To Kill a Painted Troll: The Art of the Fatal Auto-Save (Judges 13-16)

I was trapped, and I had no one to blame but myself.  I peeked out from the crevice I had darted into for safety to see if he was still there.  As I gently nudged closer and closer to the open space I so eagerly wanted to occupy my screen filled with the visage of my captor and tormentor who had been patiently waiting for me to stick my neck out.  I darted back to safety just inches out of the reach of his attacks as my most recent attempt to make a run for it was stymied once again.  Standing there in this prison of my own making, I reached my frustration point.  My weapons had all been broken on the nearly impenetrable flesh of this stupid painted troll who stood between me and my continuing journey in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  All of the agility and conversational skills I had sunk my precious upgrade points into were completely useless in this captive situation I had entered into.  I had broken my swords, used all my arrows, and even destroyed my gauntlets in a futile attempt to punch my way out of this situation.  It was to no avail, and I could now add my newly attempted strategy of a stealthy escape to my pile of failed extraction attempts.  He was faster than my top speed, stronger than any weapon at my disposal, and he clearly had nothing else to do but wait for me to come out of hiding so he could finish the job.

How did I get into this mess? Well, that’s the easy part. Ever since Psycho Mantis taunted me for saving too often in the original Metal Gear Solid, I have a tendency to save my game very infrequently. I allow auto saves to do the job for me, and typically this has served me well.  But not on this day.  I was fairly early on in my Oblivion adventure and was more interested in exploring the world around me than the main storyline, which caused me to stumble into several quests that were a good bit beyond my skill level.  So when I happened upon a request to enter a magical painting to recover some bauble that I can’t even recall, I dove right in.  The top of my screen registered a seemingly insignificant auto save that was completely lost on me in the moment, but would soon haunt me  with its far-reaching implications.

All of the agility and conversational skills I had sunk my precious upgrade points into were completely useless in my current predicament.

I needed to recover an item, a paint brush if I recall, that had been lost within the painting itself.  Seemed easy enough.  As I began my search I saw movement down the trail, and while I didn’t recognize it from a distance the manner in which this creature was closing in on me made its hostile intent quite evident.  As I had made short work of most of the enemies I had engaged to this point I stood my ground, prepared for battle, and was promptly pummeled into lifelessness by an heretofore undiscovered painted troll.  No worries I thought, I just need to prepare better and try again.  My auto save reloaded within the painting’s world and this time I was ready.  I gingerly leapt from one rock outcropping to another, a deadly dance as I used all of my skills to attack, dodge, block, and avoid as much contact as possible while whittling away at his very slowly decreasing health bar.  This too ended in failure, and as many gamers know and have experienced, this simply fortified my now rage-induced suicidal attempts to defeat him.

Many unsuccessful tries later, I finally managed to best my adversary in combat, and I stood over him having exhausted nearly all of my weapons to the point of becoming broken and useless, my armor in tatters, but the satisfaction of finally being able to progress making it all worth it.  I just needed to find someone to repair my items and this would just be a small diversion in my adventure, a bump on the road that I had finally climbed over.  Time to find this brush and get out of this place once and for all.  I saved my game, writing over my only save file, ready to put this unhappy detour in my rear view mirror.  And then I saw the second troll.

I know it’s my fault, and I know where I went wrong.  So what do I do now?

So here I sit, stuck in a situation in which I am in over my head, nobody to blame but myself, a person destined to save the world but unable to even escape my makeshift cave.  I attempted every method of escape I could think of, but every thing I tried simply brought me back to this exact same starting point as my untimely auto save which was meant to provide a safe point of return was now as much of an adversary as the troll I could not defeat.  My confidence in my abilities had betrayed me as my auto save would only bring me back to this same area with TWO painted trolls instead of one living and one dead.  So with no saves to reload other than the one that started with me defenseless in my hiding spot, I was facing the possibility of having to restart the entire game, wiping out all the work I had done to this point.  Restarting was undesirable, but the path in front of me was impassable.  I know it’s my fault, and I know where I went wrong.  So what do I do now?

