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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Out of the Water: Reflecting on God's Promises

As I rose out of the water this past Sunday at church, a joy had washed over me. Getting baptized was something that had always been on the back of my mind. Finally, after waiting too long, I went up on stage, shared my testimony, and walked down into the water. The anticipation made me nervous, but that nervousness disappeared as I walked onto the platform.

I was happy to share my story, because it reminded me of how far I had come, and what could be an inspiration to others in the audience.

After that event, I began to reflect on what it means to be a saved person, a Christian. Many people get so caught up in various denominations and rituals that they lose sight of the bigger picture. It's sad the key thing gets forgotten: the Good News.

As I opened my Bible this past week I was reminded about some of the glorious promises God has made to his children, born again believers. Jesus states that "this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life and raise him up on the last day."

What a wonderful, simple truth which sadly many people just don't understand. Many choose not to believe in the Son, laugh, and walk away. And on other other side, there are those who believe that we somehow have to be good enough for God to accept us; we have to somehow make sure our good outweighs the bad in order for a belief to work.

But what a great thing here Jesus Himself states. We'll never be good enough. He is the only One good enough, and we must simply believe in him. This is such a fundamental truth of Christianity that is skewed around. We don't "get good" enough for Christ to accept us. We strive to become good because His love compels us to change.

I know this firsthand. For a few years I had an ongoing sin problem.  When I came to faith, God planted something in me that has helped me stop and strive to be better going forward.

And this leads me to this point, a verse I had never really thought too much about until reading through it recently. People bring up this concept of cheap grace to receive, but to continue living a sinful lifestyle. This doesn't make sense, because "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in Him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God."

A born again believer is a new person because they are born of God. And what's utterly fantastic is that He plants a seed, not just any seed but God's seed in that person, and it doesn't fade or go away. That's what separates Christians from the rest of the world. There's a seed inside us that grows as we follow Christ. The verse is not saying we are perfect people. Rather, it says we cannot go on deliberately sinning like we use to, because we have God's seed, His power within us.

That is monumental to really just take a moment and think about.

Finally, a verse that is quickly becoming a favorite and daily motivation is Philippians 1:6, perhaps the most fundamental promise for the Christian. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until day of Christ Jesus." What a promise, and let us not forget that "All of Scripture is God-breathed." Here is a promise saying God is going to finish the work He started in us ever since the day we came to faith. What a glorious thing to know that He is the One holding me together.

God is going to finish the work He started in me, and that's a great encouragement to know I'm secure in Him. And since His seed remains in me, I'm bent toward doing the right thing. We still have a responsibility to follow Jesus throughout this life, and we're able to do that because God has given us the power through the Holy Spirit.

These are such great truths to reflect on when worrying about things. God is going to finish the work He started in you when you came to faith. His seed will remain in you, and you are able to say no to sin, when in the past it was all too easy to give in. We look to the Son, and that inspires us to share this truth of salvation to others we run into.

I'll never forget the day I was baptized. I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to do it too if they haven't. It's a declaration of faith, and something Jesus commands His followers to do. As you read your testimony, your're reminded of how He rescued you from the bondage of sin and planted a permanent seed. In turn, we inspire others.

God is awesome.

Verse references: John 6:39-40, 1st John 3:9, Philippians 1:6, 2nd Timothy 3:16

Monday, October 5, 2015


It doesn't take much to notice that the Mario series has been relatively quiet lately. The previous big game, 3D WORLD, came out two years ago. If that wasn't sad enough, 2014 broke the chain of an important game coming out yearly. Yes, we got Mario Kart 8 and...Captain Toad(?) but it was the first year in quite awhile not to feature the next 2D or 3D adventure. 2015 went vacant to the point I was starting to question if Nintendo was starting to run out of ideas or even go the Capcom or SEGA route...which is cease and desist for their mascot. Enter SUPER MARIO MAKER. This announcement was a complete surprise. At first the concept was just a little intriguing. "Create your own levels? That could be fun." was the mindset for many. As the months went on the hype level went extremely high as Nintendo really marketed it as the next big thing. By the time release day hit, it was one of the most hyped games of the year. Mario Maker is an amazing game, and really something we never knew how much we wanted. As a 30th anniversary celebrator, it's perfect.

