What is Truth? The emergence of Virtual Reality (John 14:6)

It is here… the beginning of true virtual reality.  All of our favorite gaming companies are investing huge amounts of money into this emerging technology which is finally landing in the arms of eager consumer this year.  And with this comes the dawn of a new age of not just gaming, but the world of entertainment as a whole.  I wasn’t a believer until I personally donned a Sony VR headset myself and took the technology for a spin, and I can say with all conviction that I entered into the experience full of doubts and criticism and walked out fully embracing this as the logical next step in entertainment.  Immersive, responsive, and most importantly FUN, this is the beginning of what was simply a childhood dream after watching TRON or the holodeck experiences on Star Trek, or for the newer generation reading a novel such as Ready Player One.  The future truly is now and to be honest, I’m not certain we are ready for it.

The future truly is now and to be honest, I;m not certain we are ready for it. 

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who oversaw the corrupt process that ended with Jesus’s execution, asked a famous and relevant question that still echoes throughout the annals of time, “What is truth?”  And with the dawn of this technology, that question may become harder to answer than at any other time in human history.  If you are reading this blog, then it is safe to say you are a fan of technology and gaming just as I am, and your excitement likely rivals mine in seeing these advancements in our beloved medium.  The applications are limited only by our imagination and I for one want a front row seat… but there is a catch to all of this.  There are so many people that I talk to and interact with on a regular basis that are already using gaming as an unhealthy means of escapism from their real life and actual problems instead of the healthy diversion it can be when balanced properly with God, family, work, and real world friendships.  Is it possible that this technology, while a valuable and incredible evolution in entertainment and much more, will make actual Truth even more difficult to discern?

I will say that in my initial hands on demo of the new Sony VR tech I was quite aware that what I was hearing was being piped in through a surround sound headset, and as the visor subtly pressed against my glasses I was also slightly taken out of the moment as I felt the encumbrances of this technology quite tangibly.  But then something happened… as the tech demo found its rhythm I lost track of all of the real world trappings around me and truly melded with what was happening around me… the pavement raced by me, buildings grew as I moved towards them, objects I grabbed and threw reacted within the environment… it truly created the long-awaited promise of suspension of disbelief. I walked out of that room realizing the game had in fact CHANGED.

I walked out of that room realizing that the game had in fact CHANGED.

Over 2000 years ago, Jesus entered the world’s stage and did the unimaginable… He claimed to be the Creator God in human form in the midst of a culture that was adamant that He was not.  He ignored the easy path of an omnipotent conquering hero and chose to be an 8-bit hero in a VR generation, limiting His use of His powers to moments when they would teach a critical life lesson rather than simply display His mastery of the elements.  He chose substance over style and thus was able to loudly proclaim in John chapter 14, “I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by me”.  In this world that continues to find new ways to blur the lines between what is real truth and what is merely virtual reality, Jesus boldly stands and dares to state unequivocally that if you are looking for what is real, what is true, what is eternal… you will only find it in HIM.  All other so-called truths, no matter how deceiving they may be to our external senses, must bow before the ultimate truth that is Christ.

As I exited the demo and reacquainted myself with the real world, I considered the virtual reality of our lives here in this space.  The dream world of VR is what we are actually experiencing in our day to day lives here on earth… an immersive and seemingly realistic experience that in the moment feels all too real, the sound and lights blinding our senses to the real world that will emerge once we remove this clumsy headset that is our current physical bodies.  In Ecclesiastes 12:7 Solomon informs us that the dust that makes up our our physical bodies will return to dust again, and it is our spirit which will return to God who gave it to us in the first place.  The amount of time we spend carrying about this dust as a covering is very similar to the short time I spent in that virtual world… it all seemed so real, it’s promptings so urgent, and for a short period it made me lose track of both time and place as I embraced the experience.  But it wasn’t REAL, it was merely a skillfully crafted illusion meant to simulate the real world I already inhabit.  And much the same way, this present life is just a short experience in which we flail about attempting to learn how to control the avatar that is our body, fighting with the controls at times, fighting with our fellow participants at others as we attempt to figure out the reason why we are here.

