Easter message from Pastor Abedini, imprisoned in Iran

Saeed Abedini with one of his children.  From http://beheardproject.com/saeed#sign

Saeed Abedini with one of his children. From http://beheardproject.com/saeed#sign

The following is posted at the ACLJ website, where you can read many different articles about Pastor Saeed Abedini’s imprisonment–his current unhealthy condition, President Obama’s response, how his family is doing, etc.–and sign a petition for his release (this link takes you to a separate site where you can learn about Abedini’s case as well).  You may think that these petitions don’t do any good when directed at a country like Iran, but, recently Abedini wasn’t being treated for his illnesses and international outcry did cause the Iranian government to at least move the pastor to a hospital bed.  Abedini wrote this message from the hospital.

Happy Resurrection Day.

On the Eve of Good Friday and Easter I was praying from my hospital room for my fellow Christians in the world.  What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed.

Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him.  We do not realize that unless we pass through the path of death with Christ, we are not able to experience resurrection with Christ.

We want to have a good and successful marriage, career, education and family life (which is also God’s desire and plan for our life). But we forget that in order to experience the Resurrection and Glory of Christ we first have to experience death with Christ and to die to ourselves and selfish desires.

Jesus said to His Disciples:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

This means that we should not do things that we like to do (that God does not want us to do) and to do things that we do not like to do (but God wants us to do) so that He may be glorified.

So in addition to spending our days and night in doing the works of faith as described above, we should also transform our dead faiths into living and active faiths through the resurrection of Christ which is an active and constructive love that is effective.

In conclusion, let us resurrect our Dead faiths to living faiths by first dying to our selfish “resurrected” self and experiencing the cross of Jesus. Then we are able to experience the Glorious resurrection with Christ.

A Glorious life with Christ starts only after a painful death (to self) with Christ.

We will start with Christ.

Pastor Saeed Abedini
Prisoner in the Darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light

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John Lennox on the Resurrection: why Hume, Dawkins, and others got it wrong

John Lennox, Oxford professor and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science, concisely gives us compelling reasons why two widely used anti-resurrection arguments don’t make much sense:   Hume’s and Dawkins’ on “no possibility of miracles,” and the more widely scoffed-at “empty tomb” claims by the first Christians.

What amazes me, as it astonishes Lennox, is that anyone can rationally affirm and adhere to the 18th century philosopher Hume’s argument against miracles, which says that:  miracles go against the laws of nature, therefore they don’t exist.  We study nature and have found  laws of nature by observation, but we can’t rightly claim that something doesn’t exist or won’t happen just because we know of such laws.  What is even more odd is that Hume didn’t actually believe the Laws of Nature were necessarily always uniform:  “He famously argues that, just because the sun has been observed to rise in the morning for thousands of years, it does not mean that we can be sure that it will rise tomorrow.  This is an example of the Problem of Induction: on the basis of past experience you cannot predict the future, says Hume.”  If this is so, then “if nature is not uniform, then using the uniformity of nature as an argument against miracles is simply absurd.”

In his usual clear style, CS Lewis points out how easily Hume’s argument can be refuted (as quoted by Lennox):

If this week I put a thousand pounds in the drawer of my desk, add two thousand next week and another thousand the week thereafter, the laws of arithmetic allow me to predict that the next time I come to my drawer, I shall find four thousand pounds. But suppose when I next open the drawer, I find only one thousand pounds, what shall I conclude? That the laws of arithmetic have been broken? Certainly not! I might more reasonably conclude that some thief has broken the laws of the State and stolen three thousand pounds out of my drawer. One thing it would be ludicrous to claim is that the laws of arithmetic make it impossible to believe in the existence of such a thief or the possibility of his intervention. On the contrary, it is the normal workings of those laws that have exposed the existence and activity of the thief.

After making some thoughtful points, Lennox concludes:  “When a miracle takes place, it is the laws of nature that alert us to the fact that it is a miracle. It is important to grasp that Christians do not deny the laws of nature, as Hume implies they do. It is an essential part of the Christian position to believe in the laws of nature as descriptions of those regularities and cause-effect relationships built into the universe by its Creator and according to which it normally operates. If we did not know them, we should never recognise a miracle if we saw one.”

Lennox goes on to use biblical passages to flush out the truth that people at the time of Christ, and earlier, didn’t easily believe miracle stories either.  They knew how nature worked and what was unusual or seemingly impossible.  Therefore, their ancient witness is just as valid as if you or I saw Jesus resurrected.  Lennox also discusses the real importance of female witnesses to the resurrection.  Please see his article for the full discussion of certain anti-resurrection arguments used by skeptics, and the thoughtful responses he provides.  And, have a joyful Easter!

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Zomboss Down Trailer; Garden Warfare DLC

Awesome trailer for the just released Garden Warfare (PvZ) video game!  Finally, a game that’s quirky and fun and really detailed about it.  Please see my recent article detailing gameplay.  Thanks!

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Palm Sunday: Devotion and Denial

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, by Hippolyte Flandrin

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, by Hippolyte Flandrin

Biola Lent Project has a Lent devotional calendar posted.  The daily entries are multi-sensory, with a written devotional, an image, and music.  Here is the link to the Palm Sunday entry:  April 13, 2014.  In it, the author speaks of the attitudes shown by the faces in the crowd in Flandrin’s painting, and how they reflect us today, too, even though we know something that those people did not yet know about–Jesus’ resurrection.  It ends with this simple prayer (of St. Benedict):

O gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you,
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

For further meditation, please read this older entry on Palm Sunday from RBC’s Our Daily Bread that I came across (Joanie Yoder, February 28, 2001).

