E3 2017 Wrap-Up: Will Good Things Come to Those Who Wait (Until 2018)? (Psalm 13, Psalm 37)

Another E3 has wrapped and here we are at the end of an eventful week trying to digest what we have seen and heard and decide if all of our hopes and dreams have been answered with what we were shown.  There is a sad sense of melancholy at these events as they wind down and publishers being tearing down their elaborately built displays and the host site removes the larger-than-life banners and decorations that allowed gamers from around the world to become fully ensconced in their hobby for a few glorious days.  And as the lights dim and the music ends the expo space slowly disintegrates from a gaming mecca to a sparse and empty room, waiting for the next party to start.  Maybe a pharmaceutical company convention will take over, or perhaps the building will be rented to a traveling exhibit of some sorts… one way or another E3 is over and the attendees have nothing to show for it but their well-traveled swag bag full of goodies, a cell phone full of selfies with video game makers and the sights and sounds of E3 continuing to play on in their minds on the flight home as they unpack what was learned.

For me there seemed to be a recurring theme with this year’s announcements and if you are willing to play along I would love to share my feelings with you.  Let;s ee if you can pickup the same vibe I got… Bioware revealed an amazing gameplay video for their upcoming “Destiny-esque” title Anthem, which should be out Fall 2018.  Spider-Man 4 delivered on everything we collectively hoped would happen when a franchise like Spider-man meets an acclaimed developer like Insomniac… and we will all get our hands on it in 2018.  Nintendo finally answered the requests of gamers worldwide by confirming the development of a new Metroid Prime… coming sometime in 2018 or later.  Looking forward to a true Pokemon RPG for your Switch?  Ask us for more details in 2018.  Maybe you drooled over the idea of the Shadow of Colossus remake from Sony… hope you are looking forward to 2018.  God of War, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy VII remake, the next Halo… all for your gaming delight sometime in the nebulous future of 2018 or later.  Catching a common theme?  (Hint: 2018).

Yes, we certainly received some good news about already known or leaked titles for 2017, and I don’t want to pretend that we didn’t.   We have a confirmed date on the XB1 X release and it is a pleasant surprise that Mario Odyssey will leap onto our Switch consoles this October.  Assassin’s Creed finally confirmed the worst kept secret in gaming and Nintendo debuted the Mario/Rabbids crossover we never knew we needed.  But with the sheer volume of highly anticipated games and major reveals that won’t be ready until the next calendar year or beyond it is understandable to walk away from this year’s E3 with a sense of mild disappointment as the message seemed to be “The Future is (nearly) Here!”  Many of these games will probably be back at next year’s E3 to tantalize us once again, and we will flip over the hourglass and start the waiting game once again.

As a Christian it can be incredibly frustrating to read amazing promises in the Bible, pronounce them boldly to world around me, and then watch as my problems don’t seem to change.  Many times I have claimed a promise as mine only to pray the exact same prayer the next day, the following night, and the following year as the answers to my prayers seem to have a release date around the same time that Half-Life 3 will finally be unveiled.  I don’t know if you have had similar experiences, but the time between the promise and the answer can be interminable difficult when the problem is much more serious and the issue much more pressing than the release date of a video game.  And as we will find in Scripture, our collective problem is quite common and there is some advice for us that can make the waiting a little more palatable.

King David is famous for many things, but among his many accomplishments was a truly epic collection of songs that he wrote across the many periods of his life.  From a shepherd boy to an unlikely hero, from a vagabond fugitive to the king, he lived an incredibly colorful life and fortunately for us documented it all in the form of song.  In Psalm 13 verses 1-4 we find an especially painful and pointed song that could have been ripped out of anyone’s heart:

“How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?  How long will my enemy be exalted over me?  Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;  Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest my enemy say,“I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.  

And that is just one example of the bitterness of soul that David endured as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death many times throughout his life.  A full perusal of the Psalms will find that this man with a heart after God routinely reached out in anguish as he feared that his prayers were not being heard and that the Lord did not see him or his struggles.  And compared to our daily problems, his loomed pretty large as he LITERALLY faced life or death struggles on numerous occasions.  And yet through all of this we see a beautiful sentiment reflect in the final two verses of his desperate prayer:

“But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.”

