A Medpack Mindset in a Health Regenerating World (Exodus 16)

Please allow me to slip into my “old man rocking on my porch” persona for just a moment.  Back in my day, health in a video game didn’t magically regenerate just ‘cuz I was standing behind a wall, dagnabit.  We had to scour the earth to find them there “medpacks”, or “rations”, or “health kits” to heal ourselves because in the real world hiding behind a wall doesn’t heal bullet wounds, son!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to grab my water hose and tell those kids to get off my lawn…

   Ok, so maybe that’s a little tongue in cheek but the truth is that before we entered this glorious age of “auto-healing”, a gamer had to be much more cautious with their approach to a game because a mistake would send them on a long voyage to replenish their health.  And in some especially challenging titles, these health packs were so scarce that a critical mistake could result in needing to completely restart the game because you could not regain enough health through the available supply to make it to the end.

   Playing those older style games with limited health taught me to be cautious, strategic, and patient as I knew I had very little room for error.    I avoided unnecessary exploration and kept to the safe routes as much as possible to preserve my life force.  But something changed about my approach as I began playing titles such as Halo and Call of Duty that did not limit me to curing my damage via these Draconian methods.  I could race into rooms and take on challenges that may be larger than my capacity because I knew that if it got too hot in there I could simply hide behind a pillar until my screen stopped flashing red.  I became more confident, a little more daring, and quite a bit more adventurous since the rewards often exceeded the risks for the very first time in my gaming journey.

   As a believer, I have spent the majority of my life wresting with this “medpack mentality”.  And while there is certainly nothing wrong with discretion and caution in many aspects of life, when it comes to matters of faith in the Lord and His provision it is absolutely fatal to proceed in this manner.  Throughout the course of my walk with Christ I have struggled with releasing control of my life, my thoughts, my actions, and my circumstances to the Lord.  I yearn to roam carefree through each day just “leaning on the promises of God” and demonstrating faith in each and every challenge that comes up, but every time I try I feel the weight of the realization that I possess a finite amount of time, money, energy, and resources and immediately begin searching for “medpacks” to provide for myself.

   I have found it is easier to trust God’s choice in destination than it is his method of provision.  Like the nation of Israel in Exodus 16, I get very excited about the idea of traveling to the Promised Land.  But like them after the first few hours I begin to worry… what will we eat?  Where will the water come from in a desert?  Do we even know the right direction?  And when the the Father provided them with bread from heaven and a few simple rules of how much to gather each day as well as which days to gather they immediately demonstrated the “medpack mentality”.  He said to get just enough for each day, some of them gathered extra just in case there wasn’t any tomorrow.  He said there wouldn’t be any on the seventh day so grab double on day six, and some of them still chose to go look on the seventh day just in case they would have it all to themselves.  Thanks for the regenerating bread Lord, but if it’s all the same to you I kinda want to keep some tater tots in my pants pocket just in case you forget about lunch.

  This is still an area of challenge for me, but I will share what am I learning.  My stress and anxiety doesn’t seem to be making this bread from heaven come any faster or taste any sweeter.  As a matter of fact, it’s just getting my sandwhiches all sweaty.  Hebrews 11:6 says emphatically that without faith is is IMPOSSIBLE to please God, and while it may seem reassuring to hold onto my backup plans and extra rations for a rainy day, the reality is God laughs at my meager preparations because they would never be enough to save me anyway.  Like a child obsessing about a single dropped M&M while an entire one pound bag lies available at their side, there is so much more health, life, and provision when we walk in faith than we could possibly store up or conjure with our own capabilities.  And since only God knows our path as well as our destination, He is the only one who knows exactly what it will take to get you there.

   I still find myself tempted to solve my problems first and ask God about His opinion later, and when He provides guidance it is a constant struggle for me to not simply say, “Thanks Lord!  Now you go get some rest while I plan this out for us.”  But if I want to experience the joy of operating in the freedom that only true faith in God provides, then I must relinquish my feeble stack of medpacks and trust that his auto-regenerating powers will be enough to sustain me even in the places where I fear to go.  It is a bit scary to boldly run into the next room and see what happens, but it is only a fool-hardy move if you are acting on your own volition.  Where He guides, He provides… and if He said charge into that room with nothing but a plasma pistol then you can bet your last token it will be all you need to bring.  