Samson is a case study in poor judgement and misapplied potential, but for now I relate most to the final days of the man with superhuman strength but very human flaws.  Judges 13-16 capture the story of his life, but it his final chapter that many of us are most familiar with as we see the chain of events leading to his imprisonment.  Like a poor auto save, Samson plays Russian Roulette with the temptress Delilah, as he circles back over and over again to his flawed belief that he can lay his head in her lap and play games with the source of his strength and emerge victorious every time.  She outlasts the mighty man in a battle of wits and patience as he finally provides her with the secret he has protected all of his life, and armed with this knowledge the Philistine enemies he had successfully defeated up to this point are able to shave his head, gouge out his eyes, and place him into an inescapable prison grinding grain for the rest of his days.  Such a tragic and heartbreaking end, ill-fitting for the strength he had demonstrated throughout his life.  But his enemy made the same fatal mistake that the enemy of our souls continues to make to this day, and it is within this the God provided the opportunity for salvation and victory.

In his sacrificial death Samson accomplished more than he had in the entirety of the rest of his life combined.

As Samson endures his punishment, his hair, his symbol of his commitment to God,  begins to grow back.  And within Samson’s soul his ego and cavalier attitude are replaced with the desire to fulfill his purpose and destiny, regardless of the cost.  So when he is brought out for the amusement of thousands of Philistines including the high-ranking officials and royalty at a festival of celebration, he is finally in a position to climb out of his auto save pit and submit to the Lord of the universe.  Finally understanding that his strength was given to him to serve God rather than his own interests, he utters a sincere prayer of submission and a request to give his life for something of purpose.  His enemy was so confident in victory that they brought him into a position intended for taunting and mockery, but it ended with a dramatic final showing of strength not of Samson, but of God through the submitted vessel of Samson’s body as one final surge of power coursed through his veins and into the support pillars for the entire structure.  As the building crumbled around him Samson was able to have the last laugh as those who wanted to gloat in his face were now falling to their demise, and the final footnote states that in his sacrificial death Samson accomplished more than he had in the entirety of the rest of his life combined.

This reminds me of satan and how he needed to have a front row seat at the betrayal of Jesus.  The Bible records that he ENTERED into Judas the betrayer, allowing him to be front and center at the beginning of the end.  He had even requested to sift Simon Peter as one would sift flour so he could orchestrate Peter’s denial of his friend and Lord during His trial.  But the devil’s pride was once again his downfall, as his need to slay Jesus was actually the source of our victory over his agents of sin and death, and it was through his misguided desire to execute the Christ that he sealed our new birth certificates and gave us the ability to return to the relationship with God that sin had destroyed.

And here it is, in this place of hopelessness, that I am thankful for the grace provided to me that if I confess my sins (admit my predicament) He is faithful and just to  forgive me from all my unrighteousness.

So back to my painted troll predicament.  Like Samson, I was trapped in a self-destructive pattern and was now a prisoner with no hope of escape.  Who would have thought that my salvation would actually be provided by the snarling troll seeking to claim my life?  Indeed, it was his hyper-aggression to end me that would be his undoing.  I realized that the arrows that I was now out of were still protruding from his body.  They had damaged him, but not significantly.  However, he kept swiping for me and from my position I could remain just out of reach from his attacks but close enough to pull the arrows I had hopelessly shot into him earlier and reuse them.  Thus began the long and arduous but ultimately successful process of extricating the arrows, equipping them, firing them into him at point-blank range, and then repeating the process.  It took a very long time, but he fell before my bow gave out and I finally emerged victorious.  I wanted little time retrieving the item that would free me from this place, and emerged with a new-found respect for the importance of saving my game frequently and on different save files so this would never happen again.

I have fallen into this cycle in my real life more times than I care to admit, as I repeat the same sins with growing frustration with myself for doing so.  I have felt almost helpless as I can’t even see an alternative path, having backed myself into a position that I can’t recover from.  And it is here, in this place of hopelessness, that I am thankful for the grace provided to me, that if I will confess my sins He is faithful and just to forgive me from all my unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and with every temptation he has committed to ALWAYS providing a way out (1 Cor. 10:13).  Our enemy the devil will taunt you with your failure (Rev. 12:10), with the false prophecy that you are doomed to repeat this path forever, that you cannot escape this horrible destiny of defeat, shame, and isolation.  But in the armor of God we were given more than just the defensive weapon of a shield… We were given the Word of God, the sharpest sword in existence (Hebrews 4:12), and when the devil pokes his head in on us to remind us who is in charge it is up to us to wield this weapon with the authority we have been given as children of God and bury it deep within his black heart.

