A Bad Memory is Hard to Find (Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 10:14-17)

Within all of the sub-genres in video games there is a very specific style of gaming that belongs almost solely to a developer named Telltale Games.  Their releases are a collection of cinematic, choice-driven, narrative-focused games that seem to pride themselves on being distinctly different from all the other titles that clog the shelves at your local game store.  Leveraging such venerable franchises such as Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Minecraft, Back to the Future and so many more… these can definitely be a bit of an acquired taste for those who prefer their games either a little more action-oriented or perhaps with a more realistic visual style, but for those who have endured the dive into these unique waters there is truly nothing like these games on the landscape right now.

Every decision within these games create a splintering effect that leads you down a different path, but what may be the most interesting aspect is how every character in the game responds to your choices in their own unique way. Each time you reach a “decision point” the screen notates when you have made a decision that will have a future impact and perhaps serious consequences with the haunting caption “Insert name here‘ will remember that”.  And with those simple words in the top left hand corner of the screen, the worries and the regrets begin.  Did I make the wrong choice?  What will this end up meaning, either now or in the future?  Are they happy?  Mad?  Constipated???   It’s hard to say.  Whatever this ends up impacting in the future, one thing is for sure… they are going to “remember” what you either said or did and it will invariably come up in some way later on down the line.

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This concept of “remembering” has a bit of a negative connotation to it, doesn’t it?  Even in the instances where you made a choice that seemed to generate a positive reaction, there is an under-lying concern that even the right call may not end up coming out in your favor.  What is this other character “truly” thinking?  What are their motivations and how have they changed based on my dialogue choice?  And while this makes for a compelling gaming experience with a ton of replay value, it’s a scary and stressful way to live your real life.

For many years this represented my view on God, if I am being honest.  After reading countless Bible verses on how Holy and Righteous He is, it was hard to escape the idea that He is sitting up in heaven receiving daily reports on my wickedness from my guardian angel/tattletale and keeping a ledger of each and every stupid choice I make.  And each time I am given a branching path in my life, I would look up in the left-hand corner of my screen after I made my choice to see those fateful words “God is going to remember that”.  Doesn’t that send chills down your spine?  Every word, every action… every THOUGHT?  He is aware of ALL of that and more.  He knows the total count of the amount of the hairs on each of our heads, and in my case He is subtracting from that count DAILY so I know He has an active challenge there.

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But here is the wonderful thing about all of this.  The God who knows ALL things has made a CONSCIOUS choice to NOT remember our sins.  The omniscient Creator has chosen to “forget” the sins of those who have chosen to receive this gift of not just forgiveness, but FORGETNESS.  And yes, Mr. or Mrs. Dictionary, I know that’s not a word.  But can I be honest for a second?  Forgiveness IS a beautiful thing, but the ability to completely ERASE what I did wrong from someone’s memory?  That’s a super power I would give ANYTHING to possess.  And I have a feeling I’m not alone there.  Check out Isaiah 43…

 

Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”

Blot out… that’s sounds pretty final if you ask me.  But the actual Hebrew word used here is “machah” meaning to ABOLISH or “DESTROY”.  So if “blot out” doesn’t sound aggressive enough for you, try that one on for size.  It is actually the same word used when describing how God destroyed or “blotted out” all living things during Noah’s flood.  Check it out in Genesis 7:23… He is not merely offering forgiveness for sins… we have been telling people this all wrong for so many years.  He is offering “forgetness” for sins… and yes, I’m still trying to make that word happen.  They are GONE.

But how does this work, you may ask.  All these years I have been praying to God for forgiveness and failing to realize that it is His forgetting of my sins that He has promised, not just forgiveness.  The writer of the book of Hebrews delivers the final piece of insight on how this is possible…

Hebrews 10:14-17: And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

He starts by explaining that the Old Testament method of atoning for sins provided forgiveness, but they did not TAKE AWAY sins.  Only in Jesus Christ’s act of sacrifice on the cross and our reception of His blood was sufficient to erase every sin that had or ever would exist.  And with our acceptance of His sacrifice He has not only removed our sins, but erased them from His memory.  Abolished.  Destroyed.  Purged from existence.

