Friday, 25 October 2013

Lessons From Naruto





Okay, I admit it, I'm a fan of Naruto.  Perhaps I'm too old to be reading mangas (Japanese style comics), but don't lie, you probably enjoy shows/movies designed for children, I'm not alone.

Naruto Uzumaki is the star character in a world made up of ninjas.  The world of Naruto is one saturated with Eastern culture.  It plays off of beliefs that there's a supernatural life force within all of us, and all we have to do is tap into it.  Some people call it chi/ki (sound familiar, DBZ fans?), Naruto calls it chakra.  With chakra, ninja's are able to perform ninjutsu - essentially magical feats only achievable by ninjas.

I don't believe young kids should grow up thinking that supernatural things like magic or chakra don't have any equivalent in this world.  The truth is that there are sources of supernatural power in this world:  God and Satan.  Perhaps some of the "magic" can be explained by science in today's day and age, but not all of it.  For instance, when Jesus divided the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand people and have twelve basketfuls of leftovers, he was using supernatural power provided by God, it has no scientific explanation.  When Moses confronted the priests of Pharaoh, and they copied his miracle of turning a staff into a snake, they were using supernatural power provided by Satan.  However, God's power is much more powerful than Satan's:  recall how Moses' snake ate the two other snakes before it turned back into Moses' staff. 

But like I said before, I'm a fan of Naruto.  There's a few lessons that we can learn from the brat who turned into a hero.

1.  Naruto never gave up on his dream

Now, I would be among the last to declare that we should make a goal and believe in ourselves.  I believe that we should believe in Jesus, and make it our goal to glorify him.  However, there is something inspiring about those who rise to a challenge and never give up.

Naruto spent the first years of his life without a single friend.  He was alone.  Perhaps this is why he dreamed of becoming the Hokage - the leader of his village - so that people would acknowledge him.  He held onto this dream, even when everyone around him mocked him about it.

As Christians, it doesn't matter how many people acknowledge us, the only one who's approval that really matters in the end is God.  Do you know what my dream is, what would make me more happy than anything else?  To be able to stand before God and hear him say, "well done, my good and faithful servant."  Regardless of any opposition that stands in my way, I will hold on to this dream.

2.  Naruto didn't let the demon inside of him define him

What set Naruto apart from the rest was that he had a demon-fox sealed up inside of him from birth.  This was the reason Naruto didn't have any friends during the first years of his life - he was the host of a beast that threatened the very safety of their village.

We are all born evil at heart.  But we all have a choice to battle that evil or succumb to it.  Ultimately the evil in us will not be purified until we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  When this happens, we won't be evil at the core, but we will still have our bodily desires distracting us from doing what we need to do.

Those who become Christians find their identity in Christ, not in their old evil selves.

3.  Naruto is brave, persistent, and always gave it his all

It didn't matter what the challenge was in front of Naruto, he had the steadfastness to give it his best and not to give up.  Whether it be training how to walk up a tree without using his hands, to learning a new fighting move, to fighting an opponent who was much stronger than he was, Naruto never gave up.

Each one of us is presented with situations that are seemingly much larger than we are able to handle.  I believe that we can take a tip from Naruto and put on a brave face and give it our best regardless of the situation.

Unlike Naruto, who relied on his own abilities to see him through challenges, we are to trust in God to get us through situations.  God is bigger than any situation, so there's no reason why we should be too afraid to do anything he wants us to do.

Hebrews 12:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

4.  Naruto had honor

He called it "my ninja way."  It really didn't matter if his ninja way didn't match up with anyone else's:  he knew what he believed to be right and would stick to it.  He wouldn't break his promise because that was his ninja way.  He would rather die or remain a fool than to give up on his ninja way.

As Christians, much of what we do is seemingly foolish to the world around us.  Why do we spend so much time and effort refraining from drunkenness, sex, greed, etc., when the world around us does all of it unashamedly?  As a young adult, I often had peers telling me that I'm missing out on a lot of fun because I wouldn't go to parties or get wasted.  To them I was living foolishness, but like Naruto, I was living with my ninja way.

