AC Origins and A Leap of Faith: “Doubting Thomas” or “Hurting Thomas”? (John 20:24-29)

The leap of faith is probably present in most gamer’s lexicon due to the Assassin’s Creed series, and for good reason. Whether it is your first time or your thousandth, the leap of faith is a thing of beauty.  After a long, arduous climb to a height from which a fall would be more than fatal, your character scans the horizon and then performs an acrobatic dive into the safety of a bale of hay or something else similar in purpose.  From the challenge of the climb to the breathtaking view that typically unlocks additional areas of exploration once completed, the leap of faith is both an exciting and vital part to not only the Assassin’s Creed experience, but many other games as well.

Remember the first time you had to make that massive jump in world 8-1 of the original Super Mario Bros.?  It just kind of came out of nowhere… as you are speeding towards the castle with your eyes on your final confrontation with Bowser you suddenly saw a giant gap appear in front of you, longer than any gap you have had to face up to that point.  In uncharted territory and with trembling hands you take a running leap towards the jump without any idea what lies beyond it.  These leaps of faith are quite common in games, but they are just as prevalent out here in the real world.

It is highly likely most of us have heard the phrase “Doubting Thomas” at some point in our lives.  Regardless of a person’s belief in Christianity or the Bible, this nickname found its way into the modern vernacular with a staying power that rivals that of any current catch phrase.  Think about it… we may not remember what a “lol” is or what “doing the stanky leg” means two thousand years from now, but a full two millenia later Thomas’s nickname yet endures.  Why is that?  Was it truly doubt, or something far deeper that Thomas experienced?  Let’s find out…

The root of this story comes from John 4, when Jesus has just been unjustly tried, savagely executed, and his followers scattered for fear they will face a similar fate.  Thomas, one of the disciples of Christ, has just witnessed all of these things come to pass thanks to the cruel betrayal of one of his fellow followers, Judas,  After three years of eating, sleeping, and traveling together with Jesus, Judas, and the rest of the disciples his entire world has been turned upside down and it was impossible to know if anyone could be trusted right now.  He had given up his job, left his home, and was now potentially on the most wanted list.  Suffice to say, Thomas’s frame of mind was a bit mired in darkness at the moment.  So when the surviving ten disciples came to Thomas and told him that they have not only seen Jesus but are certain that He is alive, they are met with one of the most infamous phrases in the Bible…

John 20:25 So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Now it would be easy to immediately judge this statement and Thomas along with it and classify him as “Doubting Thomas”, but is that really true or fair?  Did any of the other disciples believe when Mary told them about her tomb experience with Jesus previously?  Not so much.  The others only believed because they had personally interacted with Jesus previously.  So the real question then becomes why wasn’t Thomas with the other disciples when they saw Jesus?  And now we get to the heart of the issue.  This was not a case of Thomas deciding he did not want to believe… Thomas was simply too hurt to launch out on another leap of faith after hitting the ground so hard the last time.

Consider this… Thomas had already performed a mighyt leap of faith.  He jumped in with both feet when Jesus called him to follow him.  He followed Jesus in John 11 when the disciples went to go see the recently deceased Lazarus, even as he stated in John 11:16 that this would likely lead to his death.  The issue was not merely doubt… it was that Thomas was not prepared to believe again because of the hurt that he was carrying from the disappointment he endured.  Judas didn’t merely betray Christ… he betrayed Thomas and each of his fellow disciples as well.  It was hard enough to know and witness that his Lord had died, but to endure this due to the betrayal of a friend was even more unbearable.

I am sure each of us can relate to this.  It is easy to make the climb and take the leap when your heart is full of hope and your spirit is buoyed with faith while triumphant music blares in the background.  It is even easier when you have loyal comrades marching with you to take the leap by your side.  But that is so rarely the way this Christian walk works.  More often it is a lot more like the path of Thomas…  your way becomes blurry because the hopes and dreams you were holding onto were murdered before your eyes and someone you trusted the most betrayed you when you least expected it.

In that situation, it is not your doubt that is blinding you, but your PAIN.  Doubt is merely the symptom… a natural response similar to when you instinctively move your hand away from a hot stove because it has burned you before.  The fear of taking that leap of faith only to fall painfully to the ground again is a powerful deterrent that paralyzes many of us and locks us into a holding pattern at the top of the pyramid.  Just like in Assassin’s Creed, we can see the places we would like to go from this vantage point and the world of opportunity that awaits us, but the pain of our previous hurt can keep us too grounded in our pain and disappointment to try again.

