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

~Ephesians 5:16

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Leave a Legacy


If you were to die right now, what would your legacy be?

I don't think there are many people my age with that kind of thought process. Sure, not all of us are going to be presidents or millionaires or owners of a corporation, but that doesn't mean we can't leave a great legacy behind. Of course leaving a legacy shouldn't be your first primary objective. First you want to make sure you know where you're going when your time has passed. Knowing that fact, you can begin to make a difference in the world in whatever career, job, or anywhere in which you are placed. Starting here are the seeds for a legacy.

If I were to meet my demise right now, I would probably be remembered as a "nice guy," "big Godzilla fan" "Ultra nice cashier," "a passionate AWANA leader," and so fourth. Now that I've used myself as an example, I will pose that question to you. See, if you're not doing anything or not striving toward something with a purpose, no legacy will be left. Not only that, but Christians should have a legacy. We are called to do things in this world.

Why don't we look at the Bible for some examples? Jesus Christ has the greatest legacy the world has ever known. But, He was a perfect man. Let us take a look at some others. King David, Solomon, and Saul. Unlike Jesus, these men were not perfect and commited sins. David committed adultery, Solomon turned to idolatry at a later point in his life, and Saul openly persecuted Christians. Despite all of this, these men's legacies prevailed. David is still known as Israel's greatest king, Solomon the wisest king, and Saul later Paul who turned from his life of persecuting and became one of the greatest evangelists the world has seen.

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." ~Romans 3:23

We have all sinned in the past and will most likely do so again in the present and future. But, we don't have to let that control our legacy. You can still make a difference despite what you might have done in the past. If Saul, a man who openly persecuted Christians can turn his life into one full of legacy, you can too. Also, having a a great legacy is more important that trying to possess things. As Proverbs 22:1 says,

"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."

You can make a difference today, and tomorrow you will leave a

LEGACY

Thursday, January 23, 2014

God and the X-Men


When I was little FOX used to air marathons of all the 90's Marvel cartoons. I grew up with that stuff, with Spider-Man still being his best animated incarnation. But easily the most notable team show from the company was X-Men. Like most people at the time, I owned one of its only DVD releases, The Legend of Wolverine. It would be over eight years before the entire show was put on DVD. (Sadly, 20 years later and Spider-Man doesn't have his own series in a complete set or volumes!) The Legend of Wolverine contains a good number of episodes that I've probably seen over a thousand times over the years.

One of the more peculiar ones that has always stood with me is the one titled 'Nightcrawler.'

So, besides the this being his first appearance in the show, what exactly stands out about this episode? The 90's Marvel cartoons relied a lot on the emotion of the storytelling and not just the action. X-Men took a step further, even incorporating Faith in the Lord.

That's right.

The plot for this one follows Wolverine, Gambit, and Rouge who are trying to be on vacation. While skiing to find out about a legendary 'demon,' they get trapped in an avalanche. They are eventually brought to a monastery. It's here when Nightcrawler appears. While he and Wolverine don't get off to a good start, eventually they have a great respect for one another.

Wolverine is obviously an angry character. This is explicitly stated when he says, "Don't know the meaning the word" when Gambit sarcastically remarks to him, "I hope you're happy." Nightcrawler is a mutant of faith, despite the public shunning him as a demon. He tells Wolverine that God hasn't given up on humans nor mutants. But perhaps one of his best quotes is...

"He is there for our times of joy, or to help us when we are in pain."

Great stuff. You see, Nightcrawler by society's definition shouldn't be this happy. He was abandoned by his mother as a baby and is hated by the public. But he takes comfort in God. Throughout the episode Wolverine doesn't quite buy it, until the end. Nightcrawler gives him Bible and then later in the final minute we find Logan in a church. He quotes Isaiah 12:1-2

"I will give thanks to you oh Lord, for you are angry with me, your anger turned away, and you confort me, I will trust and not be afraid."

Then he gives a smile, and bows his head in prayer.

Wow!

Here's an interesting 2003 interview with the writer of the episode.
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It would be two seasons later when Nightcrawler returned. This one was pretty emotional, 'Bloodlines.' It was the episode he met his mother Mystique and had words with her for the first time. My personal favorite quote is on the Blackbird when he tells Jubliee...

"All other company is fleeting, only God endures."

