E3, Half-Life 3, and the Mercy of Unanswered Prayer (2 Kings 20)

It’s that time of year again, the season of hope and dreams for gamers across the world, the biggest spectacle in the gaming industry: The Electronic Entertainment Expo, better know  as E3.  Each year publishers and developers gather to celebrate their past, showcase the present and illuminate the future in hopes that their platforms and titles will grab the attention of the attendees and catapult their IP into the loving arms of the mainstream audience.  Titles are announced, prices drop, and the unspoken future becomes tangible as hushed crowds await each announcement with the eagerness of a child on Christmas Eve.  If you have never had the opportunity to witness this live, I can attest that an online stream cannot do it justice.  Equal parts three ring circus, gaming theme park, and rock concert, there is simply nothing I have ever attended that can match the sheer fervor and atmosphere of this annual event.

Wrapped up in this celebration of all things gaming are the lofty expectations of the media and gaming public as we hold our collective breath for our dream titles to be revealed.  “Will we finally see a playable version of Zelda?  Or get a release date for Kingdom Hearts?”  And for many of the gaming faithful, year after year, the plaintive cry has been, “Will there ever be any new information on Half-Life 3?”  Yes, that unicorn of gaming, the much demanded and yet utterly unconfirmed sequel to this beloved franchise continues to taunt us with a presence akin to the Loch Ness Monster, surfacing in a hazy mention from dubious sources before vanishing into the night, leaving no trace of its existence.  It is fair to wonder why this has taken so long, as franchises with less of a pedigree launch new entries year after year and yet the Half-Life brand sits on the shelf dormant.  What could be the reason for this denial of satisfaction?  Surely the developers are aware of this opportunity to generate gigantic revenues… In this opportunistic landscape it is almost impossible to fathom a brand that is not mined to death through sequels, shirts, hats, comics, mobile versions, board games… And yet here we are, over 10 years removed from the launch of Half-Life 2 with nary a peep of movement despite the outcry for more.  In the gaming industry, such things are simply not done.

What could be the reason for this denial of satisfaction?

There are many times I have felt challenged by Scripture, but perhaps one of the hardest concepts to wrap my brain around lies in the verses that discuss the promises of prayer.  Such as Mark 11:22-24, which states, “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”  This verse does not exist within a vacuum either, as this concept is explored in Matthew 7, Matthew 21, John 14, and many other places with a very similar and straight-forward approach.  So this begs the question, “Why aren’t all of my prayers answered?”  Jesus did not establish a list of exclusions.  These statements are devoid of a TV announcer immediately listing the lengthy disclaimer informing us that by engaging in this activity there are side effects such as restless leg syndrome, increased appetite, and that these results are not typical and your experience may vary.  So then, why so much unanswered prayer?  Why have do so many of my requests seem to go straight to heavenly voicemail?

Why so much unanswered prayer?

Now to be fair, there are some basic expectations that are established in God’s word that can impact the success of a prayer, such as the belief of the person praying, the state of their heart and relationship with Jesus, and if what is being asked for aligns with God’s will.  This is a complicated question that I don’t want to oversimplify, so instead I want to draw your attention to a time that God answered a prayer, as well as a time that He didn’t.  Let’s start in 2 Kings 20, where we find the good and faithful King Hezekiah literally on his deathbed.  At 39 years old, he receives a message through the prophet Isaiah that his condition was terminal, and the instruction from the Lord was to make preparations for his departure from this plane of existence.   Now, I’m not too far from reaching that age myself, so I can truly imagine the sadness and frustration of Hezekiah, one of the few truly good kings in a line of idolatrous dictators as he is informed that his time would be unceremoniously cut short.  He did the right things for the right reasons, brought the entire kingdom back in line with God’s will, and had experienced the miraculous provision of God many times before as hopeless situations had been turned into awesome victories through His intervention. So to receive this death sentence now?  Before he gets to see his children grow up?  Without even tasting the fruits of his labor?  I can absolutely relate to his mindset here.

To receive the death sentence now?  Without even tasting the fruits of his labor?

Hezekiah turns to God in prayer, and through his tears you can hear his anguished cry as he reminds the Lord of all he has done to serve Him.  Why cut short the life of one of the few men who actually served God from the throne?  So many wicked kings had served for so much longer, and achieved a rope old age before passing on.  Why is Hezekiah getting the short end of the stick?  Well, as usual God was listening, and before Isaiah makes it out of the building God interrupts Him with a response.  A complete about face from the previous guidance to get your affairs in order and prepare to die, this time the news is wonderful. Fifteen more years of life miraculously granted!  That’s longer than he has been king to this point, and represents a 28% increase in his life span for those of you who appreciate numbers.  I don’t know about you, but a 28% longer life sounds pretty good to me.