David wears the mantle of the man after God’s own heart because of statements like this.  Whether he was hiding in a cave for his life or running from his murderous son, David knew that his only hope in every situation was to turn to God.  This was not a guarantee of immediate results, but while we may prefer the quick fix in life so our pain will subside the Lord sees the entire situation from start to finish and has a plan not for our immediate comfort, but for the salvation of all who are involved.  The Lord could have given David victory over Saul quickly, but this would have resulted in a more fractured Israel than the one David eventually inherited after the entire nation finally saw the Saul/David conflict for what it was.

It is hard to wait when we only see the obstacles and the pressing issues of our lives from our vantage point.  Much like a driver stuck in traffic who makes the rash decision to take an alternate route rather than wait out the traffic, many times we confuse movement with progress.  Certainly there are times that going the long way around may result in a slightly earlier arrival time, but if the driver had the benefit of someone above the situation, perhaps in a helicopter, they could let him know that the issue causing the clogging up of traffic is resolved in a quarter of a mile, and his patience will be rewarded shortly if he simply holds his course.  Many times I have taken the detour (both in vehicles and in life) and found that they have only complicated my dilemma.  Because of my limited perspective, what appears to be a lack of forward movement can be misinterpreted as my prayers being unheard or ignored.  But as we learned in Daniel 10, Daniel’s prayer was heard by God the moment he uttered it but the response was delayed by a spiritual adversary for three full weeks.  There are many reasons why the answer to prayer can tarry, but none of them are because God hasn’t heard us or is unconcerned with our problems.

Maybe your problems won’t be resolved fully in 2017.  Your answers for what troubles you may be further in the future than you would prefer.  I struggle with this daily and when I reach the same place that David did I find solace in realizing he endured the same struggles and still found a place of peace in his storm.  I don’t have an evil king bent on murdering me or a son chasing me with murderous intent the way David did either.  My problems are a little more mundane.  But they still seem huge to me, and yours are just as important to God even if the fate of a nation is not on the line.  But like David, we can rejoice because the Lord has still shown us mercy that we truly do not deserve and given us the gift of salvation that we could not attain any other way.  Our biggest and most important life struggles are already resolved in those phrases.  And as we realize that He has never left us or forsaken us at any point and has actually ordered our steps just so we could receive His gift of salvation, that should encourage us that He does not view our salvation as a one-and-done process.  He continues to remain invested into our problems and our lives, and even if the eventual answer is further ahead than the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 it is still assured to be right on time.  Just ask David, who in Psalm 37 put the matter to rest once and for all:

”  Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.  He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday.  Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth.”

It may seem like a long way off, but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy 2018.  And until then… I will be waiting on the Lord because He hasn’t let me down yet.

Star Wars Battlefront II: A Letter From The Empire and Hearing From the Other Side (Daniel 1-4)

Star Wars Battlefront 2 looks to be the title we all really wanted the first Battlefront to be… in addition to its expanded multiplayer we are finally getting an honest to goodness campaign mode, and it’s not just some lackluster play through the multiplayer maps but an actual fully realized story.  What excites me about this is that the other side of the story will be told… the story of the Empire troops who stood on the planet Endor and watched the Death Star along with all of their friends, comrades, and possibly family explode in the sky at the end of Return of the Jedi.  For them this was not a happy culmination of many years of battle erupting in a lively dance-off with the local Ewoks.  This was a stunning, unthinkable defeat that left them marooned on an even more hostile planet with no idea what to do next.  It will be a fascinating story to experience and present a point of view too rarely explored in almost all forms of media… the “bad guy’s perspective”.

The most compelling villains to watch, read about, or play against are the ones who truly believe they are the hero of their own story.  They don’t do things simply because they are evil or wrong.  They exhibit a rationale that makes sense from their side of the equation and when their story is written correctly they take the necessary actions to fulfill what they perceive as their destiny.  Their downfall is that they are typically on the wrong side of history and as a result we only hear the story from the side of the winning team, typically because the villains tend to meet their final end in a blaze of glory that limits their biographical options down the road.  As a matter of fact, many times the hero they are facing is just as morally compromised as the villain is, but our hero simply makes the right choices when it matters the most as the antagonist falls victim to their own machinations and selfish ambitions.