Lent is a period of 40 days prior to Easter (excluding Sundays). For many people it commemorates Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness. They “give up something” for Lent every year, like sweets or TV. This can yield spiritual benefits, but denying yourself things and denying yourself aren’t the same. In Luke 9:23, Jesus taught the latter.

This verse can be broken down into three parts. In the statement “If anyone desires to come after Me,” the word desires indicates that this is for sincere disciples only. In the phrase “let him deny himself,” the words let and denyhimself imply a willingness to renounce one’s selfish will and ways. And in the statement “take up his cross daily,” the word daily emphasizes a continual dying to self-will.

It’s easier to give things than to give ourselves. Yet Jesus gave Himself, and so must we. To those who deny themselves in obedient service, He has promised, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (v.24). And to His question, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed?” we are called to answer, “There is no profit!” We show that we believe this when we deny ourselves and follow Christ.

To follow Christ we must let go
Of all that we hold dear;
And as we do deny ourselves,
Our gains become more clear. —Sper

By living for ourselves we die; by dying to ourselves we live.

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Garden Warfare (PvZ) Gameplay: Hosting, False Flowers, and that Bomb Carrying Gnome

My customized Metal Petal.  Just a little creepy.

My customized Metal Petal. Just a little creepy.

Update:  A free DLC with significant new game content came out on April 15, 2014.  This article has been updated to reflect the new content.

So how do you like my creepy flower?   I’ve been having fun playing PvZ Garden Warfare after introducing it at its debut in a previous post (Garden Warfare: The game for Christians (and others) who prefer bloodless mayhem).  In that post I shared that I didn’t like third person shooters but I’d give this game a go, and so I did.  It’s an addicting game (like any good game, unfortunately), though I’m not as good at the Multiplayer Modes as my son is.

The scenery in the maps is detailed, always fun, and I simply enjoy being in these environments; quirky humor can be found throughout, like with the billboard that advertizes “El Bano Taco.”  I don’t like all maps equally when it comes to actual game play, and players will discover on their own which maps present the best or worst situations for their style of vanquishing, team play (which garden might be best for Craazy! level), etc.

Gameplay Modes

There are two basically different ways of playing Garden Warfare: Garden Ops and Multiplayer (up to 24 players using dedicated servers), and there is no story or separate solo offline gameplay.  The XBOX One version has split screen capability, but not so with the XBOX 360.  The Zomboss Down DLC added a new “mute all” button option for XBOX  One.

Garden Ops.  Garden Ops is played with up to four players, either in invite only mode or public mode (if a game ends and you remain in the list, and the host changes to invite mode, you can remain in the game unless specifically kicked off).  Either way, Garden Ops is hosted by individuals and when you start a session, as opposed to joining someone else’s session, you start alone.  You may remain alone for quite some time, so be ready to go it alone if you start yourself; if you end up finishing yourself there is a 3,000 coin Solo Bonus given.  I have no idea how their system works when you can be added to an active session immediately, but when you start your own session you may never have anyone come on.  To me, this is a head scratcher.

The upside to starting your own session–of you being the host–is that you’re less likely to be kicked out of the game.  Yes, this is a definite problem with Garden Warfare, at least on the XBOX 360.  I get kicked out of games frequently and have seen others have the same problem, literally all the time.  I heard that XBOX One players don’t have to contend with this issue since EA has dedicated servers that host Garden Ops for that console, but the EA website does not say there’s a distinction between the consoles.  If you find out differently, I’d appreciate a comment about it (thanks).

In Garden Ops, you and the other players defend a garden until the session is over, and there are four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Craaaazy!  This game, while it looks like it could be for small kids, can be very hard.  Neither my son nor I have gotten through the Craaaazy! level yet (my son really wants to since to do so would mean getting our last Garden Warfare Achievement).  My son says that getting through the Craaaazy! level is harder than playing Dark Souls.  That’s saying something.  And for any parent letting their little kids play when a team effort is needed . . . thaaaaanks . . . (waste of the other players’ time).  Which reminds me:  you can mute other players easily enough, and this is done individually on either XBOX version–but with the XBOX One an option to “mute all” will then appear.

While I’m in a complaining mode, I have two other pet peeves when it comes to Garden Ops.  One, if you’re playing public mode then don’t toggle kick people off for no reason.  Very rude and it wastes the time of the players that just got placed on your team by the system.  Go into invite only mode.  Geesh.  Two, flowers are the medics in the game.  They get quite a lot of extra points for healing, both players and the potted plants.  There’s no reason to play in Garden Ops as a flower but then play like a Pea Shooter.  I can’t express how annoying it is to know there’s a flower on your team that aggressively tries to get all the vanquishes while at the same time she doesn’t heal anyone.  To heal, a player only has to hold the left bumper down – no problem at all – you can do it constantly during game play to easily heal anyone around with barely even thinking about it.  Besides not doing something so simple, I’ve even seen flowers get in a spot that others can’t get to easily, so that they happily heal themselves – only.  Multiplayer would be a better option for such players, though it still wouldn’t be of any benefit to the other team players.

And just one more thing (while I’m adjusting my stance on the soapbox), if this is a fun game, why are something like 75% of the players so noninteractive and boring?  Honestly, it’s so much fun when players interact with gestures, try to jump on and ride the cactus’ garlic drone, break all kinds of things . . . you know, fun stuff.

