Remembering Two Worlds: Lifestyles of the Poor and the Infamous and Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10)

Once upon a time, at a video game store far, far away a group of friends were anxiously awaiting the release of a new action RPG that promised to deliver the epic size of Elder Scrolls Oblivion with the gameplay and online multiplayer of World of Warcraft, right on their home consoles.  Excited wasn’t the right word… they were euphoric with the possibilities and eagerly preordered the SPECIAL edition of the game so they could have the full experience.  They lapped up each new screen shot, devoured every leaked detail, and on launch day they happily thrust their fistful of dollars into the game clerk’s hand and took home their new shiny copy of Two Worlds to embark on an epic co-op quest to save the world… or two of them if the title was to be believed.

Now for you young’ns, this was before the days of day one patches and title updates.  The game you bought and took home was exactly what your system would play, and you were at the mercy of the publisher if any bugs or issues existed post-launch.  The reason why that tidbit of information is important is about to be revealed.  We all loaded up our copies and immediately launched into the multiplayer, which was the whole reason we all bought the game.  And all of a sudden Two Worlds happened all over my TV screen.  It was not a good thing.

My generic looking hero had legs that wouldn’t move so I looked like a medieval Gumby just skating across the ground with immovable legs.  Everyone else would disappear and reappear at random.  I skated my way to an area that was covered with red boxes, which seemed like it might be exciting.  But as I tried to interact with the red boxes, I noticed my health bar kept dropping.  Confused, I tried another red box.  None of them would open, and I was nearing death.  At that moment one of my friends yelled over the headset that I was surrounded by monsters.  Not red boxes.  Not red boxes at all.  They were enemies that were killing me but I couldn’t see them because the textures would not load properly, so they appeared as red “place-holder” boxes that concealed their true identities as giant monsters of death.  I was not amused.  After a few hours of trying to love the game, we simply gave up.  Two Worlds never saw the inside of my console again.  I heard that patches were issued many moons later and the game can now be played as it was originally intended,  but I had already moved on.  I can play badly on my own, thank you very much.

It is one thing that be less than successful at playing a game.  I have personally made my opponents gaming experiences more enjoyable through my unintentionally less successful efforts a great many times.  “Making your game experiences better through losing since ’84” is my gaming motto.  At least that’s my earliest gaming memories… it may go back further.  Regardless, I have accepted that despite my best efforts there will be many times that I will fall short, and as a result my character will make the sad face of agony while I watch my opposition dance over my pitiful score.  That doesn’t bother me.

What is significantly less enjoyable is when I am placed into a position of losing and my skill (or lack thereof) is not even a factor.  Instead, the creator of the game either intentionally or unintentionally afflicted me with a losing scenario that makes my already limited chances for victory even less possible.  And while there are many games that lay claim to varying levels of unfairly challenging their players, in my personal experience none affected me as significantly as Two Worlds.  Maybe it was because of the early anticipation that went unrewarded, or perhaps it was influenced by the money I wasted that could have went towards literally anything else that would have been better.  Either way, it still sticks with me to this day, all these years later.

As we continue to move into the New Testament wing of our Survivor’s club, our charter member must surely be considered to be Paul the apostle.  We honestly don’t have to search too hard for the list of Paul’s losses, because he does an excellent job cataloging them for us.  We get a taste of this in 1 Corinthians 4:8-13, where Paul lays out a brief diatribe in what sounds like an episode of “The lifestyles of the poor and infamous: Apostles edition”.

Verse 9 is where Paul really starts to tell it like it is, saying “It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena.”  Wow… tell us what you really think Paul.  In verse 11 Paul gives a very direct description of what this looks like:  hungry, thirsty, dressed in rags, brutally treated, homeless.  And in verse 14 he caps off the thought with the sentiment, “we have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world.”

At one point Paul was in a pretty good spot, at least from the ground floor point of view.  He was an upcoming Pharisee who had carved a niche out for himself as a special prosecutor for blasphemous cases such as these “Christ-followers” that were becoming all the rage.  He was well-educated and had been a student of one of the most prominent leaders of the time, which greatly improved his status. This man, who was in the midst of a rapid ascent into the good graces of the governing council of the Jews through his crusades, had a life-altering intervention with Jesus Himself and this changed the trajectory of his life forever.