Maybe we see so few of these stories because it’s easier to root for the hero when his adversary is a moustache-twirling psychopath bent on killing innocent people while our hero is virtuous, kind, and helps the elderly across the street while assisting them with their taxes.  A villain who is more complex and walks the same path as our hero but does so on the other side of the street complicates things quite a bit.  But what if we could get into the mind of the bad guy and actually see the events play out from their perspective?  What would we find there and how would we use this to see everything from a much broader perspective?  What if, like in Battlefront, these enemies had simply enlisted in the military, believed the propaganda they were taught, and obediently fought for their current government against a group of rebels until their chain of command exploded in the sky above them?

The Bible, like most of our historical documents, was written by the victors and the survivors.  It is a collection of history, letters, songs and wisdom from people who were inspired by God throughout time to record the events of their day or the experiences of their lives.  As a result, we find the story of David and Goliath but it is only told from David’s point of view.  We learn about the fall of Jerusalem, but it is from the eyes and mouths of the newly incarcerated Jews and not their captors.  It is not often we get the viewpoint of the opposing side in the conflicts recorded in the Bible, so when we do it is important that we stop and pay attention because a special message is about to be shared.

In the first four chapters of the book of Daniel two figures loom large… the young and ultra-heroic Daniel and the conqueror of Jerusalem and king of the Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar.  Spell check, have fun with that one.  Babylon was truly one of the first “evil world empires”.  Before that there were great civilizations and powerful kings, but Babylon was on an entirely different level.  They were a conquering force that had never tasted defeat in their conquests, and their society was much more sophisticated than previous world powers.  Rather than simply destroying those they conquered, they took the best and the brightest from them and integrated them into the tapestry of Babylonian culture so they could continue to grow into the greatest empire on earth.  This is how Daniel and his friends end up in the courts of the king, and from the word go King Nebuchadnezzar exudes a level of brazenness and pride that threatens to completely undermine his vast accomplishments as the leader of the world.

To be honest, the first three chapters show Nebuchadnezzar to be a raging psychopath of a tyrant who is simply impossible to understand or relate to.  He brings evil moustache twirling to a whole new level as he does typical villain things such as threaten to kill all his advisors because they lacked the capability of knowing what he had dreamt of that night or when he builds a gigantic golden statue of himself and demands everyone to worship it or be burnt alive.  Pretty horrible super-villain stuff, right?  And you would be correct in saying that at this point, Nebuchadnezzar is just another stereotypical evil bad guy who is out of control and needs someone like Moses to come in and take him down a notch.  But that isn’t quite what happens…

In Daniel chapter four the authorship of the en tire book switches… to the perspective of King Nebuchadnezzar himself.  And we are about to finally get an auto-biographical look at the man behind the monster.  And the interesting thing about this is that what is found in the first three verses doesn’t sound like something a depraved king would write, but rather sound like something we would find in one of David’s Psalms as he praises the one true God and extols His kingdom.  Wait, WHAT?  How did we go from “burn them alive” to this?  Fortunately, the full scene will be laid bare before us, and once again is starts with a dream.  This time Nebuchadnezzar actually remembers the dream, but his advisors are still unable to interpret it. The king summons Daniel (side note: why didn’t he just call him first, since this is his specialty?) and the Lord reveals the meaning of the this new dream as well.  The prognosis is not positive.

The king’s dream is about him, as the Lord uses the figure of a giant tree being cut down to symbolize the fall from grace that was about to occur for Nebuchadnezzar.  And as he finishes telling the king what the dream meant, Daniel finishes with a plea for the king to change his ways and walk away from his sinful life so that this would not happen to him.  For an entire year after the dream the king continued to build his empire, expanding his influence and gaining riches and power.  But it seems Daniel’s words of caution did not penetrate the king’s heart, and the dream that was so real just a year earlier now was a distant memory.  Blinded by the success he had experienced and the incredible kingdom he had built, the king decided to talk a walk and survey his accomplishments.  While staring out from his palace over his majestic city in Daniel 4:30 he utters these fatal and arrogant words, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”.  Even after seeing the power of God exhibited so many times through Daniel and his friends, Nebuchadnezzar failed to give the God of heaven credit for all he had received and the Lord finally had enough.