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Metroid Prime: Solving the Problem of a Powerless Power Suit (1 Peter 4:12-13)

It’s a great time to be a Metroid fan… from the recent re-release of Metroid: Samus Returns, the inclusion of the masterpiece Super Metroid on the upcoming SNES classic, as well confirmation from Nintendo that a new Metroid Prime is finally in development… let’s just call it an embarrassment of riches that we should all be grateful for.  The original Metroid Prime games still stand up today and are well worth tracking down if you have the hankering for some excellent first-person exploration.  Just do yourself a favor and avoid the abomination that is Metroid Other M.  Please.  Think of the children…

   The original Metroid Prime starts off with a bang, as everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Samus Aran takes down enemies and searches for clues within a derelict space station. All of your suit’s powers are on full display as you fire missiles, transform into a ball and roll around, fire your grappling hook to navigate… you are an unstoppable force of nature laying waste to all who dare oppose you.  But at the end of the first level an event occurs that strips you of ALL of your suit’s special abilities, and you spend the entirety of the rest of the game slowly putting yourself back together so you can take on the final boss.  After getting spoiled to all of these powerful abilities, you suddenly find yourself quite under-powered for the journey that lies ahead and without the full arsenal of options you had just become accustomed to the world seems a little more hostile and dangerous than it did when you were at full capacity.

   Many games have taken this approach over the years, giving you a tantalizing taste of your character with unlimited capabilities and then using a plot device to remove most or all of those abilities so you can spend the next ten to twelve hours gaining them back.  This is also common in many theatrical releases, as super heroes such as Iron Man or Thor spend an entire movie trying to get back to a place that they had originally possessed and perhaps had taken for granted when they had it.  It almost seems cruel if you think about it.  Why give me the taste of the good life if you are just going to rip it away and make me fight to earn it back?  But whether you are trying to rebuild your Iron Man armor, prove yourself worthy of wielding Mjolnir once again, or simply trying to get your super suit firing on all cylinders we can all agree that this part of the process is the most time-consuming and painful yet ultimately necessary part of the hero’s journey.

   Walking the Spirit-filled life has been a lot like this for me.  I remember the glorious feeling of being born again… the excitement of knowing that I was finally who I was meant to become. The world looked and smelled different and I felt connected to God in a way that was impossible to describe.  For days I felt a unique euphoria as I listened to praise music in my car and it seemed like the trees were singing along with me as I drove past them.  When it was sunny it felt like the Lord was smiling on me.  When it rained I just sat and was amazed at how He continues to nurture His creation.  And I thought that I would just dance this dance with Him all the way up to the pearly gates.  And then, much like our Metroid Prime power armor, it felt like all of it was ripped away piece by piece.

   The rain that I previously admired is much less desirable when it is intruding in your home and creating mold that makes your family sick.  That glorious sunlight just feels hot and angry when you are sitting on the ground next to your new car that someone just plowed into while you were in a stopped position.  Slowly I found myself driving with the radio off and my mind preoccupied with much more mundane considerations such as how to schedule contractors and which credit card has enough room to pay for groceries this week.  All that power and joy I had been walking in was stripped away so quickly and replaced with fear, anxiety, and anger.

   1 Peter 4:12-13 sheds a lot of light on the issue of power suit problems:

” Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

   Of all the people who experienced this transition into losing power, it is Jesus who understands it best.  From having legions of angels to attend to His every thought to transitioning into consciously choosing the challenges of such activities like hunger, pain, homelessness, wood splinters, and (gasp) using the bathroom without the conveniences of indoor plumbing… He dropped his super suit off in the tutorial level and chose to face life the same way we must.

   Now to be honest, at first this knowledge didn’t make me feel any better.  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get hyped thinking about suffering.  I gave my life to the Lord, I’m praying and walking in obedience, and I’m putting on the armor of God as defined in Ephesians.  And then it hit me…

The armor of God does not keep you from getting hit… it protects you from being destroyed by the inevitable hits that are coming.

   

   I was disappointed and frustrated that my service to God did not prevent these events that seemed tailor-made to steal my joy and break my spirit.  And I was misguided in thinking I was going to bounce from cloud to cloud just because I have chosen to serve the Lord.  My armor is protective, but it is not a repellent.  And as I walk through life I will continue to achieve growth that unlocks greater capabilities to serve the Lord, and along with that stronger armor will come even greater challenges and trials.  In Gamer language, our enemies level up with us. But the joy of my salvation that I started with?  That’s mine to keep, as long as I choose to use it. 

    So if you have been facing tough opposition and have been wondering why everything seems harder now than it did before, don’t panic or give in to stress.  It’s not an error in the program and we didn’t make a mistake by choosing to serve the Lord.  And He certainly has not forgotten us or is unaware of our struggle.  It’s simply our path to assemble our armor.  And we can grow in power and in our Spirit-filled walk each day by accepting that our challenge will grow each day as proof that we are growing too.  I think I just unlocked the Morph ball… bet that means I’m about to have a use for it!

Switching Teams: NBA 2K18, Moses, and the Cover Athlete Conundrum (Exodus 4:24-26)

You may have heard of the “Madden Curse”, which is the theory that athletes who grace the cover of the annual football gaming release tend to experience unprecedented setbacks in the form of injury or simply poor play immediately after receiving this honor.  But this year’s basketball release, NBA 2K18, continues an almost just as interesting coincidence of seeing its highly prized (and well-compensated) poster athlete in the wrong jersey on their cover.