Multiplayer

  • Welcome Mat (Classic only).  Free-for-all on one map only, for new players.  Only basic characters with no customizations are allowed here, which is what “Classic” means when you see it elsewhere..
  • Team Vanquish (plus Classic).  Free-for-all available on various maps.  Whenever a team gets 50 points the session is finished; reviving a downed player takes a point away from the other team.  All characters and customizations allowed, unless you choose to play in Classic mode.
  • Garden & Graveyards (plus Classic).  Fun game of garden defense vs garden takeover.  Plants try to defend a series of small gardens against the zombies, and then a large garden and building at the end.  From what I’ve seen, zombie teams win more often in this game mode and the monetary rewards can be significant.  Can be played in Classic mode.  On April 15, 2014, a free DLC added the new Cactus Canyon map, where the zombies have to get a giant golf ball in a giant hole to win the final round.  Too fun.
  • Mixed Mode.  A combination of Team Vanquish and Gardens & Graveyards, where your team side is often changed.
  • Boss Mode.  XBOX One only, using Kinect.  You get to be a boss, flying around doing god-like things like airstrikes, and placing healing and spotting stations.
  • Gnome Bomb.  15 minute crazy-making match.  The Gnome Bomb is sought, taken, and attached in its designated place.  Then the team tries to destroy all
    Gnome Bomb, up close.

    Gnome Bomb, up close.

    three bases of the opposing team.

Characters and Leveling

Currently there are four base characters in each of the plants and zombies groups, and each of these base characters has six more specialized subcharacters (the sixth one was added with the April 15 DLC).  For example, instead of using the base Sunflower, you can unlock each of these: Fire Flower, Shadow Flower, Power Flower, Mystic Flower (the way mine is currently outfitted, she’s more like a Psycho Flower!), and Metal Petal.  All plants can use potted plants as well, like the Doom Shroom and Bonk Choy, and these are made available by buying Sticker Packs.  Zombies likewise have zombie assistants they can call upon in the same way.

Each flower, just like each other character, has a different way of shooting and it may have other unique attributes.  The Fire Flower may be the best in the game since it’s spray damage seems the most effective.  The Metal Petal has fifty percent more health (150 instead of 100) than the others, but moves more slowly.  Since it also has more ammo it is a definite contender for the best flower in the game.  The Shadow Flower is also powerful, with its plentiful and more powerful cool blue goopy ammo.  And the Psycho, er, Mystic Flower shoots completely differently – instead of being like the other flowers’ automatic “weapon,” it shoots individual rounds that are more powerful, and it can build up a hugely powerful shot as a special ability.  It’s more like a cactus, and most like the Future Cactus.  As far as how you experience these different characters, you can actually feel and hear the difference when shooting.  The Ice Pea even makes a “tinkling” sound whenever it shoots, while snowflakes burst around.

A player gains levels (and concurrently, Game Rank) by finishing mini-challenges, or, by using Skip Challenge Cards to make it the same as if you did the challenge.  The cards are pretty much a necessity for those players (like me) who don’t do well in multi-player modes, since some challenges relate only to those modes and are quite hard in any case.  These cards are won in the Sticker Packs.  Every time you level up, up to level 10, you get a free sticker pack that is related to that character; after level 10 you get 10,000 coins at each level-up.  Also when a base character reaches level 10, the last subcharacter becomes available to unlock.

Customizations

You customize your characters by using items unlocked from the Sticker Packs, which are just like trading card packs (though virtual), purchased with the coins you collect from playing.  Just like with trading cards, the “stickers” are rated by rarity.  One odd thing about the game is that while you can see if your sticker is common or rare at the time of your purchase, this rating doesn’t show up in the sticker book where you can see stats, stickers, etc.  Gestures, of which there are many, are unlocked this way too.  The April 15 DLC made hundreds more characterizations available.

With the flowers, you can add a hat, an accessory (like glasses), an organic (different “hands”), and a “tatoo” – with flowers its something on their face, but with cacti, it may cover their whole body.    The image at the top of this post shows a Metal Petal with a Sun Mask (combined hat and accessory), Razor Teeth Tatoo, and Happy Hands.  Plunger Hands, Purple Crystals, and Satellite Dishes are some of the few fun hands available for the flower.  The Cactus characters have the best customizations, in my view.  The Cactus has the biggest canvas–that is, it’s body has the most space to showcase designs–and its arms are also significant and obvious.  You can really have lots of fun customizing your Cactus, like with puppet or owl arms.  We have a lot of fun with this alone in the game, and with seeing how others have “done-up” their spike-shooting eccentric cacti.

Ending Notes

Lastly, coming from a Christian blog, you might want to know if I noticed anything Christian or Anti-Christian about the game.  I have found neither,* so it seems to me that the game makers are dedicated to presenting a fun game that doesn’t seek to promote or offend any faiths or lifestyles (I suppose pacifists may find it offensive).  There ARE some funny gestures that some people may take offense at, possibly–the cactus has a hilarious one that made me laugh out loud for a while, where he swivels his “hips” and says “Oooh la la,” and there’s another he does that seems to clearly mean “kiss my a$$.”  The cactus is quite the character.

*I did find a cross, seen in the picture below, which is from the scene in the character customizations window.  Even though it’s pretty big, it’s in the far distance and I

The arrow points to a cross in the background (no, it's not the house antenna).  I inserted the chocolate bunny  as sort-of my own Easter time "easter egg."

The arrow points to a cross in the background (no, it’s not the house antenna). I inserted the chocolate bunny as sort-of my own Easter time “easter egg.”

didn’t even notice it for some time.  I think my mind just thought of it as a telephone pole, until I started editing the images.