Painted trolls are gonna troll…

We do not have to sit idly by as our accuser encourages us to replay our past and allow it to poison our present, and our victory over him has already occurred.  So keep heart, and don’t be surprised when a devil does what a devil is going to do.  Painted trolls are gonna troll… but even when all seems hopeless we don’t have to stay in that rut.  Nobody said it would be easy, but when you know that your adversary has already been defeated all that is left to do is remind him of that and hold on to the promises that are as true today as they were when they were written millenia ago.  So don’t load up that old save point again… own where you are at right now, accept the forgiveness that is waiting for you, refuse to allow the devil to keep you living there, and when he sticks his nose in your business to reset your game just remember that greater is HE that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4)!

.

 

 

 

Plants, Zombies and Sacrifice: When the Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few (Acts 5-7)

I have a special place in my heart for the original Plants vs. Zombies. I know there have been two new releases that took this brand in a multiplayer shooter direction, but the original had all the elements of the gaming experience that I was looking for:  a fun and simple gameplay hook that allowed for experimentation and multiple ways to win which could be enjoyed alone or with a partner.  I remember the exhilaration of the combination of impending doom as the zombies marched tirelessly onward towards our floral defense array as we worked together to balance the need for continuing resources (my sunflowers) with the demands of an effective defense and offense (her pea shooters and melon catapults).  As we each passionately explained to the other the demands of our needs in the heat of the battle the sight of the final combatant being eliminated just on the nick of time was a feeling of relief mixed with the satisfaction of working out yet another solution by the skin of our teeth (or sunlight as it were).

I have a great deal of difficulty investing into items that are one time use or meant to be destroyed. 

There is a good reason that I am entrusted more with the resource development of planting and protecting sunflowers than with building a defensive barricade.  See, I have a great deal of difficulty investing into items that are one time use or meant to be destroyed.  Maybe it is my inner frugality, or perhaps a sense of empathy for the plant who is about to be offered for the cause, but the concept of using resources for something that is simply an obstacle that slows down one of the invaders is just hard for me to embrace.  I understand the potential impact each of these plants will have on the battlefield, but when playing by myself I tend to proceed with a very safe and consistent approach that involves the least amount of plant loss or resource use.  However, my co-op partner plays much more aggressively and uses a strategy that involves greater risk, but higher reward, and while our combined efforts have proven very successful, inside I still have a difficult time committing to intentional sacrifice as a battle strategy, regardless of the success rate.

I will confess that it is very hard for me many times to understand why the terrible things that happen in the world occur, and many times to people who I would hope would be under some form of protection from such tragedy.  When the innocent suffer, when children are hurt, when even the God fearing feel the pain of this world we all share, it is understandable to wonder why God doesn’t stop the pain.  Why does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the universe allow such things to occur when we know He can stop them?  I know I have pondered such thoughts on many occasions, and I doubt I am alone in this.  Volumes have been written by men and women much wiser and more articulate than I on how a good and loving God can permit evil things to happen to His children, but I believe a very simple yet profound principle can be understood in what occurs in the tiles between a group of plants defending their lawn from the undead who would wreak havoc if they are not repelled, at any cost.

Why does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the universe allow such things to occur when we know He can stop them? 

We have to start in the book of Acts chapter 6, where the early church has just started to emerge into a cohesive unit.  As the church grows seven people are chosen to provide a vital support role in the budding church infrastructure, and one of these was a man named Stephen.  His story doesn’t last long, just two scant but impactful chapters in which he goes through a process of being falsely accused, given a sham of a trial, and then summarily executed by the same religious organization that shouted “Crucify Him” only a few months prior.  As the final stone thrown takes this man of God’s life, a footnote in chapter 7 launches a new figure into the spotlight, the man who would one day become the apostle Paul.  But on this day, he was on the side of the angry mob who just sniffed out Stephen’s life, and what he just observed galvanized Paul into an even more aggressive and heinous action.

