The Infinite Warfare Conundrum:  When you Can’t Win for Losing (Acts 28)

In the gaming industry there is a soothing clockwork that occurs throughout each year in a console cycle… The early prototype leaks devoured and fawned over by the press, the actual reveal of the system to a cheering crowd at a meticulously planned press conference, the launch of the device that is typically marred by supply issues and operating errors, and finally the software support that makes it all worthwhile.  And just like clockwork, to support gaming systems everywhere each year Activision will release a new Call of Duty game that is destined to sell a quadrillion copies, and yet is almost immediately universally reviled and hated as soon as it is spoken into existence.  And this year’s announced entry, Infinite Warfare, is faring no differently.  Gamers reached for the dislike button in record numbers as the new COD and it’s take on space warfare continues the proud legacy of games nobody seems to want but everyone buys anyway.

The irony is that at one point Call of Duty was the David facing down the Goliaths of other franchises, eagerly trying to establish itself and break into the mainstream with its commitment to a more cinematic, dynamic, and engaging theater of war experience than what currently existed.  The franchise was beloved for finally getting the shooting mechanics right, praised for turning online play into a priority for development, and then unceremoniously dumped once they became too big and successful for us to root for.  Now I’m no Activision apologist, but it just seems to me that whether it’s a previously much maligned sports team like the Golden State Warriors, a major gaming studio like Activision, or newly famous celebrity (insert celebrity du jour here), a similar pattern emerges.  Not long after they reach the point of becoming the Cinderella story that inspires us all, we as a community seem to immediately become Cinderella’s step-sisters and start ripping apart their dress to cut them back down to size.

Crowds are a fickle thing, and popularity and fame are fleeting objects in this crazy world that builds people up simply to have something substantial to knock down.  This is not unique to massive gaming studios and people with 2 million Twitter followers either.  I have a feeling each of us have experienced the frustration of temporary success and acceptance only to taste the bitter fruit of betrayal and jealousy from those who were just rooting for us a short time earlier.  And I have a couple of people in mind that can give us some really solid examples of how to deal with the inconsistencies and public reactions that follow everyone who dares to follow God’s plan for their lives:  the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Himself. 

Let’s start with Paul, the man who’s picture in his high school yearbook was captioned “Least Likely to Become a Missionary for Jesus”.  His story of moving from the persecutor of the Church to the most prolific evangelist in the Bible takes up most of the book of Acts, but it is near the end of his tale in chapter 28 that we see Paul deal with this unique challenge.  Paul and an entire transport ship comprised of both Roman soldiers and criminals headed to trial are caught in a violent storm and experience a ship wreck on the isle of Malta.  While Paul is doing his part to help his shipmates by gathering sticks for a fire, he is bitten by a lethally poisonous viper that was hidden in his bundle of firewood.  The reaction of the onlookers should be familiar to all of us, as the judgement began immediately.  The island natives quickly leapt to the conclusion that Paul must be a wicked murderer who narrowly escaped death by shipwreck, but justice had found him through this snake bite.  And if Paul had been an overly sensitive person, this might have hit a little close to home because the truth is that he HAD been a zealously murderous head hunter of Christians before his conversion.

But Paul had long since accepted the grace of forgiveness that Christ had given him, and did to the snake what I wish I had the strength to do every time I am either attacked or falsely accused by someone… He shook it off.  Literally, he shook the snake off his hand and into the fire and kept right on going as if nothing had happened.  Trusting in the promises of protection he had received from God, he had no need to respond to the accusations and murmurings of the onlookers.  And now we see the politician-caliber flip-flopping of those observing this event, as they witness that the bite that should have caused Paul to drop dead has no affect on him.  They swing from accusing him of wickedness so exceptional that divine intervention had marked him for death into believing that Paul must be a god himself.  Wow.  No middle ground here, by public opinion he must be either devil or divine.  