What is truth, or more appropriately WHO is Truth? 

Like a game without a tutorial, we struggle, we fight, we experiment as we attempt to find our way.  Trial and error in the gaming world leads to losses of lives and lessons learned, but in our real day to day lives these result in broken homes, damaged souls, and every form of pain imaginable.  And yet the answer to the question from the beginning still stands the test of time… “What is truth?” is answered in the very person Pontius Pilate was questioning.  Truth personified stood in front of him that day, the only Truth any of us can ever truly know.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but it was the bloodied and beaten Man who was standing in control that day as the Roman governor tried to balance the dreams of his wife with the demands of the populace.  He not only knows the truth but He IS the Truth, His words are Truth, and as we dive down the rabbit hole that will continue to challenge our understanding of reality ever further He stands as the only point of contrast that separates fact from fiction.

The Value of a Villain: Why we Need Darth Vader (John 11:45-53)

Thank goodness for video game villains.  I know that may seem to be an odd sentiment, but after years of both playing games as a participant as well as working in the gaming industry, I can tell you with certainty that a well-crafted enemy is essential to enjoying the gaming experience.  As a matter of fact, when asking someone about their level of happiness with the plot in their game their level of satisfaction is typically in direct ratio to how compelling the antagonist of the story is.  The caliber of our enemy is not only what brings out the best from our hero, but the defeat of said villain is what makes the whole journey worth it.  Without Liquid Snake, Solid Snake would just be living out his existence in Alaska under the name David.  Not so exciting.  That wouldn’t even be fun as a mobile game.  Or consider the way that the way that the maniacal Joker forces Bruce Wayne to go beyond what he believed he was capable of to stop his anarchic plans, pulling him out of his pathos long enough to save his city.  Mario would still be plumbing toilets if the antics of Bowser had not compelled him to act.  And while he has not been at the center of too many excellent gaming experiences, Darth Vader clearly defined all things villainous through his menacing look,  his condescending arrogance, and almost unmatched capabilities.  It is through the dark swath of violence that follows him that hero characters such as Luke, Leia, and of course Han Solo become more than a moisture farmer, a princess, and a smuggler.  The through line of almost every great story based gaming experience is driven by an opposite number pulling us through ever escalating scenarios that are designed to prepare us for a final battle worthy of our epic tale.

The through line of almost every great story based gaming experience is driven by an opposite number pulling us through ever escalating scenarios designed to prepare us for a final battle worthy of our epic tale.

What I find interesting about this is that the villain in each case seems to believe that the story is about THEM.  They seem oblivious to the reality that they are actually contributing to the hero’s journey, causing their adversary to grow in strength, resolve, and capability. When the curtain falls, the player is typically at their highest level, their most skilled point, and carrying enough equipment to win a small war.  As the final boss pontificates about their plans and schemes, we grip our controllers with resolve ready to show them all that the last 20 hours of constant battle has taught us.  And as they fall to their inevitable doom, I wonder if in their final moments they realize that they created this ending through the very obstacle course they threw at us.  They are in fact the architects of their own demise.

They seem oblivious to the reality that they are actually CONTRIBUTING to the hero’s journey.

This irony played out in multiple levels in the final weeks of Jesus life on earth.  In John chapter 11, we see a major player in this drama, the high priest named Caiaphas, who was very much at odds with Jesus and His ministry.  He went so far as to make a prediction in the name of God that Jesus would die for the nation of Israel, and by so doing the children of God who were scattered abroad would be gathered together as one.  What a curious prophecy, considering that at the time he said it he had no idea that he was actually foretelling EXACTLY what Jesus planned to do all along.

God used the high priest’s very own scheme against him to achieve HIS end goal.

So we see here a classic villain move, as the high priest lays out what he believes will be the key to victory through the death of his adversary, only to fast forward to the end game where Jesus shows that His death was merely a means to an end.  The elaborate plot of Caiaphas and his group of Pharisees had nothing on the plan of God established from the dawn of time to REDEEM all of His children through the death of Jesus.  Caiaphas had it right, he was just mistaken on who was pulling the strings.  God used the high priest’s very own scheme against him to achieve His end goal, and the ultimate victory of Jesus was the result of the machinations of his enemies being used against them.

