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…

Contending With Narratives (Luke 24:13-31)

The world of gaming has expanded to so many genres that you can hardly have a conversation with another gamer about the title you are playing without qualifying it with a comparison to a similar title.  Gone are the days of the simple explanation that you enjoy video games… now the culture within gaming compels us to identify ourselves into substrata such as first-person shooter fans, RPG buffs, sports enthusiasts, or the truly hardcore among us that choose to play Dark Souls because they enjoy breaking their controllers.  But within all of these distinct genres there are a few constants that we tend to appreciate in a great game, and chief among those is typically a compelling story.  And the story can make up for so many other shortcomings… just ask titles like the Last Guardian or even a sacred cow like the first Mass Effect.   I mean c’mon… you drove that stupid Mako.  Don’t act like it EVER went where you where trying to go.  It was like pushing a slab of pudding across a slick table… it went where it WANTED to go.  But I digress.

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When you connect with the narrative, complaints can be overlooked and even game-breaking bugs can be ignored in favor of the story that you have fallen in love with and the characters that compel you to complete their journey.  But while this is a wonderful way to overlook the fact that maybe you don’t enjoy quick-time events in your games (yet you still love Uncharted), there is also a clear and present danger in the real world when we fall for the narrative and fail to recognize the reality that surrounds us.  And as we will find in the text below, the worst part of believing the narrative is that it blinds us to the spiritual truth that is often right beside us.

The execution of Jesus was not simply an eternal life-altering event for everyone who has ever existed on this planet, it was also a historical moment that those living at the time had to endure.  It was a confusing time for those who had followed Christ but had not truly understood His message and His destiny, and two of those followers found themselves in a position where they couldn’t see beyond the story that they had convinced themselves was true.  Let’s peek in on their conversation… I don’t think they will mind…

Luke 24:13-21  Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.  And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?”  Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”  And He said to them, “What things?  So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 

So we find Cleopas and his unnamed friend walking down the boulevard of broken dreams, trying to make sense of the death of the Lord.  And the tone of this conversation is far from hopeful, as evidenced by their use of “past tense” statements in how they describe Jesus.  He “was” a prophet mighty in deed and word.  We “were” hoping that He would redeem Israel.  The narrative they were discussing was the one that the enemy was trying to project into their minds … that God had lost, evil had prevailed, and everything they believed in was wishful thinking at best or a complete subterfuge at worst.  And the irony of this is that the proof of God’s victory and provision was LITERALLY standing right next to them, walking the very same road that they were certain they were walking alone.

Jesus, with his impeccable sense of humor, prompts them to unload their hearts by acting as if He has no idea what events they are referring to.  I absolutely LOVE His response to their “Chicken Little/The sky is falling” routine.  In our finite view of the world it can be so easy to believe that everything is over, God’s promises have fallen short, and we have deluded ourselves into following a lie.  But then God walks up to us right in the middle of our pity party, full of omniscient knowledge and coyly asks, “What’s wrong?”, knowing full well every thought you have had or ever will have.

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I am going to challenge you today to look deeply at the narratives you have told yourself or allowed yourself to be convinced of.  Unworthy… unwanted… forgotten… alone.  It is our belief in the story that we have committed ourselves to that keeps that narrative in greater focus than the truth of God’s love and presence that is right beside us.  In Luke it says that their eyes were restrained so that they could not tell it was Jesus that they were speaking to.  But if they had their eyes on Jesus, instead of their problems and the story they had convinced themselves of, they would have had a much better walk.

We cannot recognize that it is Jesus walking with you if your vision is too firmly entrenched and focused on all of the problems we face and our hopes that have been dashed.  This story didn’t turn out the way Cleopas and his comrade had wanted… it was messier, bloodier, and full of more hurt and pain than they would have ever imagined occurring.  But it was the ONLY way Jesus could achieve His destiny and save the world.  And similarly for us, if we allow a myopic view of our cross to cloud our ability to see Christ walking alongside us we will also fall prey to listening to the narrative instead of the one true Narrator.

Your story is not what you think it is.  The story you tell yourself when walking alone is not what He has in mind.  Just like with these two broken disciples, He has already overcome the very thing you are worried about.  They were bent out of shape about Jesus being dead and He was standing right there.  And your solution already exists as well, even if it is currently transparent to you.  He fulfills all His promises and one of those is that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us.  Deny the narrative the power over your mind that it craves, and instead focus on the truth of the Lord walking with you each and every day.  Your story was not written by your family, your friends, your enemies, or even you.  It was written by Him… before you ever existed.  And He will see you through to the end of the road.