I guess not much has changed.  As Jesus Himself experienced in his walk here on Earth, the same crowd that will deify you in one moment will absolutely crucify you in the next.  And those that are already judging you as guilty will be singing your praises as soon as the tables turn.  The people tried to throw Jesus off a mountain to his death in Luke 4:29 and tried to make Him King by force in John 6:15.  Now that’s a pretty serious pendulum swing.  And that’s why it is so important for us not to get too comfortable when we are on the mountaintop because the situation can turn very quickly from coronation to execution without us doing anything differently.

I can’t say I enjoy criticism, earned or unearned.  And few critiques sting more than when you are just trying to grab some wood for the fire and your act of kindness opens up the door for attack from those you were only wanting to help.  Activision is not setting out to make games that people will hate.  There isn’t much of a future in a business plan like that.  But their act of creation makes them a target for both praise and criticism, and the larger the platform you choose the larger the target on your back.

  The examples left by Paul and Jesus encourage me to neither embrace the accolades nor absorb the insults, because both are a certainty as long as we dwell on this earth and neither have much merit.  If you are enduring a similar circumstance, let me encourage you to refuse to be defined by others and to stay focused on answering your Call of Duty.  There will always be haters, and often times from unexpected places.  Keep your eyes on building that fire regardless, and shake off anything that would attempt to slow you down.  The end of the story is that this entire series of events opened up a door for Paul to minister and provide healing prayers for many of the island inhabitants.  Your pain may be the impetus for a larger ministry opportunity that won’t present itself until you shake that snake off.

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What’s Age Got to Do With it? (Numbers 13, Joshua 14) 

As a massive fan of the previous Metal Gear games, I was giddy with anticipation of the reveal of Metal Gear Solid 4 and the return of the hero of the saga, the one and only Solid Snake.  I endured the bait and switch MGS2 pulled, sticking me with playing as the whiny boy-soldier Raiden for the majority of the game.  That was followed by the excellent MGS3 which moved into the past and explored the story of Snake’s “father”, but what I really wanted was to don that infamous mullet and bandana one more time and catch up on the adventures of the star of the show, Solid Snake himself.  And now it was finally time, as I stood in front of the Konami booth at E3 awaiting the reveal of MGS4 and the return of the man, the myth, the legend… Snake.

And what I saw made my jaw drop, but not for the reasons you might think.  Yes, the graphics were cutting edge, and the gameplay looked liquid smooth, but… Snake was OLD.  Like, waaaaay old.  His epic jet black mullet was now completely silver, his youthful scruff had been replaced with the type of large gray moustache usually reserved for Sam Elliot characters in westerns, and while this was still a soldier who was not to be trifled with, his spry and acrobatic movement had been replaced with a slower, more deliberate pace reflective of the grizzled old war veteran on the giant screen before me.  This was not the Solid Snake I knew.  And he was certainly not the one I wanted, the one I was looking forward to living vicariously through on yet another world-saving mission.  To be honest, I was hoping it was yet another bizarre stunt by series creator Hideo Kojima, and that it would be revealed as a joke, or maybe just an alternate future.  But that was not the case, and when MGS4 finally launched it was the story of an aged, battle-scarred, worn out Old Snake on his final mission.  Not what I had in mind at all.

As I sifted through the display cases of the games on the wall at my local gaming store I realized something.  Your mileage may vary on this, but for me it is quite clear that none of the people on any of these game cases look like me.  Or probably you for that matter.  Most of them are impeccably built, vibrantly young, chiseled from granite, with movie star looks and a wardrobe to match.  And that’s probably a good thing, because you really don’t want to spend 10-20 hours staring at my virtual avatar running and jumping through game worlds, I promise you that.  But as I pondered my resistance to the idea of one of my gaming characters looking “too old” to save the world, I realized that in many ways that was a reflection of how I felt about myself, and my continued usefulness for God in this world.

Have you ever had similar thoughts?  Wrestled with the idea that you are too old, too broken down, too limited, or maybe have made too many mistakes to fulfill your destiny for the Lord?  Regretfully, I have had many internal dialogues about how I have been all of these things at one point or another, but the age issue may be the one that gets me down the most because there is simply nothing I can do about it.  So if you share my disappointment with the aging process and have worried that your best days are already in the rear view mirror I have some hope for you in the form of some aged heroes of the faith… Senior citizens who literally had their entire destiny still laying out in front of them.