And so it goes with us.  It can be hard sometimes to follow Jesus’s command to love our enemies unless we understand that our enemies add an exceptional value to our lives.  Without their constant attacks and frequent challenges, we would actually miss out on the growth this daily buffeting provides us.  It is through their attempts at sabotage that we become stronger and take another step closer to our ultimate destination. So before we complain about the difficulty of our struggle, consider that much like the multiple mini-bosses we combat prior to the finale of our game it is simply preparation and development for your largest and most critical battle.  And now for the final twist…

Jesus’s own words reveal his final battle… “If you are willing, let this cup pass from me.  Yet not MY WILL, but yours be done.

You may expect me to say that the final boss fight is with the devil.  Admit it, it seems like the logical progression, right?  Defeat lower level enemies until we face the ultimate adversary?  Except… He’s already defeated.  He has already lost.  He is a shadow villain at best, as Christ crushed that serpent’s head long ago.  No, he is not the end game boss you have been preparing for.  A review of Luke 23:39-44 reveals that Jesus final battle did not take place on a cross.  No, that was simply the outward manifestation of a battle that had already been fought.  His final battle occurred much like humanity’s first battle began… In a garden.  Jesus’s own words reveal his final battle…”If you are willing, let this cup pass from me.  Yet not my will, but yours be done.”   It was not the murderous Caiaphas that Jesus had to engage in battle, because it was his plot that brought Jesus where He needed to go.  It was not even the devil, who entered into Judas to perform the betrayal of Jesus personally.  No, our true enemy is that which would deny us our personal cross and ultimate victory, our WILL.  The enemy is within.  The end boss is us.  The external enemies such as Caiaphas only force us into a confrontation with our own self-destructive souls.  And that’s why we should be thankful, to the point of blessing our enemies.  Luke never becomes the Jedi he is meant to be without the presence of Vader to push him into his destiny.  But his true battle takes place by himself, in a swamp, as he confronts his own demons. In the end, it is Vader’s pursuit of Luke that brings him to the place of victory, leading him where he could not and would not have gotten to alone.  So love your enemies.  They will push you farther than your friends will ever carry you.

Is There a Madden/EA curse? When the spotlight turns on you (Job 1-2)

If you have played any sports games over the last 20 years, at some point you have heard of the infamous “Madden curse” or “EA curse”. For all those who are sports averse, this is not about the sports themselves, but rather the bizarre alignment that seems to happen when an athlete receives the honor of being placed on the cover of their respective sports game, only to have an unfortunate and unpredictable downfall personally, physically, or professionally occur almost immediately afterwards. The most recent example of this is in a EA sports game that hasn’t even launched yet, UFC 2. Both of the cover athletes for this game, previously champions in their field, were promptly knocked out in their next fight, unceremoniously deposed before they were ever even crowned. The collection of athletes who suffered catastrophic injuries, personal tragedy, or career low points reads like a Who’s Who of sports.  But is the curse real?  Or is this a set of incredible coincidences that just so happen to align with the shining of the spotlight?

Is this CURSE real?

In all of recorded history, few people have ever had it as bad as the man named Job.  Now here is a case study in enduring a cursed season in life.  Have you ever lost a loved one?  He lost all of his children in a freak accident all in the same day.  Lost your source of income?  All of Job’s possessions were systematically stolen or destroyed on that same day.  Tough day on the job?  All of his employees were murdered except for the one that came to report the news.  I’m not sure anyone has faced quite a day like that.  And it wasn’t over yet.  By the time it’s all said and done, Job lost his possessions, his children, his health, and his friends all turned on him and took turns blaming him for this turn of events.  And for you married folks, the cherry on this cursed sundae was the advice from his wife to curse God and die.  Not exactly helpful.