The Ever Decreasing Circle: PUBG, Fortnite and Pressing Forward (1 Kings 19)

So it seems this is officially a thing… the battle royale concept that has spawned two incredibly successful titles and will likely influence or birth several more if the video game industry lives up to the parity it is so well-known for.  I will give credit where credit is due.  Both Battlegrounds and Fortnite are well made titles with an easy drop-in concept to attract new players and a long learning curve to keep veterans busy for hours, days, and perhaps years.  This is gaming’s version of the “Hunger Games”… drop a bunch of people into a giant warzone with nothing but the clothes on their back and fill said warzone with weapons and armor.  Matches vary from a mad scramble for equipment to the never-ending struggle to find a safe spot to survive in, and only one will claim the chicken dinner that awaits you at the end.  Frantic, unpredictable, and spontaneous are the names of the game as every match plays out entirely differently each and every time.

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I will confess this is not exactly my cup of tea, and I will tell you why.  It is all because of that stupid circle.  You know… the one that is slowly decreasing the size of the battlefield to press the combatants together and keep them from simply holing up somewhere and passively waiting out the finish of a match.  If you haven’t played the game, let me enlighten you… as the game moves on the game space shrinks and you must race to stay within the ever-constricting parameters of the gaming area or you will perish outside of it.  This means you can never simply just get comfortable in a well-fortified structure and snipe your way to victory.  You can’t simply hide until it is all over.  You are constantly moving to stay within the circle and your foes are doing the same.  And as the game reaches its climax the few remaining players are pushed ever closer to each other to insure that it is impossible for the conflict to remain unresolved for long.

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If I had my way, my life would play out a lot like the most boring match of PUBG or Fortnite EVER.  I would procure only what I needed to survive, find a comfortable little place to make my own, and peacefully ride out the match in blissful happiness as the sun sets over the trees.  I will be honest and say that I don’t actively search out conflict or even most growth opportunities because of the inherent risks and dangers associated with taking such chances. It is so safe and warm inside, why risk my meager collection of things and stuff?  Unfortunately, such thoughts are the breeding grounds for complacency in both life and our walk with God, and He has a pattern of taking people out of their comfort zones through an ever decreasing circle of His own.

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Elijah was one such man who experienced this.  Now, you might say “WHOA.. hold on.  Elijah was one of the most powerful and well-regarded prophets in the entire Old Testament”.  And if you said that, I would agree with you and also ask you to please stop saying “WHOA” in all caps.  It’s kind of weird.  But even Elijah, a man mightily used by God in so many ways, hit his point where he simply wanted to get away from the battle and call it a day.  Interestingly enough, it happened right after what might be considered one of his greatest triumphs.  Elijah has just finished calling fire, yes ACTUAL fire down from heaven and then slaughtered hundreds of false prophets who were misleading the people of Israel.  It was a pretty amazing scene that culminated in a mighty victory as the people’s hearts returned to God (at least for a moment) and the drought that had plagued the land was lifted.  Elijah was riding a pretty good high and had just updated his social media accounts with pictures of the whole thing.  Good times were being had by all… and then all hell broke loose.

Jezebel, an evil queen who hated God and Elijah, immediately put out a hit out on Elijah and set a 24 hour target for his execution:

1 Kings 19:1-4 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”  And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”

I have walked this path many times, and I have a feeling you have walked a similar one.  Fresh off of a great day, maybe an incredible success at work or a major milestone at home, and then the bad news HITS.  The circle closes in on you as a bill you hadn’t planned for is due immediately.  A friend calls and you get in a huge and unexpected fight.  Maybe a family member or even you yourself are suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  From the dizzying heights of success to the pit of despair in 30 seconds.  And simply sitting where we are at is not an option… as much as we would like to simply sit here and cry we can feel it.  We can feel the circle constricting around us so we do just like Elijah did… we RUN.

Where are we going?  Nowhere in particular.  What do we plan to do when we get there?  I dunno… maybe throw a pity party and ask God to let us die?  If you have never been here, cool.  It must be nice.  But I sure have.  A LOT.  Hot on the heels of every happiness has been a lake of discomfort that immediately challenged me and kept me from simply building a white picket fence around my current sanctuary and instead compelled me to keep on moving.  And that extreme swing from ecstasy to agony is completely normal, completely human, and completely able to be overcome.