ABRAHAM:  Began his life journey at age 75

Most of us are familiar with the story of good ol Father Abraham.  What may have escaped your notice is that his story didn’t even BEGIN until the ripe old age of 75, at which point he started out on a lengthy and physically demanding pilgrimage, went to war against the combined armies of four kings with just his personal staff of trained warriors and WON, and at 99 finally had the child God had promised him in Isaac.  And he was still not done.  After his wife Sarah’s death, he went on to remarry and have six more children at the youthful age of 140!    Definitely meets the prototype of a late bloomer if you ask me.  But I know what you might be thinking… People lived a lot longer back then so it stands to reason that they would accomplish more after 100 years of life. Fair enough.  Let it never be said that I would not respond to the hypothetical questions of an audience that only exists in my mind.  Let’s take on our next candidate.

MOSES:  Started his mission of freedom when he was old enough for the senior special at Denny’s

Now we will need to do a little math on this one, so please bear with me as we reverse engineer Moses’s life.  Moses dies at the age of 120, and he spent the 40 years prior to that wandering the wilderness with the Israeli nation due to their sins.  That would mean that he was EIGHTY years old when the wilderness journey began, and the events of the Egyptian plagues and the majority of the book of Exodus would have taken place in his SEVENTIES.  That’s right, most of the story of Moses happened when he looked less like Christian Bale and more like Dick Van Dyke.  And while his age reached past what we find to be the normal length of our current mortality rate, it is clear that all of Moses’s major contributions to history took place in the final third of his life.  That makes him a poster child for the “Not too late, never too late” movement.  But I have one more for you… a grizzled war veteran that would make Solid Snake himself proud.  The brother-in-arms of the original Joshua (yes, from the battle of Jericho), the ageless warrior Caleb.

CALEB:  The original super-spy/ageless soldier who took on a mountain of giants at 85

Let’s check Caleb’s credentials for entry into our exclusive club.  At age 40 Caleb was one of the original spies that Moses sent out into the land of Canaan after the people of Israel had escaped Egypt through the Red Sea and were on the beginning of their voyage to the Promised Land.  Caleb, Joshua, and a select group of men from each of the twelve tribes spied out the land for 40 days, performing surveillance on each of the nations within the land they were destined to possess.  They notated the size and strength of the armies they would oppose, the level of fortification present for the key cities, and found that in addition to the already large number of well established militia they would be engaging with there were also GIANTS… men who towered over each of them in size and strength and would present strong opposition.  Caleb and Joshua were undeterred, with Caleb’s confidence underscored clearly in Numbers 13:30 when he challenges his comrades “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  Not a touch of fear in this soldier… he is ready to get right to it without delay.

Unfortunately, with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb the remaining spies convinced the entire nation that the battles ahead were too hard, the giants too tall, and their army inadequate to continue in spite of the promises of God to protect them and provide victory.  Thus began the 40 year wilderness sojourn we discussed earlier, with only Joshua and Caleb selected by God to survive the wandering because they had remained faithful to His vision.  Fast-forwarding 40 years ahead to the point where they are now the only remaining living adults from their first foray into Canaan as spies, in Joshua 14 the Israeli people have finally entered into the land and defeated all those who have opposed them in their conquest.  Five years of war has yielded victory after victory for Joshua and the Israeli war machine, and it is now time to begin dividing out the land for settlement.  But simply receiving a parcel of land to settle down in is not good enough for our man Caleb.  Oh no… he has some unfinished business to attend to.

In Numbers 14 Caleb approaches Joshua with a request that you gotta love.  It wasn’t good enough for him to take his plot of ground and call it a day… no, he specifically requested to be granted an area FULL of giants that had not yet been cleared.  The home base that was literally named after the leader of these massive soldiers.  With the confidence of a man who had observed first-hand the provision of a God who isn’t concerned about your personal limitations Caleb requests at age EIGHTY-FIVE to be given this mountain full of fortified cities and giant warriors as his final challenge.  He had been waiting for 45 years to get a crack at the giants that had scared off his countrymen and now it was time to finish the fight.  And Joshua, seeing that familiar fire in his friend’s eyes burning bright, granted his petition and Caleb marched off to put the exclamation point on his military career.  Clearly age was not a factor for him.