As he grew in power and knowledge of the Lord, his worldly status crumbled in a directly proportionate ratio.  From prosecutor to prosecuted, he became a literal fugitive who spent the remainder of his days moving from one location to another to stay one step ahead of those who on multiple occasions swore to take his life.  Hell hath no fury like a group of Pharisees scorned it seems, as they deployed an incredible amount of resources and energy chasing this man who wanted nothing more than to share the love of Jesus with others.    The result?  Well, let’s let Paul give us the tale of the tape in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33:

Multiple stays in prison

Flogged (whipped) five times

Beaten with rods three times

Stoned with rocks once

Shipwrecked three times and an entire 24 hour period adrift in the sea

Gone without food, clothing, shelter, and sleep on countless occasions

And Paul hadn’t even wrapped up his evangelistic career at the point of that writing, so doubtless the list continued to grow up until his graduation from this life.  Doing the right thing and ending up on the short end of the stick is one of the most frustrating feelings I have experienced.  You spend years as a child having the thought reinforced that making the right decision pays off, and yet here we are in the middle of an epicly long list of losing on the resume of the world greatest evangelist.
One would think this would be enough.  A simple lesson in how we sow in sadness and reap in joy.  It all gets better for Paul, right?  But this is precisely where things get sticky… or more appropriately “thorny”.  We are not through with Paul’s indignities yet… not by a long shot.  In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 we get one of the most intimate glimpses into the Apostle Paul’s life yet.  In the context of the chapter, Paul has been relating to his audience about some amazing revelations from God that have occurred.  And right in the middle of this celebration of the Lord’s gifts we have Paul confess a challenge he was “given”.  And he does not mince words… to keep him from becoming proud in what he has experienced, he was given a thorn in the flesh, which he describes as a messenger of Satan to buffet him.  Let’s slow down for a second and unpack what has happened before we go into Paul’s response.

Much has been written and spoken about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but we will not engage in conjecture here on what it was.  Truly, the beauty of this remaining vague is that it insures that we can all imagine that Paul was afflicted with a similar challenge to what we personally endure ourselves.  The Greek word for thorn that is used here (skolops) is not used anywhere else in the Bible, and its definition is fairly accurately rendered as something with a painful point.  Additionally, when he uses the word flesh (sarki) he is speaking of a real, actual physical affliction.  The most enlightening area of the text for me is in the understanding that Paul is referring to an actual physical issue that is satanic in its essence but divine in its permission.  It was GIVEN to Paul purely for the purpose of keeping him fully reliant on the Lord and His grace to make it through each day.  Paul asked his Creator three times to let this cup pass from him, but God wasn’t budging.  The same Lord who personally turned Jacob’s hip in a wrestling match causing a permanent limp so he could finally walk in faith is now the same One who was allowing Paul to endure this unnamed affliction in addition to the incredible challenges he had already overcome.  It seems God has a special way of dealing with His strong-willed followers, but once again it serves a purpose.

My list of losing in life pales in comparison to all Paul endured.  But I believe we can all relate to the pain of fighting through so much adversity only to have one critical prayer for deliverance receive a “declined invitation” response.  After all the ways the Lord has shown His power and answered prayers in your life and the lives of those around you, to have such a painful and constantly present reminder of what He hasn’t answered is difficult to understand.   And the knowledge the He is not only aware of this, but intentionally allowing it is even harder to accept.

But Paul doesn’t leave us hanging.  He closes the loop with not only accepting that the answer to His prayer is, “No”, but records the Lord’s reason why.  And as we have observed with Job previously, we don’t often get to hear the reason why something happens so this is pretty big.  The answer is God’s grace is sufficient, but the reason why is because God’s strength is demonstrated through our weakness.  See, Paul the human being did not endure all of those trials we listed earlier.  He couldn’t have.  He should have been dead many times over.  It was the Lord and His grace that protected Paul even as he suffered, because these trials were the demonstration of God’s power in his life.