In perhaps one of the strangest riches-to-rags stories in the whole Bible, the Lord teaches the king a lesson he would never forget.  He stripped the king of his mental faculties and gave him the mind of an animal, and this great king was run out of the palace to eat grass from the ground like a cow and live with animals in the fields.  For a period of time the Bible records as “seven times” he lived as an animal, until his hair grew long like feathers and his nails like the claws of a bird.  This could have been seven years or seven seasons or some other manner of measurement, but the bottom line is for an extended period of time the king ceased to be an actual human, much less a king.  Can you imagine?  What a fall, from the heights of glory to a common animal.  That has to be hard to explain on your resume… “This gap in my employment?  Oh, ummmm, I kinda did this natural lifestyle thing for about seven years.  Really became one with the land, you know?”

It is pretty hard to relate to Nebuchadnezzar on the surface.  I mean, I haven’t had too many opportunities to build giant golden statues, but I am pretty sure even if someone came up to me and asked if I would like to make the world worship golden statues of me, I would say no.  That seems like a reasonable response.  But let’s look beyond the actions and into the motives, because buried within the actions of the king are the motives of a person no different from you or me.  The king had accomplished many great things in his military and political career, but he made the fatal mistake of believing that he was responsible for them in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary.  The key difference between our hero and our villain is that one was aware of where his preferential treatment came from and gave thanks to God for it, and the other took all the credit for it.  And that is a battle we all grapple with, each and every day.  I know I do, and I don’t even accomplish anything of significance beyond doing my job and trying (and often failing) to meet the demands of being a husband and a father.  It can be easy to take the credit for your achievements and believe that something about you made good things happen, but the truth is that while God gives each of us talents and opportunities to use them He is still the reason we experience any success in life, small or large.

So then we get this incredibly unique chapter in Daniel, this letter from the other side.  Nebuchadnezzar provides us his unique perspective on these events as only a man who has shared a buffet table spot with the cows and enjoyed some quality rest with the local wildlife can do.  He tells us of his dream and his warning from Daniel, and how he failed to heed the warning for an entire year.  After twelve months of patience the Lord fulfilled His promise and stripped the king of his humanity, but after the king had learned his lesson the Lord restored not only his mental faculties but upon Nebuchadnezzar’s repentant acknowledgment of the Lord as the one true God he received back his kingdom and all he had lost.  Only now he was a wiser and much more appreciative king who understood that all that he had accomplished and all he possessed were merely a gift that could be very easily taken away.

I find that the incredible thing about this story is not Nebuchadnezzar’s fall from his lofty position and his eventual redemption, although that is pretty remarkable.  What I find most amazing about this is that the eternal God, the One who was the true recipient of the king’s insulting world view as well as the Lord of the servants that the king had been attempting to murder, chose to give this evil king an opportunity to change.  Granted, the method was pretty severe, but after all Nebuchadnezzar had done to Daniel and his friends not to mention the entire nation of Israel it is stunning that God did not simply wipe this man off the face of the earth for his insolence.  But God saw within this arrogant king a heart that had the capacity to repent and do right, and the long-suffering Lord that we serve gave him a space to do exactly that.  And He still does the same for each of us each and every day.

We all fall.  We all make poor choices, and while most of these will not reduce us to the mental acuity of livestock they certainly come with their share of challenging repercussions.  But as Nebuchadnezzar’s experience showed us, the Lord eagerly awaits for us to come to our senses and recognize His authority over our situation as well as His ownership of all that we call ours, including our accomplishments.  I still need this lesson regularly, but I am thankful that I serve a God who knows my frailties and provides an opportunity to seek repentance to me and each of us no matter how far off the path we have fallen.  If Nebuchadnezzar can find his way back, then there is plenty enough grace available for all.  No matter what you have done or how far away you are, if a man who inhumanely conquered and devastated God’s own people and attempted to murder and/or flame-broil the survivors can come back, you and I can too!