One of the early criticisms was that everyone would have to wait 9 days to fully unlock all the features, backgrounds, etc. (Some have been able to bypass that, but for the review we'll talk about how it's meant to go down.) I too thought it was at first silly to have to wait, but as I went through the days I actually started to appreciate this. Mario Maker's stage building ability is not complex like Little Big Planet's, but you'll want to experiment slowly to fully appreciate each individual feature. For example, we don't have access to pipe sub-worlds until the final day, which might sound tedious on paper. But during those eight days the player would have mastered all the other features and they could prepare for the pipes because they know it's coming.

Once you have everything, the sky is almost the limit on what one can do. There are over 1,000,000 levels uploaded online. Some are fun, some are excruciating, and some are both. It's amazing what can be done because one can literally almost create their own game with these tools. Of course, while creating levels represents 50% of the draw, the other half is of course playing other creators' levels. A person can literally sit for hours just going through other creations. Plus, for a more standard way to do it we have the 100 Mario challenge. It's a great feature to play other levels in a systematic way. Expert mode is actually extremely difficult and I would say even more challenging than The Lost Levels!

The usage of Amiibos in this game might just be the most innovative. If you for example put a Pac-Man Amiibo the Gamepad, you can summon the chomper himself. You put him as a Mystery Mushroom and when you or someone grabs it, they instantly transform into Pac. It's a really neat gimmick since there are lots of characters whom can appear. (Even those without a 2D sprite, such as Olimar!) It's also fantastic how Nintendo added the little touches and didn't just make the Amiibos palette swaps of Mario. For example, when running as Sonic he does Spin-Dash, and with Pac he goes into his classic arcade self. It's a shame these only work in the 8-bit gameplay, but it's understandable.

One of the most interesting things about Mario Maker is its ability to play with backgrounds not seen in respective games. For example, Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced the airship level. So, if you were to switch to 8-bit mode, we would get a retro version of the airship. It's the same with Super Mario World's ghost house. The possibilities will always be endless. One will be spending a lot of time in the Course World (online) part. There's a great level of satisfaction every time one uploads a new level. The problem is that everybody is limited to 10 at first. This wouldn't be a problem if say every month we're able to upload more. But that isn't the system. The system is that you're only able to upload more once a bunch of people star your levels. Here's the thing: there are over a million levels, so there's a good chance yours will get lost in the shuffle. I've had the game since about opening day and still stuck at 10 levels. It's a disappointing system because the player becomes less motivated to make new stages since it forces them to delete old ones.

While making levels is absolutely glorious, there are still some interesting loopholes one comes to notice as they make more and more. For one thing, boss fights are basically non-existent. Sure, we can have Bowser at the end with the axe as usual. But how about those Bowser Jr. battles in NSMBU where you have to beat him to proceed? In Mario Maker there's no real way to make a set boss battle where it requires the player to beat it. In the 10 Mario challenge for a primary example Nintendo obviously wants you to beat Bowser Jr., but why bother when you can just bypass him and hop in the pipe? Another thing is that while 1-Ups are always nice, there's technically no real use for them since each level is self contained. If there was a checkpoint system, then the 1-Ups could be utilized. In fact, it's strange that there's no checkpoints since Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U both have a checkpoint system.

Still, despite those loopholes, make no mistake: the level making is a true achievement in the history of gaming.

Overall, Super Mario Maker is a special  game, and fitting for the franchise's 30th anniversary. It's extremely fun creating stages, for there are almost limitless things one can do. Amiibos are put to fantastic use. It's disappointing that one can only upload 10 levels at first, since there's a good chance the player will be stuck at that for awhile. Still, don't that deter you from picking this game up. Trust me, there's nothing like it on the market.