To sum up my thoughts on the game:  FUN; cuuuuute; quirky, certainly not just for kids; Garden Ops hosting is annoying; great AI; addicting; and, . . . it’s like playing in your favorite cartoon.  As the flower sometimes says, “Ahhhh, Boogie boogie boogie, Boogie boogie boogie!

This post was edited on 4/13/14 and again updated, adding new DLC information, on 4/15/14 and 4/20/14.  Images below are just for fun and will be rotated occasionally.

Shadow Flower with squid hat, spy glasses, future organics, and razor teeth.

Shadow Flower with squid hat, spy glasses, future organics, and razor teeth.

Cactus, Garden Warfare, with wooden tattoo,   gnomes organics, steam punk glasses, and roof hat.

Cactus, Garden Warfare, with wooden tattoo, gnomes organics, steam punk glasses, and roof hat.

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The Three Tenses of Salvation, by Andy Woods

As believers, we use the word “salvation” so frequently, yet what does this word actually mean? Most think that salvation simply relates to how someone becomes a Christian. We probably think this way since we are living in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The reformers spent most of their energy defending and explaining what one must do in order to become a Christian. However, the biblical and Pauline use of the term “salvation” is much broader. Salvation actually has at least three phases.

To read the remainder of Dr. Andy Woods’ article on three phases of salvation, please click BibleProphecyBlog.com.

[A sharing of one post at Bible Prophecy Blog is not an endorsement of all blog posts.]

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Is it ever OK to lie or deceive?

Judah and Tamar, of the Rembrandt School (Public domain).

Judah and Tamar, of the Rembrandt School (mid-1600s; Public domain).

A sermon of a well-known evangelist was being broadcast one day, and I just can’t forget him talking about how we should never lie.  A little white lie?  No, we should never go there.   Well, Ok, but what about lying to save someone’s life?  There are Christians who think it is wrong to lie in order to save someone’s life.   But is this stance biblical?  Is it always wrong to tell “a” lie, or is it only wrong to be a liar?

Exodus 20:16 (the 9th commandment) states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”  Does this command somehow imply that if your neighbor is evil and is about to rape your wife or daughter, that you can’t deceive the neighbor somehow in order to save your loved ones?  When faced with evil and/or murderous intent, we cannot defend ourselves with words?  A person in this situation could defend themselves or others physically and not be questioned, yet there are Christians who will deny the use of words in self-defense.  The motive of one’s heart is what God sees and knows.

There are many verses in the bible indicating that God hates a deceitful heart, a person who deceives for fraudulent or exorbitant gain.  Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 20:23, Hosea 12:7, and Amos 8:5 all show that God hates “dishonest scales” and “false weights,” used by those who boost prices and cheat; Micah 6:11 states, “Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?”  Merchants like this are stealing (commandment 8, “You shall not steal”) through deception.  There are other verses about usury and excessive interest as well:  “He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not!  Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 18:13).  Other relevant verses are:  Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:19; Nehemiah 5:7, 10, 11; Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8, 17, 22:12.

People who bear false witness, and people who deceive innocents as a way of life in order to take their money and resources, are liars.  God is against those who hurt innocent people.  There are a number of instances in the bible where persons have lied in order to save innocent life, especially in time of war, or to right an injustice that no one else had stepped in to right.  For instance, in Exodus 1:15-21, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill newborn boys, but not girls.  The midwives did not comply and when called before Pharaoh, they lied to him, because “they feared God.”  God was then kind to the midwives and gave them families of their own.  In this situation, the midwives did what they had to do in order to save their own lives and the lives of others; the situation was evil and not the midwives, who, “fearing God,” would not think of lying generally in life.  We live in a corrupt world, not in heaven, where there will be no necessity to defend life in this way.

Before continuing our look at whether or not it is OK to ever lie, let’s look at what “sin” and “repentance” mean.  Sin means “to miss the mark,” to miss the target of God’s law.  Sin can be committed against God’s law, or sin can come from not doing what God commanded, like not loving your neighbor.  Also, there are greater sins and lesser sins; thus a gradation of sins (see Matthew 11:20-24) is acknowledged by God.  Repentance means to undergo a change of mind.  When a person comes to faith in God, they undergo a change of direction in their lives, away from sin and toward Christ.  Also, the will and power to repent for individual sins by the believer is assisted by the Holy Spirit.

A problem (for some) with situations like the midwives in Egypt and with the following stories, is that persons lied or deceived, yet did not repent.  However, the situations required deception in order for a greater good to result, or a wrong to be righted.  Some theologians view the lies in these cases as common sense morality that any child would know to be “right,” while some say that the persons must have repented of the deception in order to have been blessed or saved by God  (and they were, as recorded in the Bible), and that the repentance simply was not recorded.  It should be noted that in other stories of the bible where deception was committed for selfish ends, but by a person declared righteous or blessed, repentance is recorded (as with David’s adultery and murder, for example).

Tamar and Judah, Genesis 38.  This event is placed within the story of Joseph, which may seem incongruous.  However, it was this event created by Tamar that exposed Judah’s “callous hypocrisy” and is the beginning of Judah’s personal transformation that leads to his thoughtfulness shown in the rest of the story (Dunn p. 65).  Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law.  She was married to Judah’s eldest son, who died, and then to the next son, as was the custom, but he also died.  Judah promised his youngest son to Tamar, following the custom again; she was to live with her own family until the son was old enough to marry.  However, Judah did not keep his word.  At a time when Tamar knew that Judah was coming to her area, she dressed as a prostitute.   Judah voluntarily came to this “prostitute” and Tamar became pregnant.  Later, when it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant but did not have a husband, Judah declared that she should be burned to death.  Being brought before Judah, Tamar presented items that Judah had left with the prostitute.  At that the shamed Judah declared, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.”  Judah did not sleep with Tamar again.  Jesus’ genealogy includes Tamar.

