop. These are characters from the "Project Awakened" series, the game that first started leading me to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm still leaving the official title under wraps, so that name will continue to be a substitute for now.

The story "The Life and Times of Theodore Addison" is a spin-off of the game, a book series that is meant to fill in some of the gaps the games will skip over. I advance my characters through the years, so there will be no "forever young" characters. This isn't the Simpsons. Because of this, and because each game has a specific beginning and ending, I know readers and players would love to know some of the other details of the characters' lives, like graduation, summer camp, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and other landmarks in the characters' lives. That's where the books come in.

I plan to soon release the excerpt on a Google Doc. You can click the tab at the top labeled "5th Grade Challenge" to go to it, but it is not available yet. As it nears finalization, I will release it, but for right now, I'm just not comfortable doing that yet. But what I can do is give you a quick summary of the book.


Summary

"The Life and Times of Theodore Addison: 5th Grade Challenge" is the story of several kids and their teacher. There's a brutal rivalry between the boys and the girls, and as it escalates, the teacher tries to step in to quell the fighting. The teachers organize a contest between the boys and girls to let them duke it out over academics, athletics, and hobbies, hoping to use their preparation for the competition as a tool for showing the kids why they should value each other as the image of God.



Characters


Theodore Addison: A 10-year-old boy genius who just moved to town three months ago. He came into town with a bang, working with his new classmates to save the city from a foreign invasion and helping his best friend Derrick rescue his captured father. Ted used his quirky inventions to help through the mission, and is now enrolled in Derrick's school, hoping to build a new life after ruining it in his old town.

Matthew Addison: Ted's 7-year-old brother whom everyone calls 'Sunshine' because of his adorable and friendly personality. During their adventure, Matthew soothed many of the tensions that arose among the group, especially those directed at his brother.

Veronica Teal: Ted's rival. She's noted for her speed, and helped the group do demolitions during their adventure, using her speed to quickly escape buildings. Because Ted often wore Chicago Cubs clothing, she countered by wearing St. Louis Cardinals clothing. People started to suspect she liked him, but she always said she does that to irritate him. Veronica's very sharp-witted and loves to antagonize Ted and his friends.

Derrick Read: Ted's best friend. An African-American, Derrick grew up with Ted and loved to help him with his inventions. Moving away to another city was difficult for him, but he got to see his friend every chance they got a break from school. During their adventure, Derrick was always good for a laugh, and caught as many mistakes in Ted's inventions as he could, but there were just too many, so sometimes Ted's gadgets would have mishaps, sometimes at the worst possible moments. He also gets tired of his name being mistaken with Derrick Rose.

Diamond Forté: Veronica's best friend. An African-American, Diamond transferred into school 3 years ago, the same time Veronica did, so they hit it off quickly and leaned on each other to make the transition smoother. Diamond used Ted's inventions during their adventure, and they backfired on her more frequently than anyone else's tools, causing her to sometimes berate Ted. She has the same contempt for him that Veronica does, but she eases up a little on Derrick, the only other Black person in her classroom. 

Yaakov "James" Maven: Ted's other rival and associate. A Jewish boy from Haifa, Israel, James moved to America with his family so his dad could pursue his theological studies without persecution. His dad recently became a Messianic Jew, a Jew who believes in Jesus. Yaakov adopted his American name 'James' so he could set himself apart from the other boys also named 'Jacob'. James doesn't have very strong ties with Ted or anyone else in the group or even his class, but he can tolerate Ted and Derrick, so he sticks with them when necessary. He did a lot of the heavy-lifting during their adventure, and was a harsh critic of Ted whenever he messed up. Often a loner, James has a tendency to take himself too seriously to really enjoy being a kid. 

Ron Gibson: Ted's 5th grade teacher. An African-American, Mr. Gibson has taught for 11 years, and is relatively young, about 35. He's known by his colleagues as wise beyond his years, and has an entirely different approach to dealing with his students. Because he rejects the typical disciplinary approach other teachers use, most of his students like him, even though he has a serious and dry nature, and his class rosters often fill up much quicker than other teachers'.

So those are the characters. I look forward to getting more information to you about the book, its story, its release date, and things of that nature. Until then, I appreciate your anticipation of the book. God hasten the day I can get it into your hands.

May 9, 2012

Testimonial: A Special Day

May 9th is a special day in my book. It was this day, 8 years ago that I conceived a game idea that changed my mindset and even pushed me towards God.


For privacy's sake, we'll just call the game Project Awakened. Now, if you've read one of my blog entries from earlier, you would've seen that I originally wanted to work for Nintendo and make games as an American subsidiary. I was great at creating ideas based on already-existing franchises like Mario and Pokemon, but for the first two years I had no original games. I was very proud of some of my ideas for Mario games, yet there was a void that I had nothing of my own. This was something that never worried me, though, because I knew an idea would come in its own time. I had a history of good ideas coming to me naturally; I never had to force anything.


Some assumptions I had about the game before I conceived it: 1) I knew that this original game would become my proudest work, even more than my previous ideas. 2) I knew that this game would acknowledge God somewhere in there, I just didn't know at what capacity. Now, why I had these assumptions built in, I don't know, but I've got a sneaky suspicion God put that there.


The conception of Project Awakened led me to become a more knowledgeable Christian as I began to really work on the game and its spiritual themes. But more importantly it challenged me to become more committed to my walk with Christ. It was because of this game that I myself was reawakened to God. I was the first fruit!


