When the Ending Really Matters: Mass Effect and the Difficulty with Pre-Destination (Romans 8)

Obi Wan Kenobi said it best when he sadly intoned “It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced”.  But I am not speaking of a galaxy far, far away… no, this was much closer and much more personal in our gaming worlds.  This was the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, and as the short cut-scene played out as a whimpering finale to the epic struggle to save the entire known universe gamers around the world let loose a collective cry of outrage, anger, and frustration.  Why you ask?  Well, let’s keep it real for a moment.  How many names of the characters in Call of Duty or Battlefield do you actually remember?  If you are like me, not too many.  But in Mass Effect, this wasn’t just the story of Commander Shepard saving the universe… this was MY Commander Shepard saving MY very unique universe.  I crafted his face, chose the backstory of his life, made the dialogue choices that shaped his character, wrestled over the tough decisions that saved some and doomed others… this was a very personal character who reflected countless hours of investment and to see an ending that was little more than color variations between endings to separate one user’s end experience from another was impossible to fathom.  All of the minutiae that made the series so compelling was lost as the credits rolled and the player was left to wonder what became of my crew, my friends, the very universe I sacrificed everything to save?  How could all of this come down to a simple decision to choose right, middle, or left… control, synthesis, or destruction?

This was MY Commander Shepard saving MY very unique universe.

From the Garden of Eden to the tower of Babel and all the way up to our present day and age, our species has shown a consistent pattern of needing to define ourselves on our own terms, rejecting any attempt by our Creator to guide us to our future destination.  We look for the individualized version of God’s plan for our lives, rejecting His definition of right or wrong in favor of a path that allows us to retain our goal of remaining unique and in charge of our destiny.  In most cases, we have even chosen what we know is an inferior option simply so we can say that it was OUR choice (See worshiping a golden cow in Exodus 32, choosing Saul as king in 1 Samuel 10, releasing Barabbas over Jesus in Matthew 27, or that time you watched X-Men 3 Last Stand over doing literally anything else on the planet).   Why are we so determined to live life on our terms, even if it is to our detriment?  Is it our collective ego, perhaps the knowledge that lessons hard earned are well learned, or is there more at play here?It is difficult for many of us to accept the concept of such limiting or binary choices.  In our current world of gaming open world environments and endless online experiences are not only par for the course but expected, and this pattern carries over into the way we approach our lives. The idea that we are presented with only the illusion of choice challenges us at the core of our humanity.  Few words in the English language conjure up as much conflict and debate as the concept of “pre-destination”, and I believe this is largely due to something within us that refuses to accept a pre-defined course for our lives, a need to feel we are in control, and a desire to believe that our choices truly are our own choices to make.

In many cases we have even chosen an inferior option simply so we can sat that it was OUR choice.


So now we get to pre-destination.  It is not hard for most of us to believe that we are individually designed and uniquely different, but when you start discussing the idea that your path was set and your future determined before you made your first steps is an entirely different beast.  I mean, what about my free will?  Isn’t that why God made man and woman in the first place, because we could choose to love and serve Him in a way that the angel’s service simply didn’t satisfy?  And for the really big questions… if my path is already established then what does that make me?  Am I am mere puppet on strings, singing that I am a real boy in defiance of my reality or is there something more to this?  And how does my deeply held belief that I am unique, special, and carefully designed by God turn into such a simple yet eternal outcome as a future in heaven or hell?
To start at a common place of reference, we must see what the Bible has to say about individuality.  Psalm 139:13 tells us that God knitted or weaved us together in our mother’s womb, and Jeremiah 1:5 gives us the example that he was not only formed in the womb, but that he was known to God BEFORE this even occurred.  It goes on to say that he had his mission in life defined before he was even born.  Let’s ponder that for a minute… you were KNOWN by God before you even existed, and he intimately built you throughout your formative stages.  Have you ever weaved or knitted something or watched someone do so?  It is a very personal act of creation, melding artistry with technique, and it leaves the literal imprint of the maker upon the article being crafted – this is no mere mass production on an assembly line, and God didn’t delegate you to random angel #43 to put your pieces together like a Lego factory… you were DESIGNED by His very hand.  And not just designed as a show piece, but for a PURPOSE that was also determined before he made you.  This isn’t the actions of an over-bearing Creator… this is a loving Father who crafted you specifically for what your optimal path through life would be.  Much like my pain-staking creative process with my Mass Effect doppelganger, you have God’s fingerprints all over each part of you, because He knows where you are going and what you will need when you get there.

Let’s start with Ephesians 1, where the Apostle Paul tells us that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, pre-destined for adoption according to His will, and going on to say we are pre-destined according to His purpose.  He elaborates much deeper in Romans 8, starting with one of the most popular verses in the Bible which states “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”.  So we see that before the world began we already were marked for adoption by God, as He already knew what was going to happen in the Garden.  He also had a particular purpose designated for us that would keep us in His will, and by following that destiny every even in our life would work in such a way that it would benefit us in accomplishing His perfect plan for our lives.  Soooo…. what is His plan?  He continues in Romans 8:29-30 with the crux of the message… we were pre-destined to be conformed into the spiritual likeness of Jesus, calling us to a specific mission, and justifying us (a fancy way of saying he qualified us for the purpose).  The key to a purpose-filled life then is to understand that we have a mission to save the world, literally, and God’s pre-ordained path for our life prepares us perfectly for the completion of this mission that we were made for.

God’s fingerprints are all over each part of you, because He knows where you are going and what you will need when you get there.

Accepting the reality that my commander Shepard was destined to come down to a very simple choice regardless of the path I took him down seemed restrictive at first, offensive even.  But the more I reflected on the game I realized that the story was never about my character… it was about the fate of the galaxy.  And I as I looked for meaning and a sense of permanence in the small choices I had made for my character it revealed to me that I have lived my life in much the same way.  We are offended when a barista dares to put the wrong flavor shot in our cappuccino, but we stride past the woman who is at the point of break down and simply needs a friend to pray in line beside us.  We spend an hour trying to find just the right outfit before we leave the house, but completely miss the value of the souls we are driving past on the way to a restaurant.  We pore over the little details of our lives and miss the reality that a world around us is crying out for help, truth, and for someone to shine a light in the darkness.  I was more concerned about the fate of my gaming character and his fictional world than the real souls in my contact list right now that are heading towards an eternity without Jesus.

We all have a destiny and a purpose for our lives, and we have been gifted the exact skills and designed to achieve those.  But this is not our story, and we can never lose sight of that.  This is the story of God… a God who loved this world and all of the people in it so much that he sent his very Son, Jesus Christ, into the world he created so that if anyone of the people He made would believe in Him they would not only escape punishment, but receive eternal life.  It is a simple choice, a binary choice, and one that requires us to accept there is more going on here than just you and me.  You have a place in this story, just as I do.  How we get there is as varied and unique as each of us are, but just as my Commander Shepard faced his destiny with the grim realization that he was chosen simply because he was the only one who could perform what the destiny he was charged with required, you too are here to save YOUR world in a way that only YOU can. Have a “Mass Effect” on your world… I am working on doing the same in mine!

 

 

Prison Break and the Secret Life of Plumbers (Acts 16)

Mario may be the most well-known plumber in the history of the planet, which is ironic since I have never seen him do anything that seems remotely “plumberly”.  But while his labor union may be wondering when he will take on a job that does not see him disappearing into warp pipes and leaving all of the dirty work to them, I am quite glad the games that bear his name are full of exploits that have nothing to do with leaky sinks or overflowing toilets.  In my experiences with the early Mario games on the NES and SNES, I found that these games were populated with something that was unfamiliar to my young mind at the time – hidden secrets within the level that would give you advantages in the game.  I will never forget the first time I jumped up and hit my head on an invisible block, finding it contained an extra life mushroom to help me on my way.  The more I explored, the more I found these hidden blocks, little secrets full of coins or power-ups in each level that were designed to reward my curiosity.

I thought I was the only person on the planet aware of these hidden bonuses

At first, I thought I was the only person on the planet aware of these hidden bonuses.  But then one day, I found a book in a video game store that promised it contained ALL of the secrets in my favorite games.  I was stunned.  Could it be that someone else was aware of not only those hidden coins and lives that I had found, but that there were even more that I had not discovered?  After successfully begging my parents for the book, I took it home and devoured it, going through it page by page and realizing the limited view I had of my favorite games had just opened up to a whole new dimension, and I never looked back.

Strategy guides, walk-throughs, and the online videos you can find nowadays to help you nail a tricky jump or find a secret area are common place, but there was a time where these bits of knowledge were passed around reverently from gamer to gamer like tribal knowledge, written on scraps of paper and placed inside of a book for future reference.  We live in a day and age that has made it possible to have every gaming question answered by a fellow gamer instantly, and while I will always look back on those old days of scribbling the Contra code in my notebook with fond nostalgia, it is quite convenient to have somewhere to turn when I simply cannot figure out where to shoot my second portal.

Absolutely everything you will face in your life has been lived by someone else

And this is the reason we have the Bible, God’s authoritative strategy guide for life.  Absolutely everything you will face in your life has been lived by someone else, and these experiences have been documented for our benefit and placed in a volume that we can reference at any time.  All of the secrets pathways have been explored, the bonus point areas are notated for easy return visits, and the traps that threaten to take you down have been marked to help you avoid the pitfalls of our predecessors.  Even with all of the advances in technology that have occurred, and the “supposed” cultural advances that we enjoy as a modern civilization, the Bible has all of the answers for every problem you will ever face if you just know where to look.  And in this walk-through for the game of life, we find the story of a man of God, a miracle, and a prison guard with a serious “victim mentality”.