As if the death of this good and innocent man was not enough for the young church to absorb, this was merely the launching point for a crusade of persecution against the followers of Jesus.  Without so much as a respite to mourn their loss, chapter 7 records the panicked scattering of the believers  all across the region as Paul and those who followed him began a campaign of terror seeking out Christians in their homes and hiding places and arresting them.  But what appears to be a failure on the part of God to protect his sheep from attack is actually all part of His plan to spread the good news of  Christ to the world.  See, it was through this threat that the message of Jesus was now being dispersed to regions that would never have heard otherwise.  And this experience was also the catalyst for bringing the misguided Paul into the fold, as his murderous campaign brought him to a confrontation with Jesus on the road to Damascus that changed the entire world.  It was witnessing the death of Stephen that placed Paul on the course that would change his destiny and lead him to become the most prominent missionary and evangelist for our faith of all time and inspired almost all of the books which comprise our New Testament.  It was the necessary, yet painful sacrifice of one life that launched all of these actions into place, saving millions of souls in the process, mine included.  There are parallels in Stephen’s death to the crucifixion of Christ, and the reality is that the message of the Gospel has in its foundation the blood and sacrifice of all that have gone before us.  It is in the DNA of our belief system, and it is through this that the Kingdom advances.

Stephen’s life was not wasted, it was INVESTED. 

The paradoxical nature of pain and sacrifice giving way to new life and joy is observed in every time a seed is planted and dies to become something more, every time a mother endures the pains of labor to add a new soul to our planet, and every time a believer’s hard-earned testimony inspires another to join the faith.  Stephen’s life was not wasted, it was INVESTED.  And while it did not feel like a victory at the time, over even for quite a while afterwards, now that we have the benefit of viewing this through nearly 2,000 years of hindsight it is clear how his sacrifice, tragic as it was, birthed the expansion of Christianity across the globe.

I know that these words provide little comfort to those enduring pain or loss right now, and I would never dare to insult another’s crisis with a phrase so trite as “God is in control” without balancing it with the reality that we may never understand the impact of the events of our lives within our lifetimes.  When God answered the plaintive cries of Job for understanding in the midst of his incredibly trying circumstances, God’s answer was void of the comforting reassurance that all would be all right.  Instead, He challenged Job to change his view and recognize that as the architect of all time and space, He has more considerations than we can possibly fathom.

He challenged Job to change his view and recognize that as the architect of all time and space He has more considerations than we can possibly fathom.

Fortunately, I don’t have to answer to the plants that are ultimately sacrificed for the greater good of clearing the board.  I am reminded of a phrase in the greatest Star Trek movie of all time, The Wrath of Khan, in which Spock as he sacrificed himself for his comrades rightly asserted, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”  The needful placement of a plant, even if it involves its demise, may stem the tide of the invasion and ultimately be the turning point in a victory for the entire team, even if the plant that held that critical role never gets to participate in the celebration.  There are no easy answers for why so much suffering exists, because we lack the perspective that will provide clarity to why things happened the way they did.  The message of Jesus, of Stephen, or of modern day martyrs for their cause such as Dr. Martin Luther King are all solidified in the value of the sacrifice that was made to give those messages.

I hope this inspires you to look at the world through the eyes of what has yet to have been revealed, to see that the losses we all endure serve a higher purpose than our finite lives on earth may ever reveal.  Your life is a message to others who are observing you, maybe completely unbeknownst to you, and you may change the course of history by actions that may seem inconsequential at the moment.  Stephen had no idea that he was the plant that would change the lives of so many, and ultimately the world.  There is a purpose, difficult as it may be to understand,  and each of us as the unique plants we are play a vital role in the plan to bring souls to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

Dark Souls and Thick Walls: When Getting There is Half the Fun (Joshua 6)