Rahab and the spies, Joshua 2.  In following the command and gift of God, the Israelites were entering the promised land after their long trek from Egypt.  Joshua, Moses’ successor, sent two spies to Jericho to obtain information about the city.  The spies, perhaps questionably, went to the house of a prostitute, Rahab.  Amazingly, they found a confession of faith and loyalty to the God of Israel there, in the person of Rahab.  Somehow the king of Jericho knew there were spies in the city, and that they had gone to see her.  Because of Rahab’s faith, she hid the spies and deceived the city guards into thinking that the spies had already left.  She assisted the spies in escaping and asked that they give protection to her and her family when Israel attacked Jericho.  This they did, and Rahab and her family became a part of Israel.  Jesus’ genealogy includes Rahab, and her faith is commended in Hebrews 11:31.  As something to consider, it seems that there was no other way for Rahab to respond in this situation.  Without her deceit, it seems certain that the spies would have been goners; also, it can be seen that it was because of her faith and loyalty to God that she lied to the guards.  If she did not want to protect God’s people, she would not have had any reason to lie.

Jael and Sisera, Judges 4 and 5.  The story of Jael and Sisera is as astonishing as it is gruesome.  A short description does not do the tale or context justice and it is recommended to the reader to study a few commentaries on Judges 4 and 5 (such as the Eerdman’s reference given below).  The event takes place while Israel was under the jurisdiction of Canaan, and a woman prophet, Deborah, was leading her people in this state.  Through God’s word, Deborah told Barak to ready men so that Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, could be given to him.  Barak showed a lack of confidence, so Deborah prophesied that Sisera would be delivered into the hands of a woman instead.  Barak, along with Deborah, attacked Sisera and his men.  After intense battle, Sisera fled, but Barak followed the rest of the troops and defeated them.  In the meantime, Sisera entered the tent of Jael, a member of a clan friendly to the Canaanite king.  Jael, however, was loyal to Israel (and maybe she was angry since from the wording in Judges 5, she may have been raped by Sisera).  She pretended to be friendly with Sisera and encouraged him to rest, but after he fell to sleep she hammered a tent peg through his temple, killing him.  Jael is called “most blessed of women” in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5).

We covered the stories of some interesting ladies of the bible, like Tamar who deceived in order to obtain what was rightfully hers (after it was clear that the other party was not honoring an agreement), and Rahab, a foreign prostitute who turned to God and lied in order to save Israelites, and Jael, a female who, through deception, defeated the powerful commander of Canaan who had attacked Israel.  The reader should not get the impression that the Bible shows only females deceiving when necessary, however.

King David, before he was king and running from murderous King Saul, went to live in Philistine territory, though the Philistines were Israel’s enemy.  Since David wasn’t alone but had 600 of his men with him, and their families, they needed a large area to stay in.  King Achish of Gath agreed that David and his men could live there.  While David lived there he went and raided towns outside of Israel, toward Egypt, and killed all who lived there so that there would be no witnesses.  This was necessary for David’s deception, since he told King Achish that he was raiding Israelite towns.  The king was led to believe that David was loyal to him and that Israel surely despised David.  The king eventually called on David and his men to join in attacking Israel, and he had to agree.  However, when the King’s commanders insisted that David and his men might turn on them and so shouldn’t fight, David went out of his way to show loyalty to the Philistine king (1 Samuel 27; 29:1-11).

Lest anyone should think that David was rewarded by God for his violent deeds here and elsewhere, he was not.  David loved God, but committed sins; his later life was full of the consequences of these, and in addition, God forbade David from building His temple because of his bloodshed (1 Chronicles 22:8).  Another example of a man lying in the Bible, though not anywhere near as fully and heinously as David, is in Jeremiah the prophet.  In Jeremiah 38:24-27, Jeremiah is consulted by King Zedekiah, who was appointed to that position by the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.  Zedekiah was surrounded by scheming men and simply asked Jeremiah to not tell these men of a private conversation they had regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s impending invasion.  Jeremiah obeyed and was not truthful about the conversation when asked.  This simple act of deception appears to be in line with God’s wish to spare Zedekiah’s life (Jeremiah 38:20-23).

So, was it OK or even desirable that the midwives in Egypt, Tamar, Rahab, Jael, and Jeremiah, were deceptive?  What does your moral common sense say?  Is it alright to lie in order to save someone else’s life (or right a wrong that no one else can, or will, do)?  Is it still “evil” when one does so?  If Rahab saved lives by lying, was it something she needed to repent of?

Peter Kreeft, a Christian and a philosophy professor, wrote an easily accessible essay on this issue in response to criticisms over an abortion-related “sting” operation (Kreeft 2011).  His stance is that it was good that the persons conducted this sting operation, despite the deceptions involved.  When faced with a great evil in this corrupt world, deception – while in other types of situations is wrong – can be right.  Were those who hid Jews and lied to the Nazis about it, wrong?  No, what they did was right.  Was it wrong to use spies to help stop the Nazis from using nuclear weapons?  Is it wrong for the police to conduct undercover work and sting operations?  No, these activities that involve deception are not wrong, but right, Kreeft argues.