So maybe we can cut Thomas a little more slack.  Perhaps even remove the label and just call him “Thomas”, because if we were in his shoes it is entirely possible we would have had a very similar response.  I know I have.  The first leap of faith isn’t the hardest… it’s the second one.  It’s the one after the betrayal and the heartache.  It’s the act of choosing to reach beyond your pain and making the decision to climb back up and leap once again.  The fall was not fatal, because you are still here.  And our Lord, in His ever abundant grace did not condemn Thomas for his human frailty.  He came specifically to see Thomas and invited him to placed his hands into the Lord’s nail scarred hands.  And if you look carefully, you will see He will do the same for you.

The fact that you are still here, living and breathing, means your story is not yet over.  And while he may not show you in the way that Thomas experienced it, His nail scarred hands are still holding you, even now.  So go ahead.  If He told you to jump, then prepare to make the leap.  Everything you see from this vantage point is merely enlightening your next destination.  As Thomas was about to find out, this was nowhere near the end of his story, nor is it the end of yours.  There is still so much left to do.

Advertisements

Green Reticle, Red Reticle: When to Fight, When to Ignore, When to Endure (1 Sam 17, 1 Sam 24, 2 Sam 16)

In an ever-changing sea of faster frame-rates, dramatically upgraded hardware, and technological upgrades there has been one constant in many of our gaming experiences… the targeting reticle.  This little icon on our screens has partnered with us through galactic exploration, underwater worlds of wonder, and through just about every battle that has occurred through history, fictional or otherwise.  It is an unsung hero through most of our gaming experiences, providing an idea of what your character is looking at or targeting as well as typically changing colors to identify the difference between friend or foe in the chaos of a firefight.   It often helps differentiate between items that can be interacted with in the gaming environment and supplies that can be picked up versus items that are just part of the background by highlighting these areas.  I can only imagine how much more difficult playing many titles would be without this handy little guide lighting the way.

Imagine a gaming session or multiplayer match in which you could not identify your teammates from your adversaries.  Friendly fire would abound, objectives would become even more difficult to complete, and trial and error would become the new strategy as chaos would ensue.  Friendships would fray as you firmly plant one shotgun shell after another into the back of your buddy, and frustration would compound as you frantically search for which terminal out of all of these similar looking but non-functioning computers can actually be interacted with.  While it may hold our hand a little bit, I for one appreciate the way that the reticle has become a standard part of many of my favorite gaming experiences.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little reticle in the real world?  Something that would highlight what is actually beneficial or mission critical around you and ignoring what is superfluous to your journey?  And most importantly to me, to have the ability to instantly tell the difference between someone who is truly aligned with your goals and on your side versus those whose dialogue makes them seem like a teammate but their true motivations fill your reticle with the color red reserved for dangerous adversaries.  Imagine how many problems or pitfalls we could avoid if we were able to easily identify people and situations through simple reticle identification.

Unfortunately, life is much more complex and relationships and circumstances very rarely present themselves in primary colors for easy translation.  And as our examples today will show, it is of critical importance that we are able to discern when we are facing a giant that must be toppled, when we are being pursued by an enemy that we are meant to endure, and those times when we should simply ignore adversaries because they truly cannot stop you from achieving your destiny unless you stop to address them.

Let’s start with the easy one.  In 1 Samuel 17 David enters the world stage in dramatic fashion in a story almost everyone should be familiar with.  A simple shepherd, David was making a lunch delivery when he crossed paths with the giant Goliath and immediately recognized this monster as a foe.  A rock from a slingshot later and David was standing over his fallen opponent victoriously as the Lord delivered a dramatic and shocking victory.  David did not come looking for a fight, but when he saw the people of God oppressed he responded to the call of God on his life to defeat this blasphemous barbarian.  Call this a clearly red reticle.  Oh, how I wish that it was always this easy.

Things get a little more complicated in 1 Samuel 24.  We find an older and more seasoned David on the run for his life from King Saul, the leader of the entire nation of Israel.  Saul had attempted to murder David on multiple occasions and was now concentrating his entire army on finding and killing the man who had once been the hero of the country.  Saul had pursued David and his band of followers and was closing in for the kill.  As a matter of fact, Saul was so close to David that he could practically smell him.  Saul had to take a break and use the little boy’s room, and the exact cave he chose to do his business in was the same place David and his men were hiding.  As Saul was… let’s just say distracted, David had an opportunity to end this feud once and for all against a defenseless enemy.  But the reticle did not turn red.

David stubbornly refused to take the life of or even harm the man who would gladly gut him where he stood if the shoe was on the other foot.  David even had a second identical opportunity a few chapters later when he could have murdered Saul in his sleep.  In both of these situations, the reticle never changed colors from green to red and in turn David provided an incredible example of when we are to endure our adversaries rather than defeat them.  David did not know the whole story or how this would end, but he knew that the Lord had not given him permission to take Saul’s life or even do him harm.  So why was it acceptable for David to engage and slay the giant Goliath but when it came to the evil, murderous, and occasionally demonically possessed Saul the answer was to stay his hand?