I don’t know about you, but after reading through the way each of these men attacked the twilight years of their lives with the reckless abandon of a teenager I am encouraged to look past all of my failures, my physical limitations, and yes, even the effects of the aging process when considering what God has left for me to do.  I may have underestimated “Old Snake”, because I am also guilty of underestimating what God is still able to do with me.  With God, age truly is just a number, and not one that He allows to constrain Him one bit.  I pray to be granted the heart of a Caleb, or Moses, or Abraham… men who were not defined by their past as a slave, a fallen prince turned murderer, or a nomad.  They did not allow their vision to be limited to what they saw in the mirror or how many viable years they had left by normal standards.  They followed the promises of God in spite of their fears or the seemingly illogical path laid before them, and they emerged as champions of the faith.  We are each exactly the age God knew we would be when it was time to do what He created us to do.  And if Old Snake can get his tired bones up to the task of taking on yet another walking nuclear battle tank, then surely the power of the living God will give me everything I need to accomplish His mission for me today.

Pokemon GO: Go into all the world and catch them all!  (Luke 5:1-11, John 21:1-6)

So, Pokemon Go has infected my household and sent my daughter running off to find a copy of her Pokedex and launched my wife into a never ending quest to find and catch these Pokemon wherever they may be found.  Which it turns out is just about everywhere, including the grocery store, the library, the post office, and all through our neighborhood.  I am a little disturbed at the amount of Poke rats that are in the meat department of my local supermarket, but don’t worry, we caught them too.  And from the myriad of cars I catch following me around at low speeds to the exact same locations around town, it seems we are not alone in our pursuit.  If none of that made sense to you, then you are one of the last remaining normal people on earth.  Hold on, I think I just saw a Bulbasaur… I’ll be right back.

For those who have not yet partaken, the game requires the player to physically travel to locations in the real world to collect virtual items which in turn makes collecting Pokemon easier. These virtual Pokemon also exist in select locations in the real world, and it is through traveling from place to place searching for them, catching them, and upgrading them that the game is experienced.  Who would have thought that here, in 2016, a free-to-play Pokemon app would infect the populace and bring all of us back to our youth, as millions and millions of participants are remembering long-forgotten names of these virtual monsters and re-creating the phenomenon that seemed to have already reached its peak?  And more interestingly, thanks to the locations marked within the application as “PokeCenters” that these “Pokemon trainers” would be led through the app to not only local monuments and historical sites in the real world, but also local places of worship that they may not have even have known existed.  That’s right, through the Hand of Providence your local church and mine have been marked as either centers for virtual supplies or in many cases gyms where battles for control of the turf occur throughout the day and late into the night.

I could not speak for whether the makers of this game had the intent of sending gamers worldwide to find all of the churches in their area, although if they did that is truly awesome.  But God has His hands in all things, and this is yet another instance of God using an unlikely source to draw people towards Him.  I know that may be hard to believe for many, but after reading about God speaking through a donkey (Numbers 22), sending a giant fish to eat a wayward prophet alive and regurgitate him  (Jonah 1-2), and afflicting an entire city with hemorrhoids just to free the ark of the covenant (1 Sam 5) I do not place any method beyond His choosing.

In Luke 5:1-11 we have the very familiar story of Jesus calling Peter to follow Him, which is mirrored in Matt 4:18-20 complete with the famous “fishers of men” phrase.  But it is here in Luke that we get a very interesting start to this relationship between Jesus, Peter, and fishing.  Jesus was using Peter’s boat as a platform to preach from so the crowds could see and hear Him from multiple directions.  Once His sermon had been completed, He instructed Peter to launch the boat into the deep water for a fishing run.  Peter had already decided to call it a night and an unproductive one at that, but he decided to humor the preacher man and cast his nets out anyway.  And lo and behold the nets were filled with fish to the point of ripping, Peter literally has his “come to Jesus” moment, and a miraculously large catch of fish is brought to the shore.  In and of itself this paints a pretty portrait of Jesus’s power over the sea and makes for a rather compelling “This is how I found Jesus” testimony, but there is more to this than what lies at the surface.