I’m going to challenge the way you have been thinking about the Father’s forgiveness of your sins.  Do you truly look at the mistakes you have made as something that has been destroyed, just like everything that was wiped out in Noah’s flood with a full reset?  Or do you still feel like in the corner of your screen in life it says “God will remember that”?  Because if you have nailed them to the cross, then my friend… they have been FORGOTTEN.  Totally and completely.  And while the devil would like nothing more than to keep you locked in a fear pattern of your old sins hunting you down to destroy you, that is simply some old-fashioned screen burn (remember when PC monitors used to do that?) and it is NOT reflective of the reality of a life lived in the FORGETNESS of our Lord.

Yes, I used it one more time.  And I hope this repetition has made this sink in for you.  He does not remember your sins.  And you don’t have to either… walk in freedom.

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Can I Get a Checkpoint? (1 Chronicles 13 and 15, 2 Samuel 19)

I HATE making decisions in a video game.  It’s a bit ironic, really.  I find myself compelled to play and enjoy games that have a meaty story full of dialogue trees and a variety of options, but I still can’t help but wonder what lies beyond on the road less traveled.  Sometimes it is as simple as choosing between which character you believe is telling the truth, and other times it is the difficult decision to proceed down one path knowing full well that it closes all other options down entirely.  Some games give you a warning, like Mass Effect 2.  As you approach the point of no return this game will politely ask you if you are SURE you want to enter the Omega relay, because there is no going back once you launch that mission.  But most others do not play nice and instead allow you to freely and blissfully march on ahead without the luxury of realizing the consequences you have blindly triggered in your future.

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If you are old and have “seen many moons” like I have, you may remember an old book series called “Choose Your Own Adventure”.  It was a personal favorite of mine because after reading a page of the story there would be a choice at the bottom of the page, giving you the option to turn to one page if you made one choice and an entirely different page if you chose another.  This splintering “butterfly effect” of your choices would go on and on until you reached the unique ending for your story based on the choices you made.  But… I have a confession.  I was a coward and ALWAYS hedged my bets.  I would keep my fingers on the original “choice” page and as I flipped forward to the next section I would quickly scan it to see if it ended in my demise or mission failure.  As soon as I felt things were going the wrong direction I would hurry and flip back like it was merely a bad dream, and I would continue to move on through the story as if I HADN’T just been cut in half by an airlock door.

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The same experience happened the first time I played Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.  As I reached the endgame I found myself being forced to choose between the competing desires of my party members.  I made a choice that I thought was the correct one and then stood helplessly by as my party members turned on each other and began fighting until only a handful were left.  Mortified, I dove across the room and pressed the eject button on my disk tray to stop the carnage.  And then, just for good measure, I powered the system off and unplugged it from the wall.  I sat there for quite a while, shaken and disturbed at what had unfolded before I got the courage to reload the game and ensure that this horrific decision had not been fully saved onto the hard drive.

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It can be easy to try to play this exact same game in life.  We can read the Bible for guidance and pray without ceasing for the Lord’s will, but we are also confronted with distinct choices along our path that will ultimately shape not only our futures but the futures of countless others that we may not have even met yet.  With such high stakes riding on every decision we make, it is easy and even natural to pray that God makes the decision for us or at least gives us a “Checkpoint” so if we make the wrong decision we can try again.  And the answer to this question is both Yes and No.  Come with me to 1 Chronicles and we will discover the truth behind this conundrum…

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In 1 Chronicles 13 we find King David riding a high of victories and his kingship finally secured after years of life as a fugitive.  To show his appreciation for the Lord and all He had done for him David sought to bring the ark of the covenant, a physical symbol of the Lord’s presence amongst the people of Israel, to Jerusalem and place it in a position of prominence.  His heart’s desire was to bring glory to God and build a temple worthy of his Creator, but he did not follow the PROCESS that the Lord had designed to transport the ark from one place to another.  As we will see, this had dramatic and fatal repercussions…

 1 Chron. 13:9-10: And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. 

The method for transport for the ark was to place two poles through the rings located in the four corners of the ark and for it to be carried by four priests.  David had the right motive, but made the wrong choice and brought the ark on cart manned by non-priests.  When a “stumbling block” came along the untrained man guiding the cart instinctively tried to protect the ark from falling and when he touched the Holy presence of God he was struck dead instantly, bringing the parade to a standstill.  A fatality tends to do that, don’t you know.  That’s a pretty heavy penalty for an act of disobedience.  But in 1 Chronicles 15 we find a repentant and still determined David bringing the ark to Jerusalem once again… and this time he does it the RIGHT way.  A huge celebration ensues, the ark is safely brought home, and this time NOBODY gets struck dead by God which is really the best possible outcome.  David was given a second chance by the Lord, but not without consequence.

