Reaching For the Fast Travel Button? When Getting There is None of the Fun (2 Cor 11:23-27)

As our games grow larger and open-world gaming via an overworld map or at least a hub world has become the standard operating procedure for almost every major title that releases, a new experience has become just as standard… the fast travel button.  When you have areas to explore that can literally take over an hour of real world time to traverse, or in the case of select titles areas that simply do not connect to each other without the fast travel method, this has become less of a convenience and more of a necessity.  Could you imagine walking across the world of Skyrim each and every time a quest requires you to deliver medicine to someone in another zip code?  Or enduring the travel time it would take to fly from one planet to another to participate in an event in Destiny?  Suffice to say many of our favorite titles would become virtually unplayable without this built-in “cheat” that allows us to bypass the mundane requirements of physically moving from one place to another to progress.

Have you ever wondered what your character does during the fast travel time?  I know this is a fairly abstract thought, but hear me out.  While you check your phone for text messages or grab something to drink while waiting for the next screen to load, your character is doing the long, painful, virtual walk across the map that you chose to bypass.  Did they run into any friends?  Enemies?  Battle a giant crab?  Stop to smell the roses?  Accidentally walk past a sweet chest to loot that they didn’t see containing the boots you have been waiting for?  Who knows what you missed while they made like the Flash and zipped from one city to another?  What you just walked past may be more important to your story than the side-mission that had you traveling in the first place… but you didn’t catch it because of the convenience of fast travel.

Many times in life I yearn for a fast travel button.  I have a feeling I would use it way too often though.  Long line at the grocery store?  Fast travel.  Traffic snarled up on the way home?  Mash that button.  Long angry conference call from the boss?  See you on the other side of Winterfell.  I have a feeling most of us would be all too happy to have this option in real life to speed through the painful times, the boring times, or the waiting periods we all endure.  When you have a clear idea of where you want to go, and the only thing between you and the completion of your goal appears to be heartache, difficulty, or a bunch of wasted time it is easy to want to speed up the process and simply GET there.

If you open your Bible to the area that is typically in the back labeled “Maps” or something similar, you will typically find a map of Paul’s missionary journeys.  This is assuming you still use a physical Bible… for those of you who have already bypassed the need for the physical medium of books, they were something the ancient races used to record events using an archaic form of communication know as writing.  We physically held these items while perusing them, flipped through literal pages of words, and if you were lucky sometimes there were pictures.  Maybe hunt one down someday as a fun little history lesson… but I digress.  On these maps you will find the path the Apostle Paul took on his three missionary journeys:

    Having these nice, neat colorful maps with all of the accompanying arrows helps us understand the path Paul as he took the mission of taking the gospel to the entire known world quite literally.  But there is a funny thing about these maps that can be easy to forget… they weren’t in Paul’s copy of the Bible when he started out.  Would have been nice, but no such luck.  As a matter of fact, since he was responsible for physically writing much of the New Testament, his personal parchments that contained his version of the Word of God would have been limited to only the works of the Old Testament and perhaps an early version of a Gospel account.  Suffice to say, he did not possess this road map when he started each of these journeys.  To him… the fast travel option did not exist because he didn’t even know where he was going to end up much of the time.  And he certainly did not plan for how he would be received during each of these visits.

Sometimes he would set a plan to travel to a certain place but was prevented by the Spirit of God from going there (Acts 16:6-7).  Other times he would travel to a destination but was unable to start the ministry he had planned because of the hostility of the locals to the message (Acts 14:8-20).  He did not have the benefit of large, bright, flashing arrows guiding him where to go to next.  And his path was not a fun walk across the beach with footprints in the sand tenderly placed as he and His Savior enjoyed a leisurely stroll across the sands of Asia minor.  No, this is how Paul described his path:

2 Cor. 11:23-27 “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones,three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

This was not a path of fast travel and comfortable amenities.  Paul’s walk was not clearly scripted with continental breakfast int he morning and the light left on for him at night.  It was a messy, painful, and challenging journey and at the time of the writing above he still had some of his largest challenges still remaining before him, including lengthy imprisonments, tragic betrayals, and eventually his reported death as a martyr.  And this is a man who at the end was able to say that he had run his race and finished his course.  And our path and our journey will be much the same… and bypassing it would mean that we missed out on the parts that were most important.  Paul was not on a march to his end point simply to complete his race… his race WAS his purpose. Fast travel would have saved him from the pain and challenges he described, but he also would have never planted half of the churches that he setup or reached many of the lives that he bumped into along the way.