There are difficult games, and then there are the Dark Souls series of games. Specifically built to try even the most skilled gamer’s capabilities and resolve, this is one of the few times the marketing campaign for the title gives you an all too accurate view of what lies ahead by warning you, “Prepare to Die”.  A lot.  Like, all the time.  The entire concept of the experience is a controller-throwing lesson in patience and humility as you make minor steps of forward progression only to have them wiped out by death, and yet another death, and then again, and AGAIN… Lather, rinse, repeat until you cry uncle and switch over to play some Rocket League.  Few games are bold enough to freely proclaim that they are here to punish you and still turn a profit, but as millions have found it is hard to resist the siren call of a challenge to test your mettle on the nearly impossible.  While we all game for different reasons, for many the draw of gaming is the challenge it presents to our problem-solving and fine motor skills and Dark Souls will not disappoint here.  It has become a rite of passage for the most hardcore of gamers, a badge of honor for the elite… An acquired taste for a gaming palette sophisticated enough to find enjoyment from the bitter pain that awaits you.

Why do we embrace the illogical mechanism of repeatedly performing a series of movements that seem to only get us minor incremental forward progress and at times even seems to be moving us in the opposite direction?

But beyond the fleeting accolades that await those who rise to the challenge, why do we do it?  Why do we embrace the illogical mechanism of repeatedly performing a series of movements that seem to only get us minor incremental forward progress, and at times even seems to be moving us in the opposite direction?  With so many options that exist that would allow us to satisfy that gaming itch without all the painful repetition of gradual improvement followed by massive setback, why would we not only choose this, but pay for the privilege?

An interesting parallel exists to this enigma that may shed some light on this odd behavior.  It’s a Biblical story that is probably all too familiar to many and that familiarity may rob us from truly experiencing this through the fresh eyes we need to see what may not be obvious at first glance.  So I’m going to refrain from giving chapter and verse and change some names slightly until we reach the end of the passage.  And just for fun, we are going to view this through the eyes of a foot soldier who does not have the benefit of knowing the outcome yet.

Imagine that you are lined up in formation for the very first time, standing at parade rest as you await the entrance of the commanding officer who will brief you on your first assignment as a collective unit.  Sure, you have fought through some minor skirmishes over the last few years and withstood the attacks of a few bands of raiders, but now, for the first time, you and your squad are going on the offensive.  A whole new plan for warfare is about to unfold and your skills will finally be put to the test in a live fire scenario worthy of your training.  You are now the invading force, with a commission to conquer each and every city on your path to carving out a suitable slice of real estate for your countrymen in this hostile land.

There is only one thing left to do: Receive the rules of engagement and execute the plan. 

And then he walks in, the general of the entire military campaign as well as the de facto president of your people.  As each soldier shifts to attention the anticipation is palpable. This is it.  Time to get your marching orders and strike the first blow in what will surely be a legendary campaign spoken of for generations to come as the story of the founding of your nation is told. After receiving the briefing on the surveillance report results there is only one thing left to do:  Receive the rules of engagement and execute the plan.  General Joshua pulls himself to his full stature, faces his troops, and proceeds to give a set of orders that could not have been more stunning to hear.

“We are going to do what?” You wonder as he continues to detail the battle plan formation.  We are simply going to walk in circles around the city? Literally?  Didn’t we just spend 40 years doing this?  And now the first action of this military juggernaut that has been formed for the purpose of combat and conquest is going to be…. A parade?  And not just once for the purposes of intimidation, but an entire week of this madness?  Just being honest, when you heard a campaign promise of “Shock and Awe” a parade wasn’t really what you had in mind, but orders are orders.

When you heard a campaign promise of “Shock and Awe” a parade wasn’t really what you had in mind.

Just like our Dark Souls experience, it is through the repetitive action of obedience to what is needed to advance past this battle.  Little by little gradual progression was made even as their pride and sense of ego died… What was not clear in the physical was abundantly clear behind the scenes in the spiritual world.  The point of the Jericho experience was to illustrate the key principles of following God on this adventure:  obedience to His plan regardless of the seeming conflict between His plan and the expected outcome you would achieve on your own.  Are you committed to doing it with your own strength and your own efforts, or will you let Him blaze the trail and receive all the credit for your victory? After the 7th day of nonsensical marching the miraculous occurred and the walls of the city, which would have cost many lives to claim without divine intervention, simply fell to the ground providing easy entry for the entire invading force.  The squad learned the most important lesson of advancement, that you cannot go any further in your adventure than your level of commitment to 100% obedience to God’s will.

