Halo: Outpost Discovery and the Silent Suffering of the Master Chief (Job 1-2)

I would highly encourage you to check out the Halo: Outpost Discovery event if it is landing in an area near you.  After attending the event this past weekend I can tell you that it is a definite must-see for any massive Halo fan (such as myself) due to its unique offerings.  It is not only a travelling museum of iconic Halo gear such as the Warthog and a selection of the Chief’s arsenal of weapons, but it also has a number of interactive elements and exhibits that range from a Halo-inspired escape room to virtual reality combat and laser tag.  It was quite a unique experience, and while the lines were lengthy the presentation was everything you would want from a branded Halo exhibition.

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Speaking of those wonderfully long lines… while standing in one of those epic lines for the “Ring Experience” (editor’s note… it was over TWO hours) it struck me that while the Master Chief has a lot of impressive wins under his belt that this museum is cataloging for the posterity of generations to come, his path is actually filled with a lot more loss and pain than may seem evident on the surface.  When you are busy saving the galaxy on a regular basis it is easy to forget the pain, loss, and solitude of this heroic character.  And if you are not up on your Master Chief history, you are in luck… I have a crash course just for you.  And YES, I know he is just a fictional character.  But in all fairness, you are the one reading an article about VIDEO GAMES.  So please, suspend your disbelief for just a moment,  hop in the passenger side of this Warthog, and let’s take a drive together…

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Let’s take a high level overview… did you know that the Master Chief we all know and love was once just a normal boy who was kidnapped from his family at six years old to undergo the radical (and illegal) biological experiments that would forcibly evolve him into the massive physical specimen that he is today?  Pretty rough start… then, as one of the few survivors of this process he was stripped of his identity and given the simple code name that we now know him as, John-117.  As he progressed and watched as most of his surviving comrades fall to impossible odds in various military operations he finally found a friend.  An AI named Cortana, who would then become the newest heartache in his life as he watched her lose her mind, sacrifice herself, and ultimately be reborn as an adversary.  Tough sledding for this guy.

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It’s pretty easy for us to gloss over those details and focus only on his many victories, but the truth is that the Master Chief is defined by his pain, suffering, and losses even more than his many battlefield victories.  It seems almost impossible to consider this iconic character as a “loser”, but if we define a “loser” as someone who routinely experiences loss… this guy has that in spades.  And here is where we all have a great deal more in common with this fictional character than may be apparent on the surface.  We all have the distinction of dealing with loss, pain, and losing on a near daily basis.  And while this reveals itself in many different ways throughout our lives the one constant is how this can often drive us away from God, wondering why this is happening to us and why He allows this pain without stopping it when we KNOW He is able to.  And if we look to the book of Job, we will find some answers.

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Across the first two chapters of Job we see perhaps the most tragic collection of losses a human being has endured without respite.  Verse after verse is a sword plunged into the heart of Job as he loses his wealth, his possessions, the lives of his servants, the lives of his children, and finally his health.  The fall of Job continues as his friends turn on Him and His wife encourages him to “curse God and die”.  I doubt he found that particular piece of advice helpful.  As the losses piled up it had to be impossible for Job to see a bright light at the end of any of these tunnels.  Whatever your worst day on this planet turns out to be, it is really hard to argue against the fact that Job has the market cornered on how to lose in epic fashion.  Truly the man was left with nothing but sorrow and pain.

The backdrop of this is a fascinating yet still difficult to imagine war in the heavens, as Lucifer lives up to his billing as the enemy of the saints and God grants him permission to afflict Job in all of the areas described above.  I will admit that with my human mind and emotions that can be difficult to read and troubling to accept.  All of this tragedy that befalls Job, all of the death and the fallout from the merciless attack from the devil, and God not only chooses not to stop it but provides a set of parameters to contain it.  For anyone that has suffered loss, this is the time when all of those hollow words about “living in victory” as a “child of the King” really come into play, as Job’s friends begin the persecution of their broken and damaged companion by placing the blame for this set of events squarely on him.  Often we in the body of Christ are rightfully charged with executing our own wounded, and here is a case in point that this has existed for thousands of years.