First, an important truth.  The truth is Elijah didn’t really want to die.  How do I know that?  Because if he wanted to die he would have stayed his happy butt right where he was and let Jezebel kill him.  He wanted to live… he wanted to move forward but the circle was freaking him out a bit.  And then he ran off alone, leaving his support group behind just as we many times do as well.  So often we isolate ourselves in our pain instead of allowing God’s love and warmth to be shared by a fellow disciple.  And once Elijah ran into the desert, alone and afraid, he found God and His provision waiting there for him… with a new mission meant to take him even further out of his current discomfort zone.

I love how tenderly the Lord reached out to his fearful servant.  He remembers that we are but dust, and he simply asked Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?”  And after Elijah gave God his “Woe is me” speech, God gave Elijah his marching orders for his next three actions and moved him back into the play area.  Jezebel never got close to harming Elijah despite her threats.  God still had plans for him, and the circle that was closing in around him was simply guiding him to his next destination and all of the things God had left for him to accomplish.

I still don’t like the circle.  It doesn’t ask you… it doesn’t prod you… it simply compels your forward progress without emotion or prejudice.  But without this constant pressure towards the end goal it would be easy to get distracted from the things that are of eternal significance.   And it may seem many times in life that a similar feeling surrounds you, never allowing you to reach a point of comfort.  But this is not some uncaring, emotionless force pushing you forward.  It is the hand of a loving God who knows where you need to be and how to get you there and planned this out before you were even born.  Those things that feel random in your life were carefully orchestrated before you even had fingers to feel them.

So I encourage you to keep moving, even when you just wish the world would stop spinning for a second so you can catch your breath.  Keep pressing forward when you can’t see the forest for the trees.  He has a glorious destiny that He built specifically for you.  Ignore the death threats,  the hate mail, and the trolls who want to distract you from your purpose.  The circle is not there to ruin your life… it is there to push you forward to the place you where your life truly begins.

Shadow of the Colossus REDUX: Release, Remaster, or Remake? (2 Cor. 3)

Not many games get the opportunity to have a THIRD life, but of all the games that deserve this chance to breathe again Shadow of the Colossus is certainly one of the most deserving.  Beloved for its low-key telling of an incredibly personal story that involves almost zero dialogue and copious amounts of moody atmosphere, the fact that this game every existed once is a miracle in and of itself.  Originally released on the PS2, Shadow did not fit into any easily characterized “genre” specification.  It’s not really an action game per se, but one could hardly call a game with such limited exposition a story-driven title.  It is partially an adventure game, but devoid of all of the item collecting that typically populates such titles.  It is truly a swan among ducks, not quite fitting into any particular box yet resonating in such a way that it occupies a space all of its own.

shadow-of-the-colossus-listing-thumb-01-ps4-us-17oct17.png   That such a unique beast could exist was incredible, but then the powers that be granted it a resurrection of sorts on the PS3 to reach an entirely new audience in a remastered form.  Updated graphics, textures, and cleaned up animations took this title to new heights as it finally appeared to encompass the creators original vision.  But this game had one more trick up its sleeve… Sony continued to believe in this title and felt it still had not reached its full potential.  It still had an untapped audience who had not yet discovered its grandeur, but a simple re-release was not enough.  The game was REMADE from the ground up… the same concept, story and gameplay conceits but still a completely new creation by a whole new group of creators.  And now it sits on shelves at your favorite neighborhood gaming store, waiting for you to either discover it or “re-discover” it and the journey it has been waiting to take you on.

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Most Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with the idea of being “born again”.  Jesus shared this concept and blew the minds of the religious leaders of His day with the idea that one needed to be “remade” in order to see the Kingdom of God.  At the time, it was considered enough to merely follow the rules and do your best to be pleasing to God in whatever way you could.  To be “born again”?  It sounded a little bit sci-fi… and it definitely threw organized religion out in favor of an experience that did not require a lengthy membership statement to join.