In our real world, the road less traveled by is the long one.  The painful one.  The one that seems to be nothing more than a waste of our time and our precious energy simply to survive it.  But your path IS your missionary journey… you just can’t see it yet because it isn’t over yet.  Like Paul, you are still making your “arrows” in your journey right now.  Sometimes that arrow takes you somewhere you never planned (or wanted) to go.  There will be times the arrow doesn’t even seem to be moving.  But the process is too important to skip through, and that is why we don’t receive a fast travel option.  The Lord sent Philip on a long walk simply to reach one man traveling to Ethiopia in Acts 8.  Philip didn’t get to fast travel there… he had to WALK.  But it placed him in a position to intersect with that man at the EXACT point and time that he was ready to receive the message Philip had for him.  It may seem long and unnecessary from your perspective, but stay strong during this long, long, loooooooong walk and resist the urge to fast travel.  It is the path, not the destination, that holds the story that will be your testimony.  What’s that you say?  There’s a public event incoming on Nessus?  Hmmm… I think I will take the scenic route and just walk there this time…




Yes, But How Many Rupees Can It Hold? A Question of Capacity (2 Kings 4:1-7)

When you think of great games and your favorite parts of them, a few things come to mind.  Interesting characters with realistic dialogue, incredible graphics that transport you to another place or time, and an epic soundtrack that sweeps you up into a story that grips you from the title screen to the closing credits.  We celebrate dynamic combat systems and physics engines that duplicate reality, but for years there has been an unheralded but incredibly necessary part of our gaming experiences that makes up an important backbone of most games… the inventory system.  It’s not exciting, and in many games it may look like a poor man’s version of Oregon’s Trail, but it is necessary and when executed correctly adds depth to the strategy and decisions that ultimately determine how your experience plays out.

For years our protagonists operated without a concern for how the size or weight of the physical items they were carrying would impact them.  They could carry infinite amounts of weapons, food, keys, or other equipment without any regard to how this would burden them from running, jumping, and fighting their way through the level.  But finally game developers caught up with the limits of the bottomless duffel bag, the infinite wallet, or the absurdity of a character somehow carrying fourteen rocket launchers in their pockets.  For goodness sakes, I am pretty sure as I was wandering around in Oblivion I was carrying at least 60 different 500 page tomes while climbing mountains and swimming through rivers.  Fun certainly, but not terribly realistic.

Games finally began to launch with real inventory management systems which began creating limits to the size and weight of what a gaming character could lug around with them while traversing their planet of choice.  Players finally had to make some hard choices… should I carry more healing items or make room for some heavy weaponry?  What can I sacrifice so I can carry this necessary quest item I just found?  With limited capacity the decisions that are made to determine what is necessary versus what is superfluous are vital, and the wrong choice in a game may result in mission failure but the consequences in how we deal with our limited capacity as real-life human beings can be much farther reaching in their impact.

In 2 Kings 4 we find a widowed woman in a state of crisis.  With her husband deceased and her family severely indebted her two sons were about to be placed into slavery in order to pay off the debt that the struggling family had incurred.  The prophet Elisha asked her what her current capacity to pay off her debt was, and she was limited to only a small vessel of oil.  Elisha instructed her to get as many containers, pitchers, bowls, and whatever else she could get her hands on from friends and neighbors and specified that these must be EMPTY.  Once she had gathered them together, she was instructed to fill them with the oil that she currently possessed.  She continued pouring until she ran out of empty containers to fill, and when it was done she had enough oil to sell to pay off her debt and even live off the rest.  A remarkable miracle to be certain… but what does this mean to us?