This plays out once again in David’s life during his sin with Bathsheba.  He impregnated another man’s wife, has her husband murdered, and because of his sin the child that was born did not survive.  But the God of second chances once again confronted David, He accepted David’s repentance, and the next child born to David and Bathsheba happens to be Solomon, the wisest and wealthiest king who ever lived and the continuation for the lineage that would lead to the birth of Christ.  Go figure that it was THIS child, the child born out of a forbidden tryst,  that God chose to be the great-great-great grandfather to Jesus Himself.

Sin always has a consequence.  I am sure you have found this out without me telling you.  There are no “free checkpoints” in life to see what lies around the corner without committing yourself to the direction.  But we also serve a loving and forgiving God who knows we are but dust and knew from our beginning what choices we would make before the option even existed for us to make them.  He cannot bless your attempts to bring the ark to Him in disobedience.  And He will not bless the fruit of something that exists in a state of sin.  These sinful choices always end in a consequence that can never be undone.  But He will ABSOLUTELY turn his ear to a repentant heart and will give you another chance to make His vision for you a reality, just as He did with David.

You make have allowed the lies of the enemy to encroach on your heart and deceive you into believing you have walked too far off of His path for your life.  You may be struggling to move forward under the burden of guilt you carry for the unintended outcomes of the choices you have made and those who have been hurt by them.  But you don’t have to STAY there.  You CAN rise up as we see David doing in 2 Samuel after the death of his illegitimate child..

2 Sam 12:19-24 When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?”And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”  Then David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her and lay with her. So she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. Now the Lord loved him, and He sent word by the hand of Nathan the prophet: So he called his name Jedidiah,because of the Lord.

Whatever the choices you have made and no matter how horrific the consequences, the Lord STILL loves you and has a plan for you even in your current state of chaos.  Rise up, seek and receive His forgiveness, and go to Him in worship and gratitude because as long as you are still here He still has a plan for you.  God does not create redundancies.  He has a plan built from the beginning of time itself and it will unfold exactly as He has designed it to.  Your continued existance is PROOF POSITIVE that you still have a calling to fulfill and a Solomon to birth.

It would be nice to go back in time and make different decisions.  It would be wonderful to see into the future and know what the consequences will be before you make a choice.  It would be amazing to create a “save point” before making a critical life decision so you can go back and make a different choice if this one doesn’t pan out.  But the Lord has a better plan and even your mistakes, as painful as they may be for you and those who share the consequences with you, are part of your message and testimony to others about the greatness of the God you serve.  We can share and celebrate His forgiveness with others beacuse we needed it and used it ourselves.  We are both the fishers of men AND the fish, because He caught us with the same amazing, unconditional, and promiscous love that we now offer to others.  Your message of righteous living may convict those around you, but it is what He has saved you FROM that will make an unbelievers heart yearn to experience that same forgiveness and freedom that He has freely given us.

Share your broken checkpoint with someone today…

Super Smash on Switch: A New Hope… Planned All Along (Romans 8, Jeremiah 29)

If you are a Switch owner this week’s Nintendo Direct could not have come at a better time.  Perhaps you have already collected all of the moons in Super Mario Odyssey or you have discovered every shrine in the Legend of Zelda.  Maybe you are just tired of shooting the odd squid children that inhabit Splatoon with ink and you were starting to get filled with the old panic.  The panic that is ONLY known to a long-time Nintendo aficionado like myself… is this it?  Is there going to be anything else?  Nintendo may be my favorite gaming company of all time, but they have a very unfortunate track record of providing a handful of truly innovative titles on each platform they launch and then seemingly forgetting it exists for the remainder of it’s life cycle.  As a result, hardware such as the N64, GameCube, Wii, and the recently dearly departed WiiU (you went too soon!!!) seemed to have been abandoned prematurely with large holes in its library that were simply never filled.

That old feeling was starting to creep in again.  That sinister worry that this time would be the same… that Nintendo had front-loaded it’s year one launch for the Switch without properly preparing for the future.  Such a break in momentum for the record-breaking Switch would have all of us pondering the worst… but then Nintendo swooped in with the reveal that one of their most recognized and beloved properties was on its way to the Switch.  And not just another rehash of an old WiiU title like Pokken Tournament or Mario Kart… no, this would be a fresh experience built from the ground up for the Switch.  And it had been in the plans all along.