In each of these cases, whether it was a professional athlete or our poor friend Job, these circumstances seem incredibly unfair and causes one to wonder why this would happen.  And within the book of Job we get our answer… Not the answer we may want, but the answer we need.  After enduring all of these undeserved catastrophes Job finally reaches the end of his rope, asserting that it would have been best if he had not been born.  Brought to his lowest point, Job never loses his faith in God, but he certainly loses his faith in God’s plan as well as any potential future for himself other than pain and loss.

He loses faith in God’s plan as well as any potential future for himself other than pain and loss.

I’ve been there, and I haven’t even faced 1% of the adversity Job faced.  But the results were the same, as I sat wallowing in my disappointment and confusion trying to make sense of a situation that I only had a limited point of view on.  Was I targeted because I tried to fly too close to the sun?  Is this the reward for trying to do the right thing, a bigger bulls-eye on my chest?  Much like our cover athletes on the EA sports titles, I was left pondering if the events that challenged me now were simply payback for my previous sins being brought to light, or perhaps the unintended outcome for success in other areas.  Or maybe there was a third option, some external force much like the aforementioned “Curse” that could explain what seemed to be the tremendous finality of failure hot on the heels of my brief run of success.  Have you felt the same way?  Haters materialize right as you are about to take the stage for an award, a huge expense landing just as you were about to pay off your debts, or maybe something as simple as an surprisingly heated conflict with a friend or loved one when you least expected it?  Why can’t things just go right for once?

Why can’t things just go right for once? 

While the Bible speaks of a variety of “curses” in the cases of sin and disobedience, we see from Job’s story that this is not the cause of his issues either.  Instead, we get the curtain drawn back in a way that is both challenging and enlightening on a process in the heavens… a completely open account of the direct dialog between the Creator of all that exists and the enemy of our souls satan himself.  Let’s pick up  in the first chapter of Job, where we clearly understand that none of the things that are about to befall our protagonist are the result of any wrong-doing on his part.  He is described as blameless and upright, so we can nip that in the bud right there.   Starting at verse 6, we get the visual of God the Father having a gigantic meeting when who should appear but the devil himself, quick to rain on the parade.  And it is in fact GOD, and not the devil, that brings Job’s name into things setting in motion the events of this book.  God points to Job as an example of what a great man is, a picture of the blessed life in every possible way.  Our adversary is quick to fire back a condemning response, that without the blessing provided to Job for his obedience he would be no different that satan himself, going so far as to say Job would CURSE God in response to losing what he possessed.   Interesting choice of words, as we see that the devil is less interested in cursing us and more interested in causing us to curse God.  But that is a can of worms for another day.

The devil is less interested in cursing us and more interested in causing US to curse GOD.

With the permission of our omniscient Lord, satan begins his path of destruction through the life of Job.  After doing his worst and using the very words of Job’s friends to tear him apart and the advice of his wife to encourage him to fulfill the devil’s goal of cursing God, the devil stands over the once mighty and successful Job awaiting his response to all of these losses.  Broken but not defeated, Job affirms that the beliefs that held him in the day would not be abandoned in the night.  With a simple response to his wife that we should be willing to accept both good and adversity from God, he faced down the curses thrown at his life and rose above the challenge.  And while his immediate situation around him had not changed, he had a commitment to having faith in a God he could not see, even through a situation he could not understand, and in the midst of a battle that he wasn’t even aware of in heaven.

The reality is that in every sports contest, be it football,basketball, boxing, ultimate fighting or any other you can name, 50% of the participants will lose.  Failure is assumed by half of the participants.  What about the injuries that occur?  A quick review of football injuries showed that over 200 players last season experienced significant injuries that removed them from part or all of the season.  So I hate to break it to all of us, but the EA/Madden curse is actually nothing more that the result of publicizing flawed individuals who have physically demanding jobs that include the risk of failure, injury, and mass publicity of any moral mistakes.  Any number of athletes are experiencing failure or loss of health on a regular basis, and the only difference is that they didn’t make the cover of the game.  The truth is there is more happening above and around us than we can comprehend, and more at stake than we will ever realize.  The unseen war in heaven is REAL, and we are all a part of it.  And what may seem like a series of unfortunate events serving only to bring you down is actually an opportunity for you to achieve success on Heaven’s grand stage.  So the next time you feel as if everything you touch is cursed, or that all you can hope to do is hold on and survive, don’t give up the faith.  Don’t give into the temptation to blame yourself or others, don’t lose your trust in God and His awareness of your circumstance, and whatever you do don’t give into the devil’s temptation to curse God for your predicament.  Instead, travel the high road with Job and decide that your circumstances do not choose your responses.  If you have chosen to accept and follow Jesus you are BLESSED, not cursed, no matter how bad it looks.  It may just be that God is rubbing your faithfulness in satan’s face right now!