To catch the true significance of this you need to find the bookend to this story located in John 21, where we find Peter and some of the disciples embarking on their first fishing trip since meeting Jesus and choosing to follow Him.  Jesus has died, returned to life, and made two appearances since His resurrection, but He doesn’t seem to stay anywhere for too long at this point.  So Peter decides to go fishing.  Once again they are unsuccessful in landing any fish, and to be honest I’m starting to think Peter was much better served with his career change because his track record with fishing was a little spotty. It is at this point the Jesus appears, calls to them from the shore, and directs them on where to find a catch of fish, and upon dropping their nets they land another miraculous haul of fish.  So now for the thread that ties it all together… The first time Jesus performed this miracle He gave Peter the offer to join Him and fish for men.  The second time, as Jesus sat on the beach and shared breakfast with Peter, He asked Peter three times to tend to and feed his sheep.  Jesus has no problem showing us where the fish are, and He can even make them jump into our net.  The question is what will we DO with them once He brings them to us.

God is using this to bring more fish to us then we could have ever imagined, more than our nets have ever held before.  This is an opportunity for crusades, tent meetings, and out-reaches  that will span all walks of life.  So will we answer the call that bookended Jesus’s earthly teachings to Peter? To fish for the souls of mankind, and to feed them His Word when He brings them to us?

You may not understand or care for Pokemon, and that’s okay. You may have a belief that this is not worthy of the time spent on it or perhaps believe that it supports things you are against, which is also fine.  But we cannot deny that we now have an opportunity as fishers of men to catch them all, and thanks to this game app we aren’t even needing to go out into the world to fulfill the great commission.  They are literally being led to us.  And for some, we are fishers of men, lowering our nets and bringing them in.  For others, they may be lost or wandering sheep from His flock looking to be fed and we are here to provide that which they are looking for.  Either way, the opportunity to reach this generation with the Good News has just been loaded into our nets, and it is up to each of us to use this as an opportunity to share more than just tips on where to find a Pikachu.  Come for the Pokeballs, stay for the fellowship and testimony of those who understand what it means to search for someone truly legendary.  Time to catch them all!

Portrait of a Team Killer (Matt 26:48, John 21)

Finally, after a long hard week at work you settle down to enjoy a few brief moments of gaming with your online friends.  The need to mow the lawn in the morning hangs over your head along with a variety of other errands that will eat away at your weekend, but right now all that matters is the joyous leisure activity that awaits you as you hear your console powering up.  Your game loads (and probably updates), your friends join your party, and you perform a few final tweaks to your load out before starting your first match.  The rest of your squad list populates with unknown gamers from around the world, the countdown commences, and now it’s time.  It’s finally time to have some fun… Until you hear that tell-tale sound of grenades landing at your feet.

With just enough time to pan the camera towards your recently spawned teammates you can identify the culprit immediately.  He’s the one cackling like a maniac in your headset while jumping on your head.  Your team explodes, the team killer gets booted off your team to go ruin someone else’s match, and you just spotted your adversaries a small lead to start the match.  But regardless of whether this match ends in a likely defeat or a rousing victory, the sophomoric actions of your former teammate can really get under your skin.  What is this guy’s problem?  With the limited amount of time you have to enjoy gaming with your friends, why did he have to come along and ruin it?  What is this guy’s story?