However, my ninja way isn't based on my own sense of right and wrong, as Naruto's may have been.  God expects us as Christians to act a certain way, and we do so out of love and appreciation for what he has done.  So when the world sees things such as homosexuality and abortions as things that are even encouraged at times, and sees anyone who disagrees as foolish, may we as Christians stand firm on what is right, the solid ground provided by God himself.

5.  Naruto didn't give up on his friend, despite betrayal

Naruto's primary rival throughout the series was his friend Sasuke.  They were never good friends; they were more like brothers who fought a lot but would sacrifice their lives for each other when it came down to it (whether they knew it or not).

Sasuke, however, had his own dream - a dream that involved revenge.  He let his hatred guide his path, and ended up betraying not only Naruto but his hometown village.

When Sasuke was in the process of leaving the village out of his own volition, Naruto made the promise that he would get Sasuke back.  Like I said earlier, Naruto didn't give up on his promises because that was his ninja way.

However, Sasuke allied himself with an enemy of Naruto's village, making him an enemy to the whole village.  But not to Naruto:  he still vowed to do everything in his power to bring his friend back, despite Sasuke's clear statement that he wanted nothing to do with Naruto anymore.
I absolutely love this loyalty.  How many of us have friends who betrayed us?  How many of us are still friends with said people?

I can't help but think about marriages right now.  Marriages are meant to be permanent ventures.

Matthew 19:  “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Do you hear that?  When a man and a woman are joined in consummated marriage, they are joined together by God.  Why then are people so quick to have a divorce?  Where is the loyalty to each other no matter what happens?  This is one of my greatest laments about today's society.  The new generation is growing up thinking that divorces are no big deal and to be expected, and they go into marriages preparing themselves for divorce.

6.  Naruto knew the world he lived in wasn't right

It was a world of wars, fighting, and killing.  What Naruto also dreamed of, on top of being Hokage, was a world at peace.  Time and time again he came across opponents reminding him that he was living in a shinobi- a ninja's world, where fighting and strife was to be expected and he should get used to it.  However, Naruto never gave in to this world view.  He continued to fight for peace throughout the series.

As Christians, we know that this world isn't all there is; there's more to come after death.  In life it seems like whatever we do, we cannot change the way of the world.  However, God will eventually bring peace and happiness, and it's our job to make sure that as much people experience the joy of the Lord both in this life and in the next.


Okay, maybe I'm a bit of a loser paying so much attention to Naruto.  On the plus side, however, I bet you'll never read something along the same lines of this anywhere else.  And if you do, that's more than alright:  what good is the creative stories of our culture unless it teaches us important lessons about God and his plan for our lives?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

How Does One Know What's "Moral?"



Humans are born with an internal compass that tells them what is right or wrong.  But there's a few problems with relying on this compass alone to tell what is right/wrong.  (1) One has to be able to read said compass, and that's often hard to do with so many mixed signals coming.  "Follow your heart" is an overused cliche that doesn't really work.  Sometimes it's hard to tell what the heart is saying, especially when you have your mind saying something different.  (2) People can have broken moral compasses:  psychopaths for example.  (3) One person's moral compass may disagree with another person's moral compass.  And since something cannot be both right/wrong at the same time, one person's internal compass is incorrect.  If one person's internal moral compass is incorrect, so is it possible for a large portion of the population's moral compasses to be incorrect.  (4)  Moral compasses are often altered by a person's environment or upbringing.

So the answer to knowing what is moral has to come from something outside of a person's internal feelings.

This is a big question and I've read a few arguments and counter-arguments.  Feel free to share your own idea of what makes something moral.  However, in the interests of saving your (and my) time....