But there is a substantial difference between a “remaster” and a “remake”.  I have experienced this myself in my own life as I spent many of my first 30 years of life in a church-like life trying to be a “remastered” Christ follower.   I was still the same person by and large, just “sanitized”.  Scrubbed down, a little cleaner around the edges… but underneath I was simply a more restrained version of my original self.  I read the Bible a lot, prayed more often, and built my life around church activities.  And for a while I was not only able to convince others but also myself that I was a new creation.  On occasion the whispers of the old life would get loud enough to distract me from my desired path, but as a whole I adhered to a lifestyle that seemed to meet the criteria of being “born again”

What I missed was that I was not in need of a remaster, but a “REMAKE”.  All the original parts had to be removed and replaced with superior technology to provide the full experience that was originally in my Creator’s mind.  I am not sure if you feel the same way, but this path can be much more frustrating because my repeated failures cause me to challenge whether I am actually on the right path.  But in 2 Cor. 13 Paul enlightens us on what the life of one undergoing the “remake” looks like:

2 Cor 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

I hope you caught it here.  If not, let me point it out for you.  It does not say that we WERE transformed (past tense), but rather that we are BEING transformed (present tense).  It is not a one time act in which we become all we were ever meant to be… it is a voyage that we will under-take over the course of our entire existence on this planet.  As we look to the Lord we are constantly compelled to become ever more like Him, and by spending time in His presence through prayer, Bible reading or worship we are on a continual path of being remade into His perfect design for us.

It would be nice if this was as simple as a fresh coat of paint, but His work takes place from the inside out and will take time.  Be patient with the process and understand that as you spend time with Him and draw near you will see the progress from remaster to remake occur in your heart, and this will reveal itself in your life.  And the best part about this is that just like the Shadow of the Colossus… you are still YOU.  You are simply the best version of you… the one that He created you to be.  The one that can accomplish His purposes for your life.

Know that the work you will do for Him will take place ALONG the journey, not just at the end of it.  You will not be fully remade before He starts to use you.  In truth, it is the vulnerable and wounded version of you that may reach others along your way.  But as you are being remade others will be compelled to join this journey with you as we are all being transformed by His Spirit to be more like Him.  So don’t be disappointed if your “born again” experience didn’t quite remake you the way that you had hoped.  This is a life-long remastering project, and you are safe in the Potter’s hands.

Nintendo Labo: When the Unqualified Meets it’s Purpose (Judges 4)

Only Nintendo could do this.  After years of the underselling WiiU console, Nintendo has hit jackpot after jackpot with the worldwide hit of Pokemon Go on mobile platforms, the national Easter Egg Hunt that was the release of the NES and SNES classic,  and now the record-breaking sales of the Switch console.   Add to this incredible run the “Game of the Year” releases of both Zelda and Mario Odyssey, and it is clear that everything Nintendo has been touching has fully turned to gold.  But this new idea is not only the largest example yet of Nintendo thinking outside of the box… this is Nintendo thinking about the box ITSELF.

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Nintendo Labo is an idea that could only work in the world that Nintendo has created.  Multiple accessories made completely out of cardboard are the name of the game here, and with this upcoming product it is safe to say that gaming will truly never be the same again.  I mean seriously… all of the accessories are being made out of one of the least expensive and readily available substances on the planet, and yet I can’t imagine too many Switch owners who would not be compelled to at least give this a try.  From a mock piano to a fishing pole, the sky is the limit for these low-cost but high-concept cardboard based accessories designed to enhance the already stout capabilities of this hybrid handheld/console into yet another incredible experience that defies both imagination and the traditional confines of retail.

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Cardboard may be one of the most unlikely materials to create new video game experiences from, and I can’t imagine too many gaming companies that were having serious conversations about its potential applications with their high-tech gaming systems.  But this incredibly unqualified substance is about to have its date with destiny thanks to Nintendo’s belief in its hidden capabilities.  Many of us are often in a similar situation… at times feeling like cardboard standees on a field of battle that we frankly don’t feel like we belong in.  With all of our dreams of accomplishing great things in our lives and for the Lord it is easy to feel overwhelmed by our lack of qualifications for the path we dream of walking.

In Judges 4 we find one such “cardboard soldier”.  Presumably, this is the story of Deborah, the first and only female judge of Israel and her right hand man Barak.  At least that’s how it starts.  Deborah has been tasked by the Lord to send an army into battle against Canaanites and she recruits Barak to lead the army into battle.  But Deborah is quite clear from the word go that he will NOT be the one laying the fatal blow to the enemy.  Rather, it would be an unheralded non-combatant who would provide the deliverance for all of the people of Israel.

Fast-forward to the battle and we find the enemy general Sisera running from the field of battle to regroup.  Both sides were locked into fierce combat and Sisera’s army was being completely overrun.  In his exhaustion he stops at the tent of a family that has been an ally to his people previously.  With a little rest and an opportunity to create a new plan of attack he may be able to turn the tide of the battle, and as he approaches the tent he is greeted by the “cardboard” hero of our story.