But was it?  On the surface, things are looking up.  Three days after his was at the point of death, Hezekiah rises and returns to his duties.  Aming his royal activities is the entertainment of foreign dignitaries, and the ruler of Babylon had sent a delegation to meet Hezekiah and wish him well on his recovery. Seems innocent, right?  Well, God didn’t think so, and after they had left He sent Isaiah back for another message.  For reasons only truly known to Hezekiah, he gave the Babylonian entourage the grand tour, showcasing all of the treasury of his kingdom.  It is easy to speculate that this may have been done in pride, or perhaps honest naïveté and ignorance, but to truly know the answer one day we will have to ask him.  2 Chronicles simply states that God did this to see what was in Hezekiah’s heart, and the results of this tear are wrenching to hear.  Isaiah asks Hezekiah what he showed to the Babylonian ambassadors, and without hesitation he informs him that he showed them everything of value in the kingdom.  Isaiah’s solemn pronouncement hangs in the air as he predicts the future that Hezekiah’s actions have created… These Babylonians would return to claim all of these treasures, conquer the city, and enslave the people, including Hezekiah’s future progeny.  What a tragic and far-reaching consequence to such a fleeting action.  A consequence that would not have occurred if Hezekiah had not prayed for the extension of his life and had his request granted.

The answered prayer of Hezekiah doomed his entire country and impacted countless lives.  His answered prayer literally changed history.

This is admittedly dark territory, as we consider that there are no happy tales or success stories from the fifteen year extension to Hezekiah’s life.  Only this… The mistake that started the doomsday clock countdown on the eventual fall of Jerusalem.  While it is likely there are other positives that may have occurred during his bonus time on earth, the reality is this is the only legacy the Bible records, and it’s quite grim.  The answered prayer of Hezekiah doomed his entire country and impacted countless lives.  His answered prayer literally changed history.  Now before we begin to draw conclusions, let’s look at an UNanswered prayer.  The similarities are striking:

  • We find another King struggling in prayer with only hours to live.
  • Just like Hezekiah, He had dedicated His life to serving God and the people of Israel faithfully.
  • His life was being cut short prematurely, having done nothing to deserve it, before He even reached his fortieth birthday.
  • Both men cry out to God in anguish and desperation, seeking another way… Any other way.
  • He, like Hezekiah, is three days away from returning to the throne.

Figure it out yet? We are looking at Jesus, knelt down in the garden of Gethsemene in Matthew 26:38-43.  And although the situations are remarkably alike in many ways, there could not be a sharper contrast in the heart cry behind the   prayer and the ultimate result.  In both cases the sorrow was intense and palpable, but in spite of the awaiting pain, agony, and death Jesus asked for a change if possible, but desired the will of the Father first and foremost.  And the answer, fortunately for us, is that the Father did not answer His prayer.  Because sometimes our deepest desires are simply not in His plans.  It was not God’s indifference to Jesus’s desire, but His mercy that denied His request.

Because sometimes our deepest desires are simply not in His plans.

We may think we want Half-Life 3, and there is always the possibility this may be the year it springs to life.  But if not, and if it never occurs, we have to consider that maybe it is actually for the best.  Of course we want to see the end of the story and the progression of the game engine, but what if the game would come out and be a massive disappointment?  What if it is simply no longer relevant compared to all of the progress that has occurred over the last 10+ years?  What if the creator of this title knows that is either simply not the time, or that there is a really good reason why it should not see the light of day?  Perhaps the technology needed to support the ambition of this sequel is not present or widely adopted yet.  Or most importantly, what if they are simply making something different, something better, something we haven’t even considered instead?  Unanswered prayer is not necessarily a statement of apathy… It is most often a mercy because we don’t always know what to pray for as we ought.  Continue to pray, pray without ceasing.  But it is critical we remember to add “Not my will, but yours be done”.  And when He seems silent to our cry for help, remember that it is because He sees beyond our horizon that He may show the mercy of an unanswered prayer.