I don’t identify with famous celebrities who have endless sums of money and the world at their feet.  It simply doesn’t connect with me.  But when a fellow “loser” tells me how they are fighting their flesh daily and building a stronger relationship with God through their adversity, I can relate and I leave that experience inspired and re-energized.  It is their weakness that shows how strong God is in their life.  And in verse 10 Paul finishes the thought by saying he takes pleasure in both his life challenges and his daily thorn because it is THROUGH these that he is able to show God’s strength to others.  An apostle who traveled in a golden chariot, ensconced in velvet robes and being fed grapes as he reclined would have never accomplished what the beaten, damaged, and wounded Paul was able to achieve.

It is right to pray to God for deliverance, but when the answer is “no” we must not become bitter.  That thorn you hate so much might be attached to the life-bearing stem on the rose of your ministry.  Jesus accomplished His greatest and most critical mission not when He was at His best marching in a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem amid praise and adulation, but when he had been carelessly hammered to a pair of boards and hung naked and bleeding for others to mock and insult.  Paul was at his most lethal position to the gates of hell when he was at his lowest points.  And you are also the most dangerous when the losses begin to overwhelm the scoreboard.  Because that is when God, and only God, can step in and use this to serve His higher purpose.  Don’t bitterly endure your weakness… embrace it and allow God to use it.  Your ability to minister for God is often found at the point of what you believe is your greatest setback.

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Has-Been Heroes: Waiting on Lazarus (John 11)

If you were fortunate enough to pick up a Nintendo Switch then you are probably hankering for some new software to supplement your Legend of Zelda diet, and the next title in the pipeline is a little rogue-like adventure called “Has-Been Heroes”.  This highly tactical, procedurally generated experience insures that no two play-throughs will be alike as it openly embraces the concept of perma-death.  Once your character has fallen in battle, they are gone. No respawn, no continue screen, just a sudden, jarring, and final ending to all of your time and investment into a character who has graduated to another plane of existence.

 

To be blunt, cheating death is one of the primary escapist fantasies in gaming.  The ability to resurrect on cue enables us to explore environments boldly, utilize trial and error to problem solve, and even find our most recent failures humorous and share-worthy on social media.  Removing this fail-safe certainly ups the ante and ratchets up the tension for the player and makes every step as well as each mis-step as costly as they are in the real world.

 

I don’t want to rehash previous ground with reflections on permadeath (this can be found in a previous blog entry), but if one is going to embark on a series of thoughts about the concept of losing, it only makes sense to take on the one form of losing that we are all guaranteed to deal with.  Throughout our lives we are surrounded by it, we endure the pain of it as it takes our loved ones, and one day we will eventually succumb to it ourselves.  Death has an almost flawless record of victory, and losing to this enemy was assured the day we took our first breath.  The pain it delivers is real, and throughout the Bible this is handled seriously and with respect.  We will approach this the same way here as we consider the case of Lazarus, the man who Jesus raised from the dead.

 

This is not Christ’s first resurrection miracle, but it is distinguished by the length of time between the death of Lazarus and his re-animation.  In John 11 we start with Lazarus alive but fading as his sisters send an urgent message to Jesus to come quickly.  Verse 6 records His difficult to understand response, “when He heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where He was two more days.”  Hmmm.  What an odd decision.  When Christ was asked by a centurion to heal his servant, His response was to head there immediately.  When He was asked to heal Jairus’s daughter He also began to move that direction with haste.  But here lies His friend, a man referred to by his sisters as the “one that you love”, and Jesus hangs out for two more days.

 

Have you ever felt like God was just chilling out when you were at your breaking point?  Have you been in a state of unmitigated crisis and it seems like the answer is in no hurry to get to you in spite of your urgency?  By the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days.  He has clearly  demonstrated previously that he can do long-distance healing, but in this case He simply chose not to.  There is about to be a lot of heartbreak here, and John is going to record all of it in unflinching detail.  Let’s dive in…

 

We get our first insight into what Christ was thinking in verse 4, when His original response to the news of the illness is that “this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God and that His Son would be glorified through it”.  There is a higher order here than what anyone else in the scene is considering, and while the suffering could be ended quite easily by the hands that have healed countless others, this pain had a purpose.  There was also a purpose to what seemed to be meaningless waiting.  Our clue is in verse 8, when the disciples respond unfavorably to the plan to go to Lazarus.  When Jesus rolls out his itinerary their immediate feedback is that this is the place where the people just tried to stone Jesus to death.  Indeed, if you flip back just a few verses to John 10:31 you see why the disciples had cause to be concerned.  Because, you know…. the afore-mentioned stoning to death.  They felt a certain kind of way about that.