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But through this non-stop barrage of losing we have an exceptionally quotable response from Job that truly illustrates the character of this man of God. In Job 1:20-22 we find that Job’s reaction to his tremendous losses was to worship God and say,

“The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away”. 

Wow.  Without a trace of the bitterness and resentment I know I would be feeling in that moment Job illustrates His full understanding of the nature of our mortal existence.  We came into this world with nothing, and we don’t get to bring a carry-on into the afterlife.  All that we have are temporary gifts from God meant to be used, given, and enjoyed.  And when these are removed, we understand that just like checking a book out at the library it all eventually returns to the owner.  We never “possessed” any of it in the first place… we were merely caretakers of the gifts, relationships, and talents of what God has given us, and as illustrated in Matthew 25 there will be a reckoning in which we must give it all back.

It would be absurd for someone to be disappointed when it is time to return a rental car at its pre-determined time of return.  But so often we treat our possessions, our relationships, and even our own lives as something that we are entitled to have and should possess some autonomy over their deployment.  Job’s response reveals the truth… we are creations, not creators.  We are renters, not owners, and truth be told we can’t even afford the rent.  And herein lies the answer to our questions from what transpired in between God and the devil at the beginning of these events… God is not merciless in His approach to our emotions and thoughts, but His priority is to our growth as His children.  As great of a man of God as Job was and as faithful as he had been in his relationship with the Lord, this experience revealed his need to see the sovereignty of God as something that extends beyond the ability of our mortal minds to grasp.

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God did not come to Job and say, “Oh, poor Job. I shouldn’t have let this happen to you.”  God did not apologize for what happened and if you are waiting for that day I will forewarn you that is a long wait for a train that will never arrive at the station.   As the owner of what He allows us to steward, He is entitled to ask for it back through whatever means He chooses at whatever time He desires.  But these are not the actions of a cruel or uncaring Father… no, He personally provided us this unique insight into the workings of the throne room so we would understand that there is always a purpose to the pain and many times there is a replacement of more than what you have lost waiting for you if you remain faithful and teachable as Job clearly was.

Let me provide an example that may make this interaction with our Heavenly Father a little easier to understand… oftentimes when I am walking through the mall the calm will be broken by a toddler that is demanding something from their parents.  Perhaps it is a chance to romp in the play area, maybe a cookie from a vendor, or the desire for a toy from a nearby store, but clearly this child will DIE if they do not get what they believe they are needing and they have no problem alerting every mall patron of this.  As you see the parent drag the child kicking and screaming to a private area to provide some level of discipline and “course correction”, it is easy to be sympathetic to the little child.  How easy it would be to stop their crying by simply giving them the cookie, or letting them run off some energy in the play area.

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But we lack the context of the parent in that instance.  Perhaps the bigger picture is that the child is on their way to a birthday party which will be filled with cake and activities if they would simply keep on going.  Or maybe the parent already has a better gift in mind and will not allow the child to settle for the simple trinket they think they cannot live without.  The parent may have observed that there are larger children in the play area that would play too rough and cause harm to the smaller toddler if they entered the play area at that time.  There’s a myriad of possibilities that are crystal clear to the parent but are misunderstood by those observing as well as invisible to the child.

Similarly, we are watching the Lord “parent” His child Job.  He pulled back the curtain on their dialogue so we would understand that He did what was necessary out of love for His servant Job, who he clearly cherished. But He had to provide appropriate discipline and course correction even though to those of us watching it seems a little harsh and to Job it appears unnecessary.  In Job 42:1-7 we find Job’s final response to the lesson the Lord was implanting into His child, and it is clear the lesson was well earned and well learned as Job says,

 “I have declared without understanding things too wonderful for me to know”.

I will confess that many times I have been the adult child kicking and screaming for what I see in the toy store window or for the candy I dropped on the ground, demanding for heaven to hear me and my cries.  I have had times when I have gotten so tired of losing that each loss, no matter how small, feels impossible to bear and my reactions are as out of place as a giant temper tantrum in front of the Build-A-Bear store.  Job’s response puts the responsibility right back on me as I see that it is not unfairness from the Lord that I am experiencing. It is His unbiased eye that sees my past, present, and future simultaneously that guides His decisions, and the sooner I understand this the easier it will be to follow Him along the way.