Let me keep it real for a minute.  I tend to read my Bible on my phone because it is convenient and it is typically with me at all times.  But this can be a snare as much as a convenience, because on this very same device that houses an app that opens up a digital version of God’s Word lies all of the distractions that threaten to fill my vessel with anything other than his oil.  Emails pop-up compelling action, text messages bombard me with a variety of requests ranging from the urgent to the pointless, and sometimes, on very rare occasions this object that is still technically considered a “phone” actually completes its original purpose and rings with an incoming phone call.  Probably just someone offering yet another week-long cruise that surely has no negative repercussions as long as I act now…

I would like to say I come to the Lord with an empty vessel for Him to fill, but more often than not I am already packed full of thoughts, items, and a menagerie of tasks that prevent me from having an inventory screen that He can actually fill.  And sadly enough, I often treat my time like my loadout in a video game, meaning I simply cut items out to make space for the presence of the One that I claim is the most important of all in my life.  I drop a few meaningless items from my bag (maybe some time surfing the web or reading the back of a box of cereal) and add some time with God in its place.  And then I wonder why I carry such a heavy burden and feel so little of God’s presence, love, and joy in my day-to-day life.

When I ask the Lord for more of His presence in my life I remember that it is critical to note… the widowed woman in 2 Kings 4 was not provided more oil than what her capacity was to contain it.  When she reached the limits of her vessels, she reached the limit of the oil.  Many times I reach out to God in prayer and ask Him for guidance, wisdom, or provision, but when I don’t provide an empty vessel for Him to fill I limit His ability to answer my prayers and requests.  And the oil He plans to use is readily available to me in the form of His Word, but it only truly activates when it is poured into an empty vessel prepared to receive it.

The more space I make for Him in my daily life, the more He will be able to pour into me and pour out through me to others.  So before you ask God to be more present in your life, you must truly look deep into your inventory and ensure you have made space for Him to appear.  If you feel like you can’t hear what the Lord has to say, consider if you have too much in your way to give Him the room that He needs.  If you make room for the oil first, you will find that it absorbs into everything else that you are carrying…

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.

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.

Mario’s Odyssey and the Bowser Within (1 Samuel 13)

It’s been a minute since we have had the pleasure of a true open-world Mario game (the last one was actually Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube).  And fortunately for all of us my hands-on time with the new Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch tells me that this game will continue the epic winning streak Nintendo has been riding as of late.  We are all about to run and jump all over another bright and colorful playground as Mario sets his sights on saving his princess one more time from the clutches of the evil Bowser.  Now I know what you may be thinking.  At this point the only people who are kidnapped more often than Princess Peach would be someone related to Liam Neeson in just about any of his movies.  And you would be right.  While we need a reason for Mario to don his hero’s cap in order for the game to begin, the constant in most of these games is Bowser and his penchant for taking the Princess from her castle.

The big difference this time is it seems Bowser has an entirely different strategy beyond mere kidnapping… as we have seen in the videos and gameplay revealed to this point he is planning to MARRY the oft-imprisoned Princess Peach unless Mario and his cap have something to say about it.  Which they do, or else it wouldn’t really be much of a game.  But while jumping and stomping my way through foes both new and familiar I had a thought… do I have more in common with the titular hero of the story or the “Wont take no for an answer” Bowser?  The more I considered this, the more I realized that there is a little more Bowser in me than I care to admit.

Why does Bowser continue to snatch a princess that clearly wants nothing to do with him, considering it never works out for him?  And why would he expect her to marry him?  While it seems absurd on the surface, with some introspection I realize that he is not alone here.  I am, and have BEEN Bowser many times over.  Not so much with the kidnapping of royalty or the forced marriages, that would be weird.  But I definitely will raise my hand as the one with the stubborn desire to repeatedly go down a path that never leads to a positive outcome and actually feel a sense of surprise when it fails yet again.

I would like to say that I spend most of my time seeking God’s will and waiting patiently for Him to guide me into His perfect plan for my life.  I would LIKE to say that.  The unfortunate truth is I have been less than patient with His answers and many times when I see what I want I simply go after it while asking Him to bless my steps.  Someone else had that exact same strategy, and it worked out as well for him as it does for Bowser and I.  In 1 Samuel 13 the cautionary tale of King Saul demonstrates the folly of taking action on what you feel you are entitled to, even if it is something that the Lord has promised.  Saul was in his first year as king and his people were under siege by his lifelong adversaries the Philistines.  Saul got in touch with the prophet of God Samuel to seek God’s blessing on the pending battle, but Samuel did not arrive within the seven days he had communicated.  Saul, in a state of panic and driven by impatience, saw his people scattering and felt his time was running out so he decided to act.  He completed the act of sacrifices and offering that was supposed to be completed by Samuel upon his arrival in a vain attempt to curry God’s favor by a means other than patience and obedience.  And as soon as he finished lighting the fire, who should show up but a very disappointed and angry Samuel.