Jael, who had no previous involvement in the war effort, who was not part of the planning meeting earlier, and was not featured in any of the promotional marketing is about to step into not only her destiny, but become the hero of the whole campaign…

Judges 4: 17-21  However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.’”Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.

Jael was not a soldier.  She was not a judge.  She was not even allied with the Israeli army.  But she was the wild card that the Lord had chosen to deliver the killing blow to the enemy.  She was not even in pursuit of her true purpose when this story started.  The Lord brought her destiny to HER.  And when it was time, she played the part of charming hostess long enough to take down an enemy that only she was in position to defeat.  It was the very unassuming nature of her position that made her the PERFECT weapon against her foe.

I have struggled, as I am sure many of us have, with my lack of qualifications to do the work that my spirit compels me to complete.  I have often felt that I am little more than a cardboard soldier in a war meant for those who can drive tanks and fire heavy artillery.  But the Lord does not always use the qualified, the skilled, or the warriors to do His work.  As a matter of fact, more often than not He does not choose the qualified, but rather He qualifies the CHOSEN.  Jael was not most people’s first choice for delivering her people.  I will bet most of her people didn’t even know her name or who she was.  But the Lord saw her as his perfect weapon and she did the job that ONLY she could do.

I would have never picked cardboard to be the next innovation in gaming.  But yet here we are.  And whatever your past, your present, or the outlook on your future is… you are more than the sum of your parts and experiences.  They merely brought you into the position for you to defeat enemies that others can’t.  Because of your path you have been placed into the IDEAL position to deliver others from what oppresses them.  You are the “Jael” for someone in your life… so take joy in the “cardboard” that you may feel you are.  That is why your enemy underestimates you.  And THAT is why the Lord will use you to defeat him.

Finding the Monster Hunter Inside You (Judges 11)

Monster Hunter World pulls no punches in name or execution… it has monsters. Lots of them. A whole world of them, in fact. You are a monster hunter. You hunt them. I like truth in advertising… it’s refreshing in an era where we have games with bizarre titles such as Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days or Birthdays: The Beginning. I like knowing what I’m getting in a game, and Monster Hunter World does not disappoint. And like most quest games of this nature, you will embark on a never-ending quest to slay as many monsters as you can shake a pointy stick at through an extended period of grinding through lower level encounters, gaining new armor and weapons, and slowly preparing yourself for the more epic battles that will require a little help from some friends.

I quite prefer external monsters. No matter how scary or intimidating they appear to be, they are tangible, visible, and able to be targeted. It’s almost reassuring to look your enemy in the eye, no matter how over-matched you may be, because you at least have the luxury of sizing them up and determining an effective strategy to take them down. If I have learned one thing in all my years of gaming, every monster has a weak point to attack or a pattern of movement that can be learned and exploited. And with enough tenacity, even the largest colossus eventually falls.

The monsters within are the ones that keep me up at night. The ones that get into your mind and tell you what you can’t do, that pry into your soul and remind you of what you have been, and dig their claws into your heart and rip out what you have tried so hard to protect. Such monsters were the kind that surrounded Jephthah, a little known leader from Judges 11 who carried his own monsters into battle in a way I can definitely relate to.

His introduction is rough right from the start:

Judges 11:1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot

Ouch. That intro leaves a little to be desired. I mean seriously, could you imagine entering a business meeting and this is how you are introduced? Talk about a back-handed compliment. And his story does not get much better. It was a tremendous social disgrace to be a child born out-of-wedlock in those times, much less a by-product of prostitution. Jephthah was never intended to be conceived by his father or mother… he was not only an accident, but a liability to both of them. And he paid the price for his innocent but unplanned arrival by getting kicked out of his parents home and ex-communicates by his siblings that were born of “proper” means.

But Jephthah was not going to be defined by his ignominious birth… read the other part of that verse. He was also a mighty man of valor. He was a warrior… a monster hunter of his day. And he was not going to be defined by his tragedy or his circumstances. And when the chips were down and Israel needed a conqueror, they came to the man they had discarded as unwanted and useless and begged him to do what he did best. He led them victoriously in not only that battle, but for six years he continued to be their leader until his death.

I believe we all struggle with our own private monsters, and they are far more dangerous than any external foe because they seek to discredit us from our destiny from the inside out. Within each of us lies the monster hunter that your circle of influence needs, but we also carry inside us the monsters who tell us why we can’t. For Jephthah he had to overcome a shady past and the knowledge that he was never truly wanted by his family or even his people. But he pushed beyond that pain to achieve his purpose. When the people needed help that only he could provide, his birth status no longer mattered. His previous shame lost all relevance. He was the one who could save them… it was what he had carried inside all along but they were too blind to see it.