 

E3 2017: Escalating the Console Arms Race and a Plea Against Denominationalism (1 Cor 1:10-17, Eph 4:1-6)

We are days away from this year’s E3 Expo and the expectations are that Microsoft will finally fully unveil their new hardware code-named “Scorpio” in their most recent attempt to claim console superiority in the marketplace.  As we all buckle up for an exciting ride, I can’t help but think about how many times I have been in this exact same position doing this song and dance before.  I remember attending E3 the year the Xbox 360 was first shown and simply being over-whelmed by the spectacle.  It could do everything… online dominance through an enhanced version of Xbox Live, improved graphics, and boasted a library of games coming from developers all across the world.  It was promoted as the Sony killer… only it wasn’t.  As a matter of fact, it was the technically under-whelming but vastly popular Nintendo Wii console that dominated that generation in terms of raw unit sales, and with Sony and Microsoft they have remained engaged in a head-to-head battle for superiority to this day.

In my youth the war was choosing between the NES and the Sega Genesis, followed by years of tug-of war as Nintendo and their cartridge based systems did battle with Sony and their army of Playstations, Microsoft and their avalanche of Xboxes, and the sad also-ran Sega platforms that were essentially dead on arrival.  And now we head into this year’s E3 Expo with three distinct and viable platforms that are ever evolving as Microsoft takes aim at showcasing the most raw power ever found under the hood of a console, Sony continues to deliver on exclusive gaming experiences and the possibilities of their VR headset, and Nintendo looks to continue their newfound momentum with a first party library that has never truly been topped.  With all of these choices many gamers are torn between supporting one platform or another, not only based on price but also on principle.

Sony has their dedicated fans who refuse to accept that they are on anything other than the superior console, Microsoft is supported by an incredibly loyal fanbase, and Nintendo?  They are in the midst of a renaissance in which it seems every idea they touch is turning to gold right now.  Nintendo fans are constantly coming out of the woodwork as the big “N” is taking over mobile gaming, re-releasing specialty retro consoles, displaying unquestioned dominance in the handheld gaming market, and now has the hottest console on the market with the Switch.   With this wealth of choices you would think we would all be satisfied as everyone can find something that makes them happy, but most of the time when I am in my local gaming store I find this is not the case.  Many times I observe a chaotic scene as an employee is attempting to moderate a friendly but serious debate between two or more loyal gamers who are 100% certain they are playing games on the one true pure gaming platform, and everything else is just a blasphemous pretender to the throne.  Publishers even play into this by offering incentives to purchase major titles such as Call of Duty or Destiny on a select console platform and receive benefits such as early access to downloadable content or exclusive features.

But we are all still gamers, and we all support the same industry and celebrate the same hobby, so one has to wonder why can’t we all just get along?  As we and our hobby finally start to gain mainstream credibility and terms like “nerd” and “geek” are no longer hurled like hateful insults but are actually badges of honor worn with pride, one would think we would celebrate having the inside track on an exploding medium.  But it is human nature to look for the differences within our similarities and square off accordingly, and instead of enjoying a robust buffet of choices that allows all of us to have our cake and eat it with a helping of Mario-flavored ice cream on the side we still choose to draw battle lines and even question the gaming credentials of those who disagree with us.

While gaming console preferences make for entertaining discussions and lead to verbal discourses with such exciting terms as teraflops, GPUS, and memory bandwidth there are much more important battle lines that are drawn across our cities, country, and the globe that carry eternal significance.  I’m talking about the denominational divide that has accomplished more to damage the church than the devil could ever hope to.  Jesus Himself famously said in Mark 3:23-24 that a kingdom or a house divided against itself cannot stand.  And yet the very kingdom we were entrusted with, the kingdom of heaven itself is currently divided by every difference that one human being can have with another instead of realizing the power of uniting under the most powerfully good news that has ever existed.  We have divided on just about every issue of doctrine that can possibly exist, and I intend to demonstrate precisely how foolish and potentially fatal our path is if we do not choose a better one.

Have you ever been to the DMV?  It is definitely not my favorite place to spend time, and I have never had a visit that did not extend into at least an hour of my life span.  Crowded in a room of people who are sitting in the same awkward silence that I am, we come from all walks of life and have gotten here in a variety of different methods.  Some of us are veterans of the DMV like me, who are over-prepared and arrive with all of the required paperwork (and a little extra just in case) just waiting for our number to be called.  Others may be there for the first time, nervously awaiting their first driving test and praying not to fail.  Some walked, some drove, some were driven but all arrived here to take their place in line.  Many are well-dressed for their photo, others like me are in work attire, and a large contingent appear to have fallen out of bed and into their chair without any thought to appearance at all.  But whether you are young or old, rich or poor, first-timer or old-timer we are all occupying the same uncomfortable chairs and clutching our number in our hands as we await the sound of freedom when C62 is called.  Well, that’s my sound of freedom.  Yours may vary.