 

Waiting on God has many purposes, and none of them are particularly enjoyable.  But in this circumstance, it was exceptionally necessary even though it seemed callous and uncaring at the time for Christ to choose not to immediately run to his friend’s aid.  This action, the raising of Lazarus, is the official starting point of Christs’s ascent to Calvary.  This was the point of no return.  Once He completed this step every wheel starts to spin with added purpose.  In John 11:45 the governing council begin their plans to frame and murder Jesus in direct response to the resurrection of Lazarus.  Chapter 12 marks the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and His final days on earth.  Everything picks up speed once this seemingly innocuous action of raising Lazarus occurs.  So the answer to the question, “Why did He wait until it was too late?” Is more clearly understood in the context of the eternal significance of the chain reaction that occurs.  Lazarus had to die, Mary and Martha had to cry, and Jesus had to bide His time because there was more going on here than anyone was aware of at the time.

 

So now that we have the context, let’s return to the city of Bethany as we find Jesus arriving and Martha choosing to go out and meet Him on the way.  And as always, Martha gets straight to the point greeting Him with, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I think we have all had a similar thought in regards to God’s hands on a situation of ours.  I can feel her pain as she tries to balance reverence to the Messiah with the bitter emotion of knowing He could have so easily prevented her pain and loss, and for reasons completely invisible to her He simply didn’t show up.  He wasn’t there for the healing, He didn’t come to the funeral… He didn’t even show up for the burial ceremony.  Have you been there?  Ever had this internal dialogue?

Surely He will fix this, He’s never let me down.  I just need to have faith.

 

Well, it’s a little late, but God’s still in control.  This is just a little test.  He will show up.

 

Hmmmm…. really felt He would have handled this by now.  I know I prayed about this… maybe I have some sin I need to deal with.  That’s got to be it.  Then He will fix everything.

 

Hello?  Is this on?  We are well past the point of making a dramatic entrance now.  I’m claiming promises and quoting Scripture…. can you still hear me?

To her credit, Martha balances her pointed statement of blame with a follow-up indication of a still flickering flame of faith.  In verse 22 she finds the courage to say “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God He will give to you”.  And with that tender step onto holy ground, the miracle begins to take shape.  Time to get a little closer.  Christ, having been greeted by Mary with the identical passive-aggressive statement that He could have prevented this, has a remarkably human response to the setting around Him.

 

He is not confidently striding towards the tomb without showing feelings or compassion like a T-1000 robot, even though He knows exactly what He is going to do when He gets there.  He doesn’t say,”Stop your crying, I will fix it”.    He listens, and in verse 33 we see that He is troubled and groans in His Spirit after He saw the pain that Mary and the others were in.  And when they wept… He wept too.  Verse 35 is the shortest but yet one of the most critical verses in the entire Bible as it simply records, “Jesus wept”.

 

I cannot overstate the importance of that simple sentence.  God’s response to their pain was to FEEL it with them.  This is not the action of an uncaring deity living somewhere over the rainbow.  His heart broke and tears rolled down His cheeks as He fully experienced the wave of emotion that accompanies the passing of a loved one.  He deliberately chose not to cheat death, at least not yet anyway.

 

In the comics or movies when a superhero can fly anywhere they want but instead choose to walk and ride in cars, the reason is because heroes want to travel WITH others who do not share their powers.  This keeps them grounded, approachable… human.  Christ, the ultimate immortal superhero, could have floated on clouds but chose against that so He could experience the act of losing with us.  And while a miracle is about to occur that launches Christ towards His own date with death, the most remarkable thing that occurs on this day isn’t when God flexes his muscles and dusts death of His shoulder… it’s when He shows us that the experience of death and loss affects Him just as deeply as it impacts us.