This seems to happen frequently for this series… it started with the release of 2K14 when Lebron James suited up on the cover of the game in a Miami Heat uniform only to leave that team and play for Cleveland instead.  Kevin Durant was chosen for the 2K15 cover as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder and promptly took his skills to Golden State to attend back to back finals for that team.  2K17 cover athlete Paul George won’t be seen in a Pacer jersey again as he is now a member of those same Thunder, and this year Kyrie Irving may be on the cover of 2K18 in a Cavalier jersey but the only time he will be seen wearing one of those is in the video game as he has joined the Celtics for this season.

But enough of the history lesson… the more interesting question is why these athletes tend to switch teams immediately after they are chosen to wear the mantle of the most recognized player in the league?  NBA2K games are a sales juggernaut each and every year and being on the cover grants the cover athlete an incredible amount of marketing and exposure.  Why does the choice oftentimes precede a departure?

For many, Moses is the first “Cover Athlete” of the Bible.  I mean, he wrote the first five books and delivered Israel from their Egyptian captivity.  He was there when the Ten Commandments were given.  He’s a legend.  But did you know that God was going to kill him before he even got started on his journey?  This particular event is not as well publicized as the burning bush or even his attempts to pass his destiny off on his brother or someone else.  In this incident, Moses tried to wear his old team jersey while playing for a new team and the Lord was having none of it with nearly fatal consequences.

In Exodus 4 Moses has accepted his destiny as the Deliverer, albeit reluctantly.  The Lord gives Moses the ability to perform specific miracles to support his message and has sent Aaron, Moses’s brother, to support the mission.  All systems appear to be go for launch… until verse 24:

 “And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him.”  


Ummm… what?  God just spent all this time convincing Moses to take this role and then preparing him for success, and then out of the clear blue nowhere he is going to kill him?  That seems a little harsh… but there was a reason behind this that is critical to understand and this is revealed in the next two verses.  To stop God from taking Moses out, his wife immediately performs an emergency circumcision on their son and hurls the… ummm… let’s just say “evidence” since this is a family column, at the feet of Moses.  Stay of execution granted.

What does this all mean?  The requirement was for all Israelites to be circumcised as a sign of their unique relationship with the Lord.  Moses had chosen not to follow this, and while his life of obscurity had permitted this indiscretion to exist his new status as the leader of the people would not permit this to continue.  Now, one may wonder how was anyone going to find out?  I mean, seriously.  His son’s private parts were likely to remain private unless there is some strange clause in wilderness deliverance leadership that would reveal this secret.  But the Lord knew.  And the presence of this not only disqualified Moses from proceeding until it was dealt with, it was serious enough that God was prepared to put the kibosh on the whole plan unless it was made right.

This was not merely a case of legalism and God needing everything “just so”.  The Lord knew the path Moses was about to walk… it would be treacherous and difficult and he would be under a constant assault from enemies both without and within.  He could not succeed or even survive while carrying this one area of disobedience… he would be eaten alive by his adversaries and the entire deliverance would fail.  Too much was at stake.

We all have a mission from God to accomplish on this planet, and over the course of learning it, preparing for it, and accepting it we will be challenged by God to do things that may seem of little significance in the moment or perhaps feel unnecessary or even unfair.  But He knows your full journey, and the jersey you were wearing when He called you won’t be the same one you will be wearing when you reach your launching point.  He knows exactly what your cover will look like, and only He knows what you will need to bring as well what you will need to leave behind in order to accomplish your mission.

The Repercussions of Pressing Start (Hebrews 11)

I guess I’m kind of a hero.  I don’t mean to brag, but I HAVE kind of saved the planet and at times even the universe more times than I can count.  I have persevered against insurmountable odds, faced off against monstrous enemies who should have surely ground me into a pulp, and through it all kept my sense of style without wrinkling my clothes or messing up my hair.  I am a video game hero… nay, LEGEND.  I have a feeling you are probably pretty famous in the right quadrants of the galaxy as well.  Now pardon me while I pause the game and go dust and vacuum.  These dishes won’t wash themselves either.

While that was obviously meant in jest (except for the household chores, those are definitely REAL), some of that may sound familiar to you, and some of it may not.  We all game for different reasons, after all.  For some of us it is the thrill of competition, for others it is the ability to play through a story and inhabit a character we could not be in the real world.  Some of us live out our fantasies, and others find real-life connections.  It may be a way to pass the time on your phone while waiting in line or it could be the reason you race home just in time to join your friends on a raid.  Whatever your reason, we have all joined together in this hobby that is dictated by our interactions with it.  And it all begins the moment you press “Start”.