Advertisements

Much Ado About Minecraft: When You Just Don’t Get It (John 21, Acts 9)

It is embarrassing to admit this, but I have a somewhat sketchy track record when it comes to predicting the success of a gaming franchise.  On one hand, I was strapped into a front row seat when the release of potentially niche titles such as Bioshock and Guitar Hero were originally launched and I was a charter member of the fan club at the ground level of their explosion into full-fledged blockbusters. But on the other hand, I have a very specific and distinct memory of sitting in a presentation room as Activision unveiled their plans for a bizarre concept that involved consumers purchasing a game that required additional purchases of all these bizarre little figures in order to progress, and I recall turning to my peers with a confidence born of pure stupidity as I dismissed the idea as one of the worst pitches I had ever heard.  I mean, seriously, who is going to pay almost 80 dollars for a game, and then turn around and pay hundreds more for all these little pieces of plastic just so they can experience the entire story?  Well, it appears the answer would be everyone, myself included, as the launch of this “doomed” concept became the multi-million dollar juggernaut known as Skylanders, which in turn created the entire toys to life gaming category that now includes Lego Dimensions, Disney Infinity, Nintendo’s Amiibo characters, and of course the continuing iterations of the Skylanders franchise.  I guess the lesson here is don’t invite this guy to your video game brainstorming session.  Your mileage may vary.

The lesson here is DON’T invite this guy to your video game brainstorming session.

So it is again with great shame that I admit that I totally missed the boat on Minecraft.  I would never classify myself as a graphics snob, but this game took ugly to a whole new level. It actually embraced the concept of jagged textures and simple color palettes and looked like something a friend of mine could design in a few hours during a computer science class in high school.  And then there’s the story.  As in, there isn’t one.  Instead, upon loading the game you receive a completely open world with almost none of the trappings we are all so familiar with in a “traditional” video game.  No plot, no character development, no exposition… Just go dig up the ground.  Then make something.  Dig up new stuff to make better tools so you can dig up more stuff.  Then make something else.  Oh, and there’s a pig.  Also, cows happen.

Here’s my REAL admission… I just don’t GET IT.

So here’s my real admission:  I just don’t get it.  This game simply does not appeal to me in any way, shape, or form. I know that billions of people around the world love this game dearly, and the success of this game has created billions and billions of dollars in revenue as it’s simple unassuming visuals combined with the “Legos on Steroids” gameplay hook  has taken the world by storm.  Creativity abounds as people around the world craft ever more intricate structures, limited only by their imagination.  And the kids, they LOVE IT.  Retail shelves have become crowded with foam facsimiles of the in game tools and weapons, shirts and other forms of wearable merchandising are everywhere, and ironically the success of the game has even spawned the launch of a spin-off story based franchise.  I guess the jokes on me again.

The Bible is FILLED with one stunning move after another as God laughingly defies our human attempts to put Him in a box.

Sometimes it can be confusing to attempt to balance the concept that  we serve a God of order with the reality that His idea of order and ours look totally different.  It is almost impossible to predict what He is going to do, and the Bible is filled with one stunning move after another as He laughingly defies our human attempts to put Him in a box.  Scripture is filled with examples of our fellow believers who “just don’t get it” as time and time again He defies our expectations.  I will provide a few examples of His stubborn refusal to allow us to give Him “structure”:

  • We expect God to make things “fair”.  In John 21 we get some of our last glimpses of Jesus before His ascension.  As Jesus is having a conversation with Peter about his destiny, including Peter’s eventual death by crucifixion, Peter has a wonderfully human response as his gaze lands on a fellow disciple.  Pointing him out, he asks Jesus a simple question… “What about him?”  The implications are clear, but Jesus refuses to take the bait as He challenges Peter on why it matters in what manner another disciple serves Him, in life or in death.    I can almost hear Jesus smile as He replies “If I want him to live until my return what is that to you?”  Different crosses for different folks.  God has an entirely different perspective on justice and fairness than we can comprehend.

 

  • We want God to “make sense”. In Acts 9, the fire-breathing, venom-spewing, death-dealing Saul of Tarsus is on a crusade to take down followers of Christ anywhere he can find them.  In the midst of his hunt an all-too informed disciple named Ananias, who happens to live in Saul’s next target city, is told by God to go find Saul and pray for him. It is not often that someone tries to ensure that God knows what He is talking about, but Ananias is afraid some critical info about Saul may have slipped through the cracks of God’s social networking app.  Ananias dutifully informs the Lord that Saul happens to be a bad guy… A very bad guy.  Who does bad things for bad reasons and has bad intentions towards all who follow Jesus.  And God gently reminds Ananias to GO, because God has His reasons. Saul then went on to write most of the New Testament and evangelize the world.  God sees beyond what makes sense right now.

 

  • We try to provide God with a “flow chart”.  In Acts 2 Peter instructs a group of potential converts to “Repent, be baptized, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.  Ahhh, nice clean structure to put on a Sunday School wall.  Until you get to Acts 10, where Peter is again preaching to a different group but God decides to jump the shark and the Holy Spirit falls on them completely out of “order”. Almost like He was deliberately mixing up the order so we couldn’t have a “recipe” that is one size fits all.  Cue Peter’s head scratching, followed by their baptism in water. Sorry to mess up your plan of salvation hand out…  God just can’t be contained by our outline.