 

Are you ready for a resurrection? Because the story doesn’t end there.  In a foreshadowing of things to come, the stone is rolled away and the man who was irrevocably dead emerges from the tomb alive and well.  And similarly, our losses in life are oftentimes the means in which God will use His resurrection power to bring them back to life at the proper time.  All who have chosen to put their faith in Him will experience this miracle.  Our belief in our personal resurrection hinges on the proof that Christ can raise the dead.  And through this example as well as His personal resurrection from death we have the confidence that He can and will do the same for us and each of our saved loved ones when the time is right.

 

Our faith, even when applied to a losing scenario, is the ignition point for resurrection to occur.  He is moved by our pain, but His power responds to our belief in Him.  Those who have placed their lives in His hands and have been wrenched from our arms in this life have been laid to rest with this eternal flame already lit to claim their resurrection.  As we close this thought, I want to leave you with a scripture that can sometime be poorly understood.  Psalm 116:15 records the statement, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”.  That can be easily misunderstood when taken out of context.  The Hebrew word here is what is used when describing incredibly valuable, rare, and expensive jewels or stones.  The implication here is that our death is an exceptionally rare and costly moment for Him, one that he values and fully understands in terms of cost.  He does not take our passing lightly.  But His free gift of resurrection is a PROMISE that supersedes this loss, even though death is implied for a resurrection to occur.

 

When it comes to losing, death is most likely the most painful loss to absorb because of the sense of finality.  But He holds the keys to this adversaries’ lair and resurrection is guaranteed for all who placed their trust in Him.  He understands, He feels your pain, and He mourns the loss with you… and He will fulfill His promise of eternal life for all who choose to believe.

 

Losing to death may be fatal but it is not FINAL.  The pain it causes is real but not PERMANENT.  Through His resurrection of Lazarus as well as His personal resurrection shortly thereafter, Christ demonstrated how he views death.  It is an exceptionally painful experience that impacts all who are near it,  and even He was not immune to its effects.  But even this pain serves a purpose as Lazarus and Jesus both had to die to be resurrected, one to serve as a catalyst for the cross and the other to serve as the sacrificial solution. It is right to mourn those we lose, but just as critical that each death serves the purpose of leading others to the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection power.

 

Fool Me Once, Shame on You… Fool Me Twice? Kingdom Hearts 3 and Wrestling With Reconciliation (Hosea 1-3)

I’ve really tried to move on.  Trust me, I have.  I’ve had it with the sleepless nights, the churning pit in the bottom of my stomach, the uneasy glances… I really just want to put the past behind me and make this relationship work.  But I can’t.  No matter how hard I try, I just can’t accept what they have done to me. I accepted their first misstep gracefully, knowing they meant well.  The second time hurt a little more.  Now, it’s reached the point where we can’t even look at each other because I am certain they are inflicting this pain intentionally.  Of course, I’m talking about Square Enix and their continual flaunting of Kingdom Hearts 3 in my face.

I accepted that they wanted to make their little bizarre card game style spinoffs on handheld platforms, and even when they made the frustrating choice to support a dying device like the PSP I chose to understand and show grace because I’ve made some poor decisions with the best of intentions too.  But to continue to apply resources that could be giving us Kingdom Hearts 3 to instead re-releasing the original games for the THIRD time now is just too much to take.  Now they are just rubbing it in.

Obviously, the tone of this is meant to be facetious, but there is a serious challenge I would like to explore that deals with these very same and very real emotions.  Let’s start with forgiveness.  I will confess to a large amount of angst over this wonderful word throughout my life.  At various times I have struggled with forgiving others, forgiving myself, or accepting forgiveness from the Lord.  On truly special days I use a buy two get one free coupon and struggle with all three simultaneously.  In our modern society we espouse phrases such as “forgive and forget”, and many of us are aware of the guidance from Christ to forgive seventy times seven when someone commits an offense against us.  But the concept we are about to dive into carves even deeper into our heart than the simple act of giving grace to someone who has wronged us.  As Hosea is going to show us, forgiveness is merely the welcome mat in the doorway of reconciliation.