Join me with an abstract thought for a moment.  What if, in that video game’s world, you had never pressed start?  Pretending that the environment within that game exists outside of your choices until your moment of interaction, many times the game world was in a pretty good spot until you joined in. If you never press start, your character never initiates the action that causes war to begin.  The choice you made to start the game has dramatic repercussions on all of the characters within…. some will get hurt, others will die, and princesses will move to another castle.  All of the chaos and collateral damage that exists throughout the game is all due to the choice of the player to begin the story.  And it all could have been avoided if you had simply chosen to leave that game on the shelf and let the characters within continue living their lives without your interference.  Suddenly, I’m not feeling quite so heroic.

The great thing about gaming is that our choices exist within a realm of little to no actual consequence, providing ample room for mistakes and a large canvas on which to tell a story that can be restarted at any time.  Despite the emotional attachments that can be made to these fictional characters, it is nice to know that no actual lives have been harmed by my gameplay.  Real life is much less forgiving.  And just like my choice to begin a gaming adventure will have a massive ripple effect on each and every character in that gaming world, my choices on what paths to take and what adventures to explore in the real world have a cause and effect that often times keep me up at night.  Just like pressing start in a video game, my decision to begin a life of serving Christ has had both immediate and long-reaching repercussions that have not only affected my life, but the lives of others around me.  And unfortunately, not all of the effects are positive because not all of my choices have been good ones.

There have been times I have wondered if the world was better off without the testimony of a flawed believer like me.  I have been concerned that each time I press “start” on one of these columns that I am extending my failure into the lives of those that read it.  But if the enemy has ever tried to use your past or current mistakes to cause you to second-guess what you are able to do for the kingdom of God, this is for you.

Hebrews 11 is famously called the “faith chapter” in the Bible and contains a listing of some of the heroes of the faith… a “Hall of Fame” or “High Score” list, if you will.  And the names on this list are quite daunting… Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Samuel… this is the Who’s Who of famous biblical characters right here.  And they have epic stories of faith in the Bible that make it easy to understand why they are included.  But their stories would not be complete without the missteps that they took as they walked their paths, and the Lord did not wait for them to become “perfect” just so He could use them.

Let’s start with Noah, the man of God who was hand chosen as the only one worthy to repopulate our sinful planet.  But it wasn’t long after he parked the ark that His sons found him drunkenly passed out without so much as a pixelated loincloth to cover him.  Or maybe father Abraham is more your speed… just don’t bring up the whole “Ishmael” episode or it will start him and his wife fighting again.  Jacob was a special kind of scoundrel that only a mother could love (and it seems only she did).  Moses fulfilled his mission of freeing the people from Egypt even as he complained that he was under-qualified and out of his league.  The list goes on and on as these and so many others dared to press start on their stories even while they still struggled with internal issues that often came to light at the worst possible time.  Samuel’s ineffective parenting of his corrupt sons led to the dismissal of the judges and the anointing of a king.  David sat the wrong war out and got himself into a heap of trouble with a showering woman that had massive collateral damage including costing his own infant son his life.

None of these are good things, and each of these had consequences that dramatically impacted each of these men and many others around them. But these followers of Christ did not allow their weak humanity to prevent them from pressing start on their journey.  You may have committed none of these sins listed above, or you may have committed all of them.  Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, you have a mission and a purpose and if you are waiting to press start until you are “holy” enough… well, let’s just say it’s going to be a long wait.  Satan is counting on us to disqualify ourselves from service through our mistakes and guilty consciences, and I will raise my hand and say that he has used that exact strategy to silence me more times than I care to admit to.

The truth is God uses us in our WEAKNESS to display His strength.  It is not an encouragement to sin, but simply an acknowledgement that we will sin, we will fail, and we will reach out for that “restart mission” button many times over the course of our lives.  But we must get back up and press start again and continue saving the world around us.  If God was looking for a perfect vessel He wouldn’t have chosen a human, because there has only been one perfect one so far.  He chose you, just as you are, and He needs you to save your world.
Yes, pressing start has repercussions.  It puts things in motion that cannot be put back in place.  Everyone around you will be affected by your choices, both wise and unwise.  But don’t let fear or regret keep you from acting on what the Lord has placed in your heart.  If Abraham had stopped at Ishmael he would have never had Isaac.  Samuel could have quit when his sons turned out to be some real pieces of work, but then he would have never found and annointed David.  If David had quit on life after the Bathsheba catastrophe he would have never fathered Solomon.  And it goes on and on.  People you may have not even met yet are counting on you to press start.  I can guarantee you that I am as unqualified as you are but with the Lord on the inside of us we will accomplish our purpose.  After all, this world isn’t going to save itself.  Let’s go be heroes…