At the end of the day, God is the judge of us all, and so we should look to him to see what is moral.  As soon as we do so, we can see very clearly that God looks to more than a person's motives when he is judging if someone is moral or not.

 Proverbs 21:2 - A person may think their own ways are right,
    but the Lord
weighs the heart.

Behaving sinfully is the opposite of behaving morally, and God gave us the 10 Commandments - The Law - to show us what is sinful.  So to INITIALLY answer the question, "how does one know what is moral?" something is wrong if it breaks The Law, and right if it doesn't.

However, I find that I cannot simply end here.  Because it's not enough to know what's right or wrong, but we also have to know how it affects us.  How good is "good enough?"  After all, you can be the perfect person up to the point where you kill someone, and now you are a murderer.  Do all your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds?  This is how some people figure they are going to go to heaven.  However, the bible doesn't give us a measure of how much good deeds and bad deeds are "worth."  It does however say this...


Romans 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,


Basically, this is to say, that no one is worthy enough to go to Heaven, simply because they have sinned.  According to this verse, we cannot say that someone is "moral" because they have sinned in their life.


The good news is presented in the context of the verse I just presented

Romans 3:  21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

According to this verse, we can be righteous, justified, free of the blame of our sin, by having faith in Jesus Christ.  It's not enough to simply have faith in ourselves or faith in God - we need to have faith that Jesus death was sufficient payment to satisfy God's justice.  How much is our sin worth?  Whatever the answer, it has been paid for on the cross.

Essentially, the only way to be fully "moral" is to become a Christian, for it is only by becoming a Christian that all your sins will be forgiven.  As presented in this verse, the way to become a Christian is to have faith in Jesus, but what does this really mean?


Here's what it means:

1.  You acknowledge that you are not a moral person.  Your sins are too big for your to pay for without going to Hell, and that you need help.

2.  You acknowledge that Jesus died in your place, whatever your sins were worth, they are paid for by Jesus' death.  Jesus' death was sufficient because he is the perfect Son of God.

3.  Acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, you also have to acknowledge that he has to be, as he claimed to be, God.  You don't have to understand the trinity (Father/Son/Holy Spirit, three persons in one) of God to become a Christian (I don't believe anyone can fully understand it with these finite minds of ours), you simply have to acknowledge Jesus is God.  And you can't acknowledge Jesus as God without also putting him in the place of God in your life.  This is why it is said to become a Christian you have to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour - you both have to believe he rescued you, and also follow him with your life because he is the only one worthy to follow.

Following Jesus means turning away from your sinful past.  This is called repentance - not only being sorry for your sins but turning away from it.

Christians aren't perfect, we as Christians still can and absolutely do sin.  The difference is now we not only do not want to sin (at least our new, regenerated heart doesn't want to sin, our sinful flesh has something different to say), but when we do sin, our sin has been ultimately paid for.

So now we can finally approach the final answer to the one posed in the title of this article.  Someone is moral if someone is good/right.  However, since everyone has done something wrong according to God, it's not possible to be moral because the bad thing we did makes us immoral (just as one drop of poison in a pure solution contaminates the whole solution).  However, we have a chance to be truly and completely moral when we let Jesus pay for the bad things we do, taking them off our record so that we may be righteous.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Predestination


Your viewpoint on predestination will greatly shape the way you look at God and the events that happen in this world.  Don't know what predestination is?  Here's a definition I pulled off of answers.com: 

n. 
 The act of predestining or the condition of being predestined.
  1. Theology.
    1. The doctrine that God has foreordained all things, especially that God has elected certain souls to eternal salvation.
    2. The divine decree foreordaining all souls to either salvation or damnation.
    3. The act of God foreordaining all things gone before and to come.
  2. Destiny; fate. 
Do you get it yet, or is all of this over your head and you want to go read a comic book instead because it makes more sense?  It's an important topic, and I hope that you will find my viewpoint on the matter enlightening. 