Marriage is one of the most sacred institutions the Father has given us.  Intended to be a decision to align your life with another in the pursuit of God for the remainder of your time here on earth, it is fair to say that few choices we make in life will be as impactful as our selection of a mate.  Many of us take years to reach a point of decision, others act impetuously… but I can’t imagine too many of us were assigned our life partner in the manner that Hosea received his.

Hosea was a prophet of God during one of the worst periods in history to hold such a job title.  Surrounded by idolatry and paganism within the very nation the Lord had established as His own, Hosea had a day job that meant he would endure a great amount of hostility on a daily basis.  You would think it would be fair that he could at least have the benefit of a loving and supportive spouse who shared his mission and his outreach to the doomed congregation he was burdened with reaching, but his story is about to diverge greatly from that thought.  Hosea’s life was about to become a living allegory of the relationship between God and the people of Israel.  Fair warning… we are exiting out of your “Andy Griffith Show” family setting and into something a bit more “Pretty Woman”…

The chapter starts off with a bang as Hosea is given a command from the Lord to take a wife.  So far, so good… this may have even seemed like good news for the lonely prophet until the bombshell drops. In this critical and beautiful decision for this man of God to choose his soul mate he is given only one requirement… she must be a prostitute.  Bam.  Put down the bridal magazines and stop agonizing over flower arrangements… your bride will be a woman who literally makes her living in the debauchery you have spent your life preaching against.  I can only imagine what Hosea must have felt as his life was about to become performance art, and his very special act of matrimony to become a canvas on which the Lord would tell His story.

After the initial shock of this command settled in, I can see Hosea finding a way to rationalize this and work his way through acceptance.  While Scripture simply records his act of obedience and his selection of Gomer as his blushing new bride, as a fellow flesh-and-blood man I can imagine that he swallowed his desires for a pure and chaste woman dressed all in white, broke the news to his parents in what had to be a three tissue box minimum family meeting for momma,  and decided to make the best of this arrangement.  And after three children it would seem that this unconventional start would have a happy ending after all.  Until she left him.

We don’t receive any context on why, we simply pick her story back up in chapter 3 where we find her even worse for wear.  In order to regain her as his wife Hosea has to PURCHASE her, meaning she had found her way from his loving arms into a life of both infidelity and slavery.  This is indicated both by the statement of adultery in verse one as well as the purchase price in verse 2, which was the rate for a slave.  Hosea’s wife, a woman he chose to love in spite of her sordid past, left him and he still went and found her and reconciled with her.  I’m going to let you process that and then we will begin to unpack it.

Are you ready for a deep dive into the incredible grace shown by Hosea as he moves past forgiveness and into the sacred ground of reconciliation?  It seemed like everyone in this experience was gripped by loss… Hosea lost his wife, their children lost their mother, Gomer lost her freedom, and all of them together lost innocence that could never be replaced.  But in spite of all of this losing, Hosea sees the reflection of both himself as well as the nation of Israel in Gomer’s self-destructive behavior.  I see myself too… every time I have chosen to run from the God who wants to restore fellowship with me, each time I am offered a chance for reconciliation but spurn it because I am still angry or upset, or in all of my selfish choices that damaged countless others as I pursued earthly lusts.

I wish I could relate to Hosea here…. but in my life I have been Gomer and it has been the promiscuous and reconciling love of Christ that has pursued me, not the other way around.  My choices that resulted in so much damage and loss has not dampened His love for this prodigal son, and I am so endlessly thankful that He not only forgives me, but has chosen to reconcile with me and restore me as His son.  And if you can relate to that feeling, then welcome to the survivor’s club because He searched for you amongst the castaways and reconciled with you too.

But if this was a tale about how blessed Gomer was to have a husband like Hosea, we would only have half of a story.  Christ has committed to each and every one of us the “ministry of reconciliation”.  We must pay this forward, both in our own lives as well as to seek and save our fellow Gomers in this world.  Hosea CHOSE to lose here… he forfeited his chance to woo and win a woman who shared his piety, and then punted on the chance to divorce her by purchasing her and restoring her to full standing as his wife.  There is a deep allegory here in regards to our relationship with Christ, but for Hosea this was his real life and his one and only wife.