Why do so many people these days take an absolutist stance and argue for the wrongness of these works by people who are only trying to save life?  Kreeft says, “I think they are so (rightly) afraid of moral relativism that they have (wrongly) fallen into moral legalism.”  He says that there is moral truth and moral reality, but that people in this age have become like computers, not listening to their moral intuition.  They deal with abstractions and not with people.  For those who cannot or will not acknowledge that saving Jews from the Nazis using deception was right and good, Kreeft says, “If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms:  relativism and legalism.  Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.”  He concludes that perhaps, as Jesus called us to become like children, He meant “for us to remember our more simple and innocent moral wisdom.”

We have looked into some Old Testament people who lied in order that good may result, and how God commands against bearing false witness and using deceptive means for personal gain.  Does the New Testament convey anything different?  No, but it does perhaps convey more.  In Acts 5:1-11, a married couple who had tried to deceive fellow Christians found that they were in fact lying to God.  Ananias and Sapphira had sold some property in order to donate it to fellow believers, but for some unknown reason, they secretly decided to hold some back for themselves.  God had not demanded that the couple, or anyone, give at all.  All donations were voluntary and Ananias and Sapphira simply needed to be honest about what they wanted to do.  Instead, they collapsed in death in front of Peter and other witnesses.  The message seems pretty clear:  God was with the new church and God knows people’s hearts.

Revelation 22:15 states, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”  Who will go to hell?  Everyone who loves and practices falsehood.   Those who practice being deceptive, who walk in that way of life, will end up separated from God.  Ultimately, why is this the case?  Because liars will never accept the truth.  This dovetails with how John defines “liar:”  “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).  “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony [God’s, not man’s] in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:10-11).

Further, the author of Romans talks of those who suppress the truth:  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (3:18-20).  God’s qualities are clearly seen and all men know it, according to these verses; men are without excuse . . . period.  This is why in the next group of verses (3:21-22) it states:   “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools . . . .”  Men know God but some choose to deny Him, and then fall deeper into darkness.

So we can see that there are those people who walk in a way of life that is against God, and those who walk in the way of God.  Those who walk away from God can still show kindness in life (Luke 11:11-13), and those who walk with God can still sin at times in various ways.  What matters is the way (which path) in which one is walking.  “If we claim to have fellowship with him [God] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 5:6-7).  Through Jesus we become righteous and are purified, even if we stumble here and there (1 John 1:8-10).

Based on these things, and what has been presented earlier, can we tell if it always wrong to deceive?  Can anyone really claim that lying to murderers, like the Nazis, in order to keep innocents from death, is wrong?  Could Jesus have had something similar in mind when he said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd [or sly] as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)?  After all, we know “that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19b).  Will not all of our choices in some situations, then, be evil (if you consider any deception at all evil)?  Do we not have free will in order to choose what seems best, while lacking the power to create other choices (change reality)?  Should we not choose “the lesser of two evils” instead of doing nothing?  In the case of persons lying to the Nazis in order to save lives, wouldn’t greater evil have resulted from doing nothing?  This seems very much like common sense, common moral sense as Kreeft is shown to have pointed out.  What we are not to do is “be” liars who:  (1) bear false testimony against someone, (2) deceive for personal profit and gain, and (3) deny and suppress the truth about God.

Bibliography

Anonymous. “Question / Comment – Is it ever ok to lie?” Jesus Plus Nothing. http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/questions/LyingOk.htm (accessed March 2012).

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Kreeft, Peter. “Why Live Action did right and why we all should know that.” CatholicVote.org. February 2011. http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=14306 (accessed March 2012; follow hyperlink for newer url, accessed April 2014).

MacDonald, William. “Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” In Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, xviii-xxiii. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).

Palmer, Ken. “Recorded Women.” Life of Christ. November 2010. http://www.lifeofchrist.com/life/genealogy/women.asp (accessed March 2012).

Sproul, R.C. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.

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A very slightly different version of this article was posted (by me) at Examiner.com in 2011, and then edited and posted at my website in 2012.  Thanks so much for reading!

Posted in Bible Study, Christianity, Faith, Religion, Spirituality, Theology, Women in the Bible | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Garden Warfare: The game for Christians (and others) who prefer bloodless mayhem

A shooter even your mother could love.

Update:  A free DLC with significant new game content came out on April 15, 2014.  The article linked below contains new content information.

Update: If you to want to find out more about Garden Warfare after reading this little post, you can take a look at my newer, detailed article.  I wrote it after having played it a good deal and investigating it some more:   Garden Warfare (PvZ):  Hosting, False Flowers, and that Bomb Carrying Gnome

Update:  Free DLC (via automatic download) will be available March 18, 2014.  It adds a new map, new game mode, and lots of extras for the characters.

The wildly colorful and chaotic, as well as constantly delightful, Garden Warfare is now out!  This new everyone-rated third person shooter is based on the fun and popular “casual” game, Plants vs Zombies, and isn’t shy about comparing itself to Modern Warfare It is currently available for XBOX 360 and XBOX One, and comes out for PC on June 30th.  (It is published by EA–and there is a note about this company at the end of this post–and was made by subsidiary PopCap.)

A popular reviewer summed the game up:  “Garden Warfare is a surprisingly good third-person multiplayer/cooperative shooter. A refreshing light-hearted twist on class-based multiplayer games, with the depth and polish that you would expect from usual suspects in this genre.”  (Visit the linked page for his excellent review.)