In this room in which every age, race, background, and gender is represented we are all seated together with a common goal and an unstated but evident desire for each of us to get through quickly and efficiently.  We are actually rooting for each other to have a quick and painless experience because the faster C61 gets through the sooner I get to the window as well as each person who arrived after me.  This remarkable unity of purpose despite our lack of other commonalities unites us and as a result we each march towards the endgame successfully.  I am perfectly fine sitting next to the nervously sweating teen who is frantically studying his driver’s manual one last time because his eventual success is also mine.  We are not so different… just at a slightly different place in our DMV needs at this time.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul addressed the schisms that had already presented themselves in the newborn church.  He begins this entire epistle pleading with the church to eliminate divisions and to be joined together in one mind.  Humanity hasn’t changed too much, as we see the various believers split between those who called themselves followers of Paul, followers of Peter, or followers of Jesus.  It sounds kind of silly if you think about it, since they are all on the same team.  And yet here we are, in our refined and sophisticated era of enlightenment in which we have splintered off into hundreds of denominations and even managed to split hairs within our chosen brand of Christianity.  I mean, seriously, how many flavors of Baptist exist?  Why are Pentecostals unable to swing from the same chandelier together?  Why is a group called Church of God fractured?  Methodists, Presbyterian, Lutheran…. I could go on and on but I think you get the point.  And now we come to the truly difficult but most important questions…

In the DMV I can successfully sit and wait my turn surrounded by people who do not necessarily support my beliefs or even accept my views.  We do not listen to the same music, share the same doctrinal concepts, or enjoy similar dietary patterns.  And yet none of us feel compelled to leave the room simply because of our differences.  We are all here in one accord and with one goal… a shared desire to get our license needs resolved.  So why is it that I can sit next to people for an hour in the DMV with nothing in common but our time of arrival but I cannot sit next to someone in a pew for an hour that likes a different tempo of song than I do?  How can we accept the differences of opinion when we are standing in line at the grocery store but not when we are in a church building?  I don’t question my server’s view on the second coming of Christ before gladly accepting an order of fries… but when it comes to the church body we demand uniformity or we simply can’t get along.

Now you may tell me to pump the brakes and say I am over-simplifying some very complex issues.  But I am planting a flag in the ground right here and joining Paul in saying that it must not be this way.  If we can accept each other’s differences while standing in line at Disney World then why do we allow ourselves to jump out of a church because they dress differently or wear their hair differently than we would like?  As long as we are worshipping the same God and His Son Jesus Christ why does our different levels of understanding and conviction preclude us from enjoying fellowship?  At Disney two young girls from two different continents will see each other wearing the same Cinderella dress and excitedly point to each other.  They don’t even speak the same language, but they will stand in line right next to each other as their parents snap pictures of them side by side, united by this very simple commonality.  But in our churches we have drawn battle lines on everything from music to miracles and we have divided the body as a result.

In Ephesians 4 Paul repeats his plea for unity, saying  “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”  Bearing with one another implies difficulty will be involved.  I have never had to “bear with” an ice cream sundae.  Nobody had ever said to me, “Please bear with me while I deposit millions of dollars into your bank account”.  It isn’t easy to create unity, but if we are aligned on our purpose we can see past the differences and align on our mission.  We are all going to the same place, and we are all on assignment to bring everyone we meet with us.  I hate to break it to you, but there is only one heaven and it doesn’t have separate subdivisions.  Might as well learn to  get along with your new neighbors…