Our losses can oftentimes be our chance to show the reconciling love of Christ the same way He demonstrated it for us.  It is through offering this gift, not only of forgiveness but of a genuine reconciliation that eliminates the misdeeds and foregoes justice in favor of grace.  By giving this freely as Hosea did, we move not only ourselves but also the one who offended us out of the Loser’s circle.  I don’t know how the love story of Hosea and Gomer ended, but despite its messy start and horrendous middle I believe the Lord allowed this relationship to continue to demonstrate His relationship with us.

He chose us, and despite our failings he purchased us while we were slaves to sin.  He reconciled our past and gifted us a future by removing our sins as far as the east is from the west.  Not because we deserve it, but because His love for us extended past our failings.  And like the servant in Christ’s parable about the man who was forgiven a great debt and then had the opportunity to forgive a much smaller one, we have opportunities each day to offer reconciliation  to those who have hurt us, those who have wronged us, and those who have betrayed us.  It is not weakness to choose reconciliation… it is a refusal to allow those losses to remain in your account.

I have been Gomer more than I want to admit, but I have opportunities now to be the Hosea to those who cross my path.   Do you have someone to reconcile with?  Show them the grace we have all freely received.  Sometimes losing grants us the opportunity to show the mercy of God to others who don’t deserve it.  God has gifted us the ministry of reconciliation… but oftentimes the reconciliation of God to one of His lost children does not occur until there has been the reconciliation of one human soul to another.

I accept that Square Enix will continue to slowly release beautiful screen shots of Kingdom Hearts 3 that taunt me with the knowledge of what could be while continuing to give me everything I didn’t ask for.  I have faith that one day, maybe this year, maybe next, they will make good on their promises from so many years ago. But until they do, I will show grace to their dalliances in undesired behavior and keep our relationship intact.  I know what they are capable of, and one day my patience and long-suffering will be rewarded.  Life is too short to hold onto pain, and it is through making the decision to reconcile even when I’ve been hurt that I am closest to following in the footsteps of my Master.

The Extraordinary Case of the Disappearing Save Point: The Fight to Stay When it is Easier to Go (Nehemiah 1-13)

One of the wonderful things about video games is they can transport you to an entirely new world full of new possibilities and provide you with the tools to create your own story.  One of the not so wonderful things about video games is that they can accidentally erase all of your hard work with one wonky server issue. If you have been playing games long enough, then eventually you have run into this issue in some form.  Maybe it was corrupted data on a memory card or a save file that erased your progress.  Perhaps it was a damaged partition on a hard drive, or in the case we are dealing with today a random server wipe can take all of your enjoyment and investment and replace it with anger and frustration in an instant.

When this gaming disaster strikes, a difficult decision lies in your hands.  Do you choose to rebuild, going back and re-doing all the things that you so carefully completed the first time around?  Or do you give up, trade your game in or banish it to your bookshelf, and angrily unleash your venom in the gaming forum of your choice?  It is a tough call… on one hand you run the risk of the exact same scenario repeating again at some point down the line.  On the other hand, with all that you have already invested it seems like a rash decision to walk away from something you were previously enjoying just because a technical issue has set you back.  Decisions, decisons…
The concept of rebuilding stands on the foundation of experiencing a substantial loss that necessitates a do-over.  Losing is step one of the process.  Personally, I find this process frustrating as it feels inefficient, reflects poor time management, and seems like a waste of resources.  What is the point of rebuilding something that already existed?  Couldn’t it have simply been protected or preserved so the loss would not occur?  Losing is painful enough to endure… it almost seems insulting to have to pick up the pieces of the board game after they were just callously knocked of the table by the classroom bully.  Yet we find this theme peppered throughout Scripture as God’s people frequently found themselves in the rebuilding process, sometimes through their own fault but often times because of events that occurred beyond their control or even before their birth.  Such is the scene we find in one of the most epic reclamation projects found in the Bible… the rekindling  of the heartbeat of Israel under the leadership of Nehemiah.