Whether you are playing the Division and getting gunned down by a former comrade in the Dark Zone for a piece of loot, or maybe your Halo match was just foiled by the prank listed above, there is a larger lesson to be gained from this experience.  And as we shall see from our reading in Matthew and John, there is an inherent danger in trusting any form of loyalty that does not have the right components at it’s core.  Let’s begin in John 21, where a peculiar exchange between Jesus and Peter sheds some light on this subject.  On the surface, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter responds three times by responding that he does, with the verse recording that he was grieved by the request on the third time.  What a curious conversation.  It is not typical for Jesus to repeat himself, and since John felt the need to record this conversation we should feel certain that there is value in understanding it.  So why would Jesus ask the same question three times in a row?

I have heard it taught that this was because Peter denied Jesus three times, and now Jesus is affirming his restoration three times.  But Peter’s response on the third time is not that of relief, but of sadness. And to understand this I will have to ask you to join me in a critical dive deeper into the text, into the original Greek that this was translated into English from.  In the English language we have the very generic word love, which can be applied to everything from French fries,  a child, a spouse, or a sunset and while the word “love” is the same the implication clearly varies based on use.  I love my family and would give my life for them without a second thought, but though I also love French fries I do not plan to sacrifice anything beyond $1.50 on their behalf anytime soon.  Our English word love has many definitions, and it is the context that helps us understand it’s meaning.  The Greek language, however, is not so limited, and had many different words for “love” that each have a very clearly defined usage.  Here are a few examples:

Eros – Affectionate love, typified as a romantic love

Storge – Family love, as between parents and children

Phileo – Friendly love,  typically between equals

Agape – Preferential love,  used for the love of God towards man and man towards God

So now that we have done our introductory Greek lesson for the month, let’s gaze a little deeper into the subtext between Jesus and Peter and what was really being asked here.  The first time Jesus asks the question, he asks Peter if he “Agape” loves him.  Peter’s response?  That he “Phileo” loves him.  Did you catch that?   Jesus asked Peter for the preferential love that has it’s basis in God, and Peter responds with a friendly love that has its basis in human feelings.  This exact same sequence is repeated in the second question from Jesus to Peter, but then the third time something different occurs, and we will understand why Peter is torn by this question on the third go round.

The third time Jesus asks “Do you love me?” He uses the “Phileo” form of love, the lower class version of love.  And at this we see the distraught response from Peter as he sadly asserts for the third time that the caliber of love he carried for Jesus was less than what was desired.  So now for the big question… Why does this matter so much?  Why isn’t Jesus satisfied with the level of love Peter was offering?  The answer may surprise you, and it is revealed in a selection of text that you may be familiar with, but have  never looked at this deeply.  The answer lies with one of the most infamous team killers of all time… Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ.

In Matthew 26 we get the account of Jesus and his betrayal by one of his own, a member of his own team.  But it is the actual betrayal event itself that reveals the duplicitous and easily manipulated danger of the love Jesus was dissatisfied with.  When we read the text in English we see that Judas  informs the soldiers with him that he would identify the Christ with a kiss.  But in the original Greek, the actual word used is not kiss, but, you guessed it, “Phileo”. And just to save you time, it is recorded the exact same way in the account of Mark and Luke as well, that Judas chose to betray Jesus by means of “Phileo” love.  And this is why Jesus simply cannot accept this level of love from Peter or any of us.  Because is is too easily faked, too deceitful to trust, and proceeds from emotion and outward display instead of from the Spirit of God within us, which is the root of the “Agape” love he is seeking.

This preferential love would be the only kind that would lead Peter where Jesus explained his path would carry him, as the remainder of John details.  Agape love, preferential love from God’s own heart, would one day lead Peter to pick up a cross of his own, a far cry from the Phileo love he currently carried that led him to deny Jesus three times a few days prior.  Phileo love is what team killers are capable of both possessing and displaying, but it will always favor its own interests and needs at the expense of others as Judas and Peter demonstrated in Matthew.  

Honestly, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my team mate betrayed me while playing the game:  he was arbitrarily assigned the color Blue and grouped in with me and my friends simply by random chance.  We had nothing more in common than a shared color of uniform, and a similar random twist of fate would have placed him in the opposing color of Red where he would have likely done the exact same thing to a different set of squad mates.  The issue wasn’t in his behavior, but in my false assumption that our shared enemy gave us a common goal and a reason to co-exist and work together the same way my existing squad of loyal friends had been doing.  But his level of commitment to me and my comrades was only at the surface level, and once the game started his true colors and destructive agenda were manifested.