You know these people.  The ones that clutter their Facebook with complaints of how hard their life is, always negative and looking for sympathy for problems that are typically of their own doing.  The guy that only calls you when things are bad, taking your previously cheerful mood down to their level.  The girl that encourages you to join her in her misery so you can throw a pity party together.  And in an honest moment, we have to admit that at times we can play the “victim” too.  I know I have been guilty of several “Woe is me” moments, wanting the world to feel sorry for me and share in my suffering while we all listen to Evanescence.  You may not choose to go to Hot Topic to load up on skinny jeans and black nail polish, but make no mistake about it; we have all walked that road in some form or fashion.  And in our current era of human history, the tragedy is that many people choose to end their lives over trivial and solvable circumstances due to this terrible lie, the lie whispered in our ear that the world would be better off without us.  And this is where we find a man in the book of Acts, chapter 16.  Let’s jump there…

He had not abandoned them, no matter how bad things looked right now

In the Biblical book of Acts chapter 16 and verse 23, we find the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Silas falsely accused of creating insurrection, beaten with a whip for crimes they did not commit, and thrown into prison.  These innocent preachers were locked into stocks in the deepest part of the prison, far past the cells for the murderers and thieves, under the strictest of night watches.  Seems a little overkill if you ask me, but with all of the precautions that had been made to keep them imprisoned, it was not enough.  Rather than get on their Twitter accounts and inform their followers of how terrible their day has been and how unfair life can be, they chose to sing.  And this was no tragic blues festival… no, they were faithfully praising their Creator and understood that He had not abandoned them, no matter how bad things looked right now.

As they sang, the Bible records an incredible event.  At midnight God stomped His feet to the music so hard that He caused an earthquake, an earthquake so massive that it shook the entire prison structure, breaking open the locked cell doors and freeing every prisoner in the facility.  Picture this – a maximum security prison full of the people society has deemed unfit for freedom, as its walls suddenly crack open.  Security panels are overridden, alarm klaxons blare over the loudspeakers, and flashing red lights fill the hallways in the chaos after the massive quake.  And in the midst of all of this chaos stands one man, the prison warden.  He has only one job to do really – keep the good people safe by locking the bad people in.  And despite all of the security protocols and carefully programmed electronic locks he has designed to prevent this possibility, forces beyond his ability to control or to understand have just rendered all of those mechanisms moot.

He failed to see the reality of his situation because of his limited view

And here is where we see the sad pattern that I have personally witnessed so many people fall into… with everything going wrong around him the prison guard fails to see that despite all of the confusion and destruction that he is surrounded by, there is nothing to fear.  Unaware that none of the prisoners have taken advantage of their newly found freedom, the jailer chooses to end his life, pulling out a sword to end his existence.  Have you ever known anyone who has faced this?  Or perhaps you have been tempted by this yourself, the desire to inflict pain on your body as a means of dealing with the world around you that right now seems completely hostile and against you.  This is not a new temptation – this existed thousands of years ago, and the Bible records this for us so we can avoid this danger, as well as save others from enduring this pain.  I have talked to many friends who felt that slitting their wrists was the only answer to an insane world, and I have a feeling you know a few of these people as well.  So let’s see what happens next…

Our prison guard has given up, failing to see the reality of his situation because of his limited view and assumption that there was no hope, is about to make a fatal cut when out of the madness rings out the voice of the Apostle Paul, screaming “Don’t harm yourself!!!  We are all still here!”  Such a simple line, but if you or someone you know has ever faced the darkness and felt they could not go on, I am telling you and them right now “Don’t harm yourself!”  No matter how bad you may think it is, behind all of the wreckage and rubble that you see right now in the aftermath of the traumatic earthquake you have just experienced in your life, the plan for your life is still HERE.  God’s will for you is still intact.  You are a perfectly designed vessel, meant to carry His very Spirit with you through each and every day of your life, and He has plans to prosper you and take care of you.  It may look bad right now, and you may not see a way out of your situation.  But I promise you, just as the jailer is about to find out, this was all a plan to benefit you if you will simply realize the extra life mushroom is invisible to you right now, but it is there nonetheless.

The solution may present itself in the midnight hour

The prison guard races to the sound of Paul’s voice, and having found all of the prisoners still in place just as he had been told, he and his whole family give their lives to God.  The entire episode has a happy ending all the way around, as the warden throws a party and cares for the unfair and painful wounds that had been inflicted on Paul and Silas, his entire family is brought together by this incredible circumstance, and the next day Paul and Silas are released to continue their missionary voyage.  Lives were changed forever, and every one of them had a deeper understanding of how truly in control of our lives and circumstances our God is.  It may not always look that way from the outside, but this entire story is recorded for our benefit so we can know that it does not matter how dark and scary our circumstances appear right now, the solution may present itself in the midnight hour.

So if you ever have a doubt about if God sees you and the particular challenges you face, rest assured that He does and He has a plan.  God did not show up and prevent the arrest of Paul and Silas, nor did he protect them from the brutal beating that they had not earned.  There was a deeper and more important plan at work here – there was a prison warden on the razor’s edge, and he and his entire family had a date with destiny.  In your life, every moment of pain and every scary situation you face serves a purpose.  Someone else out there, someone that you may have not even met yet, is depending on you and your success in the trial you are facing right now.  And only by facing this and trusting God for the answer will we be able to take that next step that not only benefits us and God’s plan for our lives, but may save someone else’s life too!

KOTOR – When the Jedi and the Sith are two sides of the same coin (1 Cor.9:20-23)

It is time… time to discuss what I hold to be the single greatest video game of all time – Star Wars:  The Knights of the Old Republic.  To those of us who have played this classic, it is spoken of in hushed tones by the simple acronym “KOTOR”.  I will alert you in advance that this will be particularly SPOILER heavy, so proceed at your own peril.  This incredible story takes place long before any of the Star Wars films existed, in an era where the Jedi and the Sith, the two opposing forces of good and evil in the Star Wars universe,  were both equally numbered and in a very open war with each other.  You start the game under attack on a giant space cruiser, with no memory of who you are or how you got there.  As the story progresses you realize that you are a talented warrior with the ability to use the Force, and you follow the path to become a Jedi and join their cause, waging war against the evil Sith.  Sounds pretty predictable so far, right?

…you were deceived and used by all of the friends you had trusted

Only this game turns your entire universe on its ear at the end of the second act, when you realize that the Sith Lord named Darth Revan, the fierce enemy leader you have been chasing and attempting to thwart throughout the game, is actually YOU.  Yes, that’s right.  After spending most of the game tracking down Darth Revan and following in his footsteps, you find out that you were him all along.  Captured and brainwashed by the Jedi “good guys”, you were deceived and used by all of the friends you had trusted so they could find out what you had been up to.  This incredible turn of events spins you on your ear, and as your whole world collapses on you a choice must be made.  Do you continue to follow the path of the Jedi, knowing that they deliberately manipulated you into assisting them?  Or do you become Darth Revan once again, feared and powerful enemy of the Jedi, now that you know who you truly are?

I will confess that I am a massive Star Wars fanboy, and this game in particular touches on one of my favorite themes in the Star Wars universe – how truly different are the Sith and the Jedi?  Are they polar opposites of good and evil locked into a mortal battle for what is right, or are they simply two sides of the same coin?  While I do not have the space to launch into a full treatment of one of my favorite “nerd fight” topics, this does lead me into a fascinating character study of the arguably most influential apostle in the New Testament – the apostle Paul.  Or is it the rabbi Saul?  Let’s find out…

What if you could completely change your name and your prior identity?

For much of my life, I was taught that Saul of Tarsus, the one-time “Christian hunter” and infamous persecutor of all who followed the teachings of Jesus, was confronted by God on his way to imprison the Christians of Damascus and struck blind.  A devout and brave Christian named Ananias was led by God to pray for Saul, and upon the restoration of his sight Saul changed his ways and became a follower of the very path he had been trying to destroy.  Saul, the Jewish rabbi, the man whose very name struck fear into the hearts of the believers, was changed forever.  But here is where what I was told, and what I find in the Bible, differs greatly.  See, all that I have told you so far is true.  So where does the name “Paul” come into play?

I believed for many years that Saul changed his name to Paul after his conversion, or perhaps God gave him a new name to signify his change of heart.  And I always thought that seemed a little convenient.  How nice would it be if after you gave your life to Christ that you got to completely change your name and your prior identity?  Start over new, with none of your old friends holding you back, get a new job that is customized around your newly found faith, and all of the debts that you built up over the years were erased?  But that is not reality.  Your bills are still due, your kids may still misbehave, and your family will still call you by that nickname that you wish everyone would just forget.  So then why is Saul called Paul throughout the New Testament?  The answer lies in such a simple place, that I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner.

He was both simultaneously

Saul IS Paul.  Paul IS Saul.  He always was.  Up until Acts 13, he is referred to as Saul exclusively.  During this time, after his conversion, he has been preaching and teaching the ways of Christ for years.  Acts 13:9 carries this small phrase that marks the name change that will follow for the remainder of the New Testament, “Then Saul, who is also called Paul…”  And that is the transition, small and almost completely missed. Not because God changed his name.  Not because he was running from his past and what the name Saul was identified with.  No, it is something much, much more simple.  Saul was also called Paul.  Saul was a Jew, and Saul was his name in Hebrew.  However, Saul was also born a Roman citizen.  The name Saul in Roman?  You guessed it – he went by Paulos, or as we write it in English, Paul.  And now, the mystery is solved.  When he traveled in his native country, he used his given name of Saul.  But since he was the apostle sent to the Gentiles, the countries under Roman rule, he was known by the Roman variant of his name, which was Paul.

So why does this matter?  Saul/Paul by any other name is still the same man.  Darth Revan, the protagonist of my favorite Star Wars story ever, was still the same person and was simply on the other side of the same conflict, with both eyes now fully opened.  Let me share a verse from the Bible that is of great significance to this subject.  1 Corinthians 9:20-23 contains an often misquoted verse of scripture in which Paul tells us that in order to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ, he becomes all things to all men so he can reach them.  To the Jews he became a Jew, and to the Gentile Romans he became as a Roman.  But here is the interesting fact – Saul/Paul was both Jew AND Roman.  He didn’t have to BECOME either one.  He was both simultaneously.  The actual word in that verse is misinterpreted as “become”, when it actually means “was” in the Greek, which is how it is interpreted every other time it is found in the New Testament.  Paul didn’t say he “became” a Jew or Roman… he is telling us that when he was with the Jews he was a Jew, following their rules and traditions to keep from offending them.  When he was with the Romans, he spoke to them on their level, on what they had in common.