And the beauty of this is Job’s story doesn’t end there with a costly lesson learned and the credits rolling along to a melancholy song… no, in Job 42:10 we find the conclusion of this tale of losing ends with not only a replacement of all Job had lost, but a double-portion as well.  Through his patient acceptance of this season of losing he came out the other side with twice what he had entered with, complete with another 140 years of life to enjoy with his new blessings.  There is hope for those who have lost if we refuse to accept the bitterness that often is associated with losing. 

The story of the Master Chief may be filled with loss and pain, but it is through this that he became the galactic hero of not only humanity, but every alien species as well. His path to becoming a hero was built from his exceptional pain and tragic losses. But because of the painful path he walked he, and he alone, would be able to make the tough decisions and take the critical actions that only someone who was equipped in this way and had endured this path could do. By accepting that there is a grander stage where our story is being played out and a lesson that we are destined to learn even through the darkest pain, we can do more than survive the losing. We can grow and gain from it as long as the ground of our hearts remain soft to the touch of the Master.

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Dissecting the 2020 Marvel Avengers Game… Some “Assembling” Required? (2 Timothy 3)

Soooo… that happened.  Oh, you didn’t see it?  The game trailer for the new Avengers game?  Allow me to enlighten you… Marvel’s Avengers, the largest, hottest, most lucrative franchise on the planet right now, is finally getting a proper game.  Nothing against the Lego Marvel games that have been released thus far, but this was the one we have all been waiting for.  The big reveal of a massive, next-gen, immersive Avengers gaming experience, the likes of which we have only been able to dream of up to this point.  And when the wait was over and we saw the reveal trailer, when we HEARD it… it was like the death star explosion all over again.  Millions of gamers voices crying out… and suddenly silenced.

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Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter.  These Avengers… well, how can I put this nicely.  They are the WORST.  And it truly hurts to say this because I am such a massive fan of both Marvel and Square Enix, the studio who is publishing this title.  After spending years watching every Marvel movie made to this point, I kind of have a certain expectation for Earth’s mightiest heroes… and this game gives me the same feeling as when you think you are about to eat a nice bowl of Fruit Loops and get some off-brand “Fruity O’s of Fun” cereal instead.  You know, the kind of cereal that comes in a CAN instead of a box.  It looks similar, but it is just WRONG on so many levels.  And that is my issue with this “knock-off” Avengers team I am staring at right here.  They feel like the Dollar Tree version of these cinematic icons.

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And it’s not just the character models… they not only look wrong, but they SOUND wrong too.  The voices aren’t even close to what we have been accustomed to hearing, and the dialogue that was demonstrated lacked any of the fun, the infighting, the sarcasm… the CHARACTER that have made each of these portrayals so endearing.  I truly mean no disrespect to the voice actors or artists on this project, and I am sure they are doing their level best here without having the visual or audio rights to the actual actors who we have grown to love in these roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But this does not change my disappointment in a game that I was REALLY looking forward to… and now, unfortunately, not so much.

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There are few things in life more disappointing than a counterfeit.  And in the world we are in today, we are surrounded by them.  Everything from our currency, clothing, accessories, electronics… there seems to be more “fake” than there is “real” out there at this point.  And while these “imposter” goods can often be found much cheaper than the genuine article, they are never as good.  At times they can actually be hazardous to your health… I mean, do you really want a counterfeit seat belt or air bag in your car?  How about an off-brand ladder that is only “GENOSHA” approved instead of OSHA?  (I reached deep for that Genosha reference… you are welcome.  Google it.  I will still be here while you are out.)   

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The truth is that we are internally built to reject counterfeits.  Think about your body… it knows your blood type even if you don’t, and it will attack any injected blood that is pretending to belong when it doesn’t.  It may look the same, act the same, and seem physically identical upon first glance.  But your body knows the difference, and it will forcibly reject it.  As it SHOULD.  And this issue plagues our world in another very vital way each and every day… in our spiritual lives through “Counterfeit Christianity”.