The team killer in the group of disciples who followed Jesus was not revealed by his lack of friendliness or brotherly love, but by the lack of this “agape” preferential love that is only in our hearts when God reaches in and places it into the hearts of His children.  It is this love that Jesus was asking Peter for, the only love He will accept, and this love that He is asking us to offer both Him and all those around us.  He knows all to well the deceitful nature of any love that is less than this.  

Do You Believe in Cake? (1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18)

Portal.  A game that began as a simple tech demo and became a franchise all of its own, complete with memorable characters, one of the great ending theme songs of all time, and quite possibly one of the most enjoyable antagonists in the history of gaming.  The wry sense of humor interwoven through the ingenious puzzles added an underrated but needed storyline that compelled you forward even when a particular test had you at your wits end.  As your player character wordlessly moves through each challenge armed only with the “portal gun”, a bizarre yet perfect reward is repeatedly dangled before you… The promise of cake at the end of your testing.

Considering the life-threatening dangers that you must overcome in each room to progress, the cake that awaits you upon success seems  to be a petty reward by comparison.  And as the true motivation for your nemesis is slowly revealed, a budding awareness occurs that the cake you have been promised is likely non-existent anyways.  The bitter irony is that the cake, which in and of itself was an inadequate motivating factor to begin with, is in actuality a lie that was promised not just to you, but also others who had attempted the same set of trials before you.  I have faced the potential disappointments inherent with cake many times in my life to this point… Too little frosting, overly dry, cake that has been accidentally sneezed in, cake that secretly has carrots in it… But at least in each of these instances the reality of the cake’s existence was never something I had to question.

“The Cake is a Lie” has more to offer than a simple inside joke for gamers or a meme-worthy catchphrase, and my search for substance under the subtext led me to one of the most interesting yet difficult to process chapters in the Bible.  This chapter challenged me for many years, because it seemed to lie in conflict with the character and operating style of the Lord as I understood Him from my studies to that point.  Just so we don’t miss it or chalk it up to poor translation, this event is captured in both 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18 virtually identically, and it is here we catch a glimpse of heaven from a decidedly different view point than we may have ever considered possible.  But let’s start with the context here on good ol’ earth, where we find the wicked King Ahab of Israel, the good but improperly aligned King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and a sarcastic prophet named Micaiah intertwined in a decision with fatal repercussions.

Ahab has beef with the king of Syria, and despite the fact that they had been in a state of peace for three years to this point there is a contested city that Ahab believes is worth going to war over.  During his recruitment effort to convince Jehoshaphat to align forces for this battle, the God-fearing Jehoshaphat agrees to provide support as long as the will of God is determined first.  Ahab acquiesces as he needs the additional manpower, and brings together 400 “yes men” to sway this potential alliance.  But Jehoshaphat, discerning enough to see through this manipulation, pressed for an actual prophet of God to be consulted.  And this is where things get really interesting, as Micaiah enters the scene and his answer pulls back the curtain on the workings within the heavenly court in a way not seen since the first chapter of Job.

In response to the question of the outcome of this proposed war, Micaiah describes this literal event occurring within the throne room of the Almighty, as God sits on His throne surrounded by the angelic beings He created.  While I will not be dogmatic on this point, the text says ALL the hosts of heaven, and I interpret ALL the host of heaven to mean ALL both good and evil, as it is the same word “all” that is used to describe God creating “all” things repeatedly throughout Genesis and is translated as “every” or “all” throughout the Old Testament.  So if “all” means “all” here and everywhere else this particular Hebrew word is used, then ALL the angels, both fallen and obedient, are present here much as satan was present in a similar gathering in the book of Job.  The description of being gathered to the right and left sides of His throne also references the separation of the just and unjust, similar to the way Jesus describes man standing at the throne of God in Matthew 25.  I would not typically belabor a point like this, but it is critical to the understanding of the remainder of this passage that we have the correct interpretation of who is present here.