 

  • We attempt to enforce our membership guidelines on Him.  It would make things so much less complicated if we could just get everyone on the same page, and the disciples felt the exact same way.  In Mark 9:38 we hear John informing Jesus that the disciples had come up on someone using His name for their ministry, but they were not a part of the “official fellowship”.  Maybe he didn’t fill out his membership card, or perhaps he was attending the wrong denomination.  Either way, they provided him with a cease and desist.  And Jesus immediately corrected them all, informing them that whoever is not against Him is for Him.  Like it or not, heaven will be populated with many people you may not expect.  God didn’t make denominational subdivisions in our eternal neighborhoods either, so we may want to break down those walls before we get there.

 

  • We at least need Him to be “consistent” so we can mimic Him.  But Jesus refuses to make this as simple as “wax-on, wax-off”, because there is simply no rhyme or reason to His healing process.  Jesus fluidly rotates from using physical touch (Matt 8:1-4), verbal commands (Matt 9:1-8), long-distance proclamations (Matt 8:5-13), receiving a touch through indirect clothing contact (Matt 9:18-22), and in one special circumstance made mud with His spit, stuck it in a man’s eye, and had to pray twice for the healing to occur because it didn’t heal completely the first time (Mark 8:22-25).  God clearly is not interested in giving us a nice, clean process that allows us to stop depending on Him for constant direction as each situation we face will require a unique, God-directed response.

I still don’t “get” Minecraft, and I suppose I probably never will.  And that’s okay.  And if I am being honest, I feel the same way many times with the things God says and does.  I don’t always get it, and I am becoming okay with that too.  When I want Him to follow a rigid structure He takes the role of a whimsical artist, coloring outside of my deadlines and painting the sky green and the ground blue in His perfect solution.  He is rarely the answer that I want, but He is ALWAYS the answer that I need.  And as Job found out so succinctly in Job 38 through 40, God has plenty of answers for this who dare challenge His plans with their supposed “wisdom”.  So I suppose I am glad now when I don’t “get it”, because that puts me in pretty good company.  Keep building those Minecraft worlds that I don’t understand, and I will keep trying to beat that stupid octopus in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze.  And along the way let’s enjoy the guidance and direction of the unpredictable Lord that made us all one big, crazy, happy family.

To Infinity and Beyond: When the Well Runs Dry (1 Kings 17)

It’s always a sad day when a developer closes their doors, an intellectual property fails, or a game gets cancelled.  When the news comes suddenly and without warning it is an even more difficult pill to swallow, as a beloved franchise unceremoniously disappears into the night without having a chance to say a proper goodbye to those who have lived in the worlds it created.  The news of the end of the Disney Infinity franchise is just the latest in a series of shocking endings as famed development studios like the recently shuttered Lionhead (creators of Fable) and so many others who have sadly failed to survive the harsh landscape of the gaming economy have ceased operations.

While my heart goes out to those whose dream jobs just vanished due to the fickle nature of the entertainment industry, I will confess much of my disappointment is purely selfish in nature as I realize my family and I have collected our last Infinity figures and will not get to explore more of the worlds created by this team that had so many excellent licenses but could not achieve their sales projections. This feeling of loss, of a dream that you have awoken from too soon, of unrealized potential that will never see the light of day is not limited to the ending of game franchises or other forms of entertainment.  I experience a very similar sense of disappointment as I face the fact that I am growing older and many of the hopes and dreams and plans I had established in my youth are either in the rear view mirror of my life or simply no longer achievable.  The harsh reality of closed off paths, of adventures that seem to have prematurely ended, and journeys that collapse before they have reached their peak can cause frustration, bitterness, and in the most serious of cases can challenge the foundation of your faith.  What is the road map for dealing with a well that dried up before you were ready for it to?

What is the road map for dealing with a well that dried up before you were ready for it to? 

As always, the Bible is not silent on this issue and provides some very candid commentary on how to understand and navigate these troubled waters. We can start with one of the most well known Old Testament prophets, Elijah, who had a penchant for following his incredible supernatural displays of God’s power with very human reactions.  1 Kings 17 records Elijah bursting onto the scene with a solemn proclamation directed at the wicked king of Israel, announcing a drought that would last until he chose to lift it. Immediately following this he receives guidance to adopt a low profile in a deserted area featuring a small brook to supply his water needs as well as a twice daily allotment of both bread and meat courtesy of a unique avian delivery service.  And Elijah takes up residence in his new oasis, his physical needs met miraculously through daily visits from friendly ravens like a scene from an old Disney cartoon.  While I am sure this locale was not all rainbows and butterflies, this scheduled and predictable provision gave Elijah a twice daily reminder that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was supposed to do, with God intimately aware of his daily needs.  There is a unique comfort in knowing that God, with all of His many responsibilities, took time twice a day to make Elijah a sandwich.