It may look like the real thing at first glance, but allow it to penetrate you and you will immediately realize something is horribly wrong.  The rejection will happen at an almost molecular level.  Your spirit inside you recognizes it for the toxin that it truly is and shuts it out before it can do any more damage.  But here is the problem… fear of the counterfeit has left us in a world that now rejects the authentic as a defense mechanism.  Just yesterday I was speaking to someone about God when they immediately threw up a wall due to their prior experiences with a “fake” Christian who had ruined their taste for the “real”.  It is a problem now, and it has been a problem well before our time.  Let’s take a deeper look…

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving,  unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 

The Apostle Paul may have written this two thousand years ago, but it’s relevancy reads straight out of the evening news.  The key phrase here is “Having a form of godliness, but denying its power”.  It LOOKS like the real thing, but probe beneath the surface and you will find that it has no SUBSTANCE… no actual POWER.  And I believe that is what is plaguing our world today… weak, powerless, pointless, superficial, FAKE Christianity.  People are sick of seeing something that isn’t real, and after observing it so many times they are simply closed off to any more foolishness.  And why wouldn’t they be?  They have been disappointed, misled, and HURT by people who claimed to represent their Creator.  After being burned enough times with the counterfeit, many people simply stop believing that something authentic actually exists.

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Now for some good news… the presence of the counterfeit PROVES the authenticity of the genuine.  Think about it… the only reason counterfeit money exists is because REAL money also exists.  Fake Rolex watches and knock-off Gucci bags would not be all over eBay if ACTUAL Rolex watches and Gucci bags didn’t have substantial value.  Nobody wastes time making a false version of non-existent product.  And likewise, in spite of the massive prevalence “faked” beliefs and lifestyles, there is a real, authentic Christianity that we are MANDATED to present to the world.

Now, truth time…we will not always be perfect.  Far from it.  Because of my myriad of shortcomings and sins, many times I feel more like the “knock-off” version of Captain America myself… more of a “Pretender” than an “Avenger”.  Actually, that is still way too kind.  I’m more like the knock-off version of Fat Thor except without the epic hair.  Regardless, we are ALL going to fall short.  We will not always be the perfect representation of Christ despite our best efforts.  But we must continue to present both our faith in Christ AS WELL AS our continuing struggles to “walk the walk” with authenticity to all who are observing.

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So what can we do now to repair this?  All we can do, and what I intend to do from this point in my life and going forward is to represent our faith responsibly and with integrity.  I can’t change what I have been, but I CAN choose who I WILL be.  If someone tries to compare me to their vision of what a Christian should be, my past will surely disappoint them.  But I will not present some weak, counterfeit version of my faith that will rightfully be rejected by the recipient.  We have a mission… to reach the world with the Gospel.  And we MUST do it with sincerity and authenticity.  The world is BEGGING for something REAL, and if you have chosen to follow Christ then you have what they are looking for.

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I truly hope this Avengers game irons out the kinks and delivers a title worthy of the license.  And if it does, I will be the first to sing it’s praises.  But more importantly, I hope this has encouraged each of us to look at how we represent ourselves and our faith to all who are watching us.  We have a legacy and a responsibility to deliver the “REAL” to all we come into contact with.  A REAL, yet flawed Christian is like a partially torn $100 bill.  It may not be perfect, but it hasn’t lost any of it’s value unless it disqualifies itself. It’s still worth $100, and even the best looking counterfeit has ZERO value compared to a damaged, faded, old, torn $100 bill.  So the choice is yours…will the real Captain America please stand up?

James 1:22-27 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

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CyberPunk, Ghost Recon, and the “Stunt-Casting” Predicament (Exodus 32, John 12)

It has existed throughout the years in all of our forms of entertainment… celebrity stunt-casting.  It happens when your favorite television show injects some much needed hype into their series by bringing in a high-profile celebrity for a few episodes to drive ratings up.  A long-in-tooth movie franchise snaps up a rising star to capture some fresh eyeballs on their tired gimmick (I’m looking right at you, Fast and the Furious.  I mean, seriously… if you are getting the senior citizen discount on your car insurance then I don’t think you count as Fast OR Furious anymore.  What are they going to do in the next movie… race to the Golden Corral so they get there in time for the Early Bird special?  Maybe a bran muffin and some prune juice might make them a little less furious…)