Unlike humans, God is always there. A fantastic quote. (Still keep in mind that this was a Saturday morning cartoon in its day.) The final part of the episode showcases some incredible emotion as Mystique explains to Nightcrawler that she didn't want him. This is what Nightcrawler said: "I will ask Him to bestow His grace on you so that you might forgive yourself."

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Another interesting episode is 'Descent.' It is largely a flashback starring Professor X's ancestor. The intriguing thing is that Charles Darwin actually appears, in the flesh. While talking about Natural Selection, Xavier's ancestor jumps in asking, "How can your Natural Section account for the human soul, were we not created in God's own image?" Darwin stutters a bit before even formulating a response. It's a very, very interesting scene. It's short, but nonetheless fascinating to see that some of this show was written with a Conservative viewpoint.

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Now if any of this were to appear in an X-Men cartoon today? Absolute outrage! No one would stand for that. Why? Well, first it's important to know that this show was created long before social media came into being. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. So back then you wouldn't find people complaining in large doses. Today, anyone can tweet hate messages or voice their disapproval every five seconds. Not only that, but it's a Godless culture.

Values based on biblical principles, you won't find that in modern cartooning. Also, back then kids were seemingly smarter (or the people in charge think they're not smart today) because all of the superhero toons had deep stories with heart. Today, in things like Ultimate Spider-Man and Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H., you won't find any of that. It's really all just mindless action. Then there's the question of why won't directors, writers, or anyone implement such things in a modern superhero toons? Because today the majority of people view Conservative views as backwards and "un-politically correct." Take the Phil Roberson Duck Dynasty 'controversy' for example. If someone states he agrees with him, he's labeled as homophobic.

That, and it seems modern superhero toons are geared completely toward kids. Case in point...

X-Men is a one of a kind cartoon for many reasons. The storytelling is great and the characters are at their best. It's also one of the few if only cartoons to actually make trusting in God and having Faith a thing. It's a shame no one really talks about those episodes these days, but they are there. Truly timeless stories. Culture won't be shifting back to such values anytime soon, but these episodes will always be there. So if you have kids that are into superheroes, try showing them these sometime. They beat what you'll find on the networks today.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Super Mario 3D World Review


Super Mario 3D World could be called the first big 'all-star' for the Wii U. Sure, there was New Super Mario Bros. U, but the console was going to need a bigger punch and reason for people to want to spend the $300. This game is one of those reasons. It's the first Mario platformer since 3D Land. (And the first home theater console one since Galaxy 2.) These have always been 'my games.' One of my fondest gaming memories was playing through Super Mario Sunshine, a rather underrated game today. Then in 2007 Galaxy changed the playing field and delivered arguably the greatest Mario experience of all time. Somehow after the company exceeded their efforts with the Galaxy sequel, delivering a perfect gaming time. It wouldn't be until a year later when the small console, the 3DS, saw 3D Land, a very fun and perhaps the best game for the system. So how does 3D World compare to these greats? Well, it does fall into some of the pits the New Super Mario Bros. U fell in, and that's on rehashing too many things from the previous game. It's still however a very fun play and a must-have for any Wii U owner.

The story follows Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad as they journey to rescue the Sprixie Princesses from Bowser's clutches. That's pretty much it. After a brief opening cutscene explaining the motivation behind all of this, we're thrown into the World Map. Mario has never been known for its deep and complex stories, but this is definitely disappointing. Here we have an opportunity to explore a new race within the Mushroom Kingdom world, but the story doesn't bother to use any writing. In fact, Bowser is given no lines whatsoever, he's just a roaring beast. It's extremely disappointing when you think about it, the first Galaxy had great writing and even some darkness to the story. Not here. Nintendo shouldn't be afraid to add actual writing and danger to the series. Galaxy took a step in the right direction in this regard, but everything afterward has gone backward.

The gameplay doesn't disappoint and even adds something new to the table: 4 player co-op. We've seen this in the New Super Mario Bros. series, but this is the first time in a 3D game. One of the biggest things in this game is the new power-up, 'Cat-form.' It's a bit strange in principle. I mean cats? Where did that come from? As much as I despise Mario being reduced to a cutesy thing saying "meow," in game the power is really cool and useful to use. Beyond that, gameplay remains relatively the same as 3D Land, which isn't a bad thing. The graphics look quite colorful and very impressive, some of the worlds looked absolutely fantastic. I was in awe when going down a raft and seeing glorious HD water splash around. If this is any indication, the Wii U has a promising future when it comes to graphics.