A Lesson from Destiny: Co-op experiences in the real world (Matt. 18:19-20)

Of all the things I love about the video gaming world, my personal favorite is the way that co-op gaming creates an experience that is almost unrivaled in any other form of entertainment.  From my early days playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Contra in the local arcade with my Dad and siblings, to the first time I loaded up Halo on the original Xbox with some friends, all the way to the present playing some Super Mario World 3D on the WiiU with my wife and daughters, most of my favorite gaming memories are also some of my most treasured shared experiences with my friends and loved ones alike.  And now we have titles such as Destiny that are built on the core concept of co-op, to the extent that many of the raids in the game are literally impossible to survive much less complete without the support of a fully cooperative fire-team.  We have come a long way from simply pressing start on controller two… in this game  you have NO CHANCE of survival unless you have partners to support you in your quest for loot and victory. Lone wolves need not apply.  Regardless of the weapons you have acquired, the level of experience you are at, the armor you bought, or the skills you have gained, you are out of your league unless you brought help.

You are out of your league unless you brought HELP.

I recently had a very similar experience in the real world as I was preparing to board a return flight home after a recent work conference.  Due to some unpredictable external forces, my inbound flight landed at the exact same time that my connecting flight home was boarding at another gate.  As the plane taxied down the runway towards our terminal for disembarking, I prayed feverishly for my connecting flight to be in the same terminal I was about to exit at.  My only chance to make my connection and get home before midnight was at the mercy of a logistics engineer for the airport.

To my chagrin, it seems that the person responsible for determining the gate assignments had more considerations than my little ol’ connecting flight on their mind, because my connection was a full three terminals away.  No time to complain, no time to use the bathroom… The plane that would get me home to my family was making the final boarding call as I stepped off the plane.  I began the airport sprint of desperation, knowing deep down inside my chances of making it were about as high as surviving Halo on legendary on just one life.  But I ran.  I ran like only an out of shape middle aged guy lugging his carry-on could run… With reckless abandon.  I knew it was hopeless, but my wife and daughters were on the other side of this flight and after a week apart I was going to make it or die trying.

My single minded and selfish focus on my own need had blinded me to the shared predicament of others in my same circumstance.

I arrived to see an abandoned desk and a closed door, with one other poor soul who had clearly just made the same mad dash that I had already standing at the counter.  Out of breath, legs burning like fire, and tasting the bitter acceptance of defeat, I was informed by my new compatriot that somebody had already told them there was nothing that they could do, the flight was already boarded.  I looked behind me and saw that I was not the only one in this circumstance, as 4 more airline patrons were also racing toward the gate.  My single minded and selfish focus on my own need had blinded me to the shared predicament of others in my same circumstances.   At that moment, the door to the breezeway onto the plane opened and an unfriendly face peeked out.  This airline representative had clearly had enough of the day and had already denied my fellow passenger entry.  Time for a boss fight…

After gaining the agent’s attention I asked if there was anyway we could get on the flight, informing her of how far we had come in a desperate attempt to make the flight.  The denial was written on her face before she opened her mouth to pronounce judgement, “We made the last boarding  call.  You will need to wait for the next flight”.  At that moment the other 4 passengers finally made it, and sensing strength in numbers combined with the knowledge that all she really wanted was for all of us to go away, I tried one more time, leveraging the amount of us in need of clearance that only she could provide in a Hail Mary throw for the end zone.  And an amazing thing happened.  Her demeanor never changed… No, she was still as sour as a whole box of lemons.  But what she wouldn’t do for one or two, she was willing to do for six.  Maybe it was because it would have been a lot of paperwork, or maybe it was the realization the next flight wouldn’t have room for all of us, but we all got on the flight that night.  The combination of our pleas for help, even though we all had different reasons for our need and a variety of final destinations, ended with all of us receiving the assistance we needed. It was our mutual goal that brought us together in a way that would have never happened without the adversity we shared.