There is a unique comfort in knowing that God, with all of His many responsibilities, took time twice a day to make Elijah a sandwich.

Until the brook dried up without warning.  Elijah did not receive advance notice that his desert oasis had an eviction clause that would be executed so unceremoniously.  His water supply simply succumbed to the drought he had instituted.  His comfort level just shifted from “So Blessed” to “Now What?”  God’s miraculous provision in that setting was for a season, not a lifetime, and it was time for Elijah to move into his next station.  As difficult as it can be to accept the changes that are unwelcome interruptions in our cozy, comfy life plans, it is through these scenarios that we move from receiving from God to becoming a conduit for His goodness to reach others.  It is from here that he receives guidance, not before his well dried out but afterwards, as he is guided on his way to a desperate widow and her only child who are on the verge of starvation.  Now, God does not inform Elijah that he is being sent from one desperate situation to another in the form of a widow who was about to prepare her final meal.  No, He simply sends Elijah and informs him that He has made reservations without troubling him with details like that.  And this is a pattern I have seen so many times both in scripture as well as in my own life, as God guides us from brook to brook, stripping us of our desired autonomy so we will learn to simply follow Him.

God strips us of our desired autonomy so we will learn to simply FOLLOW Him.

If you think about it, that’s what this is really all about right?  The most common request Jesus made on the people he met while walking this earth was “Follow me”.  This was not some metaphysical question, or just a spiritual metaphor for a heart condition… He literally meant to FOLLOW Him.  Walk with Him wherever He is going for the day.  Sleep where He decides to stop for the day.  Eat together.  Talk along the way.  Stop planning for a future that fulfills your personal goals and accept His itinerary, complete with all of the undefined destinations.  Those who fully embraced the concept of life as a free form road trip with their Creator are also those who experienced many of the most incredible and supernatural manifestations recorded in Scripture.

Follow His lead into the desert.  You might find a burning bush with something to say.  Ask Moses about that.  Let Him guide you into a seemingly innocuous errand of delivering lunch to your loved ones.  You might run into a giant that needs a good slaying.  David knows that first hand.  Listen when He asks you to leave your fishing boat, your career, and all that you have worked so hard to build behind.  You may be taking your first steps into your true destiny.  If it is a path that He has asked you to follow Him on, even water will become a load bearing structure to support your progress.  Peter would also remind you not to look down.

Those who fully embrace the concept of life as a free form road trip with their Creator are also those who experience the most incredible and supernatural manifestations in Scripture. 

The end of one story is only disappointing if you fail to see the creative possibilities that will be unleashed as a result.  We won’t see any more Disney Infinity titles, but now these characters are available to be licensed into new software projects that may surpass what remained within the current toy box.  And the software developers impacted by the studio closure will have an opportunity to create something new and different under new leadership, no longer limited by the constraints inherent in dealing with brands the size of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars.  Elijah had so much more left to accomplish and his displacement from his comfortable place of provision was the catalyst for a life of extraordinary adventure.  Where is He asking you to go today?

 

 

A Comic Conflict: Too many Avengers in the Kitchen

We are in the midst of comic nirvana, as we see movies that we once only dreamed of seeing such as Marvel Civil War and Batman v Superman land on cinema screens and achieve global awareness in a way I would have never imagined.  To see major movie stars occupy roles that pay homage to decades of rich comic book history with sincerity is the stuff my nerd dreams were made of, and yet here we are, in a world that actually knows who Ant-Man is.  What is driving this renaissance?  Is it simply due to the movie industry seeing dollar signs in the relatively untapped market of these superhuman characters?  Perhaps, but it would still take legions of eager consumers for these to succeed, and succeed they have as billions of dollars have been made on the backs of these franchises with no end in sight.

I can only speak from my own perspective when it comes to the draw of these characters and the universes they occupy, but from my childhood I have been enamored with the exploits of Batman, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and so many more as they seem to live out the fantasies of many of us… men and women with powers such as flight, super-strength, lightning speed and all the rest.  But what if there is something deeper drawing us towards these larger than life personas and their tales,  a soul desire that has been mistaken for a mere thirst for quality entertainment.  What if this is actually just masking a hunger for the supernatural, for powers that truly do exist, for stories of epic exploits that are REAL?  Is it possible that the explosive growth of interest in these movies and the comics that spawned them is actually a cry for something beyond what is on the page and screen?