Sadly some of the soundtrack is lifted from 3D Land, which is very disappointing. Each and every Mario game should have its own full original soundtrack, not rehash themes from each other. The exclusive themes are definitely decent and what you'd expect from a Mario platformer. It's not as memorable as the Galaxies, but good enough. The amount of worlds is definitely solid, not to mention there's three secret ones to go through. The replay value is astounding, you'll be collecting 380 Green Stars and 80 stamps. If you're not one to find this type of thing tedious, you'll be playing this game for a long time. The actual worlds are good and even have some uniqueness. The train levels come to mind with the very cool new Blockstepper enemies.

The boss fights are solid, though not half as memorable as the ones featured in the Galaxies. The first Bowser battle is pretty unique, since you have to fight him while he drives his car that looks suspiciously like Wario's car from Mario Kart: Double Dash. It's just disappointing though when you compare it to the opera-filled and epic Bowser fights from the Galaxies. The final battle is pretty lackluster since it's more of an escape than actual fight. Sure, it was intense, but with no real payoff. It lacks greatly in comparison to the final battle from New Super Mario Bros. U. After you beat the game, World Star becomes available which after conquering it you unlock Rosalina. (It's a shame she couldn't be in the actual story.)

Overall, 3D World is definitely another fun Mario platformer. The story sadly lacks the heart of the first Galaxy and is definitely tailored to young kids than the fans who have been playing these games since square one. The gameplay is naturally great and doesn't get old. (What does get old however is collecting the stamps.) The journey to the final castle isn't a short or overly long one, it's just right. So, while not coming close to the greatness of the Galaxies or Sunshine, it's a worthy sequel even if it rehashes too many things from 3D Land.

4/5

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Make a Difference



Often in life one poses the question, "What can I do to make a difference?" It's a very good question, because one of the most important things a Christian can do is try to change the world. Obviously that's a hyperbole statement, but the point remains.

We can't just sit by or act like what is called 'normal' by society.

Last year on January 28th I managed to get a job at the ShopRite near me. Just as with a lot of first time supermarket workers, they put me in grocery (which basically means stocking shelves) until they would figure out where I'll be best suited or most needed. I did that for about a week. It wasn't until the second week where I was put at the front end for training. (Front end is a fancy term for working the register.) Little did I know that is where I would be today.

I became a cashier.

Now I think it's safe to say that over 10% of a person's first job involves working the register, so a lot of people reading this will know what I'm talking about when I say what working as a cashier entails. It's definitely one of the most stressing positions in a supermarket. Why? Well, you have to deal with people and money. Often cashiers are looked down upon and have to deal with a lot of problems.

It's quite easy to be miserable while working the register. I on the other hand make the best of it. Instead of looking at it as a chore, I see it as an opportunity to be a light. Not only does being extremely cheerful make the job less of a hard time, I'm also making a difference.

How does one exactly 'make a difference' while say working the register? As I said before, as a cashier you meet a lot of a different people. I remember one lady being astonished by my nice demeanor. She had said, "Niceness doesn't exist anymore." It's an interesting statement. The phrase "It's a cold world" speaks truer than ever. Another customer before leaving had said, "Thank you for being polite." How sad that politeness is more of a deviance to the norm that it requires a thank you..

People are often shocked when others go the extra mile and actually be cheerful while helping. Perhaps God placed me in this position to show the world that niceness actually still exists. But you my friend don't need to be a cashier to make a difference. Simply by being nice to anyone you come into contact with, that's how you do it. Whether you be in retail, walking into Wal-Mart, or anything, you and anyone can do it. So go out there and

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Super Mario Bros. U Review


I remember getting the first New Super Mario Bros. eight years ago on my birthday. (Or Christmas, time gets hazy as the years go by.) It was a lot of fun, and very significant. It brought back the classic side-scrolling action for a new generation. It was beautifully crafted with exciting levels and good music. Then three years later Nintendo blew everyone away with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It was a great sequel, it grabbed the previous game and made it better. (With two-player co-op!) Unfortunately, the series started to show its wear with the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2. two years ago. It was a complete rehash of the previous two, it used a lot of the same music and had a virtually identical story. It wasn't a bad game, but it didn't seem like Nintendo tried to do anything new. That's why I was a bit worried for New Super Mario Bros. U. After playing through it, I can say two things. One, it's a rehash but to a much lesser extent. Two, it's time to retire the 'New' series because it has gotten old.