Why can’t God just answer my solo prayer?  Why do I need a co-op partner for this?

A theme emerged as I pondered this event… The Biblical theme of the power of combined prayer.  Much like the Taken King in Destiny, there are certain challenges in life that require the joint prayers of others in conjunction with our own to see us through to the next level.  In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus shares with us a curious principle:  that if two of us agree on something we ask for, the Father will do it for us.  He further gives us the promise that if two or three of us gather together in His name, He will be there with us.  Now here is what I have always struggled with… Why can’t God just answer my solo prayer?  Why do I need a co-op partner for this?  Is there some express lane for prayers with an occupancy guideline?  And then I saw it.

When we as believers unify we answers the prayer of JESUS!  It is through our UNITY that the world will believe in Him!

The answer is in the prayer of Jesus Himself in John 17:20-23… His prayer wasn’t for us to have nice things, or to be cured from all diseases, or even for all of our needs to be met.  While all those desires have their place, His prayer for us was that we would be ONE in the same way He and the Father are one.  Much like my line at the airport counter, it is our common needs that unite us, and because of that our situation changes.  When we as believers unify through our common failures, needs, and struggles we answer the prayer of Jesus!!  That is why we must join together in prayer… Not because God won’t listen otherwise, but because it is through our unity that the world will believe in Him (verse 23).  God loves you and cares about your daily challenges, but His priority has always been to seek and save those who are lost.  I encourage you to take a co-op prayer partner or five with you into your next boss battle in life… you will be surprised what doors will open for you!

 

 

 

 

Of Mice and Sims (Genesis 1 and 2)

I am going to make the painful admission that there was a period in my life in which I was a Sims player.  At first glance I wasn’t really sure if the idea of cleaning virtual dishes and managing the bathroom needs of a grown virtual adult was going to translate into a relaxing use of my leisure time, but I will confess that there was a certain amount of enjoyment in engaging in the creative process of making a virtual version of me and my friends and then placing them into a virtual world that I was only loosely in control of.  I made a character that resembled me,  reflected many aspects of my personality, and shared my interests.  Then I dropped them in to a world that my avatar and I would co-create together, starting in a small, modest home with the handful of necessities that my characters current bank account could support.  And no sooner did the magic begin than it promptly turned into an unmanageable nightmare.

It promptly turned into an unmanageable nightmare.

See, my Sim lacked almost all of the basic functionality I possessed, even though it was the spitting image of me visually.  I encouraged my Sim to cook dinner… he burned down the kitchen.  I reminded my Sim to use the bathroom, he would rather keep talking to his neighbor to the detriment of his current pair of pants.  I informed my Sim that it was time to go to work but he would rather watch TV and proceeded to lose his job.  I don’t think he fully appreciated how hard astronaut jobs are to find.  I would guide him to read books to further develop his skills in cooking and woodworking, but unless he had enough fun first he would pout and go swimming instead.  I continually had his best interests in mind and understood what would be his optimal path in this virtual life, but his progress would ultimately depend on his mood, or if he got enough sleep the night before, or if something bright and shiny didn’t distract him on the way.