My son, who plays third-person shooters but is getting a bit tired of them (he’s already regretting buying COD Ghosts), was more than happy to try this game out, however, and he loves it.  I like colorful things done well, and odd humor, so I love it as well.  I don’t like playing third-person and I’ve never been into “shooter” games, but still, this is fun.  The characters move in cute ways, have gestures, make fun noises, and have a surprising number of unlockables to change appearance.  When someone vanquishes you you get to see a slow-mo of them seconds afterwards, which helps to see all the different characters and their diverse and often hilarious get-ups.

There is no blood, gore, sex, or cursing–and muting fellow players is easy–so it’s all just extreme “duck-shooting” chaos, “gardening,” explosions, avoiding tunneling zombie-eating plants (Chompers) or flower power death rays, shooting yourself out of a cannon to get to the last part of a map, and so-on.  The three levels of game play, as well as the variety of characters and their numerous options, makes for continually complex and fresh gaming fun.  (A note on bugginess–we have played it on the 360 and haven’t noticed the bugginess, at least so far, reported by players on XBOX One.)

It’s technically possible for you to play by yourself in Garden Ops mode, but unless you’re really good, you won’t get far nor get as many rewards as you could playing with others; the game is made to play with with a small group (and this can be in private with friends only), in Garden Ops, or a large group, in public multiplayer mode.  Of course, you need XBOX live to play the game.

There are many maps (I love the first one that includes a very bright and homey trailer park) and types of game play, such as just shooting it out, defending your garden, or defending multiple bases, etc., and oodles of unlockables.  Just one example of the fun-being-a-kid aspect of this game is the manner in which customizations are had: you buy packs of “stickers” to open the surprise inside.  These look like packs of real-life game cards, like for Pokemon, that you buy at the store.

Besides customizing the eight basic classes of characters, there are powerful variants to each character that can be purchased via sticker-pack too, as well as items like spawnable plants and zombies.  Who can’t but love an “outhouse zombie,” the zipping “garlic drone,” the goofy yet impressive “robotic zombie head,” or the giant corn cannon that releases explosive popcorn?  So if you’re looking for a “clean” game that easily rivals, if not improves upon, the popular shooters out there, I don’t think it could hurt to give Garden Warfare a try.  Enjoy a sampling of game images, below (these official images actually don’t do the game justice, and I will add screen shots from a video feed when I have them).

Disco zombie with deadly disco ball move.  bit.ly/1cFDFS1

Disco zombie with deadly disco ball move. http://bit.ly/1cFDFS1

A mad scientist, apparently having teleported.  http://bit.ly/MXQZok

A mad scientist, apparently having teleported. http://bit.ly/MXQZok

A note to Christian readers (and those who try to only buy products from reputable companies):  For anyone who’s come here looking for something satanic to avoid, this might be a tough choice; I was loathe to buy an EA game myself.  I get views to my blog daily from readers looking for something satanic, and in this case, Garden Warfare’s publisher EA (Electronic Arts) might be considered evil.  However, Garden Warfare was developed by PopCap, the makers of the Plants vs Zombies series for some time now.

I haven’t done a ton of research on PopCap, but from what I know, they seemed like a good company prior to their purchase by EA.  This happened in 2012, after which “EA and PopCap” fired 50 employees.  Besides that wonderful move, EA has a bad reputation among many gamers for these reasons (it was voted the worse company in America two years in a row), and others on this page–do scroll down to the lawsuits and such.

[This post was updated and expanded on March 11, 2013]

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Another great review (besides Fanboy’s, above):  Review – Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare will have you surrendering to the silliness

At the time of this writing, the Garden Warfare wikia page was up but many subpages were not:  Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

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Posted in Christian, Entertainment, Humor, review, Video games | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Goodbye Kiddy! The way of Taliban love

Instead of giving their kids comforting dolls, the Taliban give them bombs and tell them they won't get blown up along with their victims.

Instead of giving their kids comforting dolls, the Taliban give them bombs and tell them they won’t get blown up along with their victims.

As reported in January (2014), a young girl who was supposed to detonate a suicide vest to kill checkpoint police turned herself in after being beaten by her father for not carrying out the deed.  Though the Taliban denied that young Spozhmai was sent on a suicide mission, the Afghan police believed her.  Spozhmai was lucky – though beaten, she didn’t get blown to bits.

According to one source, in the first part of 2011, four children aged 8 to 14 were not so fortunate and died along with several victims when their suicide vests detonated.  Other children that year had also been deployed as suicide bombers, but were stopped prior to anyone getting hurt.  The Taliban, despite its denials, has been training and deploying children suicide bombers since at least 2010.

The Taliban’s use of children as suicide bombers is not only sickening, but it makes a mockery of Mullah Omar’s claim to protect children and civilians. Any political movement or army that manipulates or coerces children into becoming human bombs has lost touch with basic humanity.  Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch

Another source, from 2012, gave a more detailed and disturbing account of children suicide bombers used by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the whole of 2011 (this also happens in Pakistan and can be read about here):

A senior Afghan intelligence official estimated that more than 100 had been intercepted in the past 12 months, including 20 from the Kandahar area in the south. 

The largely illiterate boys are fed a diet of anti-Western and anti-Afghan government propaganda until they are prepared to kill, he said. But the boys are also assured that they will miraculously survive the devastation they cause.

“The worst part is that these children don’t think that they are killing themselves,” said the official. “They are often given an amulet containing Koranic verses. Mullahs tell them, ‘When this explodes you will survive and God will help you survive the fire. Only the infidels will be killed, you will be saved and your parents will go to paradise’.”