The change doesn’t happen in the walls until it happens in YOU. 

What walls are you being commanded to march in circles around with seemingly no progress in sight?  I know I have several cities in my life that I have to resist the urge to simply storm the gates and instead walk silently and peacefully in obedience to Gods command, waiting not-so-patiently for a sign of change.  But the change doesn’t happen in the walls… no, just as the game does not change it’s approach to your character, rather it is the experience that changes YOU.  I find many times I pace around the walls in my life looking so hard for a shifting in the bricks that I lose sight of the bricks that must shift actually lie in my will, in my mind, and in my own heart.  And it is only when I allow myself to finally embrace the full plan of God in this area that I get to taste the fruits of the success and victory that obedience to God delivers.  I hope this encourages you to look at the walls that you face not as an immoveable object for you to overcome, but as a place to show your devotion to our Lord and His divine will.  It is only then that we will see that it is not by might, nor by power, but by HIS Spirit that the battle is won!

 

Finishing the Fight: The Bittersweet Taste of the End Game (2 Timothy 4)

I have fallen prey to this more times than I can count… that deep feeling of melancholy associated with reaching the final endgame sequence in a well-told video game story.  After spending dozens of hours trying to stem the Reaper threat in Mass Effect, dispatching hundreds of enemies en route to a final Warthog run across a disintegrating Halo ring, or simply seeing the words “World 8-4” on a Mario title, for some reason I feel less than elated to have reached what I realize is the end of my journey with these characters and the world I have inhabited vicariously through them.  It is that moment when all of your party members have received a nice tidy bow on their story, all the lower level enemies have been dispatched, the side missions have all been completed, the musical score has changed to a more subtle, haunting refrain of the battle music that has pumped you up across your journey thus far, and all that remains is your final boss on the other side of the last door.  You know that moment.  It is the point of no return.  I have sat holding the controller many a time simply soaking in this moment, not because I am excited to reach the finale, but because now that I am at the threshold I am not sure I am ready to cross the line that will trigger the final sequences of a voyage I am not prepared to let go of yet.

I am not sure I am ready to cross the line that will trigger the final sequences of a voyage I am not prepared to let go of yet.

I could have chosen a myriad of titles for an example, but I landed on an old classic that occupies a special place in my heart, Final Fantasy X.  This is an experience that is near and dear to many gamer’s hearts but there is a unique reason why it stands out for me.  See, I went into this game already determined to dislike it because I was late to the party.  It was already at greatest hits status when I begrudgingly gave it a chance, sourly approaching the turn based combat and awkward dialogue as one would sniff at a gallon of milk that is beyond it’s expiration date.  Cautious pessimism was the name of the game as I mocked the game’s protagonist and his random childish outbursts.  But over the hours something happened.  I began to find a rhythm within the combat structure, I warmed to the characters and began to gain tremendous interest in the over-arching story, and as I approached the climax of the adventure I realized I had become invested in their plight and engrossed in their world, as alien as it is to our actual physical existence.  I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet, and as the ending drew near I found myself engaging in countless small diversions to prolong the inevitable.  I have never pretended to be a 100% completionist on most titles, but for the ones I truly love I do it not for pride or status, but simply because I want to delay the finale for just a few more minutes.

As the ending drew near I found myself engaging in countless small diversions to prolong the inevitable.

So here I was, on the precipice of the final battle and the series of cutscenes and events that would put a period on this story and potentially end the stories and maybe even the lives of several of my virtual friends.  In a world where true heartache exists around every corner and actual tragedy strikes far too often I will admit I feel guilty for having feelings associated with these lines of code that make up a gaming character, but I also believe it is through these stories and yes, even these virtual people that many profound thoughts and emotions can connect with a heart and help us make sense of many real world struggles.  So please indulge me as I draw a few parallel lines from these “scripted moments” to an actual heartbreaking scenario that played out about 2,000 years ago in a cold prison cell as an imprisoned, aged, abandoned man of God named Paul wrote his final recorded words in one last letter to his protege.