I will be very honest here and admit that I finally reached a point of frustration with my slacking doppelganger. I made the decision to do what would eliminate the challenges that he was having in navigating his life… I punched in a cheat code that provided unlimited resources for him to offset those areas that were lacking.  My filthy sim no longer lived in a disgusting home because I put a robot maid in the house that resolved issues as soon as they started.  I supplied the house with the very best in entertainment, provided unlimited money, the most comfortable furniture, mentally stimulating paintings… it was a mansion that rivaled anything the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous could put together.  Topiaries in the shape of dolphins led to massive fountains pointing the way to an Olympic size pool.  And if there was a neighbor giving him a hard time, well I could just pick them up and drop them into a pool that had no ladders to climb out.  I removed all of his obstacles… and then realized that the actual game itself completely lost all purpose.   By removing the challenges my Sim faced and supplying him with endless abundance without obstacles I effectively ended his growth and shortly thereafter I gave up playing the game, never looking back.  A game without a challenge or a sense of purpose is, well, just an interactive screen saver.

My Sim lacked almost all of the basic functionality I possessed, even though it was the spitting image of me.

I am going to tie some loose threads together here, because many times I think we look up at God and wonder why He, in all of His infinite power and endless substance, does not simply enter some cheat codes into our lives and pay off all of our bills with a lottery win, clean our homes with the push of the easy button, or undo the damage we or others have done to our lives with his magic eraser. And it is easy for us to mistake His lack of immediate involvement with a lack of caring or interest in our predicaments.  And we couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s start at the very beginning, in a process that mimicked my creation of my Sim.  In Genesis 1 God created us in His image and likeness, giving us a basic set of skills and a set of desires that resembled His very own character.  He built a perfect environment and gave Adam his first job as a gardener and animal caretaker.  He gave us life, provision, responsibility, and a sense of purpose.  But He also made the decision to give us autonomy, and in Genesis 2 He gave us the power to make a decision that would change the trajectory of our entire planet forever.  He gave us free will to make a decision with two basic outcomes, and allowed us to make the call.  And while we all know how that decision ultimately went (badly), the reality is God knows that it is only through our choices, challenges, and obstacles that we will grow and achieve our destinies.  To bypass the valley of the shadow of death would rob us of the experience of being comforted by His rod and His staff.  Would it be easier?  Of course it would.  But as my Sim in the game found out, it is the act of a loving benefactor that allowed him to experience a virtual “life” complete with all of the inherent flaws of a world with deadlines and alarm clocks, with hygiene needs and relationship issues, and yes even jobs and household chores because all of these were part of the beauty of the experience that was part of the tapestry of his existence.

To bypass the valley of the shadow of death would rob us of the experience of being comforted by His rod and His staff.

Don’t despise small beginnings, or allow the monotony of your life and the challenges you face to cause your faith in your Creator to waver.  God is developing your life along a road that may seem inconsequential or unnecessarily challenging at the moment, and your kitchen fire may seem all too real at the moment.  But God has eternity in perspective, and He sees more than just this moment and the burned drapes.  He sees you through to your endgame,  and Has infinite patience as you pass through your life and into His perfect plan for you!

 

 

Raiding Tombs before Tomb Raiders were cool: When Mary Magdalene got between Jesus and God (John 20, Luke 8, Mark 16)

Strong.  Fierce.  Driven.  Fearless.  Bold.  These character qualities show up in many of our favorite gaming characters, but few have had the longevity and ability to overcome both in-game and real world obstacles like our favorite tomb raider, Ms. Lara Croft.  She tore down the male driven archetype of gaming at a time where strong female role models simply didn’t exist, she didn’t need a romantic subplot to define her, and her ability to play with the “big boys” made her a cultural phenomenon.  But perhaps her largest accomplishment wasn’t to tear down the walls of the gender stereotype of males as the lead gaming characters in the 1990’s, but something much more difficult… she survived being in a series of poor video games and lived to tell about it, coming out stronger in the end, reborn and better than ever.  Her path to the top was derailed by circumstances outside of her control, but she emerged from the ashes of her previous efforts to regain prominence for a new generation of gamers in her two most recent titles.  She experienced what we call in the gaming industry a “reboot”… retaining the core of what made her special but completely remaking her and her surroundings, delivering a new series of stories in her rebirth as a gaming icon.

She experienced what we in the gaming industry call a reboot.