Tell me if some of these characters sound familiar to you:

A man out of time, he had already tried to overthrow an evil empire dozens of years earlier but had failed to take down the genocidal government that was bent on global domination.  He disappeared without a trace, but his destiny beckoned his return from oblivion.  Now back on a quest to finish what he had started long ago, he gathered a small group of trusted comrades including a vital but unpredictable brother figure to engage an entire country in a battle for freedom.  He spent his life as a man torn, as he pined for a simpler life but could not deny the burden that had been thrust upon him, a role he had been created to fill.  Charged with saving an entire nation of people who would constantly challenge his right to lead them, he started out thanklessly as a solo avenger bent on righting wrongs but finished as a leader without equal.  From his first fight in an alley to his final benediction to those who would take up his mantle, he remained in peak physical shape, a testament to his unique engineering.  Under appreciated in his time, he is now revered as one of the greatest leaders of all time who changed the course of history.  Not bad for a guy born on the wrong side of the tracks.

MOSES:  The First Avenger (Captain America) Exodus

With more wealth than anyone can possibly imagine, he was a master of creating peace through sheer spectacle.  He inherited an empire from his father and through his genius multiplied it to the point that precious metals were reduced in value.  A skilled negotiator and a gifted orator, he was sought out across the planet as major leaders from every country sought an audience with him.  He was a master of international trade and continued to build his stockpile of riches which he was able to use to fortify his military capabilities as well as create magnificent architectural masterpieces of design.  He built advanced living structures and spared no expense to surround himself with the best engineering available.   While he made sure that he enjoyed the finer things in life, he was a generous philanthropist and gave more than he could possibly receive, but his big heart had a fatal weakness:  He liked the ladies… more to the point he LOVED them.  Plural.  His playboy attitude got him into situations that his money and his mouth could not save him from, causing him much heartache as he continued to try to make the world a better place while still serving his own interests.

SOLOMON:  The Original Genius Playboy Billionaire Philanthropist (Iron Man) 1 Kings 1-11

Raw power and ruthless aggression along with a supernatural capability to battle multiple foes at once without so much as a real weapon in his hand, he was a man out of place as he tried to live the life of a typical mortal but his destiny kept getting in the way. His attempt to marry and live a normal life ended with the savage murder of his wife and father-in-law by his lifelong enemies.  His temper drove him into a berserker rage that enabled him to kill up to one THOUSAND men single-handedly in one encounter.  A natural leader despite his lack of a moral compass as demonstrated on many occasions, he finally grew to despise the gift that had protected him and gave him the ability to accomplish such incredible feats of strength.   The man who could not be killed finally perished in a fitting fashion, at his own hand, in one final sacrificial and heroic act that yielded one final impressive body count.

SAMSON:  The Best There is at What He Does (Wolverine) Judges 13-16

I know what you are thinking… A whole lot of testosterone going on so far.  So what if I told you that saving the day is an equal opportunity employment position? We start by finding our heroine performing her day job of managing the day to day affair of her country when she received a supernatural message to launch a military campaign to free her people from an oppressive militant dictatorship.  She calls up her captain, who stubbornly refuses to enter any battle that she is not physically present for.  Honoring his request to accompany him in battle, she informs him in advance that it would be a woman, not a man, who would be responsible for the victory this day.  Leading a smaller but determined army, Deborah and her troops completely wiped out their larger and better equipped adversaries, and justice was served as her words rang true and it was the quick thinking of a female double agent who finished off the victory with a vicious and fatal skewering of the evil general.

DEBORAH: Brave, Fierce, and Equally Super (Wonder Woman) Judges 4 and 5

It’s hard to live the life of the smallest and youngest, but when you know that with great power comes great responsibility from such a young age it makes your destiny much easier to embrace.  Supernaturally gifted from a young age, he started with the simple, thankless protection of the helpless in his own neighborhood from local beastly bullies, but was quickly thrust into the national spotlight when a simple lunch delivery put him on a collision course with a superhuman monstrosity who was undefeated in hand to hand combat. Undeterred, this scrappy little teenager stared across the battlefield and saw weakness.  With the confidence in knowing he was on the right side of the conflict and a sudden need to dispense justice flowing through his veins he directed a few taunting barbs followed by a surprise projectile attack that ended the conflict in a stunning and fatal fashion.  This athletic youngster spent much of his life poor, misunderstood, and on the run from those he was only trying to help, but unable to resist the compulsion to save those in need including his enemies.  His small frame had hidden a huge heart and a surprising talent for combat.