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And of course we see this in video games, although it is not quite as frequent.  Death Stranding brought in the widely-recognized Norman Reedus from the Walking Dead and has featured him prominently in every ad for this upcoming title.   Ghost Recon took a similar approach by snapping up Punisher/Walking Dead star Jon Bernthal as a featured primary character in their next game.  And unless you have been living under a rock, you couldn’t have missed the “Keanu Reeves Mania” that hit when he was revealed as an in-game character for the highly anticipated CyberPunk 2077.  These celebrities voices and likenesses will dominate the posters and display cases for these games as they utilize their fresh, recognizable image to drive awareness for their new IP or reinvigorate their original concept.

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On the surface this is not a problem, nor is it something new to the video game industry.  For years we have had celebrities pop up in our games… it is just becoming more mainstream now than it has ever been before.  And while these celebrities are unlikely to have any actual impact on the quality of the game (other than the “coolness” factor of beating up thugs alongside Keanu Reeves), the truth is that this trend is a reflection on our fascination with image and how that impacts our perception of the overall product.  And it goes far beyond video games.. if you are like me you have probably purchased something at the grocery store because it looked great on the box, but when you got it home it tasted awful.  (On an unrelated note, DON’T EVER BUY “Peanut Butter Chocolate Blasted Shreds cereal.  It’s the WORST.  You have been warned.)  And now it just sits there, rotting away in your fridge or pantry as it slowly crawls toward it’s expiration date, a harsh reminder of the difference between what you thought you were getting and the reality of what was inside.

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In our lives we have a similar predicament, as the God we serve so often reveals Himself in a different way than what we were expecting.  We have a concept of what He is supposed to act like and how He should do things, but what is in the box rarely seems to match up to the image we have built for ourselves in our minds.  Regardless of your level of Biblical knowledge or amount of religious upbringing, if you believe in God then you most likely have some sort of predetermined notions as to how He is supposed to behave.  And the reality is, we can get caught up in some “stunt-casting” of our own as we attempt to remake God in our own image.

This has happened numerous times throughout the Bible, and we will look at two separate times and the ramifications of this issue.  Let’s start in one of the most well known occurrences, Exodus 32.  This is all the way back in the Old Testament when Moses was leading God’s people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  Moses had to stop off the trail and get the Ten Commandments from God for a few days, and while the cat was away the mice certainly decided to play…

Exodus 32:1-4 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.  Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

I think we can already see that this is going to go horribly wrong, but let’s dissect it for a minute anyway.  Because the people were impatient with the speed with which God and his chosen leader Moses were moving, they decided to build a different image of God and follow that instead.  An inert, shell of their own creation… a lifeless representation of the fake gods they had seen during their foray in Egypt.  This seems almost incomprehensible today… after seeing the incredible power of God displayed in their escape from Egypt (the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, etc.), how could they possibly make the decision to choose something man-made and pretend that this was what saved them?  I mean, even from a basic concept of logic it makes no sense.  How could an idol they just created have saved them in the past?

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Here’s the truth… they would rather have a form of a god that met THEIR demands instead of a relationship with the actual God of the universe who rarely operates under our preferred timetable.  When faced with the choice of waiting on God or forging their own path… they bet on themselves.  And while it is pretty unlikely that you have been considering melting your jewelry and forming it into the shape of your favorite livestock, the truth is we are all guilty of deciding how we want our God to look, act and behave when he doesn’t seem to cooperate with our plans.  We remake and reshape God into the form of what we would prefer to follow instead of allowing Him to be who He truly is.

This happened in the New Testament as well… in John 12 we find Jesus entering Jerusalem in an impressive parade.  This is a climactic point in His earthly ministry, and from outside appearances He is about to change the status quo in a pretty momentous way.  His followers have been waiting for this moment… fresh off of the resurrection of Lazarus and a variety of other miracles the popularity of Jesus was at a fever pitch.  Crowds followed Him everywhere, his name was on everyone’s lips, and something major was imminent…

John 12:12-18 The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!”Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:“Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.