Consider that you already carry within you the very aspects He intends to use!

What does this mean to us?  A great deal, actually.  In my circumstance, I have been called to follow Jesus Christ and the book that God has given us to learn His plan for our lives, the Bible.  But I am also a gamer, a fan of science fiction entertainment, and a total geek who is completely aware of that fact, and okay with it.  I am both of these, one and the same, and God has called me exactly as I am to reach people.  God has the same calling for you – the person you are is EXACTLY what He wants.  There will be many changes He has in mind for your life, and as you grow in your relationship with Jesus you will find that your interests, conversations, priorities, and so much more will change.  But if he called you as an athlete, you are now an athlete for Christ, and He will use you to reach other athletes in your life.  If you love comic books, he will use those as a pathway to talk to fellow comic aficionados about your faith in Christ.  It isn’t about becoming someone that you are not – it’s about God using you for exactly what you are!!

So, when you wonder what God’s plan for your life is, consider that you already carry within you the very aspects He intends to use.  Your strengths and interests, your challenges, and even your personal tragedies are the very ministries that He will use to reach others.  Nothing has ever happened to you that He cannot use later in your life as a way to reach others.  Are you divorced?  Then you are in the best place to help guide others through this painful path.  Are you a gifted orator?  Then you are ideal for God to use in a teaching capacity. As we learned with Saul/Paul and Darth Revan earlier, even those things that were at one time used against the forces of good were later turned into a powerful weapon for what is right.  In Revan’s case, he turned the tide of the battle and defeated the evil Sith.  And in Saul/Paul’s case, a man who had formerly attacked the church with passion and zeal now served that very church as their most famous ambassador for the remainder of his life, reaching the world with the message that Jesus came to seek and save all people.  Surrender all that you are to your Creator, and watch what amazing things He will accomplish through you!

When Making your Mii Matters – God cares about the details (2 Kings 6)

 

Many times the best way to experience a video game is with someone else.  I have held numerous get-togethers with friends and co-workers where a video game console took center stage, and there are few things better than sitting down with your family and enjoying a good old-fashioned family game night with some Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers or one of my favorite party game addictions, Fortune Street on the original Nintendo Wii.  (Seriously, if you haven’t tried the hidden gem that is Fortune Street you are missing the greatest Monopoly-style Mario party game that has ever existed.)  But on occasion, you have that one friend who brings the whole party to a standstill.  The guy who isn’t ready to start the game yet, because he has to do that dreaded fun-killer… he has to MAKE his Mii character.  And for reasons known only to this guy, he will not move on until the character looks exactly like him.

… he has to MAKE his character. 

At first, you hand him the controller, hoping he will simply make a rudimentary avatar that vaguely resembles him with hair color and size, but then the horror of what is truly happening here dawns on you.  Your friends all sit staring at the television, awkwardly and quietly, as this one guy spends fifteen minutes trying to decide which pair of eyebrows look most like his.  Gradually your friends lose interest and meander back towards the snacks to make a take-home plate, fumbling for their keys and explaining they actually need to go check on their cat, who was perfectly worthy of their trust until just a few minutes ago.  Of course, our good friend Mr. “DoesMyNoseLookLikeThisOne” is blissfully unaware of everything going on around him, and as the party dissipates into goodbyes and farewells, he finally settles on a character that you can tell he is still less than enthralled with.  And the best part of this?  He has no awareness that he ended your get-together with his creative exploits, and he is now finally ready to play some Wii Tennis.

Does God truly care about the minutiae of my life?

If you have never experienced this phenomenon, you are truly fortunate.  In my life span I have watched helplessly as people have spent valuable fun time making the most accurate Mii character for a Nintendo Wii or WiiU game, or felt the pressing need to make their boxing avatar photo-realistic before sending them to the ring.  I have showed many an epic role-playing game to a friend only to watch then lose themselves in the customization menus and never actually get to the gameplay, and after an hour of character creation decide that the awesome game I am waiting to show off to them is boring.  I suppose to some people the little details matter, and everyone has their own threshold of needs in this area.  What may be a small matter of no consequence to me may be mission critical to someone else.  So this begs a few questions – Does God truly care about the minutiae of my life?  Do the little challenges in my life really matter to the One who holds the fates of billions of souls in His hand?  Should I even bother Him with my small difficulties when He has a universe to run?  Let’s find out…

In the Biblical book of 2 Kings, chapter 6 we find one of the most powerful prophets who ever lived, the prophet Elisha.  I know some people hear the word prophet and immediately disconnect, so let me explain what Elisha was.  He was simply a man who was chosen by God to be God’s mouthpiece, and share God’s words with the people.  In those days, people didn’t have God’s Word in a nice, neat, leather-bound book they could carry wherever they went.  No pocket Bibles in those days, no iPhone with a conveniently downloaded app to reference.  They were at the mercy of God’s chosen ministers, the prophets, to tell them what God had to say to them.  Now we have all of these words available to us in physical and electronic form, neatly divided into chapters and verse for easy reference.  But in those days, God used his chosen spokespeople, code-named “prophets”, to speak His mind and thoughts to the rest of the nation.

Elisha was one of these people, a prophet who had been hand selected by God to meet the spiritual needs of the nation of Israel.  This was an awesome and incredible responsibility, and Elisha was a faithful minister of God who had already been faced with many challenges that required supernatural provision from God.  In his tenure as a prophet thus far, he had already parted a river, blessed a barren land with healthy water, prophesied a great victory for Israel over an enemy army, restored a child to life, turned poisonous food into a safe dining experience, cured a man of leprosy and multiplied food to feed a hungry crowd.  Quite a busy man, if you ask me.  His account to this point reads like a best-of Elisha list, with story after story of incredible supernatural exploits God had worked through His mouthpiece.

…a beautiful moment of Divine interruption

So what does this have to with what we were discussing?  Everything… you see, even with all of the things God’s chosen prophet had on his agenda; God still had His eyes on a special situation that is seemingly so small and insignificant that if you blink, you may miss it.  We find Elisha tagging along with a group of men chopping down some trees, with plans on building a larger dwelling place.  Looks like a pretty ordinary, mundane activity so far.  As the men are chopping down the tress, a very unfortunate happenstance occurs – the ax head of one man’s ax goes flying off of his handle and lands in the Jordan River.  As the heavy iron sank to the bottom of this notoriously dirty river, the man cries out in horror – this particular ax head had been borrowed.  In the particular circumstances of this man’s life, this was a dreadful occurrence.  And here is where this simple story has a beautiful moment of Divine interruption.

Hearing the man’s desperate cry, Elisha asks the worker where the ax head had fallen in.  Once he was showed the place, Elisha cut a stick of his own, threw it into the same spot, and in a moment of supernatural provision that defied the laws of physics and gravity, the ax head floated up to the surface of the river.   The man picked it up, and this brief interlude in the life of Elisha ends with the recovery of the lost tool.  The next chapter continues the incredible life of Elisha and God’s continuing mighty exploits with an entire army being struck blind at his command.  So why is this story, the tale of unfortunate loss of a borrowed tool, sandwiched here in between all of these incredible miracles and moments of international intrigue?

The truth is that God is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives.  In Jesus’ teachings, He plainly told us that God knows our needs, and if we seek Him first He will supply all of them for us.  There is nothing that transpires in your life that escapes His notice.  He has a running count of the amount of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30), and keeps all your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).  Every experience of your life is of intimate interest to your Creator, and if you think your problems are inconsequential to God or your circumstances are not of enough importance to gain his attention, I invite you to turn your Bible to the book of John, chapter 2.

Every experience of your life is of intimate interest to your Creator

Jesus, the very personification of God in the flesh, came to the earth on a mission to save humanity through His death on the cross.  His time of ministry was exceptionally short, and with the knowledge that He only had three and a half years to accomplish all that He had to do, every single day and every single choice HE made was exceptionally precious.  One would expect that the Son of God would have a very deliberate plan plotted out to insure he maximized every moment of His time here.  So that is why it is so incredible that the very first miracle Jesus performs is not a dramatic resurrection of a deceased loved one, or an incredible healing of someone who was blind or paralyzed.  Certainly He would get around to all of those and so many more, but our Creator, the God of the universe, chose for the first act of His ministry to be a miracle that had nothing more at stake than a poorly planned wedding reception.

In a quiet and thankless act of kindness, Jesus secretly supplied the liquid refreshments that had not been provided by the wedding organizer.  His supernatural gift could possibly have never even been realized by the recipients of the miracle, the bride and groom who could now continue their celebration without the embarrassment of failing to provide for their guests.  So stop and think about that for a minute.  Almighty God, He who set the entire universe in motion, the One who hand-crafted every star, whose very words create kingdoms and topple governments, decided that his very first recorded act of ministry was that He would provide what was needed for a newly married couple.  With all of the troubles of a world lost to sin pressing on His back, He took the time to turn water into wine.  What an amazing God we serve.

He is waiting for you to ask for His help!

I hope this helps you realize how truly special you are to your Heavenly Father.  He longs to provide for your needs, if you will simply stop trying to do all of this on your own and let Him help.  Whatever your worry is, and no matter how seemingly small your problem – He is waiting for you to ask for His help.  Lose an axe head?  He will help you find it.  Fail to prepare a proper reception?  He has capabilities that you cannot even imagine.  The key is that only by establishing a true relationship with Him and surrendering yourself to His plan for your life will you be able to experience His wonderful provision.  This does not mean everything will always turn out the way you hope, or that God will prevent anything negative from ever happening in your life.  Jesus promised us that we would always have trials and tribulations, but that we should not fear – because He has overcome the world.  He is in charge.  And His eyes are always on you.  You are never alone, and your troubles are never beneath Him to listen to.