You can sense the urgency mixed with an awareness that the end was near as Paul states, “The time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.”

I feel the same sense of sadness I discussed earlier when reading through the book of 2 Timothy.  My favorite way to read it is to imagine I am there in the cell with Paul as he delivers this heartfelt message to the man who was the closest person he had to a son, to family, in his final dark days.  As he explains in the text, he is now alone as his fellow missionaries have moved on to other places, and an air of finality is couched in every paragraph as he provides encouragement, guidance, protective words, and a few final personal requests to his co-worker and friend Timothy.  Feel the passion in his voice as he warns the young pastor about those who are spreading false doctrines while encouraging him to keep to the faith he was hand taught by the Apostle.  Listen to the wisdom of a life lived in committed service to God as he admonishes Timothy to avoid the entanglements that will prevent him from fulfilling the entirety of his calling.  You can sense the urgency mixed with an awareness that the end was near as Paul states, “The time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.”  And as we move to the final words of this mighty man of God who sacrificed all of the comforts of a family, a safe career, and a simple life for the pursuit of an adventure that would travel most of the known world as the greatest evangelist who ever lived, we see the humanity of Paul peeking out from behind the page.

Gaze into his final requests and see that this man who through Christ changed not only the world of his time, but for all time, as he humbly requests a coat he had given to someone else to keep him warm and a few books  to study in his last days.  As he lists those who have either abandoned him, moved on, or actively fought against him my heart aches, and despite already knowing how this story ends I find myself hoping against hope  that Timothy arrives in time with a warm coat and a hug for this faithful warrior, and that Paul escapes his death sentence just one more time.

Paul rises up with conviction even in the midst of his current affliction and says “This is not the end!  There is a crown waiting for me on the other side, and the Lord who gave me the strength to fulfill my destiny here on earth is the same Lord who will carry me not to the end, but through it to a new beginning  in a heavenly place.”

In my minds eye I grab Paul’s hand and encourage him, “Timothy is on his way!  You have survived much worse than this so many times, this prison will not be your final resting place!”  But Paul, clearly knowing this is the last walk down the green mile, has a simple message not just for me, but for all of us.  In 2 Timothy 4 verses 7-8 and 17-18 his  words stretch across time to every heart that is either at the end of their race or perhaps struggling to watch as a loved one begins the final journey home.  Paul rises up with conviction even in the midst of his current affliction and says “This is not the end!  There is a crown waiting for me on the other side, and the Lord who gave me the strength to fulfill my destiny here on earth is the same Lord who will carry me not to the end, but through it to a new beginning  in a heavenly place.”

The final steps for every life will always have a taste of the bittersweet, and in our society that is bent on finding new ways to cheat the aging process and even death itself the message from God’s word still resolutely stands that it is appointed to all mankind to die, to return to the dust we came from.  The mortality rate remains at 100% after all these years, but much like the final steps I was taking towards the final boss in my gaming experience, I take comfort in knowing these real world steps were also orchestrated and structured to lead me to my final “appointment”.  My final breath will not be random, regardless of how it may appear to those I leave behind.  My story was built along with the endgame sequence before I drew my first breath by the Master script author, and the Spoiler Alert here is that the story will continue on an entirely new platform once these credits roll.

I take comfort in knowing these real world steps were also orchestrated and structured to lead me to my final “appointment”.

I still feel the gentle tug of sadness every time I reach the end of a story that I care about, or when the inevitable ending of a journey I have thoroughly enjoyed draws near.  But for those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ we can rejoice in knowing this life was merely the beta version of our future experience with Him in eternity…  a life where all the bugs and glitches have been removed and the full vision of His plan for us is realized in a glorious paradise that He has been preparing for us from the moment He ascended back to Heaven.  The final boss in our game has already been defeated and we are merely finishing our race like the Apostle Paul so bravely demonstrated for us.  So I encourage you to run your race in such a way that you, like Paul, can also say at the end that you have finished the destiny that was laid out for you and you can almost see the crown that awaits you on the other side.