DAVID: Your Friendly Neighborhood Giant Killer (Spider-Man) 1 and 2 Samuel

 

And for our final example, we come to the person who carries each and every asset we have mentioned and so many more…

  • He can fly like Superman (Acts 1:9-10)
  • He has more wealth than we can comprehend and chooses to use it saving the helpless like Batman (John 3:35)
  • He can disappear like the Invisible Woman (Luke 24:31)
  • He can move through walls like the Flash (John 20:19-26)
  • He is from another world like Martian Manhunter (John 18:36)
  • He commands the fish like Aquaman (John 21:1-6)
  • He controls the wind like Storm (Mark 4:35-41)
  • He can see the future (Matt 20:17)
  • He can read minds like Professor X (Matt. 9:4)
  • He goes into a rage and tears stuff up like Wolverine (Matt 21:12)
  • He returns to life like Deadpool (John 20:1-17)
  • He can walk across water (Matt 14:22), regenerate the dead  (John 11:43-44), multiply tangible objects (Matt 14:13), summon angels (Matt 26:53), banish demons (Luke 8:26-34))… Shall I go on?

And perhaps most amazingly, He has the power to transfer His abilities to whoever He chooses to endow them with (Luke 9:1).  He is all the things you want in a superhero, but with the restraint many of our comic inspirations lack.  In a world obsessed with the supernatural and superhumans, may I present the demon-slaying, water-walking, mind-reading, immortal and all-powerful Jesus?  The Bible has the greatest, most angst filled and character driven comic stories ever recorded, with the benefit that they are actually TRUE.  And each of these are loaded with all the drama and emotion of real, flawed, every day people making very human decisions that still impact our world to this day.  And in the grand finale, the One who stands at the division of BC and AD challenges you to compare Him to anyone, real or imagined, and find someone you would rather trust your life to.  He stands alone at the top of the hill.  Saving the world is his gig.  Ready to assemble?

JESUS:  THE ONLY TRUE IMMORTAL SUPER-HERO

The Man in the Iron Mask: Cyborg Ninjas Need Forgiveness Too (1 Tim. 1:12-16)

When you are introduced as Cyborg Ninja, you are sort of destined to be remembered more for your suit than who is inside it.  Nameless and faceless for much of his violent journey through the story of the one and only Metal Gear Solid, he literally carves his way through the campaign offering very little to explain his agenda or motives, seeming content to simply leave a trail of carnage in his wake as he progresses towards an impossible to determine end goal.  Neither friend not foe, this enigmatic warrior seemed to be the only character who was not interested in a lengthy dialogue with your player controlled avatar Solid Snake.  But this being a video game, we know the reveal of who he is and what he is really after is going to be revealed in due time.

Neither truly alive or truly dead, this conflicted individual seems to be scarcely in control of his actions despite the incredible lethality he demonstrates.

Clues are peppered through his brief appearances, and within these glimpses the pieces begin to fall into place.  Neither truly alive nor truly dead, as much machine as man, this conflicted individual seems to be scarcely in control of his actions despite the incredible lethality he demonstrates.  The conscious choice of seeking out pain is but one crack revealed in his armor, and the phrase he whispers while slamming his head into the ground still haunts me with sadness as he confides to his former comrade turned enemy Snake, ” I am losing myself”.  Sadder words may have never been spoken, as this nearly invincible juggernaut reveals that his greatest battle lies within.

It is not until you are knee deep in the final boss battle with Metal Gear Rex that he chooses to show his physical face, and within this reveal he chooses to shine a light on his full motivations and the struggle inside.  In a heartbreaking revelation we learn that the poor soul trapped inside this machine is none other than an old friend, Gray Fox.  His indestructible exterior merely hides his pain as he recounts his unwilling rebirth as a machine human hybrid, scarcely in control of his mind and actions.  But this is not what haunts him… As a former soldier turned villainous vigilante this is not the source of his internal conflict.  Something much deeper and more relatable to all of us lies at the heart of his pain.

“I am losing myself…”

Gray Fox has lived his life on the battlefield, and the collateral damage of his exploits was merely part of doing business for a professional soldier.  Until his hardened gaze fell on a child who was now orphaned because of him.  Responsible for the death of her parents, for perhaps the first time the realization of the consequences of his actions causes the sharp pain of regret to override his training.  He chooses to adopt her, whisk her away from the battlefield, and raise her as his own.  But these actions do not dull the pain, as he lives with the constant daily reminder that the life she now lives without her parents was because of HIM, and his shame at the role he played in their deaths caused him to never reveal this truth to her for fear that she would see him as the monster he truly is, instead of the kind benefactor he is striving to become.