Now before we finish, this is not in any way a support that all religions eventually lead to the one true God or that all paths lead to heaven.  There is only one way to heaven, and that way is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  But this is absolutely a plea to put away our divisions on doctrinal areas that do not pertain to what Paul listed above as the fundamental areas of unified doctrine:  We serve one God, the God of the Bible, and we have one Lord, His Son Jesus Christ.  We have one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who indwells and guides each believer.  And we follow one faith as outlined in the Word of God and believe in being baptized under the only name given to men by which we can be saved, Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).  So can we agree to allow the person on our left to worship differently than we do and accept that the person to our right chooses to worship the Lord on a different day of the week?  Can we put away the differences in eschatology that divide us and unify on the similarities in purpose that unite us?  The world is waiting for the proof that we are a family worthy of joining, and with all of our infighting I suppose if I was not a believer I would not want to spend eternity listening to us dispute Calvinism and rapture views either.  Let’s tear down the walls and give them something worth being a part of… One unified church body, serving the Lord and each other in love and understanding.  Even when they person across from you has a PS4.

Tekken 7: Been Spending Most My Life Living in a Button Mashers Paradise (1 Samuel 9-15)

It’s ok to admit it. We have all done it at some point. Maybe it was your first time and you wanted to look cool to your friends. It could have been a moment of frustration or a lack of familiarity that led to this unenlightened choice. Perhaps it was a moment of weakness when you were alone in your home and you finally felt the freedom to try it without judgment. Or perhaps you simply didn’t know better and did it right in front of others, to their immediate horror and dismay. But it happened, and I have done it too. I have button mashed my way to victory on Tekken and many other fighting games over the years, and as much as I hate to admit it there was something intensely satisfying about dominating a more seasoned opponent who knew all of their combos by simply spamming my controller and getting exceptionally lucky.

 
It all started in childhood… trips to the arcade on the weekend in which I would slap my quarters on the cabinet of the local fighting game du jour and wait patiently for my chance to take down my more cerebral opponent with an unpredictable attack pattern that had more in common with attempting to kill ants on the buttons than an actual strategy. (For those of you of a newer generation, arcades were places where video games were played in public as a social experiment, and quarters were units of physical currency that powered these machines. Pictures of them can now be found in history books and if you are lucky you may spy one on the ground outside of Walmart). As I grew older I did achieve a higher level of sophistication in my playing style, but more often than not my default fighting game plan is to mash buttons first and learn the actual moves later… or never, whichever comes first.

 
I admit I am an ashamed member of Button Mashers Anonymous. I understand this is blasphemy to most fans of fighting games, and even those who have similarly danced in the moonlight here will publicly express disdain at my admission. But in my defense… if I can crush someone with Eddy on Tekken simply by spamming his kicks it is very hard not to give into that temptation when I know I am outmatched. Maybe that’s not a great defense, but it’s the best one I have. The only other option is to do all of the hard work learning a character, practicing with them, learning which combo ends with a juggle set-up and which has more frames of animation and… you know what, I think I will just stick with good ol’ Eddie Gordo thank you very much.

 

The funny thing is many times my walk with God approach is not much different from my fighting game approach. I am well aware of all of the essentials necessary to maintain my relationship with God and I have an embarrassing level of resources available to support me in following Him the right way. But if I can get a similar result simply through spontaneously mashing my way through situations, it is so tempting to just wing it. I mean after all, I’m just trying to make it to heaven. I’m not worried about the style points. But there is a fatal flaw with that thinking that I would like to delve into as we consider what button mashing looks like in the real world.

 

The history of Saul, the very first king of Israel, is well-known to be a tragic story on par with a Shakespearean epic. But it didn’t start that way… in 1 Samuel 9 it actually begins as a classic “diamond in the rough” tale. Saul is the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome as he enters the scene. He is actually described as the most attractive and tallest man in the land. But as a member of the lowly tribe of Benjamin, he did not have a status of significance and he is literally searching the countryside for lost livestock when we catch our first glimpse of him. His ascension from just a dude running errands to becoming royalty occurs in a whirlwind of activity that deposits him into the throne with a list of urgent issues to handle before he even has a chance to file his change of address forms. Let’s see how he does…

In 1 Samuel 13 we find King Saul two years into his reign when he enters into conflict with the Philistines, a nation that he would be at war with for the entire duration of his life. Saul actually provokes the conflict when his son attacks a garrison of troops stationed in Israeli territory, and this does not sit well with Philistia. They rally their war machine and put together 36,000 chariot and cavalry troops as well as an unnumbered multitude of front-line soldiers to march on Saul and his 3,000 man militia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this doesn’t bode well, and Saul’s bravado disappears quickly as all but 600 of his troops run and hide from the inevitable slaughter. As the enemy prepares to engage in battle, Saul impatiently waits for the priest of Israel to show up and present the customary sacrifices and prayers to God before engaging in battle.
Prior to moving forward with any action of significance it was an expectation that the favor of the Lord would be sought by the priest of God and a sacrifice offered as well. But Samuel, the very prophet who chose and announced Saul king in the first place, was taking his sweet time getting there and Saul got antsy.