The story sadly is virtually a remake of the Wii game. Bowser and his kids besiege Princess Peach's Castle. They throw Mario, Luigi, and two Toads far away. So the heroes will have to journey back to the Castle. Now to be fair, as you can see the story takes a more interesting turn. Instead of us having to travel to Bowser Castle, it pulls a Mario 64 where Bowser takes control of Peach's Castle. If it wasn't for that, the story would have been almost unbearable since it would have been too similar to the Wii one. Of course, with these Mario games you can't expect a really engaging plot. (Isn't that sad?) Can the gameplay make up for it?

The 'new' thing is the Super Acorn power-up. It's pretty cool, but isn't too different from the Super Leaf. There's not much else to say about about the gameplay, it's the same as previous installments, which isn't a horrible thing. It was cool how Baby Yoshis appeared and you used their abilities to get through some obstacles. It's a shame they weren't more utilized. The stage backgrounds I gotta say are some of the most impressive in the series. I was absolutely floored at the background to Painted Swampland. They fully realize the Wii U's HD capabilities.

Once again, sadly most of the soundtrack is lifted from previous games. Yes, you'll hear the same fortress and castle theme once again over and over. And yes, you will get tired of hearing that Ghost House one. I'm sorry but every video game should have an original soundtrack. It's fine if it borrows a couple of themes, but too many are rehashed. Perhaps the best part of the game is the final level and boss, appropriately titled, 'The Final Battle.' The big Bowser fight at the end ranks as one of the finest for the franchise, easily beating the lackluster final 'battle' in 3D World. Sure, the fight becomes simple once you know what to do, but those first few minutes of Bowser roaring like a true monster shooting fire while Mario runs around will never be forgotten.

Overall, New Super Mario Bros. U is an improvement over the second DS game. It's not amazing however, since it rehashes a lot of things from previous installments. It's still fun, though it's quite easy to rack up 50 lives in under six worlds, so you'll never truly be in danger. It seems Nintendo is in a rehashing stage with Mario, hopefully this won't continue. Regardless, NSMBU is not a bad starter for the system. It has great replay value thanks to the Star Coins and bonus modes.

3.5/5

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Come Alive


Nothing beats the start of a new year. For the first month it's a bit surreal and we're going to keep making the mistake of putting 13 instead of 14 at the end of dates. The question on most people's mind is what will the new year bring? What will change? What will remain? What new laws will come into play or which longtime ones will be pushed away? These are questions almost every person asks between the final weeks of December and January.

What will God in culture be like this time?

About a year ago I discovered the band BarlowGirl. If you don't know, they were a Christian rock band from 2000 to 2012. Their final song was 'Hope Will Lead Us On.' They have plenty of fantastic songs, such as 'Song for the Broken' and 'Sweet Revenge.' My personal favorite however is 'Come Alive.' It's not one of their more popular ones, but I think it's one of the most significant. The final part is where it most speaks to me, it's a notable change in tone from the rest of the song and is pretty powerful.

We are the passion. 

We are the movement.

We are the Fire
'We' refers to Christians. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we are the movement in this world. We are the ones with fire for the Lord Jesus Christ. When one becomes a Christian, their mindset changes. They realize there's a greater purpose which all Christians share. However, as their life goes on it can be easy to forget sometimes. If we go day in and day out without striving to be loving and nice, are we no better than people who don't go the extra mile and help others? Even the smallest of things can make a difference. In today's social media age, simply re-tweeting a Bible verse on Twitter can mean something.

Recently in college I've been studying various traits on life purpose. This week I came across the term 'passion.' These past few years I thought I had a good definition of the word. But after reading and studying, I have a new-found definition. I've always said I had a passion for Godzilla. But passion is something that goes deeper than hobbies. It involves action and suffering. Now that's not to say every career with passion will involve suffering, it's just that it very well could. Passion means that you are willing to die for the cause. Is Godzilla, Marvel Comics, or Super Mario worth dying for? Of course not!