Moving back to the very recent past, just a day or two after Spozhmai told her story to Afghan police, a 14 year old boy stopped a child suicide bomber in his school.  The teen, Aitzaz Hasan, tackled a suspicious teen at his school and the other teen’s bomb went off, killing Hasan and himself.  Violence has only increased in Afghanistan and the regular populace is sick of it, and sick of their government not doing anything about it.  Attacks on schools have increased and school attendance has, not surprisingly, decreased.

No doubt your thoughts are to pray for peace in Afghanistan, and for no more children, in particular, to be prey to the satanic tactics of the Taliban.  We should pray about this and for the oppressed people there (and bless you for doing so), but it doesn’t hurt to know how our government (and the Western press) is handling issues like this, and the related issue – in my mind – of ignoring all the Christians being killed and displaced out of the Middle East and other Muslim countries.

It doesn’t hurt to also know what lying hypocrites groups like the Taliban are.  The Taliban continue to deny they use children bombers, even though there is a great deal of irrefutable evidence against their denials.  The Taliban has codes they claim to go by, and using children in this way defies their own code.   It goes against the Quran as well.  Yet, they are still very willing to have Muslim children killed for their cause.

The Palestinians have also done this in the past, and today train children to be suicide bombers.  Yet, somehow, Israel is to blame for all the ills of the Palestinians and many Western countries are not only boycotting Israel but are increasingly antisemitic.  And, our government seals its lips when it could educate, not only about the tactics of Islamists, but the post-WWII history and legitimacy of Israel as a nation and why the UN did not also grant statehood to Palestine at that time or in the years afterwards.

Our country wrings it hands and vacillates regarding Syria.  It ignores the persecution and killing of Christians in Egypt.  The issues are very many and a future post will outline the extermination and the apparent coming extinction of Christians from Muslim countries.  Jews are already missing from the Middle East, except in Israel, and they are increasingly unwelcome elsewhere.  It is now happening to Christians, too.  And The West stands by, warming up to the idea.  It’s now pretty easy to imagine the biblical scenario of God’s two witnesses during the end days (Revelation 11:8-10):

Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city . . .  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

SOURCES

Teenagers recruited, trained as suicide bombers (2011)

Afghanistan: Taliban Should Stop Using Children as Suicide Bombers (2011)

Afghan boy suicide bombers tell how they are brainwashed into believing they will survive (2012)

The Surprise Lesson on Palestinians, Jews and Suicide Bombings Found in a Tennessee High School Textbook (2013)

Violence and Context in Islamic Texts (2013)

A Short History of Suicide Bombing (2013)

Taliban denies ordering 10-year-old girl to carry out suicide bombing on Helmand checkpoint (2014)

Afghanistan: Ten-year-old girl ‘forced to wear suicide vest’ (2014)

Pakistani boy who stopped suicide bomber: another Malala Yousafzai? (2014)

Taliban and Government Imperil Gains for Afghan Women, Advocates Say (2014; this article is more serious and disgusting than it sounds from the title)

Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I (ongoing, with various links for all of history, biographies, etc.)

Posted in Children, Christianity, Islam, Middle East, parenting, politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Jews outraged by Christian murders, our own government isn’t

This is the crime against humanity of our time. It is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. It is deliberate, it is brutal, and it is systematic. And I, as a Jew, want to say that I stand solidly with Christians throughout the world in protest against this crime. And I am appalled that the world is silent.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (2013 Erasmus Lecture)

. . . the Jews seem to be the ones most outraged by it. . . . It’s shades of the past that a world that is indifferent to such brutal actions becomes indifferent to anybody’s suffering.

The White House—the whole Western community—ought to be taking action, as we would against any country that engages in this kind of action. Look, overall the West is muted in their response to the killings of Christians by the thousands, from Indonesia to Nigeria to Tehran to Damascus. Where is the outcry? Christians and Copts [are being killed] in Egypt, other countries—and hardly any response to it. . . .  Where are the [United Nations] Security Council resolutions? Why aren’t the condemnations coming from them?

Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

The above quotes are from the First Things article, “Jews and the Persecution of Christians” by Tom Wilson; the Hoenlein quotes were taken by Wilson from an interview of Hoenlein in The Time of Israel.

. . . the Middle East [was] once home to countless thriving Jewish communities, only for them to have been decimated in the mid-twentieth century. With the rise of hardline Islam and growing turmoil in many of these countries, Christians risk sharing a similar fate. . . .  A century ago, Christians constituted 20 percent of the population of the Middle East; today, that number stands at just 4 percent.

Jews care.  A lot of Jews get it.  What is with us?  Why does our own country, and the West, not care?  The western media is biased in its reporting when Christians are killed in countries like Sudan.  They seem to be ashamed that Christians even exist and that violent-minded Muslims are justified in doing evil.  But where is the Christian response, the Christian outrage?  If it doesn’t exist, then it can be surmised that Christians don’t really exist.  At least, our own government’s weak response against the atrocities can certainly be viewed as nothing but hot air.  But why should our government do anything about it or care, when we people of faith don’t even seem to??

Churches are our gathering places.  Why aren’t churches organizing anything to raise awareness about what is going on in the world?  If they don’t know . . . what excuse can be given?  Maybe some pastors are writing newspaper editorials and encouraging action by their flock–I don’t know.  Feel free to let me know of examples of such action in the comments below, or provide links there to Christians groups and organizations that are trying to do something about this (I don’t mean groups that report on it only).  Thanks.

Posted in Christianity, church, commentary, History, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment
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