Rather than wait for Samuel to come and seek the blessing of God on their over-matched endeavor, Saul button mashed his way through the situation by offering all of the sacrifices himself.  Why is this a problem? Because the Lord had very strict protocols on who offered sacrifices and how they did so and Saul did not meet the criteria to perform these functions. Demonstrating that he failed to understand the heart of God and focusing on only the outward result, Saul finishes his impulsive act of impatience just as Samuel finally shows up. Needless to say, Samuel is pretty upset and challenges the king quite directly on why he didn’t simply follow the process God had laid out. Saul’s response reads an awful lot like one of mine, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.” Let’s unpack that just a bit..

 

On the surface Saul’s rationale seems almost justifiable. Samuel was running late, the enemy invasion was imminent, and without the blessing of God Saul knew that there was no hope of victory. Out-numbered, over-matched, and out of time Saul grabbed the controller and frantically pressed buttons hoping he could fake his way into survival. But God is less interested in outwardly obedient actions and more concerned with the attitude of the heart, and this is where Saul is found lacking. In all points he looked like a king, sounded like a king, and took action like a king. But those fancy three-button combos didn’t impress the Lord one bit because he knew there was no substance underneath the facade. Saul’s rush to offer the sacrifices showed that he didn’t truly have faith that God was in control of the situation. He saw God’s favor as something to be compelled through an action rather than received through patient faith. He underestimated the Lord who had an innumerable number of angelic warriors at the ready and saw only that God had not met Saul’s deadline for action.

 

Sounds familiar to me, how about you? I know many times I have shown the outward obedience of praying and waiting for an answer, but inwardly I am churning and my mind begins plotting a course of action “just in case God needs my help”. And when, by my definition, His response seems to be running late there are so many times I have simply taken action and made a decision that I would regret in the future. Truth be told, I have become a proficient button-masher in my life choices because sometimes cleaning up my mess seems preferable to the challenge of patiently waiting on God. But by winning the battle Saul not only loses the war, but his reign as king. Samuel pronounces, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” And Saul would go on to demonstrate throughout his days that he never learned the lesson the Lord was trying to teach him, as he continued to impulsively follow his flawed instincts to button-mash instead of seeking God’s guidance and following His commands.

 

The Lord sent Samuel to select a new king and he found a replacement in David. He was still flawed to be sure, and he made several decisions that are impossible to reconcile. But he was described as “a man after God’s own heart”, which is to be preferred even over outwardly displayed obedience. As Christ Himself lamented that the people praised God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him, God makes it clear that it is not how things look externally but what is in our heart that he judges us by. I will admit that this is still a daily struggle for me and I am even wrestling with this as I write this sentence, but I know that if I continue to seek the Lord’s blessing on my decisions after I have made them instead of patiently waiting for Him to show up I will continue to simply jump from ditch to ditch, never moving forward. And I am aware that He is quick to forgive, but that is not exactly Plan A. After all, just because He forgives our sins that does not mean that we don’t have to deal with the ramifications of our choices.
As I mentioned, this is still a daily battle for me but I hope that this has opened your eyes to areas where you may be skipping the painful but necessary waiting/learning season and heading straight into battle on a wing and a prayer. The Lord orders our every step, and the timing on his button presses may seem like they are too late but He has the perspective to know how each match ends. The secret to a life lived under His perfect plan is to pursue HIM, and all of these other challenges and problems will work out as He intends them to. If Saul truly trusted the Lord, he would have waited on Him even if his enemies had a sword at his neck. I’m putting my controller in the hands of the Creator today, and I’m going to do my best to resist the urge to snatch it back. See you at the character select screen… I think I will skip Eddie this time.