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I have to confess that this feeling of worry is not limited to video game releases in my life.  To be fair, in this realm that is the least of my concerns.  What is more pressing is that many times I have had this urge to panic when my life seems to have very little hope on the horizon and all of the warning signs that another system crash is imminent are being displayed on the dashboard of my world view.  Like a blinking check engine light on a vehicle that has smoke coming out of the hood, it is easy to lose faith when you see that a familiar pattern is emerging in your life that has always ended in failure or destruction before.  Perhaps you have felt the same?

It is funny how I am quick to grasp the reins of my life and take credit for my success when positive momentum has been established and then hurriedly throw the reins up in the air and ask God to catch them when the bottom drops out.  Like riding a roller coaster in the dark, this life can make it difficult to even brace yourself for impact because you never know when that slow rise up is about to result in a dramatic two-story plummet.  And this is where we find out if our trust is truly in the Lord… or if it is in the vehicle that we are riding this roller coaster in and our pathetic grip on the safety harness to keep us safe if something goes wrong.

Fortunately, I am not the first to have these feelings as revealed by Paul in the book of Romans as he wrote to the believers located in Rome, the heart of the evil empire that was currently oppressing Christians anywhere they could be found.  And it is here we find his encouraging words that should help everyone on this roller coaster to relax, throw their hands up, and enjoy the ride…

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

There are a lot of big “religious-sounding” words in these verses that may make this verse feel more like a Sunday School lesson than something that is going to dig you out of your hole of worry, so let’s break this down for a moment.  The word “predestined” is not something you will hear on the radio in your current musical rotation and it is unlikely you find a great many reasons to interject it into a discussion with your friends (Dude, I ran the ball straight up the gut of the defense like I was PREDESTINED to score man!  Predestination for the win!!!).  This is the Greek compound word proorizō which is made up of the root words pro (meaning before) and horizō (meaning to define or determine).   This word literally means to determine before hand, which may not jive with your world view that you have a great deal of choice in your life path.  But once you divorce yourself from the feelings of helplessness that a dust-being (yeah, we are actually just made of dust you know) has when confronted with the reality that your choices are far more limited than you realize, a peace can finally wash over you.

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The reason we (typically) do not panic when riding a roller coaster is because even though we don’t know the path it will take or the manner in which it will arrive at its destination, we have faith that those who created the structure did so not to kill us, but to deliver us there safely and entertained as well.  That gift shop at the end of the ride would not be very well patronized if all of the riders arrive at the end in less than optimal condition, you know.  And our knowledge that many other people have successfully disembarked the ride and may actually be lining up to ride it again encourages us to joint with the others who have shelled out a decent sum of money for the feeling of losing control for just a little while.

The Lord has not only a plan for your life, but a very specific path for each and every one of us.  There is no random chance that caused your circumstances to fall the way that they did… it was “determined” before you took your first breath.  And when you feel that old familiar panic that the ride is about to fly out of control the same way it has before, it is in that moment that the Lord is able to live up to His promise in Jeremiah 29:11..

 Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 

He spoke to the Israeli nation as they were about to head into captivity in Babylon, very much like their slavery in Egypt many years before.  And through this eerily similar experience He reassured them that He still had a plan that involved peace and hope, not pain and suffering.  A plan that was written before the stars existed.

Nintendo may have seemingly let us down in the past, but every step they have made brought us to where we are now, complete with the bizarre stylings of the Wii remote and the poorly received WiiU tablet controller that are both quite obvious in their impact on the design of the much more beloved Switch.  And just when we thought there was nothing on the horizon to look forward to, we see the light at the end of the tunnel for yet another potential masterpiece to fall into our hands.  And I would encourage you that no matter what darkness you are surrounded by and how familiar this pain feels to keep faith and remember that your Father has the same plans for you… plans He pre-determined for peace and hope, and a future with Him in eternity.

Guiding While Being Guided: The Discipleship of a Guardian (Matt. 28:16-20)

After four long months I was finally ready… I had maxed out all of my characters, unlocked every weapon and armor type including all of the exotics, and even “MasterWorked” all of my armor and weapons for maximum effect.  I was ready for a new challenge… one that I did not feel I was ready for until now.  The challenge of taking a new, fresh Guardian under my wings and guide them from a level 1 noob into an effective member of the fireteam.  They will definitely need your prayers…

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We had the discussion about which class would be the best fit for their play style (they went the TOTALLY wrong direction in my opinion, but what do I know), ran through the tutorial levels and then… it was time.  Time to take on the enemies of freedom across each planet as a cohesive unit… as a fireteam.  And as I explained the subtle nuances between weapons, armor items, and how to turn public events into “heroic” events an interesting thing happened… I found myself repeating the things I was previously told by an old Guardian friend of mine who had once blazed this very same path for me in the exact same manner.