God asks a question to this gathering that at first took me aback… “Who will convince Ahab to enter this war so that he will die in the battle?”  Now that sentence deserves a very Keanu Reeves-style “Whoa.”  God is actively sourcing ideas on who will take the responsibility of persuading Ahab to follow his doomed course of action to the grave.  But before we get caught up on the implications of this, we see the attendees present idea after idea on how this could be accomplished to the Lord until one spirit suggests a method that meets His approval… this spirit would deceive Ahab by becoming a lying voice within the mouths of the 400 false prophets Ahab consulted.  God saw that this would be a successful approach and commanded the spirit to proceed.  We can now fast forward to the end of the chapter, where the spirit did exactly what he had proposed and Ahab indeed marches defiantly into the battle.  Bolstered by the lying voices surrounding him promising victory as well as his confidence in a subterfuge in which he would enter the battle incognito while Jehoshaphat would be the only participant decked out in kingly garb, Ahab thought he could deny the outcome God could not have been clearer in defining.  I cannot imagine why Jehoshaphat would be so naive as to make himself the largest target on the battlefield, but God and His plan were not fooled and it was Ahab, despite his machinations to deceive, who fell prey to the plot hatched in God’s court room, meeting his demise just as Micaiah predicted.

So many questions come to mind after reading this chapter, and I would encourage everyone to read it in its entirety for yourself as there are even more details than I have space to elaborate on here.  But the core issue I am going to focus on is the idea that God did not only allow this deception to occur for Ahab, but He was an active participant and initiator of this situation.  Fortunately, when we put this together with the rest of Scripture some very interesting truths emerge quite clearly.  First, to be clear, James 1:12-14 tells us that God does not tempt any of us, but that we are tempted when we are drawn away and enticed by our own desires.  God did not put it in Ahab’s heart to enter this war, Ahab did that to himself.  Secondly, in Romans chapter 1:24-32 we see that if we choose not to glorify God in the way we live our lives, He will give us over to pursue our sinful desires or as Paul describes it, a “reprobate mind”.  And in perhaps even stronger language, Paul writes in 2 Thess. 2:9-12 that God will send a “strong delusion” to those who are insistent on denying the truth and instead take pleasure in living an unrighteous life.  And just to round out this concept, in 2 Timothy 4:3-5 Paul reminds his readers that even within the church that people would have “itching ears” and surround themselves with false teachers, hearing only what they want to hear and as a result will be turned away from God’s truth by “their own desires”.

Ahab chose to believe in the cake, and in point of fact chose to be deceived.  He wanted to believe the lie, and God created the situation in which He both heard the truth of God’s word from the singular voice of Micaiah and the deceptive voice of destruction from the 400 false voices he had surrounded himself with.  His Twitter followers and Facebook friends praised His courageous decisions and inflated his ego all the way to his bloody end.  The frightening truth is that if we are committed to following a lie, God will not only allow us to pursue it, will actually empower our enemy to enhance the deception through the enabling processes we provide ourselves.  It’s a sobering thought, but Ahab was no innocent victim of deception here.  He made the choice to surround himself with false voices to support his sin, he made the choice to imprison Micaiah for daring to tell him the truth, and in the end he got the cake that these ingredients combined to make… A lying cake of his own design.

This cautionary tale that provides such insight into the supernatural realm really makes me reflect on how many cakes I have chased in my life that ended in disappointment, and the reality that I am the architect of my own deception.  The path to avoiding the pitfalls of false cake pursuit lies in knowing and removing the areas that both provide and enable us to deceive ourselves.  It is clearly not God’s will for us to be deceived, but He will absolutely allow us to follow our desires to their ultimate result if we insulate ourselves within the lies we embrace.  It is almost as if God said to Ahab, “Fine.  I sent Elijah and Micaiah and so many others to guide you but you just won’t listen, so let them eat cake.”  The cake is a lie, and one we more often than not tell ourselves, and it is only by giving our life and thoughts daily to Jesus that we find His way, the real truth, and the life He has planned for us.