To understand this we have to dive a little deeper beyond the events and into the subtext.  In the case of Goliath, the giant was not an actual enemy of David, except by circumstance.  We see in 1 Sam 17:26 and again in verse 36 that in this challenge David was standing up for God against an enemy that threatened both the people of God as well as dared to defy the Lord Himself.  David was not fighting a personal war because he was defending himself from a vendetta or personal attack, but was acting as an ambassador of the Lord similar to the way Jesus Himself created whips and drove the corrupt businessmen out of the temple many generations later.  This was not the case in his period of running from Saul, in which David stated clearly that despite his mistakes Saul still was the Lord’s chosen and anointed king for that time and David had not been authorized to harm him.  In 1 Sam 24:8-15 David explains to Saul the reason why he did not attack him when he clearly could have ended things was because he identified that it is the LORD’s place to judge and avenge, not ours.  The Lord delivered Saul into David’s hands twice, but in each instance David understood that when it comes to our own personal battles and grievances, these are best left to the Lord.

And finally, some enemies are simply meant to be ignored, and even pausing to give them your attention would be a mistake. In 2 Samuel 16 an even older and wiser David is on the run yet again, this time from his rebellious son Absalom.  On his way to safety, a man named Shimei takes this opportunity to follow David and pelt him with rocks while hurling insults at the fleeing king.  When David’s loyal men ask permission to settle this annoyance, David shuts them down cold with an incredible response:

“If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

That’s… frankly that response is hard to fathom.  And this gives us huge insight into why David was called a man after God’s own heart.  In all these circumstances, from the giant Goliath to the scheming Saul to the shifty Shimei David never viewed his situations from his own personal perspective, but from GOD’S.  Instead of seeing Goliath as an evil enemy soldier, David saw someone who was blaspheming God and had to be stopped.  When he could have viewed Saul in a similar light, David looked at the situation from a God’s eye view and realized that only the Lord could choose when his annointed king was meant to be dethroned, regardless of his evil intentions.  And when it would have been easy to take out one lone griefer who was insistent on trolling David during one of his darkest days, David saw that even this was both permitted and possibly even guided by the Lord and recognized that God is his defense.

If he had chose to slay Saul, he would have shown himself to be no better than the man he was slaying.  If he chose to silence Shimei, he would have lowered himself to the level of his insults and ironically proven him right in those actions.  In each of these circumstances, David found that it is the Lord who defends us from wrongdoers.  He alone avenges us, He alone clears our good name, and when the time is right He and only He will resolve our conflict.  Enemies and adversaries come in many forms, but through the Spirit of God we can properly identify when we are meant to slay the giant and when we are meant to ignore or endure the threats and the insults until the fullness of time has come.

Don’t let the griefers distract you… they aren’t worth it and are only trying to slow you down from reaching your destination.  And don’t give in to the temptation to fight your own battles… the battle is always the Lord’s.  He will guide you when it is time to do battle on His behalf, and it will always be a battle you never intended to take on and it will be done in a way in which He and He alone will receive the glory for the victory.  Easier said than done, I know.  It can be almost impossible to discern the difference between Goliath and Saul unless we bend our desires for justice and vengeance to the will of the Lord and allow Him to fight for us.  And in the world we live in this has become even more difficult than it ever was before.  But the message is clear… engage Goliath when the Lord leads you, spare Saul even when the Lord delivers him into your mercy, and for goodness sake don’t waste another breath on Shimei.  The truest test of what is in our heart is in how we treat our enemies…

Matthew 5:44-45: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. “

COD WWII: Rebuilding After Disappointment (Joshua 7)

Call of Duty is not only back, but it’s gone back to its roots in the newest entry to this long-running series simply titled WWII.  Everything old is new again as Activision and Sledgehammer Games try to breathe new life into the largest gaming franchise on the planet by returning to their roots and abandoning the futuristic trappings of their most recent installments.  While the jury is still out on whether this title will put COD back on its lofty pedestal, one thing is for sure… the future of this franchise is definitely on the line after several critical missteps and Activision is pulling out all the stops to insure this release is built on firmer ground.

It seems like it all it takes is one underwhelming release to put an entire studio under these days.  The margin for error is razor-thin, and as we just saw with the closure of Visceral Games (a team known for quality titles such as the Dead Space series) sometimes your project gets shelved and your studio closed right in the middle of working on your next big thing (the sadly cancelled Star Wars spin-off).   And with such a thin line between success and closure, rebuilding after such a powerful disappointment (Infinite Warfare anyone?) has to be an incredibly difficult challenge for gaming studios just as it is for us in the daily struggle of the real world.