Isn’t that how it tends to go?  We feel we are running out of time and desperately need an answer, so we take an action that almost immediately reveals itself as premature.  I have made decisions on jobs, relationships, and yes even marriage from this position and I can tell you that the cost of disobedience is quite severe.  Saul found out the hard way as he was cursed to have his tenure as king ended early and his lineage removed from the monarchy in favor of the line of David, his eventual successor.  And while I haven’t got a king’s crown to lose, what I have lost through each of those poor choices as well as those who were the captive princesses during my misadventures has been far more costly than any position of leadership could ever be.

The good news is that the Lord is full of second chances, and even Saul was given multiple opportunities to choose obedience in his future wars with the Amalekites, the Philistines, and even his son-in-law David.  And while he didn’t make good on those decisions either, another Saul in the New Testament showed us exactly what can happen when we take the blinding message from the Lord that we are heading the wrong way and turn our lives around.  The man Saul in the book of Acts was a vile figure of persecution and torment for those who followed Christ, but when he was shown the folly of his ways he took the opportunity to cease his negative progression and chart a new course as the man who would evangelize the known world with the Gospel.  And that is the freedom each of us have, no matter how many times we have chosen to kidnap the princess in the past.  The Lord is not surprised by our mistakes… all of us are inherently broken from the point of conception.  He expected us to make the choices that we do and that’s why he had His Son prepared as a sacrifice to save us before we ever existed in the first place.

The church only exists because of the broken people who make it up and are made complete by the Lord and His forgiveness.  No matter how many Bowserly actions you have taken, every day and every decision is a chance and a choice to wait for His will and allow him to light your path.  What God has promised WILL come to pass as sure as Mario will take a break from plumbing to save his princess one more time.  And if she is in another castle?  Then he will march on to the next castle and keep heading towards the promise.  Waiting for the promises of God to come to pass may be one of the hardest things we do, and the strategy of satan is to convince us that we must take action so he can deny the Lord His victory.  When it seems like it is too late… wait.  When it truly is beyond hope… pray and be still.  And when it seems like your promise is getting away… have faith.  Not a single word He has spoken has fallen to the ground yet.  If we take it before we are meant to have it, it will fall apart quicker than Peach’s forced nuptials with Bowser.  It is when we are standing still on the promises of God that for the first time we actually begin moving forward.

Gaming’s “Pay to Win” Dilemma: Pulling Zacchaeus Out of the Tree (Luke 19:1-9)

It started off small and innocuously enough… first it was the over-priced and fairly pointless horse armor in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.  It was a moderately innocent attempt to create additional revenue for the game developer through offering items of cosmetic personalization or moderate in-game buffs.  Online games would utilize features such as auction houses to allow gamers to offer their hard-earned in-game items for real world cash to other players and enabling them to use items that they had not been unable to obtain through natural in-game means.  But then the flood gates opened… completed games were shipped with entire segments hidden behind a pay wall requiring the purchaser to fork over additional currency to unlock what was already included on the disc.  So called “Free to Play” games online are anything but.  And now we have a true crisis… games such as the recently released NBA2K and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War as well as the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II that essentially rewards those with the most real-world money to spend on upgrades and the equivalent of in-game lottery tickets with advantages over those who merely bought the game.

On one hand, developing games is an expensive business. And as we unfortunately have seen over the last few years even the largest studios are one under-performing title away from closing their doors for good, so wringing every last dollar out of their investment is the new normal.  But that extra channel of income has typically come through the veins of new content such as multiplayer maps or expansions, or perhaps in-game items that only impacted the single-player experience.  Now that studios are offering game players the ability to supplement their online abilities by simply purchasing the skills that they have not developed through natural means, the world of online gaming is rapidly shifting into a dangerous model that threatens to break the competitive environment into a real-world class system… those who have the money to purchase the best stuff, and those who could barely afford to pay for the game in the first place.