This course of events tells me that God was in control of my plans and goals and visions the whole time, and that He will use whatever He desires to bring me closer to Him, even my own creation. It told me that I was a co-creator with God, a partner with Him as He does His work in reconciling the world to Himself. It tells me that I, too, needed to be saved. Like a prophet who hears God's Word, it convicted me first. It also told me that God embraces our creativity and welcomes our multiple ways of spreading His Word. Too often we think of preaching the Gospel as having a megaphone out in the street or passing our tracts or speaking from a pulpit. How about through lyrics and a good beat? What about through dance? What about through a video game? What about through a TV series?


As I began to really cultivate the game and shape it, I realized how creative God is. And if God is creative (as we look around the wonderful world He's made), surely a video game is nothing to Him. So I thought I should consult Him on game ideas and what could make this thing excellent. After all, why shouldn't a game that represents God be superior in its execution? God knows what He's doing; maybe He's got a better approach than I or anyone else can come up with.


As I saw the great ideas He poured into it, I then turned my attention back to all the other game ideas I came up with, from Mario and Pokemon and Zelda and Metroid. I submitted them to Him for approval. Was there anything He was displeased with? And I found out that as I invited Him into the creative process, some games did get the ax, true. But most others were enhanced. And so I learned to trust God in game design. Looking back, that seems like an obvious thing, but at the time, I also had the major concerns that 1) Christian games are inherently low-quality, and 2) God may or may not approve games as a ministry tool, and that maybe they should stay separate.


That's what church culture sometimes does to people. Unintentionally, they can make you to feel that you aren't serving God unless you're opening your mouth directly to spread the Gospel. But I remembered the evangelism efforts of one man, Jack T. Chick. I remember reading his comics when I was a kid, and I remember them building a foundation for my understanding of God, concerning salvation specifically. I looked up his bio and found that Chick was too afraid to talk to people about Jesus, so instead he drew comics and distributed them. And they got read! This innovation for Christ impacted my life and the lives of many others to this day. Perhaps my games can do similarly.






Project Awakened has become a tremendous part of my life. And it's been a vehicle for God to both minister to me directly and to others. Currently there is a book, "5th Grade Challenge" that is based on the game. I'm currently seeking to have it published within the next year, and for readers' sakes, I will post an excerpt in the coming days. But I wanted to first take this time out to thank God for His faithfulness to me, His planning the events and inspirations of my life, and for His using me to minister to others. I count it an honor.
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You can follow my personal spiritual journey at http://jwmfridge.blogspot.com

 

April 16, 2012

A Marketer's Perspective




It is profitable for me as a marketer to make you hate yourself.


It is profitable for me to then capitalize on your insecurities and push my product.


By making you feel like you're not masculine enough, or attractive enough, or worthy of companionship, I position my product as a savior to help you realize your very best self.


To me, you are but wallets with legs. And if you don't have our product, then we have nothing to discuss; and the sooner you start being dissatisfied with your current state, the sooner I can collect.




That, obviously is not the Christian approach to marketing. True, we at Renewal Corporation do have products that we would like you to purchase. And yes, they will benefit you.


But understand that we will never make you feel "less than" if you don't have our product. And we're never going to make you feel like you are unworthy of love, because God loves you right now, in whatever condition you're in. We will never treat you like anything short of the Image of God. Why? Because we love you, and God loves you. And He accepts you whether you buy our product or not. Cuz there's more to life than acquiring things.

March 30, 2012

Bubble-Bursting



Just because we're a Christian game company doesn't mean we'll succeed.

Sounds odd coming from a person of faith, but we in the Church have bought into the erroneous view that being Christian is a lock for God's blessing over everything we touch.

Fact is, 

1) You don't need Jesus to be financially successful.
2) Being on God's side does not exclude you from business risks.

To be real with you, I've seen many Christian endeavors go badly. In fact, part of the reason we have to fight against the negative stereotype of low-quality Christian entertainment is because of a history of low-quality Christian entertainment!

People have seen bad Christian movies that are clearly out of touch, made by people with good intentions. People have played bad Christian games that seem like rip-offs of popular games + Jesus. There is simply a lack of trust that emanated from lots of misses and very few hits. (Worst of all, the good games don't get noticed.)

Question: For the people who made the games or movies (and thanks to them for their efforts), could there have been an assumption they held that said their efforts would succeed because their games focused on God? That God would surely bless their efforts to advance His Kingdom?

What if those assumptions are wrong? What if their having a clean heart does nothing for their product? What if they're operating off an Entitlement Theology?

That's the danger we face as a Christ-following entertainment company. Feeling that we are entitled by virtue of our good intentions and Christian message (or our community contributions, or our tithes and offerings, or our good character, or our prayer life) to be prosperous in whatever we do. 

Our danger is assuming the supernatural power and favor of God is going to automatically be given to us. Our danger is not doing due diligence to become good writers, good programmers, good financial stewards, good artists, good musicians, good marketers, good producers. Our danger is being lazy on God, expecting Him to do everything for us, as though we don't have to grow and mature. Cuz God's got it all under control. Is that your mindset? When you plan for church events and programs, or when you have to perform some service for the church, like praise and worship. Do you assume people will show up? Do you assume the song will go well? Just show up?

What arrogance.

Reality check: God will let you fall on your face to teach you responsibility. Your choices matter, and you will face consequences. But that's why Jesus put out the invitation to take His yoke upon you and learn from Him. Just being with Him makes little difference. That's passive. You must learn from Him and practice to be effective. That's active.

Put in the work. The only place you'll find success before work is in the dictionary.