When Call of Duty struggles, it struggles in front of an entire world of gamers and gaming critics who can quite honestly be less than forgiving.  Taking chances on creating new experiences, going to new locations, or even falling back on the safety of the tried-and-true all have inherent risks.  And each of these titles are released to a public that can make you or break you with very little concern for the long-term repercussions of their criticism.  And while that may be easier to absorb when you are a giant gaming company with broad shoulders and another game on the horizon should this one fail, it is quite a bit different for us when we attempt a similar challenge with perhaps a smaller scope but also with less of a safety net should failure occur.

Most of the time when you take on a new challenge you will be forced to do so on a grander stage than you anticipated.  And every misstep or faulty judgment call feels magnified under the ever watchful eye of friends, family, acquaintances, and social media as we attempt to do things we have never done before in front of an audience that may not be as supportive as one would hope.  Picking up the pieces after the disappointment of a failed marriage, a bankruptcy, a lost job, or taking on a new opportunity that simply didn’t work out can be a devastating experience that is hard to come back from.  I have experienced many of these situations, and I can say from my personal experiences that it can be scary to try again after a very public disappointment or failure.  Critics are difficult to ignore, support networks seem to disappear, and it can honestly feel like you would have been better off if you had never even tried.  And I have just the medicine for that feeling.

In Joshua 7 we find Joshua and his Israelite army fresh off their victory over Jericho.  You know… the “Walls of Jericho”… that Jericho.  It was a pretty sweeping and miraculous victory that was meant to be the beginning of a massive victorious march across the land as the Israeli people finally laid claim to the long awaited “Promised Land”.  But immediately after this epic victory a dreadfully disappointing defeat was awaiting the entire army in the slightly less well known city of Ai.  Joshua, the newly placed leader of the country, sent his spies to scout out their next conquest and they returned with an outstanding report.  In verse 3 the scouting report came back so positive that the  leadership council made the decision not to send the entire army due to how easy this battle should be.  All systems were go, many of the troops were going to get a well-deserved rest while a few thousand troops took out what should have been an easy target.  Only not so much…

The small city of Ai laid what The Rock would call “the Smacketh Down” on the Israeli army and sent them running for the hills.  And having tasted the bitter fruits of defeat for the first time, Joshua ripped his clothes and immediately fell into deep mourning.  And in so doing he went through the exact same process I have went through and I am confident many of us have gone through as well.  First, he asked God, “Why have you brought us here just for us to fail?”   I know I have asked that many times.  Lord, why did you even let me try if you knew I was going to fail?  Next, he said “Oh, that we would have been content to dwell on the other side of the Jordan!”  Ever been there?  Why did I try to fly so close to the sun?  I should have stayed where everything was nice comfortable and safe.  And finally, he cries out “What shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies?”  After asking God why, and then asking yourself why, finally it comes down to the most important question… What do I do now that failure has happened?  What am I going to say to everyone who saw exactly what happened?

The Lord does not disappoint with his response.  As a matter of fact, this may be one of my all-time favorite responses to a prayer in the entire Bible.  I am not going to paraphrase this at all because I want to do this justice… this is a direct quote:

Joshua 7:10 So the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up!  Why do you lie thus on your face?”

And just like that the pity party is over with authority.  The Lord explained to Joshua that due to the sin of a man named Achan the protective blessing the nation had been enjoying to this point had been removed.  Through no fault of Joshua or any of the rest of the troops, the mission was a failure before it had even launched.  And once that problem was resolved, the conquest of Ai could be relaunched successfully.  I can say that many times when I have poured my heart out to God in pain and frustration He has provided the gentle comfort that only He can give.  But sometimes… sometimes I feel Him say to me just as He did to Joshua, “Get up!  Why are you lying on your face?”  And when He tells you to get up, fix the problem, and try again its a pretty good idea to take His advice.  He didn’t waste time worrying about what anyone else would think or if this failure would follow them any further.  He simply said Get Up.

I experience many more periods of disappointment than I do victory.  Sometimes it is my fault, and my sin and mistakes sabotage my attempts to serve the Lord.  Other times it is the choice of someone else that sinks my efforts and sends me crawling back to the Lord in shame.  But either way, there is only one eventual solution that each of us have before us… to get up.  Will others talk?  Probably.  Will your enemies laugh and taunt?  Count on it.  Will you lose the support of fair-weather friends, especially when you make the difficult decision to try again?  That’s about as certain as the release of yet another Call of Duty around this time next year.  Disappointment, even for those who serve the Lord, is going to happen.  It is not a sign that you are going the wrong direction or have misheard the Lord.  Ai was the correct destination, and Joshua was simply unaware that his first run at it was doomed to failure before it even got started.  And the answer to his disappointment and ours is two simple words… Get Up.