Is this a case of the “have-nots'” rebelling against the “haves”?  An extension of the revolt against those we deem as “over-privileged” finding yet one more advantage in life against those of us below their strata?  Or is there something further beneath the surface that causes us to react so vehemently against the concept of “pay to win”?  As always, the answer to even these seemingly futuristic and technological dilemmas can be found in Scripture.  In Luke 19 we find the familiar story of Zacchaeus.  Yes, that Zacchaeus.  The short one that you may have sung songs about in Sunday School.  But let’s look a little bit deeper at the issues that simmered beneath the surface and we might just find answers for our own responses to our “modern-era” struggles.  If you are not familiar with his case, Zacchaeus was a tax collector.  In our day and age that would not make you the winner of any popularity contests, but in his era he was considered less of an IRS agent and more of a traitor.  Collecting taxes for the evil Roman Empire from his own subjugated people placed him in a special realm of hatred by the Jewish people, and the common practice of tax collectors leveraging their position to line their pockets by over-taxing the people was the icing on a pretty bitter cake.

But as we find the high on life but short in stature Zacchaeus on this day, he is just another face in the crowd desperate to see Jesus as he was walking through town.  And nobody was going to allow this already disliked tax collector a spot at the front of the line.  So he improvised by racing ahead and climbing a tree so he would not miss his moment to see who Jesus was.  When Christ passed by his way a stunning and remarkable thing occurred… Jesus saw beyond the wealthy robes of a tax collector who had been fleecing his people and into the heart of someone who was risking their reputation just for the chance to see the Son of God.  And that spark of faith was rewarded when God decided to come and stay with Zacchaeus in his house that day.

Now that was not met with cheers by the crowd.  No, they were none too thrilled about the idea that this guy who had scammed his way through life was not receiving the ultimate reward, and they quickly made their discontent known as they complained that the Son of God was staying as the guest of a man who is a sinner.  Rather than seeing the opportunity for this man to make a life-altering decision to turn to Christ, the mob only saw that he was once again receiving something he didn’t deserve.  But a funny thing happened as the scenario unfolded… the “evil” tax collector pledged half of his belongings to the poor and then an additional repayment of four times what he had overcharged anyone.  And as the story ends with Christ explaining that He had come to seek and save the lost, the reality of this hits home.   Where others only saw what he was, Christ saw what Zacchaeus would become.  He didn’t see his riches, as ill-gotten as they may have been, as a liability but rather as an opportunity.  Many people would become blessed by the outpouring of wealth that resulted from that day, and most importantly a lost child of God was found.

It is easy to become frustrated when others have advantages in a game simply because they have the ability to pay more than I do.  But the truth is that they are funding the games that I love in a way that I can’t, even if it is giving them a competitive advantage by doing so.  The truth is I don’t want any more gaming studios to close their doors, and I want more games like Star Wars Battlefront to continue to be made.  And while I may disagree with how they are funding their future growth, if I stop supporting the games that I love simply because they make creative choices I disagree with than those games and the studios that make them may disappear entirely.  And from the point of view of Jesus and his view of Zacchaeus, it is clear He identified Zacchaeus as a sinner.  A person deeply flawed and unworthy of even a moment of God’s time.  Guess what?  So am I.  We all are.  And if we were discredited for salvation based on our status as lost children of God, none of us would ever become saved.   And yet Jesus looked past that the same way He does with each of us and saw the sheep He was sent to save.

I am thankful that the Lord doesn’t listen to those that we have wronged in our past when they complain that we are unworthy of His love or His blessing.  None of us deserve a single one of God’s gifts.  And like the brother of the prodigal son, many people will take umbrage when God lavishly blesses His fallen children.  My eternal destiny is based on the unwarranted and unearned grace and love of God, and so I have no right to resent the gifts that others may receive even if I feel that they received them more freely than I did.  We are blessed to have one more breath, one more heartbeat, and another day of life from the Lord.  Not everyone received those gifts today.  And in a world where “pay to win” is becoming more of the rule than the exception, it is important that we never forget that we have been living off of house money the whole time.  So if you want to buy your way to success, I won’t be one of those hating on ya… your funding made it possible for both of us to see this game grow and continue into the future and insure my children and grandchildren get to enjoy an icy battle on Hoth in Star Wars Battlefront 28.