This is where the rubber meets the road for me.  I can’t relate to being a genetically enhanced super human robot ninja, but the inability to move forward from past mistakes is all too real.  Others may see the ruthless efficiency of the machine I have created to house and protect my shattered soul, but within lies a shell of who I once was, a force that leans towards self-inflicted pain and destructive behaviors, a person very much in danger of losing myself.  So now to the real question:  How is it that a child of God, born again and in a committed daily relationship with Jesus, can forgive others and offer grace to everyone but their own self?

How is it that a child of God, born again and in a committed daily relationship with Jesus, can forgive others and offer grace to everyone but their own self?

Have you ever felt that way?  A facade built to showcase strength and confidence merely masking the uncertainty and self-loathing contained within?  I’m preaching to the choir on this one, because I will confess that I have spent much of my life trying to foolishly earn the forgiveness and grace that has been provided to me for free.  It is interesting that in our current day and age every bookstore, Christian or not, has a massive self-help section and many of these books are written to provide assistance with the challenge of forgiving your self.  I say it is interesting because the Bible seems to be largely mute on this topic, almost as if the authors never appeared to consider this to be an area we would struggle with.  With all the wisdom provided to us from writers such as Paul and Peter, men who were clearly familiar with the concept of past failure on a magnitude far greater than most of us will ever taste, why do we see so little on this subject?  Surely the Bible, the source of all answers, has within it a response for the challenge of forgiving yourself, right?

First, let’s review some groundwork.  1 John 1:8-10 makes it painfully simple for us, establishing that everyone of us have sinned, but if we are willing to confess these to God he is faithful and just to not only forgive us, but to purify us as well.  So does that mean I will forget what I’ve done?  Let’s see what Paul has to say in 1 Cor. 15:9-10, where in the middle of his magnificent epistle he stops to remind us and himself that he once was the enemy of the church, and active persecutor of this he now calls family.  But just as quickly he allows the grace of God to not only cover his sin, but to free him from his guilt as he points past his failure to what God’s grace is doing in him now.  It is through, not in spite of his previous failure that he is able to offer grace freely to every one he meets.  And finally, the erstwhile patron saint of those who have made mistakes but earnestly desire to move forward, King David himself writes the famous words found in Psalm 103 stating that God removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west, meaning that our failures are moving in a continual direction of separation from us and where we are going with our lives.

Paul shines a light on his shortcomings, using them to illustrate the depths of the mercy of God.

So if all this is true, why don’t we feel any better?  Why do we still struggle to move on, to forgive ourselves, to accept the grace of God we freely offer others?  Perhaps because we missed a crucial point found in the correspondence between Paul and his protege Timothy, found in 1 Timothy 1:12-16.  Paul, clearly remembering all that he was, not only accepts the forgiveness of God but sees that in this Paul is made into an example for others, a case study that Christ came to save ALL, without exclusion.  And in that context Paul chooses to denies his failures the ability to define him, but instead allows them to showcase to others the incredible grace he was shown. He shines a light on his shortcomings, using them to illustrate the depths of the mercy of God.  This is the secret that David found, the mystery that pulled Paul and Peter out of self-loathing and into full service.

Our enemy would like nothing more than to silence is through our guilt and shame, reminding us of all the reasons we should be disqualified from service.  He knows our true value, and the last thing he wants is a bunch of Pauls and Peters running around changing the world with their testimony.  Like our cyborg ninja friend from earlier, we can choose to allow our guilt to occupy our thoughts until they consume us, or we can choose to celebrate the freedom we have received and shine the light for others to follow. It took a long time for me to realize that all of my failures were actually taken into account by God when he forged my destiny, and that His plan for my life was built with those in mind.  When you see your mistakes, transgressions, and sins as a vital part of how you can share the full depths of the love of Christ to others, you are set free from all the chains the devil uses to keep them holding you down.  Don’t hide the pain, embrace the grace that has freed you from that life and shine the light in every dark secret you have tried to keep!

God knew your past when He chose you, because when he prepared your path all your mistakes were still in the FUTURE. 

God knew your past when he chose you, because when he prepared your path all your mistakes were still in the future.  And just as He did with Paul, He still chose you as the perfect vessel to do what only you, complete with all of your perceived baggage, would ever be able to do.  I have been a rebellious son, an ungrateful boyfriend, a selfish husband, a misguided father, an absentee friend, and so much more.  But I will not be confined to those descriptions or allow my future to be defined by these failures.   Rather I will accept the myriad of moral failures in my past just as the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears did in Luke 7:36-50…  I have been forgiven much and I will choose to serve Him and love Him much!  If you look hard enough, there’s someone who will cross your path in life with a matching set of luggage to what you used to carry.  Go ahead and show them how to be set free…