Next time you have a problem, don’t think for one second that the little details of your life don’t matter to God.  Go ahead, talk to Him about it.  Cry on His shoulder, and give Him your worries.  Because unlike us, He is actually interested in seeing you create your own Mii character.  He wants to share in every aspect of your life, and you will be amazed at how your life changes when you take your concerns directly to Him instead of to your friends or Facebook.  And let Him do for you what He has done for me so very many countless times…. what He does best.  He stops what He is doing, and listens to His child.

When Warrior Shot the Food – My own worst enemy (Romans 7-8)

 

I hope you have had the simple joy of playing what I consider the most influential hack-and-slash dungeon crawler of my early youth – GAUNTLET.  This was truly a game ahead of its time.  You had your choice of four characters (I always chose the warrior, because, well… I thought he looked cool), and with up to three friends you would explore rooms filled with treasures and monsters in search of the way out.  As this was one of the first true co-op experiences of my life, I truly did my best to play nicely with my companions.  Sharing items such as treasures and healing items as well as working together to solve the puzzles that blocked your progress was the key to not only success, but survival.  But unfortunately, I was an immature young man.  A mischievous young man.  A bone-headed young man with a truly “special” sense of humor.  A young man that simply could not resist the siren call to do what may be the stupidest thing you can do in this game.  I intentionally shot the food.

…it was an urge that could not be denied.  I had to shoot the food.

Why?  Because I thought it was hilarious every time the voice of the game announcer would say in his accusing, staccato tone, “Warrior… has shot… the FOOD!”  And despite the fact that I or my fellow players may desperately need the health that picking up the food would provide, it was an urge that could not be denied.  I had to shoot the food.  I MUST shoot the food.  The compulsion could not be ignored.  I had the ability to shoot the food, and the food was there waiting to be shot.  It was sitting there so helplessly, ready to freely give life-enriching nutrients to anyone that would pick it up and consume it.  And I was bent on smashing it, so I could hear the collective groans of my teammates, and the sweet satisfaction that the game was upset with me.  Warrior has shot the food.  I still can’t help but laugh just thinking about it.  It was pointlessly self-destructive, as well as a socially limiting move on my part, but it was still soooo very satisfying.

Setting all the humor aside for a moment, I find a very difficult paradox in my life that I have a feeling we have all shared at some point or another.  As people, we exist because of our bodies own desire for self-preservation.  If you are reading this right now, then your body is currently doing everything in its power to keep you alive.  Your lungs are drawing in oxygen through your every breath, while your heart is pushing the oxygen enriched blood through your body in a concentrated effort designed to keep each portion of your body alive and functioning.  Your brain unconsciously protects you in everything you do – if you fall you will automatically place your hands in from of you to cushion the impact.  If you grab something hot your hands will release it instantly without giving you an opportunity to take further damage.  Our bodies are engineered to prevent our own demise.

The person we see every day when we gaze into the mirror – that is who we must face down, this is the one who shoots our food.

Unfortunately, one layer deeper I find a battle against my own best interests.  Beyond the sub-conscious, there is a war that exists in my soul.  A battle between what I truly know is right and good, and what a darker part of me would prefer to do.  Let’s be completely honest for a moment.  We give the devil credit for a lot of things that he has nothing to do with.  The Bible tells us plainly that we are tempted to sin when we are drawn away by our own desires.  While we do have supernatural enemies on this earth, they are not the biggest problems that we face.  The person we see every day when we gaze into the mirror – that is who we must face down, this is the one who shoots our food.  We are our own worst enemy.  And I am in a daily battle with my doppelganger, the guy inside me who seems to want nothing more than to destroy all the parts of me that desire to serve my Creator with every choice I make.

The good news is that we are not alone – as a matter of fact, there is someone who has been exactly where we are, and he has some very encouraging words to say on the subject.  The apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, has been there.  In the book of Romans chapter 7, Paul begins a discourse on the frustrations of trying to live for God when everything inside of him is fighting those efforts.  I would encourage you to read the full chapter to truly feel the passion of his struggle with this, but in the interest of brevity I will summarize it here.  Paul tells us that he finds himself doing the things that he hates in spite of his earnest desire to do what is right, and that there is nothing good that dwells inside of him.  He carries an urging within to follow the ways of God, but he is victim to an internal war that is pulling him towards the desire to sin.

“O wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” 

His final cry is too perfect for me to do anything other than quote in its entirety – “O wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  So very powerful.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have had very similar words fall from my lips as I realize once again that I have failed, and in that moment I feel as if I am the most wretched person that has ever lived.  Despite all of my desires to do what is right I am here once again, staring at my sin and realizing I have let myself down, I have let others down, and I let the God who has done so much for me down as well.  And in that moment I look inside and see a twisted, sneering face that looks a lot like my own, the party responsible for my most recent unacceptable behavior.  And that’s when I truly feel the cry of Paul, as I realize I do not have some external source of torment that has tricked me.  There was no snake asking me if I would like to try some fruit in a garden.  Nope, the truth of the matter is I did it.  Because my inner man, my “flesh”, wanted to.  I shot the food.

If the cry of Paul ended there, then we would truly have no hope.  Caught between our soul’s desire to live a life pleasing to our God, and our flesh’s selfish desire to gratify itself until our number is called, we stand at a crossroads in need of a bridge.  Romans chapter 7:25 and chapter 8:1 answer the question Paul has raised – “Who will save me from the body of this death?”  Jesus Christ is the One who has delivered us.  And it is only through Him that we can gain the victory over the sinful desires that plague us each day.  It is not your fault that you cannot do it on your own.  Nobody other than Jesus could.  So armed with this knowledge, Paul completes the thought.  We are free from the condemnation that comes from the sins of our flesh, if we choose to follow the path laid out for us by the Spirit of God.  Paul goes on to say that those who pursue the sinful and carnal desires in life will ultimately follow those things all the way to spiritual death, but those who crave the spiritual will find life as well as true peace.  Only by denying the inner compulsions of our flawed minds and deceitful hearts and choosing to listen to and follow God’s leading will we find the ability to stand tall in a battle that we will face daily for as long as we live.

It is a conscious walk, a constant and never-ending war

So now armed with this fresh knowledge, I am setting out to defeat that side of me that intentionally sabotages me, that shoots my food and laughs about it, and would like nothing more than for me to give myself over to the various vices and pleasures that this fallen world has to offer.  It is not a one step process, or a simple matter of saying a few prayers and reading a few more chapters of the Bible each day.  I wish I could give you a solution as simple as that.  No, it is a conscious walk, a constant and never-ending war, a battle for the thoughts of my own mind that will never truly end.  So take courage in knowing that if you fight to do the right things every day, you are not alone.  All of us do, and anyone that tells you otherwise is either in denial or hiding something.  But we don’t have to face the same battles every day  – Jesus is our Deliverer, and He can overcome any temptation, He can break whatever bondage you struggle with, and He is the only One who can and will help you defeat the enemy that dwells within your bones.

Take heart in knowing that while the war will never be over, you can win the battle you are facing today.  It is both easy and difficult at the same time – you must make the conscious choice to deny the desires of your inner self, while calling on Jesus to deliver you in the way that only He can.  He will never let you down.  He has never lost.  And He isn’t going to start losing today.

 

Only Fools Rush In – When I was a Juggernaut in my own mind (Joshua 9)

 

Grenades full, overshield charged, sword in hand and a rocket launcher on my back… yeah, this is going to go my way.  These guys have no idea who is headed their way, and with my massively overloaded arsenal there is no way they are a match for the unstoppable force that is the Spartan under my command.  I burst in the room prepared to unleash pure, unadulterated carnage on my unsuspecting foes – but alas, the sweet, sweet annihilation of my foes was not to be.  No, quite the contrary.  My enemies, who I had already mentally added to my kill count, were quite prepared for my little assault.  Two were positioned in the back of the room to act as decoys, while the other two were at the entrance beyond my periphery.  I bolted toward the enemies in front of me with my plasma sword in hand, about to dispatch both in a glorious double kill, when my mistake hit me.  Literally.  A quick WHOP to the back of the head and down I went, without a single enemy casualty to show for my efforts.

I had unwittingly ARMED them and given them a substantial advantage…

As the camera panned without emotion over my fallen body, I watched as my enemies plundered all of the items and weapons I had been carrying so proudly and confidently a few moments earlier.  I sat and waited for my respawn, with the horrifying knowledge that not only had I failed in an opportunity to decimate my over-matched opponents, but I had unwittingly ARMED them and given them a substantial advantage.  Bright red “X” marks on my screen told me the tale that I didn’t want to take the blame for… my teammates were being picked apart by our foes, one by one, as I sat helplessly waiting to re-enter the fray.   And the greatest irony?  That the enemy army was using the very weapons I had intended to destroy them with against us.  And to add to my frustrated state of mind, I came back to life realizing those very weapons that I was once carrying were now going to be used against ME.

The sad reality is that many times in life we are our own worst enemy.  Head-strong and confident, we march right into a catastrophe of our own design.  And in an honest moment, we realize we have nobody to blame but ourselves for our current predicament.  But I have good news – this is a challenge that even some of the most well-known leaders in Biblical history have faced down and solved.  Let’s turn to the story of Joshua, a leader who can relate to our dilemma and more importantly can provide us with insight into correcting this behavior.

The Gibeonites chose a path of deceit that would make a Decepticon jealous

In the Biblical book of Joshua chapter 9, we find Joshua and the nation of Israel fresh off of a victorious battle with the city of Ai.  To say this was an overwhelming triumph is an understatement – the Bible captures the account with the city of Ai being burned to the ground, and the inhabitants utterly destroyed.  Good things were happening, enemies were falling, the troops were advancing… and a new foe was plotting.  The entire land of Canaan was promised to the Israelite people, and to possess the land fully they were instructed by God to eliminate all of their opposition with extreme prejudice.  There could be no exceptions, and this was clear not only to Joshua and the armies of Israel but also to the current inhabitants of Canaan, much to their dismay.  To this point the Israeli war effort had successfully marched right through Jericho and Ai, and while the remaining unconquered cities banded together in an effort to stop the Israeli advance, the inhabitants of Gibeon had other plans for survival.