But to many people’s surprise, she is far from the original tomb raider.  No, about two thousand years ago a much different but equally bold and strong female was raiding the most famous tomb in humanity’s history… the tomb of Jesus Christ.  To properly live this story I am going to ask you to forget what you know about these events and just walk through the footsteps of our protagonist, a real life role model for men and women alike the world over, a person just as bold, strong, and fearless as our Lady Croft… the woman known as Mary Magdalene.

Two millennia ago the world was a much different place, and especially for women.  Men dominated the political, military, and financial world to a great degree and in the culture Mary grew up in women were often treated as commodities or assets, a symbol of status for their husband and valued for their skills more than their substance.  Hmmm… on second thought maybe the world hasn’t changed all that much, to our shame.  But I digress… let’s keep our eyes on Mary as she is destined for a place in history that no man will ever hold.  She is only mentioned in scripture a handful of times… we first see her as a footnote to the followers of Jesus, with the aside that she had seven demons cast out of her.  Without interpolating into this too much, let’s just say that’s seven more demons than one would want to carry around with you if you had a choice in the matter. She had an identity that was unfortunately based on who she was and was most well known for what she had been delivered from.  Have you been there?  Let’s continue on…

She was most well known for what she had been delivered FROM.

After her deliverance she is noted as a follower of Jesus and included in the group of women who were his loyal providers.  We get limited glances at Mary as her story is overshadowed by the boisterous Peter, the fiery James and John, the traitorous Judas, but her relegation to the shadows only serves to underscore what will follow.  After Jesus’s death and burial, all of the “manly men” who made up the frontline disciples were in hiding, too fearful to show their faces in public as they chose the path of least resistance.  But not our Mary.  Oh no, she was right there at the foot of the cross, staying with Jesus until the bitter end.  Did I say bitter end?  She wasn’t finished yet… she sure wasn’t about to let her Lord lay in a tomb without the proper respect given and honor services performed, regardless of consequences.  With a boldness that all the bearded, macho, muscular men around her lacked, Mary and our collection of loyal female followers marched to the tomb to show their commitment to the one man who had never let them down, even in death.  And this is where the story of the original tomb raider turns supernatural.  Time to raid the tomb…

 

Mary Magdalene, standing outside the tomb weeping, decided to check out the tomb.  And in John chapter 20 verse 11 we pick up with her peering into the empty tomb.  And in this moment, her weeping and searching for her fallen Master interrupts Jesus on His way back to the Father.   Let that sink in for a moment… Jesus, having just accomplished his earthly mission and heading back to Heaven, Jesus observes this loyal follower and can’t help Himself but to stop and comfort her.  When she realizes it is Him he even informs her that she cannot touch Him because He has not yet ascended to the Father… and right there I would like to pause and absorb that.  Jesus STOPPED on his way to the Father… for Mary Magdalene.  Why?  It is simple… because she was searching for Him.  And He has committed to being found by all who search for Him.  No matter what you have struggled with, no matter what you have been delivered from… Jesus will LITERALLY stop in His tracks to be found by you if you are truly interested in finding Him.  Mary Magdalene, the raider of the most famous tomb in human history, holds the distinction of being the FIRST to see Jesus when he rose from the dead.  Not Peter or James, not even John… but Mary.  Because she never stopped looking for Him.  And that can be your story too.

Jesus will LITERALLY stop in His tracks to be found by you.

Mary Magdalene experienced a full “reboot” of her life, and was reborn as the woman who would never stop following Jesus.  Through His death, burial, and resurrection she remained a constant as the others ran and hid.  Maybe you have things in your past that bring you shame, even if you have already been delivered from them.  I have carried that guilt myself much longer than I ever should have, the knowledge of what I was delivered from defining me much like Mary’s deliverance seemed to be the most noteworthy part of her.  But that is not the end of your story… and it does not define you.  It is how closely you choose to stick to Jesus that will determine what your lasting legacy is, and for Mary she will always be the woman who brought the ascending Son of God to a standstill outside of his empty tomb.  Cast off the old descriptors on your life and embrace your relationship with Him as the defining characteristic of your life… He has stopped what He is doing to see how you respond to His call!