Destiny 2 and Life in the Crucible (Psalm 103, James 1:2-4)

If you are playing Destiny 2, then it is highly likely that you have already completed the primary campaign and perhaps even completed the Leviathan raid with your chosen fireteam.  But as you continue to amass new weapons, armor, and shaders it is highly probable that you have also spent a little time in the competitive multiplayer realm within Destiny known as the Crucible.

For those who haven’t taken the Destiny dive, this a is pretty standard multiplayer mode in which you and your comrades take on another squad in a variety of matches meant to build your skills as well as open up some fresh loot options.  But a funny thing happens in the crucible that I find fascinating.  You DIE when you are killed.

What, that doesn’t sound strange to you?  Maybe I need to lay a little foundation.  In most multiplayer shooters we take for granted that we die when our health is depleted and then we magically “respawn” and get right back to the action without a second thought.  In Destiny this works functionally the same, but the Crucible is not designed to kill Guardians.  It is a training ground for Guardians to battle each other.  And the idea is that it is meant to hone your skills for actual combat with the enemies outside of this “safe learning environment”.  So when you are fatally wounded your “Ghost” AI partner does not merely revive you… it essentially rebirths you as the same character you were when you died complete with all the previous equipment and skills but without all that pesky death.  Pretty handy, huh?

It would be appropriate to ask why the defenders of Earth are engaging in live-fire exercises to achieve the combat preparedness necessary to save the world.  Since, you know, they are actually DYING during this training each time they fail. It would be equally appropriate to ask that same question about each of us in this live-fire exercise called life on earth.  Both of the answers are the same, and both can be found in Scripture.  But to get there, first I have to be pretty honest with myself and with you as well.  I make some pretty serious mistakes.  And no, I’m not talking about “forgetting to say grace before eating a meal” mistakes.  I’m talking about SINS.  Sins that shame me.  Sins that hurt others.  Sins that I wish with all my might I could undo.  Sins that in my darkest moments make me question my salvation, my character, and my destiny.

And it is in those moments that the Spirit of God reminds me of an equally flawed man who was also a man after God’s own heart.  And in Psalm 103:8-14 David reminds us that:

The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

The truth is we are growing and learning how to behave as the children of God in this life, and the growing pains aren’t pretty.  Sometimes we will do damage to ourselves, and unfortunately many times we will do damage to others as we train and fight in this crucible to rise above our sinful flesh and its desires to move closer towards the portrait of Christ we are all trying to emulate.  We can fall into patterns of failure, as I have done many times in my online gaming sessions as well as in real life, and in our frustration continue to replicate those mistakes over and over until we finally make the necessary adjustments to our strategy to achieve success.  Other times, we may experience long periods of winning that fall apart in an instant with one poorly placed grenade laid at one’s own feet.  And the wonderful part of all of this battling, trying, fighting, and dying is that each time regardless of how poorly we have performed we are resurrected and given one more chance to grow and learn from our most recent failure.

The Lord knows who we are (dust) and what we are (sinful by nature), and He is not surprised when we fall.  And the Spirit of God is waiting right there to resurrect us back into His plan for our life when we submit to Him and allow Him to do His cleansing work.  It is a process, and it is not without pain.  But He removes our last failure as far as the east is from the west, and will continue to do so as a loving Father does for His often exasperating and ornery children.  The crucible is a necessary and critical part of the growth of each of us, and it is through this that He purifies His children.  Sometimes you are being purified through your own actions and mistakes, and just as often you are being purified as you endure the choices and mistakes of one of your fellow guardians.  But either way, the refiner’s fire that we all must continue to endure is only meant to do one thing…

James 1:2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

  On to the crucible, Guardians… today’s trials await!