Following the military logic in the phrase “If you can’t beat em, join em”, the Gibeonites chose a path of deceit that would make a Decepcticon jealous.  They changed into old, worn out clothes, and loaded their animals with battered and beaten up supply bags.  To add to the charade, they even filled their supply bags with dried out and moldy food, all for the purpose of catching Joshua off guard.  Appearances can be very deceiving, and in this case the deliberate effort to seem as nothing more than weary travelers from a distant country was all too convincing to our natural vision.  Of course God saw right through the ruse and was waiting to warn Joshua against this treachery… but here is where the fatal mistake is made.

… “they did not ask counsel from the mouth of the Lord”

Joshua and the leaders of Israel, fresh off their recent victory and trusting in their own intellectual abilities to discern the situation, question the emissaries of the Gibeonites briefly before letting what their eyes see blind them to the hidden truth.  And unfortunately, we do the same thing.  So many times we experience the greatness of God in our lives and enjoy his provision in a miraculous way, but once delivered from our troubles we go right back to trusting in our own strength and ingenuity, forgetting that left to our own devices we tend to only make a mess of things.  God is not a part-time advisor, or a consultant we call on when we begin to lose control.  Our relationship with God is exactly that – a relationship.  A full-time, every minute of every day partnership in which we follow His guidance and ask for His blessing on each and every choice we make.  Failure to do so can be quite costly.

The Bible captures this in a statement that stings the heart – “they did not ask counsel from the mouth of the Lord”.  Trusting their flawed instincts, they enacted a binding peace treaty with the people of Gibeon, while failing to recognize that super-natural wisdom from God was only a prayer away.  And now the problems begin… once the people of Israel found out that they had entered into a covenant with the Gibeonites and that they were actually their neighbors, they were quite upset.  The leadership of Joshua and the heads of Israel were now called into question by their constituents. If they couldn’t tell the difference between foreign diplomats and the enemy next door, how can they possibly lead this nation any further?  And the murmuring begins… the deadly sin which caused the Israelites to engage in the 40 year journey in the wilderness to begin with.  Failure to ask for God’s guidance and leadership can lead to a downward spiral that affects all of those that look up to you, and if you occupy a role of leadership in any aspect of your life the expectations are even higher.  So now that the mistake has been made, what can be done?  Time to see what our God can do with our missteps…

We can choose to allow God to turn our mess into a masterpiece

So even though they made a terrible mistake, Joshua and the princes owned up to it and decided to stay true to the covenant they had just made with the people of Gibeon.  They knew that they had made this oath not just to them, but to God Himself.  While the Gibeonites had tricked them, it was Joshua and the leaders of Israel who own the blame for their failure to seek God, allowing the wool to be pulled over their eyes.  Two wrongs never make a right, and in a deal that worked best for all the parties involved Joshua would spare the people of Gibeon from the Israeli war march, and in return the people of Gibeon would serve the God of Israel, the one true God, by becoming servants of His house.  The Gibeonites would become the caretakers of the church, and their lives were spared.  Isn’t this amazing?  God took the mess that Joshua had created, and turned it into a blessing!

And now that we have walked through this adventure with Joshua, we see how often this same pattern plays out in our own lives.  We feel as if we are in control of our lives, and we make decisions without seeking God’s advice or guidance.  Then we quickly get ourselves into a situation that we cannot handle. Now that we are in over our heads, we have a choice to make just like Joshua did.  We can either choose to turn to God and allow him to turn our mess into a masterpiece, or we can continue to run headfirst into a room full of enemies, contributing to our own demise with our misplaced self-confidence.  The choice is ours.

I learned a valuable lesson the day my ambush failed – I lacked the knowledge I needed heading into a room full of enemies, and all the weapons, skills, and ingenuity I had at my disposal was ultimately no match for an enemy that had been far more cunning in their preparations.  And if I had continued in that manner of play, rushing an overpowered enemy mindlessly over and over, I would have continued to fail.  So what did I do?  Once respawned, I acted as if I was about to make the same mistake as last time.  My enemies saw my movement on their displays, and must have assumed I was foolishly returning to the site of my previous demise, hoping my weapons may still be lying there.  They hid in the same room, lying in wait for my approach.  But not this time…

Once we know the enemies tricks, it is easy to avoid them and counter attack

Having done this before, I knew they would be hiding in the exact same spots.  Funny how our enemy never seems to change tactics until their battle plans fail, isn’t it?  This time, I faked an entry into the room, then promptly backed out while lobbing sticky grenades at the spots I knew they would be hiding in.  Two explosions cleared out the two in the back of the room, and lured the others out into the open where I could make short work of them with a battle rifle.  Game, set, and match.  Once we know the enemies tricks, it is easy to avoid them and counter attack.  And having that knowledge, we can take our previous mistakes and turn that into our greatest victory.

God is there at all times, an ever-present help for all of our times of trouble.  He is always one prayer away, waiting to give us the guidance we need to make the right decisions.  But the responsibility is on US to call out to Him for help.  And no matter what situation you have gotten yourself into, regardless of what kind of deal you have made, or how desperate your circumstances are, He can salvage your problems in a way that you cannot even imagine.  He may even turn your challenge into something that will help you in the future.  It is never too late to turn to Him for help – call out to Him today!

 

Of Slimes, Goombas, and Dungeon Rats – Why we must level grind (Genesis 37-41, Daniel 1-2)

 

Every video game from the dawn of time has had them – those annoying, simple, basic enemies that seem to exist only to slow down our progress and make the game longer.  Barely strong enough to present any difficulty, and typically dispatched with a simple bop to the head, I find their existence intriguing.  What is their real purpose?  And what were they going to do if I never showed up?  At first glance, they are non-descript and unremarkable, threatening only to the most careless player.  Sufficient numbers of them can cause even experienced gamers some small amount of difficulty, but their predictable patterns of attack and weak defenses always spell their eventual demise.  So why are they there?  Are they the equivalent of video game pocket lint, having no value but for some reason always there, or do they serve a larger and even necessary purpose?

They are the game designer’s way of walking you through the fundamentals of combat…

Across every gaming genre a pattern emerges – from the original Super Mario Bros. to Fallout 4, we begin our adventure with battles that are designed to develop the skills and abilities that we will need later in the game against more difficult foes.  Timing your jump onto the unsuspecting head of a marching goomba in Mario is the first step towards winning your battles with the faster, fiercer opponents you will find in the game’s later levels.  The simple dungeon rats you get your first experience points from in any RPG are the game designer’s way of walking you through the fundamentals of combat, while rewarding you with the necessary skill points you will use to become stronger, faster, and more adept with your weapons.  What at first glance appears to be a waste of your time suddenly finds its meaning – you will not be able to survive the challenges that await you if you can’t successfully conquer your level one opponents’ first.

In our everyday lives, we face a variety of tests, trials, and temptations.  I know I have often treated these annoyances with disdain, informing God that if he would simply get these out of my way I could get SOOOOO much accomplished.  I mean, I would have been so much more productive at work today if my tire hadn’t gone flat.  Or, I would be able to spend quality time with my family tonight if I didn’t have a huge project that is at its deadline.  Even more to the point, I wouldn’t have lost my temper today if that person didn’t cut me off in traffic.  And on and on it goes – these meaningless side quests in our lives, the temporary obstacles that pop-up ever so briefly, and within a month, day, or sometimes even in an hour lose all significance.  But maybe they are not as insignificant as you think…

Maybe they are not as insignificant as you think…

There are two people we can look to that can serve as witnesses to the importance of passing those early tests and defeating the basic enemies that are placed on your path.  Interestingly enough they both walked very similar paths.  Let’s take a look at the parallel lives of Joseph (found in Biblical book of Genesis chapters 37-41) and of Daniel (in the Biblical book of Daniel chapters 1-2).  Both stories start out quite tragically – as young men, both were ripped from their families, removed from all that was familiar, and taken into captivity in a foreign land.  Joseph is sold as a slave by his own family and taken to the country of Egypt, while Daniel is captured by an enemy army and taken as a slave to the enemy empire of Babylon.  Pretty rough start, don’t you think?

Their lives continue to run a similar course, as Joseph is taken to a royal officer’s home as a servant, while Daniel is taken to the royal court of Babylon to begin his service training.  And as a signal to each of them that they are still under the watchful and protective eye of God, they are both granted favor in their situations by the overseers they have been placed in the care of.  It is remarkable that even in our darkest situations; God will shine a light to remind us He is still there, and that there really is a method to the madness we currently inhabit.  Unfortunately, the next test awaits them both, and it is a test of character that will ultimately determine if they are ready to advance to the next level, or if they still need to kick around a few more chickens.  Joseph is faced with the ultimate no-win scenario – what do you do when your boss’s wife is hitting on you?  Joseph takes the high road and rejects her repeated advances, and his act of integrity earns him a trip to prison courtesy of the spurned wife of his boss, who falsely accused him of attempted rape.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…

When in Rome (or in this case Babylon), do as the Romans do, right?

We will leave Joseph in his undeserved prison for a moment and check back in on Daniel.  Daniel, being an Israelite, lived his life according to the rules that God had established for the Israeli people, and many of these rules involved the food and beverages that they were permitted to partake in and what they were to avoid.  The purpose of these dietary rules was to set the people apart from the heathen nations around them, and establish them as unique and special.  It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Daniel to go native in his new surroundings and choose to partake in all of the things that were forbidden to him and his countrymen.  After all, who would have known (or cared)?  When in Rome (or in this case Babylon), do as the Romans do, right?  But Daniel would have known.  And he knew God had never stopped watching him, and was waiting to see if he would be faithful even when it seemed like nobody was looking.