All Christians share a primary passion, and that's to be like Jesus and to share the Good News. That's when things branch out into specifics. One might have a passion working with kids, youth, feeding the hungry, or preaching in front of a large audience. Sharing the passion of Jesus, that's worth dying for. That is what passion is.

In whatever you do this year, it's most glorying to do it with love, as it states in 1 Corinthians 16:14. But most of all, if you haven't already, it's time to

COME ALIVE

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sonic Lost World Review


I'm sorry to say this, but Sonic the Hedgehog isn't quite what it used to be. Back in its prime it rivaled Mario. Today things are a bit different. Generations was the 20th anniversary game for the series, yet it didn't sell as well as it should have. That was in 2011. Some thought that was it, because the series laid dormant for awhile. You see, in 2010 SEGA kind of rebooted the series for a new generation (i.e. young kids.) with Sonic Colors. In my day, the games had deep storylines with compelling characters and even some mature themes. SEGA had changed all of that starting with Colors. Lost World continues that trend, but it does try to be a more cutscene-driven and story-based game than Colors and Generations. It's the first Sonic game in two years and the first one for the Wii U. It isn't bad, but not particularly amazing either.

The story follows Sonic and Tails who are en route to stopping Eggman. Soon the heroes run into the Deadly Six, which Eggman controls due to a special conch. Led by Zavok, the Deadly Six manage to escape Eggman's control due to Sonic indirectly helping them. With them now taking charge, Sonic will have to team-up with his longtime nemesis to stop these guys. On paper the story doesn't sound too bad. Execution wise however, you can see SEGA is really aiming for that younger audience.

A lot of the hype placed on the game was the Deadly Six. The only particularly interesting one is Zavok, the rest are stereotypical villains you would find on an average Nickelodeon show. We have the girly girl who cares nothing about other than her nails, (because the writing can't think of anything better) the generic strong but dumb one, and a zany but falls flat crazy one. There's also Zor, who parodies...depression? Seriously, this guy's lines were painful to listen to, not to mention that there are people that actually do feel like that. The writing could have been interesting, but his dialogue doesn't go anywhere.

Zavok is the only one with good dialogue, a cool design, and is an actual threat. There's also Master Zik. He isn't bad, but despite being the master, he loses in 1 2 3 to Sonic and is never seen again. Sadly, after you defeat Zavok, the Deadly Six are thrown to the side in favor of Eggman being the final boss. For so much hype, the Deadly Six won't be leaving a lasting impression. Eggman himself has sunk to Team Rocket level, which is a disappointment. Love it or hate it, the 2006 game made Eggman a legitimate threat. Lost World has gone backward with that. Sonic isn't too bad, but noticeably less smart than his pre-Colors days. Like Spongebob, he gas seemingly gotten younger instead of maturing. At least Amy Rose had some decent lines, it was nice to see her acting serious and not the I'm-in-love-with-Sonic persona.

I've been talking a lot about the story, but the core of mostly any Sonic game is the gameplay. It's interesting because it tries to balance fast 3D gameplay with classic 2D sidescrolling. It's not bad, and I do like Sonic's new 3D running animation. Unfortunately, in making these levels challenging, the word 'fun' has been lost. Some of these levels are very challenging, but aren't particularly fun. Some go on for way too long and having to start over again is more infuriating than enjoying the challenge. There is a nice amount of levels and if you're a completionist, collecting the red coins will prove adventurous. The boss fights are alright. The final one wasn't the best, but not bad either. The soundtrack seems to be mimicking the original games. It isn't too memorable, but it blends in with the stages beautifully. Unlike Generations, there is a two-player mode. Sadly, like Colors, the second player controls a different-colored Sonic. It's just lazy.

Overall, Lost World doesn't quite rank in the top 5 and I would even go as far to say top 10 Sonic games. There is a story with quite a few cutscenes. The problem is that it's just too light and the writing is aimed at a very young audience. It's like SEGA forgot the people that grew up with Adventure 2 and up. The game is very challenging, one of the most challenging Sonic games. It's sometimes more infuriating than fun though. After you beat the game, you unlock the Hidden Worlds. Sadly you don't get anything for beating them. (I was expecting SOMETHING after facing the trials and tribulations of Hidden Zone 4.) Lost World isn't the best, but it's still definitely a solid Sonic game nonetheless. (And definitely download the Yoshi's Island DLC Zone, it's awesome!)

3.5/5