I am by no means a great player or even a very good player, as most of my friends will attest.  I have EARNED the nickname “Guardian Down” through blood, sweat and… well, mostly just blood I guess.  Actually, it was ONLY my blood, if I am being truly honest.  But in this scenario, even my limited knowledge and capabilities were still beneficial to the new Guardian that I was guiding through their first play experience.  And despite my shortcomings, I was able to inform them of areas where I had previously failed to watch out for as well as opportunities to improve that I wish I had known about on my first go round.  I may not have achieved all I need to or become the Guardian I hope to be some day, but I was the Guardian they needed right then.

destiny_2_pc_4k_1Guiding while being guided is the true nature of discipleship… as Paul surmised in 2 Cor. 3:18 we are being changed from glory to glory, or in layman’s terms we are moving and growing from one level to another in our Christian walk throughout our span on this planet.  If you are waiting to achieve a certain level of “readiness” or perfection prior to being used by the Lord to disciple others you are falling prey to a key attack of the enemy… that of the unworthy servant who must achieve a certain level of “Godliness” before they can do anything for God.  It’s a way that we are kept on the sidelines under the pretense of “growing in the Lord” prior to allowing Him to use us to fulfill the great commission.  Let’s look at the great commission in detail…

MATTHEW 28:18-20:  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

What we call the “Great Commission” are the final recorded words of Jesus in the book of Matthew.  The key area I want to focus on is the combination “make disciples” which is the crux of the dialogue.   The Greek word here is mathēteúō which is a derivative of the root word mathétés meaning a disciple, learner, or pupil.  Simply put, we are to produce “learners” of the way of Christ wherever we go and to teach and mentor them in the path.  Now an interesting thing exists here that I did not include in the first quotation, but I would like to point it out now…

MATTHEW 28-16-17: Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

Hold on… this is the verse RIGHT BEFORE Christ gives the Great Commission.  He was speaking to the eleven remaining disciples (scratch one Judas), and not all of them were even fully unified in their beliefs yet.  But this does not deter Jesus from proclaiming their mission to them, even in their current state of incompleteness and doubt.

d2_pvp_heroic_01.0It would be DURING their fulfillment of the Great Commission that they would be refined through the Father’s crucible of development.  They were sent to Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit of God to fall on them and give them power to accomplish His mission (Luke 24:49), but once they had received the Holy Spirit they were still not yet fully perfected.  Peter and Paul would still have an epic throwdown about the integration of the Gentiles with the Jews.  Barnabas and Paul would split paths over the inclusion of John Mark on the missionary journey.  But even in their imperfect and growing states they were sent and used to perform the work of the Lord and make disciples/learners of those they met.

This is the true work of the church and of those who follow Christ.  Discipleship is an intimate, personal interaction that cannot be accomplished in giant sanctuaries or through intricate sermons.  It is a joint walk, shoulder to shoulder, between two members of the faith in which one has already been where the other is headed.  Like my example of my new and impressionable Guardian following me through the basic steps of Destiny 2, it is highly likely there will be a day they will surpass me.  Just as I hope one day to reach past the one who originally mentored me.  But we all disciple each other, one hand reaching up to those ahead of us on the path and the other reaching back to pull someone along behind us.  And in this unbreakable chain, this three-fold cord of believers united in purpose, the world can be changed.

We are both disciples and in the process of being discipled throughout our time here.  It is not only possible, but NECESSARY to be both simultaneously.  Please, please, PLEASE do not let your lack of “full perfection” restrain you from being used by the Lord to fulfill the commission.  None of them were perfect either.   They were simply Spirit-filled believers in Christ who decided to share the Good News as they had been instructed.  The rest is up to God to do the work.  And you are the Guardian someone else needs, even if your light level isn’t fully maxed out yet and you are still hunting down that auto rifle that everyone else has three of.  You are both discipler AND disciple for the entirety of your journey here, and the Lord has made you qualified for both.  Oh look… I just heard “Guardian Down” and it isn’t me this time…  maybe I can lend a hand…