So Daniel declines the food, requesting water and vegetables for himself and his fellow Israeli captives, understanding that this could be considered a grave offense in his new surroundings.  As a slave, he should consider himself lucky to be kept alive and fed at all, much less fed from the king’s very own table!  But he would not allow the fleeting pleasures of the world to define who he was, and chose to stick to what he knew was right.  So here we are, Joseph refusing to give in to the temptation to enjoy a private affair with another man’s wife, and Daniel declining the fine foods of the Babylonians so he could remain faithful to his beliefs.  These trials and temptations seem pretty scary right now, with very dire consequences – but both of these men will be reaping the benefits of their faithful choices soon.  See, everything these men have faced so far are character building,” leveling up” opportunities.  There are greater destinies for each of them to fulfill, but before they can ever get to that place they must prove they will do what is right when it would have been easy to choose what was wrong.

They faced the counterfeit offerings of the devil…

And here their destinies converge once more – two years after Joseph has been placed in prison for a crime he did not commit, the ruler over Egypt had a dream that only Joseph could interpret.  And two years into the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was called upon to not only define his king’s dream, but to recite the dream to him without ever having heard it.  Both of these individuals had faced down their fears by staying true to their faith in God even when they had been removed from all that was familiar and placed into the chains of slavery.  And then they faced the counterfeit offerings of the devil to give them acceptance and worldly satisfaction by compromising their values, which they shut down.  And now, finally, it is time to level up!  Joseph interprets the dream of the king of Egypt through divine revelation of God, and his reward was to be named second in charge of the entire kingdom.  What a reversal of fortune, to go from a slave to the second most powerful man on the planet!  And let’s not forget about Daniel – his recounting of the king’s dream and interpretation resulted in his placement as the ruler over the entire province of Babylon, and was promoted to chief over all of the other princes.  From slaves to rulers, achieving the destinies they were created for – and we can have that same experience to if we learn from their examples.

I followed the stories of both of these men’s lives simultaneously so we could see that this is not just an isolated incident in the Bible, but rather a formula that will help us understand why we go through the things we face in life, and point to a resolution beyond our wildest dreams if we can pass the test!  So let’s break this down:

Neither of them could reach their full potential in the safe confines of their living rooms

First, both Joseph and Daniel faced a situation that removed them from their comfort zone and all that they were familiar with. It was uncomfortable, difficult, and separated them from their family and friends.  But this trial served a purpose – If you want to be more than what you are, you must become something you have never been.  Neither of them could reach their full potential in the safe confines of their living rooms.  These were men destined to be global rulers, and the first step in their journey was to be placed in a position where they had to depend on God and God ALONE.  By taking them to a new location and removing the support networks they would typically rely on, they were able to lean completely on God’s direction and trust in his care.  For us, many times this takes the form of a loss in our lives, perhaps of a job, or home, maybe even of a loved one.  Other times it is a forced and unwelcome change that alters your destiny in ways that you cannot understand right now.  No matter what direction the winds of change blow your life in, you can know this for a certainty – God is in control and is actually going to use whatever you are going through to bring you to a better place, as long as you are prepared to follow Him obediently and trust in His plan.

We have no record of Joseph or Daniel complaining, telling God this is unfair, or fighting the changes they were experiencing.  They simply followed the path their Creator had laid out for them, knowing that He designed the level they are currently playing on, and He knows how it ends.  And so it is with us – before we can accomplish the plan God has for us in our lives, we must learn to trust in God fully, not in others or in our own abilities to get us there.

The second consistency we see in the pattern from Joseph and Daniel is that they were both tempted by the devil with an offer that would make them more comfortable in their current surroundings, a counterfeit blessing.  Both of these supposed “captivity with benefits” arrangements would have required our brave heroes to compromise their integrity to enjoy a temporary pleasure.  For Joseph, he was presented with the temptation to have a physical relationship with his boss’s wife, free of any obligations other than sin and the guilt associated with it.  Being the head of the house while the husband was away, it would have been a simple thing for Joseph to indulge in the sin presented to him, and who would have ever known?  And here is where he had to grind through to his next level – every day she would attempt to seduce him, and each day he would refuse and prevent even the possibility from occurring.  And with the hind-sight of seeing the end of the story, it becomes clear why he went through this – his future was to rule over the entire kingdom.  The entire wealth of Egypt would be under his command.  For him to be trusted with all of this, he must first prove himself faithful when nobody else is watching other than God.

The opportunity to level-up by taking a short cut had to be a difficult temptation…

Daniel faced the pressure to go with the flow, and he could have chose to allow his standards of right and wrong to be dictated by the circumstances he found himself in.  The opportunity to level-up by taking a short cut had to be a difficult temptation.  Again, who would have known if Daniel had simply acquiesced to the peer pressure and decided and success in his new country was worth the small price of compromising his moral standards on something as insignificant as food and beverages?  He could even have reasoned to himself that he would be in a better position to help his people if he simply bent his beliefs momentarily.  But you cannot cheat your way to promotion, and Daniel followed his conscience and took the path that would define him throughout his life – serving God regardless of the consequences that he faced.  Once again we see why passing this test mattered, as Daniel would eventually become the most powerful man in the Babylon besides the king himself, receiving direct communication regarding people’s dreams from God himself, and he would have never been able to handle such tremendous responsibility without having the character such a position required.

The temptations presented in our lives are permitted to occur for the very same purpose – you have a destiny that you are meant to fulfill.  There are incredible things God has planned for your life that He wants to promote you into.  But just like in the world of video games, you must learn to defeat sand crabs and dungeon rats before you can face flying dragons and evil kings.  Until Mario can time a jump on the head of a mindlessly pacing mushroom, he will never be a match for Bowser and all of the weapons he has at his disposal.  Until you have learned all that God needs you to know at your current level, you cannot level up into the greater plans He has for you!

You must learn to defeat sand crabs and dungeon rats before you can face flying dragons and evil kings

In the end, both Joseph and Daniel patiently persisted through their challenges, and instead of wallowing in depression about the hand that they had been dealt they chose to prove themselves faithful in their circumstances and allow these trials to serve their ultimate purpose of shaping them into the leaders they were born to be.  Their example provides us with a pattern we can follow… if we are willing to choose to.  No matter how bleak everything looks for you right now, this is merely a proving ground for you to gain the necessary skills to conquer the larger boss fights that await you in your future.  You will choose how long you remain at the level you are at – once you have gained the experience points your current situation requires for level up, you will move up to the incredible things God has planned for you!  So don’t lose hope, stay strong against the urge to complain or give up, and most importantly NEVER settle for the fake solution that the devil will present to you.  God’s way is never easy or fast, and will always be true to the direction of the Bible and your conscience.  But if you faithfully follow Him regardless of the difficulty, you will pass the level and gain the experience you need to move on to the bigger and better things God has in store for you!

Halo 2, broken headsets and the power of prayer (1 John 5:14-15)

“Dude, where are you at???” I was screaming frantically into my headset as I scanned the battlefield around me in a panic.  I was on the wrong side of the map, surrounded by those dastardly Blues, completely vulnerable next to an overturned Warthog that had just been rocked by an explosion and flipped.  This was NOT what my friend and I had in mind when we had jumped into the vehicle a few minutes earlier and discussed our battle plan.  We had been pinned down by sniper fire, our cowardly teammates had dropped out on us, and it was time for something daring.  Our communication was brief and to the point – we’ll hop in the Warthog, I’ll drive while he mans the turret, and we will make a completely unexpected assault on the enemy position from a moving target that would keep their snipers at bay.  Create some confusion, run over a couple of Blues if we get lucky, knock out at least one sniper, and change the momentum of the battle.  Easy enough.  And we had faced down more dire circumstances before, so while there were no guarantees of success we felt pretty confident racing around the corner towards our hopefully shocked victims.

If he doesn’t respond soon we are as good as dead…

 

Only it did not end up that way at all – after a few quick kills we were on the receiving end of a blast that sent our ride spinning wildly and tossing us out into the firing zone.  Unable to determine if we had taken the hit from a grenade or a rocket launcher, and even less sure what direction it had come from in the first place, the temporary shelter I was enjoying from the hulking mess that had once been a drivable vehicle now made me a target.  And here I am, shouting into a piece of plastic wrapped around my head for help from a friend who was many hundreds of miles away for support.  See, we are playing online and are separated by a great distance, and the only hope I have is that he hears me through this $19.99 piece of currently worthless equipment.  If he doesn’t respond soon so we can coordinate a counter-attack, we are as good as dead and this battle becomes an unwinnable massacre.

But there is a problem – he ISN’T responding.  I am getting nothing through my headset – no sound, no static, just silence.  In my current circumstance, I am quite sure a second’s delay will be too long.  I don’t know if the issue is on my end or his – all I know is that for all practical intents and purposes I am stranded with no idea what has happened to him – for all I know he died in the crash, got angry, and quit the game in frustration leaving me alone in this battle.  It could be my headset has broken, or perhaps his got unplugged – at this point it is immaterial and I really don’t have time to solve the problem.  All I know is that I need help, and the only person I had to depend on has gone silent on me.  So now what?

You start to wonder, did God hear me?

I have a sneaking suspicion this is a familiar emotion each of us have felt at some point or another.  Stranded in the midst of an intense situation, without the support you had counted on heading into the circumstances you find yourself in, you feel alone and vulnerable.  In desperation, you remember that in times of need you should pray, and God would hear your prayer and deliver you, right?  Only, once you have uttered that prayer with the passion of a condemned man on death row pleading his innocence, you are met with…. Silence.  No miraculous opening of the heavens, no descending of doves, no thunder or earthquakes, just the uncomfortable quiet that now seems worse than your predicament.  And you start to wonder, did God hear me?  Is He going to do anything?  Is He waiting for me to do something?  Will He at least let me know that He heard me?  Fear gives way to panic, and then frustration as you continue to find that nothing is improving.

Perhaps it is a loved one in a hospital bed, and you know time is running short.  Maybe it is a pile of bills that has finally pulled you under in its vise-like grip, and you see no hope in sight.  Or it could simply be a situation that has changed from difficult to unbearable, and you are at the end of your rope.  And if things couldn’t get worse, after trying everything you can think of to solve this on your own, your prayers seem to have yielded no fruit as an invisible, silent God seems completely unaware of your plight and the drama that it is causing you.  But I have hope for you – God is certainly not silent, he is aware of everything that is going on in your life, and if you will bear with me for just a moment I will show you exactly how He works.