I Feel The Need… The Need to Speed With Reckless Abandon (Acts 1-2)

There are a few constants in the video game racing world… Forza will release an excellent title like clockwork, Gran Turismo will take forever to arrive but will always be worth the wait, and I will be terrible at both of them. You know that guy who throws caution to the wind and refuses to slow down before the turn because he intends to use the vehicle in front of him as a cushion? He’s also the same guy that wouldn’t know the correct approach angle to any of the curves in the course because shunting into other cars achieves a nearly equivalent result. And when he finishes sixth with a vehicle that looks like it is about to explode at any moment and barely resembles an automobile… well, I think we all know who that guy is. Two thumbs pointed right here. 
 I come by my terrible racing instincts honestly. At a local game store many years ago I purchased my first racing sim, a PS1 title called Gran Turismo 2. I had always enjoyed arcade racers such as Daytona USA or kart racers like Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, so I figured it was time to grow up and play a big boy racing game. And the follies began. Since the game I purchased was Preowned, it did not come with any instructions. And without the wonderful world of internet accessibility waiting to give me a free download of the instruction booklet, I was on my own. I passed the first few license tests just fine and thought, “This isn’t so hard. Why didn’t I try this sooner?”. As if it was an answer to my internal musings, my fatal flaw quickly an painfully revealed itself. 

   The next test required me to reach a certain level of speed and then stop within a predetermined stretch of track, essentially validating my ability to stop on a dime. On my first try I achieved the requisite speed but well over-shot the target. Second try, same result. Third, fourth, fifth, seventieth…. all failures. And not the kind of failure that gives you hope that the next time would be better… no, these were horrific “epic fails” that would bring shame to generations of my family line that are yet to be born. Why couldn’t I do it? It wasn’t for lack of desire or will. The problem existed within my mind… a lack of knowledge. See, without the instructions I was unaware of the button configuration. The button I was pressing to decelerate was actually the EMERGENCY BRAKE. Because it slowed down my vehicle, albeit slowly, I thought it was the actual brake button, never realizing the “X” button was the actual brake. I was using an ineffective method of braking that could never accomplish the desired result, and after many tries I became frustrated and gave up. And from that point forward I gave up on the brake button all together and became an all-in, pedal to the metal grinder with a terrible strategy built on misinformation.
  I have found many times I approach life decisions in the same reckless and misinformed manner. As a believer, I know I must bring my problems to the Lord and gain His guidance and direction if I am going to make the right choices. However, my patience with His response more often resembles this:

“God, if this is your will then show me. If you don’t want me to do this cause my car to have problems starting. Well, my car started so this must be God’s will!”
   And off I go… full speed ahead without even the concept of hitting the brakes. And once I get in over my head, I frantically press the emergency brake and cry out to God wondering how He could abandon me and forsake me on my road trip of doom. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I have good news. We aren’t the only ones…

  The Apostle Simon Peter truly exemplified a man who lived a life without brakes. This is the guy who was the first to talk in almost every circumstance, whether he was proclaiming Jesus as the Christ when nobody else would dare speak it or confronting Christ on His mission to the cross (which did not go well). When the Transfiguration occurred Peter was the first to speak, with a plan to build tents for Moses and Elijah because, well… reasons. When it was time to walk on the water he was the first one in, and when Jesus appeared on the beach after His resurrection Peter dove headfirst into the water to meet Him even though the boat he was on was very close to the shore. That’s Peter… no brakes. And I love him for that.

  But something happened between this impulsive “If you ain’t rubbin’ you ain’t racing” behavior Peter was known for throughout the gospels and the man who gave the first true sermon in Acts 2. And that something was the presence of the Holy Spirit finally assuming control of this man and using his natural gifts in concert with God’s divine will. Once he finally yielded himself to the will of the Spirit of God, the results he had desired and the path he was designed for began to reveal itself. The man with no brakes became the Apostle Peter, leader of the church.

   Sometimes we have to slow down to speed up. For Peter he spent weeks praying prior to the sermon he preached that brought over three thousand new believers into the church, and when the Spirit of God finally filled him Peter accomplished more in that one chapter than he had in his entire life to that point. So while it is easy to say and harder to do, I am learning that there are strategic benefits to hitting the brakes and letting the path develop in front of me before I move forward. The mission is not always the mission… sometimes it is just a lesson in yielding to God and showing we trust Him by submitting patiently to His plan. I guess even with all of my years of racing the wrong way, it’s never too late to learn what these other buttons do. Well… until they make another Burnout. Then all bets are off 😀

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.