In simple terms, predestination is the belief that God has chosen our fate for us.  The bible is clear that God has predestined some of us to become Christians (you'll see verses to back this up further on).  However, the process in which this happens is often disagreed about.  Basically there are two major beliefs about the predestination issue:

1.  God chose people - his elect - to become Christians without any permission from us humans

2.  God looked into the future and saw who would choose him, and he chose then chose them to be Christians

People shy away from the first option because by choosing to save some people, God is simultaneously choosing who won't be saved; the God described here isn't just choosing people to go to Heaven, he is also in a sense sending people to Hell.

Free will is something humans cling on as a right, and we treat anything trying to take it away for us or suggesting that it isn't ours to begin with as a threat.

That's is why people lean towards the second option, the option that shows that deciding to become a Christian is our decision to make.  This option lets us maintain the free will that we hold so dearly, while simultaneously giving us a picture of God which we may agree with more.

Which of these two viewpoints are true, if any?  Well, let's see what the bible has to say about it. 

Romans 3:11   "there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." 

In context of the rest of the passage, this verse is describing that this is our condition under sin:  nobody seeks God.  How are we supposed to have any control over our salvation if we can't even seek God to accept him? 

Romans 9:15-16   "15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." 

Interesting verse, but does it have to do with allowing us to make the choice that leads to our salvation?  No.  However, it does show that God does make decisions independent of our own, and for that I'm grateful.  Reading through the rest of Romans 9 gives us some hard truths about the extent of the sovereignty of God.  However, this particular article is about predestination, and so we shall move on. 

Ephesians 1:4-6   "4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." 

Ephesians 1:11   "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will," 

These passages were brought up by a friend of mine arguing that salvation is our choice.  He pointed out that the verses read "he chose us in him," not "he chose us to go to him."  What he was saying was, God chose us because he knew we would become Christians.

For a while I accepted this viewpoint.  To me, it seemed like a much kinder God that would choose us because we made the decision.  However, as time went by, I found I no longer could hold this viewpoint.

Let's look at another verse: 
Ephesians 2:  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 

When I first memorized these two verses in AWANAs, I learned that grace was a gift of God that we didn't deserve.  Salvation is a gift from God.  However, I believe that this passage is saying much more than just that.

To me, this verse now reads that even the faith that we have doesn't come from us, but from God.  The faith that we needed to make the choice wasn't even ours, we couldn't make the choice on our own.

How could we make the choice to follow Jesus without the faith to do so?  God must have predestined us to become a Christian, independent of our decisions.   As intense as the implications of this is, it appears to me that it has to be true:  it matches up with scriptures, it matches up with the sovereignty of God. 

If we were to believe that God looked down the tunnel of space and time and looked at those who chose him, and then in turn chose those people to do his will, his decision would be somewhat based on our decision.  However, this opinion limits God’s sovereignty.

How vain would we to think that we have any control over our own salvation.  Yes, we need to choose Christ, but this very ability to choose comes from God.  No part of our salvation has to do with any merit on our own part.

If we were somehow able to control even in part our own salvation, we would legitimately have something to be proud of, we would in a sense feel like we should deserve part of the glory God has blessed us with.  But that is not the case!  We deserve nothing!  God didn’t choose us because we chose him!  We chose him because God chose us!  We have no right to have any pride, all glory belongs to God!

Here’s the thing I like to bring up before going into any discussion on predestination.  Realize this:  our actions should not change regardless of our views on predestination.  We still are to obey his commands.  Those who want to be saved still need to call on the name of Jesus (Romans 10:13), and we are still commanded to evangelize.  In other words, we are still responsible for our actions and the result of them.  You are never able to do something evil and say “well it happened so God willed it to happen.”  God does use even our mistakes for his glory, but people will be judged according to their actions.  God is in control and we are responsible for our actions.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Couple Of My Comics

Egyptian Boat Tour



    Trophy Kill

(No, the two people in this comic aren’t from Temple Run)