Both of you are acting in faith in that moment

As simple as I can put it, prayer is a conversation with God that you can have anyplace, anywhere, and without any preparation.  Simply speak to Him as if He was sitting right next to you – because He is!  I know what you may be thinking – how do I know He is listening?  I don’t want to feel stupid talking to the air.  So let me ask you this – how many times have you been standing in line at the grocery store when the person behind you starts berating you LOUDLY for an act of extreme stupidity that you are quite sure you had no part in.  You turn around to ask them what their deal is, when you see that telltale sign over their ear – the Bluetooth headset.  And you immediately realize they aren’t addressing you at all, but rather are talking to someone else on the other end, potentially anywhere on the globe.  Do you realize that both of you are acting in faith in that moment?  You are making the educated leap in judgment that this person is in fact speaking to someone else through an electronic device that is transmitting their conversations invisibly through the airwaves.  And they are speaking to this other person in faith that they are truly there on the other end, listening and corresponding right back.

Every time you use a phone, send a text message, write an email, or speak into your gaming headset of choice you are using FAITH.  You are communicating to someone who is not physically visible to you, and possibly someone you have never met.  But you believe in their existence and are utilizing a highly technical service to access them in trust that they will respond.  And why do you believe in them or have confidence in their reply?  Because you know they exist – you have evidence of their existence and faith in the process you are using to speak to them.  You can’t see the person you are talking to, but you speak anyway in anticipation of a response, right?  Prayer is no different – although the response may not be immediate and it is not typically audible, your answer will be just as real.

I knew that he was still out there doing what he had promised he would do

When we pray, we are sending a message to an invisible but very real God.  While we do not physically see Him, proof of His existence is irrefutable to even the most jaded eye.  Romans 1:20 explains that the invisible God is made clear to us through the things He has made.  If we needed any evidence of a higher intelligence, all you need to do is look at the world around you, the universe that surrounds us, and the incredible miracle of life that each of us contain in our bodies.  The fact that you are still standing in spite of everything that has challenged you to this point in your life, and that you are reading these very words right now show His concern and care for you.  He is real, His power is evident, and He has intimate knowledge of your situation and what needs to be done.  All that is left to do is for you to have the conversation with the Him.

I realized that while I was gaming with my friend online, I was not alone despite the technology around me failing to provide the voice of my fellow Spartan.  As I saw two enemy bodies fly over my head, it became clear he had snuck away from the Warthog and managed to drop some grenades on the enemy position above us.  The grenades found their target, eliminated the immediate threat and bought me time to maneuver to a safer vantage point.  We were still in enemy territory and outnumbered, and our ability to communicate had not improved.  But now I knew that he was still out there doing what he had promised he would do, and all I had to do was keep up my end of the deal.  I may not have physically SAW what he was doing, but I saw the results, the evidence of his unseen actions, and I knew he was the architect of it.  And that is exactly how prayer works, too.

You have been placing faith in others all of your life in some form or another…

Few have ever heard the audible voice of God.  Fewer still can claim to have viewed the inner workings of answered prayer from God’s point of view.  Ultimately, our prayers are an act of faith that we are placing our needs in the hands of our caring and loving Creator, as a child to a parent.  We may not understand how it works, any more than a child truly understands how the internal combustion engine works in a car.  But the child is confident when they climb into the car that it will start, and that their parent will navigate them to the correct destination.  You have been placing faith in others all of your life in some form or another – isn’t it time you place that faith in the One who has your true best interests at heart and has promised never to fail you?

Reach out to Him today with your problems – don’t worry about what you should say or how you should say it.  Simply talk to Him as you would to anyone else… confide your concerns and ask for His help.  There are no magic words, and there isn’t a wrong way to pray.  And once you have finished, be confident that your words have reached His ears and that He is actively working on the resolution.  It may take longer than you want, and the hard truth we must accept is that it will not always be the answer we desire.  In point of fact, sometimes the answer is “No”.  Other times it may be “Not yet”.  But you can rest assured that once you have placed your concerns and problems into His hands, they WILL turn out the best way possible.  Unlike faulty headsets and traitorous teammates, He will never let you down and the answers to your prayers will always show up right on time!

 

Loading… Please wait (Exodus 23:28-30)

 

Loading… please wait.  Oh, how I hate loading screens.  Nothing breaks up the tension of a climactic cut scene like seeing a loading screen pop up, taking you completely out of the moment and reminding you that you are playing a video game.  From playing classic games that required the patience of Job as the game paused to load every time I walked out of one room and into another, to every boring, static loading screen during a game installation, one thing never seems to change in the world of video games – we will always have to WAIT for something cool to happen.

We will always have to WAIT for something cool to happen

The new torture devices that have been inflicted on us as gamers are system updates and mandatory game installs, which for those who have not yet enjoyed this particular delight amounts to a placing a game into your system of choice and then waiting for your system to become capable of playing it.  Few moments in life compare to that glorious moment when you remove the plastic from your new game purchase, crack open the case and smell that sweet, sweet, new game smell, carefully remove the disc from its plastic prison with a gentle press of the center tab, and slide that disc into your console in eager anticipation of game launch.

And then it happens – the completely unfeeling notification from your console that your system requires an install or update in order to process the tasty gaming goodness contained on the disc you fed it.  And as you watch the loading bar slowly begin to fill, you realize there are actual important things you need to do around your home, and you decide to take this time to do something decidedly UNFUN while you wait, such as washing dishes or folding laundry or feeding your family.  Completely torn out of your enjoyment of the experience of loading up a new game for the first time, you are now back in the humdrum existence and responsibilities you were trying to escape from.  Hours later, after you have completed your honey-do list or tasks du jour, you recall that you had intended to have fun and you check on your system, which is now finally ready for you to play.  Only now it isn’t really the same, is it?  Now you skip through the opening cinematic you were eagerly anticipating earlier, you bypass the tutorial so you can get a few minutes of action in before its time for bed, and then you die five consecutive times because you have no idea what you are doing.  Disc tray opened, game removed, power off – enthusiasm lost and game relegated to the back of your library until your disappointment subsides.  Maybe next month.

Waiting is not a necessary evil – it is a necessary GOOD

If you haven’t felt that pain and frustration yet, I envy you.  But even if that has never happened to you in the world of video games, the reality is people by nature do not like to wait.  It’s not even that we always have better things to do, is it?  We simply cannot abide the concept of desiring something to occur and not having it delivered instantaneously.  Whole books have been written on the microwave generation, detailing all the ways we have found to eliminate waiting time and speed up natural processes for our convenience.  Rather than expose what we already know about ourselves (because I know you are already tired of waiting for me to get to the point), let’s take a look into the actual reasons WHY we have to wait.  I have always considered waiting to be a necessary evil – after reading the following passage in the Bible I have realized it is a necessary GOOD.

In Exodus 23, we find God and Moses conversing on the plan to invade the land of Canaan.  God has a very specific battle plan, and has personally promised his supernatural assistance in conquering the enemies that Moses and the nation of Israel would find there.  But in the midst of all of the rules, regulations, and listing of nations that I can scarcely pronounce, are stashed two verses that bear special attention, because it is here we find a critical nugget of knowledge that will help guide us in the solution we are seeking.  God tells Moses that the victory over his enemies will not be completed in less than a year.  Kind of an odd statement, huh?  I mean, God is all-powerful, and has quite recently established to Moses (see Egypt/drowning entire army in Red Sea) that He can wipe anyone out in one battle if He chooses to.  So it is certainly not for lack of capability.  Fortunately for us, God elaborates and His rationale is so simple yet profound.  He won’t do it any faster than that, because THEY are not ready for it.

He won’t do it any faster than that, because we are not ready for it

Let’s ponder this for a moment.  The reason we wait, is because WE are not ready yet.  In the case of the Israelite people, God gives them the very down to earth and uncomplicated explanation that if He gives them the complete and total victory too soon, the land will fall into disrepair and the wild animals will end up taking over the land, creating even larger problems.  They were simply unprepared for the enormous task of conquering and caretaking the country before them, so an understanding and all-knowing God decided to give them the land piece by piece instead.  This was incredibly surprising to me.  So many times I have prayed to God for certain opportunities, or what I considered to be needed material blessings, only to fail to receive what I had desired.  Since I truly believed what I was asking for was in the will of God for my life, it was an incredibly frustrating experience.  Didn’t God promise us that if we seek Him first He would give us the desires of our hearts?  But now a very basic principle has become clear.

See, God in his infinite wisdom will not give you what you are unprepared to handle.  If you have a three year old child, would you go out today and purchase them a new current year model sedan for them to drive?  Of course not – you realize that it will be many years before your child has need of independent transportation, and right now they would be overwhelmed with the gift.  The car would fall apart due to lack of use, depreciate in value, and by the time your child was old enough to finally drive the sedan it would be hopelessly outdated.  So you wait – not because you don’t love them, or because you don’t intend to give them a vehicle when they are ready for it, but simply because they are not able to handle the responsibilities of owning the vehicle at this time.  And would you let them drive the vehicle at three years of age?  It is preposterous to even suggest – you would be setting them up for a level of failure that would be fatal in your negligence.

We lack the ability to handle the full answer all at once

Our loving heavenly Father is aware of those very same circumstances in our lives, and sometimes He must answer our prayers little by little, not because He lacks power or sympathy, but because we lack the ability to handle the full answer all at once.  When you wonder why God hasn’t saw fit to give you the job you feel you are ready for, the relationship you have been craving, the house of your dreams, or whatever else has captivated the desires of your heart; realize that it is not that you have done anything wrong, or that He doesn’t intend to give it to you when the time is right.  Jesus explained in Matthew 6 that God is both a superior parent and the giver of perfect gifts, giving us the promise that if we seek God first He will give us all that we need.