You are someone’s monster hunter too… you have the unique gifts that someone else is going to need and have been carrying them all along. And the Lord who placed these gifts within you has also placed you on a direct path of intersection with those who need your help. Your internal monsters may tell you that you are unworthy. You are in good company. Just ask the Apostle Paul…

1 Cor 15:9-10 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

It is part of the journey to be aware that none of us will ever be worthy of the calling placed on us.  But we cannot allow those internal monsters to distract us from taking down the eternal monsters we have been challenged with subduing.  It is actually the point of this life… God uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect plan to the benefit of all of us.  From Abraham to Moses to Peter and Paul, we are all on a path to save others while still needing Christ daily to save ourselves.  Engage those monsters in the field hunters… by doing so you may find that the act of releasing one person from their bondage may enable them to release you from your own.

The Candy Within: The Dark Side of Viva Pinata (Psalm 51)

I just couldn’t do it.  I knew it was the only way to move forward.  The game’s progress was contingent upon my willingness to make a sacrifice that I simply couldn’t bring myself to make.  The cost was just too great and as I looked in the eyes of little “Wormie”, despite what the game required, I chose to decline the choice presented to me and instead opted to simply stop playing.  These statements may need some context… allow me to explain.

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Viva Pinata appears to be a cheerful, family friendly gardening simulator.  “APPEARS” is the operative word in that sentence.  You start out with a small, humble plot of land to begin your garden and the first inhabitant of your little slice of heaven is a simple little worm.  It lacks color, has no home, and is pretty easy to convince to stay.  He has pretty low expectations, being a worm and all.  As you progress you can build your little worm a home so he can convince a second worm to build a life together with him in your cheerful little homestead.  You can name them, dress them with cute little scarves, and eventually the worms will do what two little worms are gonna do.  Next thing you know, you have a whole happy family of worms living together in your garden paradise.  So far so good, right?

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Unfortunately, this is not what the game considers progression.  Inside each of your little pinatas lies something very important… CANDY.  I know, that comes as a surprise.  But in order to access said candy, the pinata has to be “broken”.  And that is a more violent process than I was prepared to endure.  To get another type of pinata to come and stay in your garden, they will first need to eat a pinata that currently lives there.  For example, the bird will need to eat a worm.  And my worms had not been bred for being eaten.  They were a family with their little names and outfits and such.  But to get to the next stage of the game, I would have to accept that a moment of becoming “broken” was the price of admission.

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In Psalm 51 you can find the prayer of David after his moral failure with Bathsheba.  David is very direct with his words and paints a very visceral picture of this concept of “brokenness”.

Psalm 51: 16-17: For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.

David had to endure a season of becoming “broken” to advance to the next level with the Lord.  Now his was due to a sin he had committed, but as we will find this is not the only reason we encounter times of being broken in our walk with God.  Indeed, the act of being broken is a prerequisite to the final stages of fulfilling one’s destiny in multiple occasions.  Job exhibited exceptional brokenness as he cried out to the Lord in his suffering through his many trials.   Prophets such as Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah each faced painful broken periods in which they asked for death, release, or at least a reprieve from the journey they were on.  But the fruit would only be exposed once they had been broken on the potter’s wheel.  Now I know what you are thinking…  how about one more for the road?

Asked and answered.  The most famous and well-known case of brokenness comes to us from our Lord and Savior Himself, the man Christ Jesus.  In a verse that is typically utilized in every instance of partaking Communion, we read how His body was BROKEN for us as a means of saving us:

1 Cor: 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Brokenness is not only the path… it is the destination.  It is where Jesus fulfilled his destiny and accomplished His purpose on this earth.  And no matter how you got to where you are now, through sin or obedience, it is the path to and THROUGH the broken place that the critical parts of you that are inside are broken and spilled out in a way that brings others to the garden.  Fortunately for all of us, our Heavenly Father loves us enough to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.  He knows not only what we can endure, but He knows our true breaking point and what reaching that point will yield.  And He gathers exactly who will need the unique “candy” that our brokenness will generate to be there at the perfect time in our lives.  So don’t hide from the stick that breaks your pinata open… endure.  It is at the apex of your shatter point that you can truly feed those around you in need.