To do justice to the level of rebuilding that is about to occur we need to fill in the backdrop of the scene.  Many years prior the nation of Israel was overthrown and enslaved by the neighboring Assyrians and Babylonians and the incredible cities that had been built by David and Solomon had been ransacked and burned to the ground.  Jerusalem, the capital, was left in shambles with the walls torn down and everything of value looted.  This is a truly post-apocalyptic setting with only small groups of survivors left to survive in the shell of this once proud city of global importance.  Enter Nehemiah stage right…

Nehemiah was not a descendant  of the royal family, nor was he an obvious choice for leadership when we find him.  He was simply the cupbearer to the king, a position that placed him in proximity to power but reminded him daily of his status as a descendant of a subjugated nation.  Nehemiah receives an unfavorable report on the condition of his countrymen as well as of the city of Jerusalem and immediately goes to battle as a man of God should do… on his knees in prayer.  Unbeknownst to Nehemiah, he just entered phase one of the Jerusalem rebuilding project.

His position may not have seemed to lend itself to a position on the nation building committee, but Nehemiah refused to disqualify himself from the burden he was carrying.  When the king asked him what was on his mind, Nehemiah pulled no punches as he explained the dire situation in his home country and his desire to be part of the solution.  Mind you, Nehemiah had no resources or credentials to support his desire to rebuild.  As a matter of fact, his mere request could have been considered treasonous.  But this was an appointment that was anointed by the Lord and an answer to Nehemiah’s fervent prayer, and the king responded with a level of support that is hard to imagine.

Everything Nehemiah requested was granted… a leave of absence from work, letters of authorization, supplies from the federal reserve, and even a detachment of soldiers to protect him.  Looks like another happy ending is in order… cue the 90’s sitcom ending theme song and group high five frozen in the air.  Unfortunately, Nehemiah chapter two ends with some ominous foreshadowing of the adversaries who lie ahead.

No rebuilding project worth doing will exist without the resurgence of opposition that was willing to lie dormant as long as the renovations were a pipe dream.  As soon as you are ready to put the hand to the plow, you will find adversaries who you didn’t even know existed, and often times appear to have no valid reason to oppose you.  Such is the case here, as three men stand up to mock Nehemiah’s efforts, falsely accuse him of improper motives, and all along the way will do everything in their power to distract him from flying a mission accomplished banner.  Have you ever set your mind to doing the right thing only to have enemies appear out of the woodwork just to make things difficult?  Take the advice of Nehemiah, a man who has been there.  Just start building and stay focused on the Lord.

Throughout the project Nehemiah endured setbacks, assassination attempts, threats and intimidation, but it was all for a purpose just like the rebuilding of the walls and the city itself was.  So now to return to our original questions… why does God allow us to lose things to simply rebuild them?  And through these chapters we find the answers.  It is through the act of rebuilding that the people were brought together both in heart as well as in body.  It was this process that brought them  back into obedience to the Lord and initiated a rebirth of their commitment to His ways.  It unified them and purified them.  It made them a FAMILY, fully embracing their relationships with each other and with the Lord.  And all that they once took for granted was now appreciated in a whole new light, as they all got to participate in the process.

In our gaming predicament, the easy choice is to cut bait and run.  But doing so would mean that you never achieve the satisfaction of seeing the fruit of your labors and the sense of completion shared with all those who have fought the good fight alongside you.  The choose to reload and rebuild is never the comfortable one, but it is often the one that provides the most rewarding result.

Whatever has been torn down in your life, whether it is from the enemy such as the walls of Jerusalem, through events outside of your control like a server error, or perhaps it is a mistake of your own doing like overwriting the wrong save… regardless of how it happened there is a rebuilding solution.  It will be arduous work, and it may feel like you are treading old ground when you could be blazing a new path.  But the rebuilding process itself is a destination, not merely a journey.  It is when we endure and perservere through these setbacks that we prove the level of our commitment and set ourselves up for the richest rewards.  Don’t give up in the middle of your rebuild… you are already closer than you think to the other side.