In the case of the nation of Israel, they were simply not prepared to do all of the caretaking the land would require, and would need to grow both in size and skills to handle the challenge.  And forty years later, once they were ready, they began their conquest of the land and subjugated it with God’s help just as He had promised.  They simply had to wait until they were ready.  In the case of my video game loading screens, the truth of the matter is the system updates serve a very useful purpose – they contain security updates that can protect me from account theft, they give my system new capabilities which once installed give me applications beyond what I had expected, and ultimately I end up with a superior gaming experience for my patience.

It is actually God waiting on US

We will never enjoy the act of waiting – it will always feel unnecessary, unwanted, and unappreciated.  But we can at least take a step in the direction of understanding its reason for existing in our lives, and accept the reality that waiting on God is not a purposeless waste of time.  To the contrary, it is actually God waiting on US.  He will never overload you.  You may want that new job, but God knows the additional money will not offset the time you spend away from your family.  You will still wish God would make that special someone notice that you are there for once, but He knows that you have some loose ends to tie up before you are truly ready to take on all that the new relationship will entail.  It is actually proof of God’s kindness that He is showing when He makes you wait for the perfect timing.  We may never understand, and we will surely never fall in love with the waiting process, but we can take heart in knowing that it is all a part of a deliberate plan for our benefit.  Ultimately, we will get to the Promised Land, just as Israel did.  And eventually I got to sit down and play the game I was waiting for, because all firmware updates finally do come to an end.  And you truly will get what God has promised you, in the time you are ready to handle it, and it will be all you hoped for!

 

 

Stubborn Love – My Love Affair with SEGA (Exodus 16-32)

 

I will admit that I have always been a Sega fanboy.  I come by my Sega love honestly – it all started one night at a friend’s house when he invited me to play a video game.  Being a proud owner of a NES, I was a little curious about what game system he had in mind.  See, in my world all I had played to that point were Atari games, a few Commodore 64 titles, some Intellivision, and on weekends if I was really lucky I could hit the arcade at the mall.  If I just lost you with those references, all I can say is you missed out on the golden age, my friend.  Not being sure what we were about to play, I approached his console with trepidation – it was jet black and shiny, not like my gray, homely looking little NES box.  I saw the name – GENESIS – and then watched as he placed a copy of Altered Beast into the system and turned it on.  Suddenly, I was transported to the arcade – to my young mind the graphics were unable to be believed!  I heard real spoken dialogue (well, a few words, but still)!  Such concepts were unbelievable, and I realized I was meant to follow Sega with blind loyalty from that point on.

I was certain I had finally backed a winner

This continued into my young adulthood, as I stubbornly purchased a Sega Saturn and a copy of Rayman while all my friends were talking about this new-fangled PlayStation thing that Sony cooked up, and some odd looking orange character named Crash Bandicoot.  I mean seriously, Sony, video games, and some giant rodent?  I just KNEW that would never last. And when the PS2 hit, my friends were certain I would finally drink the Sony kool-aid.  But not this guy, ohhhh no.  Sega Dreamcast ALL the way – with Soul Calibur, Power Stone, the 2K sports series, I was certain I had finally backed a winner.  But alas, the over-powered, under-supported Dreamcast faded into obscurity while Sony has continued to thrive to this present day.  I sit in a home now with two Sony PS3 systems, a Sony PS4, and even a Sony Vita handheld painfully conceding defeat, but still secretly holding out hope that there will be a day when Sega will rise and make the glorious return I always believed they were capable of, and I can finally say “I told you so!”.

Unfortunately for me, the possibility of a Sega industry comeback is as incredibly unlikely as my beloved Arizona Cardinals winning the Super Bowl.  I guess I am a sucker for the hard luck case, the under-achiever that still has potential.  Fortunately, I am in good company.  The stories of Moses have been told and retold for generations, epically portrayed in cinema, and to this day he stands as arguably the defining figure of the Biblical Old Testament.  But it is not all of the miracles, or the signs, or the confrontations with the leader of the world at that time that I am interested in today.  No, it is something a whole lot simpler, something much more human and mundane yet infinitely heroic and amazing, that I find inspiring in the character of Moses.  Only this time, instead of Genesis, this story starts with the word Exodus…

Hunger pains were met with freshly baked doughnuts from heaven

In chapter 32 of Exodus we find Moses on top of a mountain, talking to God about a very unpleasant situation.  This is right after the Israelite nation had escaped from Egypt after over 400 years of slavery.  One would expect that after the supernatural displays of power God had shown through Moses the people that he had freed would be as eternally grateful as a group of 3-eyed aliens pulled out of a dispenser by Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2.  I mean, they witnessed some of the most amazing miracles in the history of the Bible en route to a dramatic aquatic finishing move on their enemies that only God could orchestrate, and yet the next two chapters after this are filled with their faithless, impatient, incessant complaining.  Whining about water was answered by a stream of fresh H20 courtesy of a rock, hunger pains were met with freshly baked doughnuts from heaven (my interpretation of manna), and when their delicate palettes cried ‘Where’s the meat?”, they were they recipients of a fresh, hot, juicy quail buffet courtesy of God’s desert delivery service.  And all Moses asked of them was to sit tight at the base of the mountain while he climbed up and downloaded instructions from God.

So here we are, forty days later.  Moses is receiving the final details on God’s rules, and after the final line is written God gives Moses a very solemn update on the situation below.  Their impatience reaching a boiling point, the people below had launched into a drunken celebratory orgy, claiming their new deity of choice to be a golden cow they had created from their own jewelry.  I will let that sink in for just a moment.  After all of the amazing, supernatural events these people had witnessed and in point of fact owed their very lives to, they still chose to proceed with a hand crafted counterfeit that had no value other than the gold they had contributed to its creation.  It is easy to sit here and say that I cannot imagine how anyone could be so blind as to ignore the very real existence of God and choose such a paltry fake in His place, but then I would be condemning myself and every one of us as well.

God intervenes personally in our lives on a daily basis

The sad fact is God intervenes personally in our lives on a daily basis in ways that we refuse to acknowledge, and yet we will give the credit rightfully due to him to any number of circumstances or personal creations.  When we lose our job, we blame God, but when we get a promotion we claim it is our intellect, hard work, and preparation that provided for us.  When we get in a traffic accident, we believe it is because God failed to protect us, but when an ambulance just happens to be nearby and able to respond quickly, we miss the reality that it was God’s mercy and providence that had the solution prepared.  Immediately I realize that before I judge the people at the bottom of the mountain too harshly, I must recognize that this same attitude continues to this very day, in each and every one of our hearts, and it is only because God has been seen fit to cleanse my heart of these desires that I am free from its grasp.  And I believe that this same compassionate mind was present in Moses, as we see the conclusion to the drama unfold.

God was making Moses an offer that almost nobody on the planet could have refused…

God’s jealous anger reaches a crescendo, and He instructs Moses to give Him some space, because He is going to wipe them all out.  And then He extends to Moses the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so many centuries before – that God would make Moses and his family the building blocks of a new nation, without any of the challenges Moses was currently facing with these people.  Incredible.  God was making Moses an offer that almost nobody on the planet could have refused – a fresh start with preferred status and none of the overhead.  And then we see the true character of Moses, the reason he was chosen as the leader of God’s people, and was named as God’s friend – He compassionately and selflessly appeals to God’s mercy and begs for forgiveness on behalf of those who at this point had no hope, no redeeming qualities warranting their pardon, and were even now in the act of shaming themselves before God.  Moses refused to give up on these people, people that we would all have given up on immediately, especially when God offered Moses a personal “Get out of the Desert Free” card.

That is blind, stubborn, fanboy love right there.  Moses could have taken the easier path, and nobody would have blamed him.  He could have taken the shiny offer from God and ran with it all the way to the bank, but Moses would walk in the desert until the day of his death with this ungrateful, hopeless group of people… because he loved them and would carry them on his back if he had to in order to get them to the Promised Land.  We will leave the story there for now, with Moses convincing God to offer a stay of execution for those that had not earned it, and God actually changing his mind and listening to the voice of a man.  I cannot pretend for a moment to have the capacity for love that Moses carried for that group of people.  True, I have illustrated how steadfastly I have clung to my underdog favorites in various areas of my life, but this takes the whole concept to a whole new level.

Jesus chose to be savagely beaten and murdered by the very creatures He had created

To stubbornly believe in and love those who don’t deserve it, to love them hard enough and strong enough to turn away the very judgment they have rightfully brought upon themselves – that is not only the characteristic of Moses on display here, but it is the very embodiment of Jesus’ mission here on Earth as well.  Jesus has given us what we don’t deserve (love, grace, and the opportunity to have eternal life) rather than what we have earned (punishment and judgment), and for Him it came at an incredible and painful cost.  Moses chose to fight, suffer, and eventually die alongside his people rather than take the easy path.  Jesus chose to be savagely beaten and murdered by the very creatures He had created rather than sit comfortably in Heaven and watch us struggle and fail.  This is what it means to be a Christian – a follower of Christ.  To take a pass on what would benefit us personally, and instead take the goodness of God to those who have done nothing to deserve it.

Maybe for you it takes a different form than it does for others.  For some, it is a call to the mission field to bring God’s message to those who have never heard it, turning away from all of the comforts of home.  For others, it is devoting themselves to a life of serving others, giving their extra time to helping the less fortunate around them.  Or maybe it is more personal for you – maybe it is someone or a group of people in your life that simply don’t deserve your forgiveness, your help, or your love.  But just like my beloved, dust-covered Sega Saturn which is this very day lovingly resting in a box in the garage, it is not about the qualities of the object of affection – it is about YOU and the choice you make to love in spite of the challenges.  To love the way the way Moses loved, the way Jesus loved… in a way that doesn’t see what others say, or what the current condition of the situation is, but simply chooses to love and sees the beautiful potential rather than what currently exists… well, that takes a blind, stubborn love.  The same way God still loves us to this day.  We are all recipients of this incredible love, and the primary condition upon receipt of this is to give it away!