It all sounds pretty good, except for one small, minor detail.  In less than a week the very same crowd of people that are putting on this parade will be chanting “Crucify Him” and mocking the one they just called “King”.  Why is that?  In both these examples we see the fickle nature of people, who will faithfully follow and celebrate God in their lives right up to the point where He stops acting and behaving the way that they wanted.  Then, they turn on him and replace Him with something that will be a little more obedient, compliant… predictable.  Now you might see this and say, “Well, I don’t have any golden cows or sheep anywhere around here, I would never vote to crucify Jesus, and I don’t even know the first thing about smelting.  What does this have to do with me?”  And I’m glad you asked that oddly specific question, or I wouldn’t be able to segue into this next paragraph so effectively.

We are all guilty at many times in our lives of replacing God with a “better casting choice”.  Don’t believe me?  Think of the times we KNOW what God has commanded us to do in the Bible, but then we seek out an answer from a friend, loved one, or a fellow believer until we get the response that we REALLY wanted to hear.  Or when we reshape our beliefs based on what our current culture tells us is true about God instead of what the God who never changes has already told us about Himself in the Bible.  He hates what He hates, He loves what He loves, He has done what He has done, and we cannot change that simply because it is inconvenient or unpopular.  He is unchanging, regardless of how many times we are tempted to put a different face on Him to make Him more appealing to others.

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I hope that this challenges you the same way it challenges me… to embrace God exactly as He is, instead of trying to put Him into a box that fits our desired representation of Him.  He is not some inert idol, a genie’s lamp to be rubbed whenever we need a wish granted.  He is also not here to win any popularity contests and He isn’t too concerned with winning a People’s Choice award.  He is the God of the Bible, the same yesterday, today and forever.  He cannot operate under the constraints of the little box we tend to want to keep Him in… He requires control of every aspect of our lives and must exist as He truly is in all points of our world.  He defies our descriptions and needs to quantify and simply chose to identify Himself as “I AM”.  His decisions on right and wrong are not opinions… they are ironclad.  And He isn’t available any other way.

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E3 2019 Wrap-Up: Much Ado About Keanu and a “Future-Focused” Present (Philippians 1:21-26)

And that’s a wrap on the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo!  The focus was quite clearly placed on the year 2020 with:

  • The reveal of the next Xbox with a holiday 2020 release date (not much of a surprise)
  • KEANU REEVES!!! (That was actually a pretty awesome surprise)
  • Concrete release dates revealed for massively anticipated titles such as Final Fantasy VII (March 2020) and CyberPunk 2077 (April 2020)  (Disappointing wait time, but not terribly surprising)
  • Halo Infinite confirmed for 2020 along with the new Xbox (No Keanu Reeves in this one… at least not yet)
  • KEANU REEVES!!!!!  (Keanu Reeves was THERE.  I didn’t know if you knew that yet.  Just making sure.)
  • Animal Crossing, Watch Dogs Legion, DragonBall Z, Avengers, Rainbow Six, Dying Light 2… yep, you guessed it… ALL coming in 2020 (Sensing a theme yet?)

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Now, to be fair for just a moment, there were a lot of solid reveals on what 2019 still has to offer.  Luigi’s Mansion 3 looks good, Gears of War 5 demonstrated some exciting new modes ahead of it’s 2019 launch, and we saw a lengthy bit of exciting gameplay from the new Star Wars title.  But if you ask anyone who either attended the show or watched the presentations about which announcements they are most excited about… their answer will most likely fall in the 2020 calendar year.

In the video game world we almost always have one foot firmly planted in the present while preparing for our next step into the future.  We wrap up a game only to immediately scour the internet for rumors of a sequel.  We watch the credits after we finish off the final boss hoping to catch a glimpse of a “Marvel Movie-style” after-credits sequence that hints at where the story might head next.  We have been trained to always  look forward to what’s next, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing… unless it comes at the cost of the present.

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In the video game industry, the reality is that the sales of the games of today are what pay for the games of tomorrow.  This year’s Call of Duty release is going to pay for the development of the next several titles in this franchise.  If you choose to purchase Luigi’s Mansion you are also funding the next project (or several projects) from Nintendo.  The future requires the success of the present to exist.  But times like these in the console cycle are the most delicate, because gamers are now having to make a decision about whether they part with their hard-earned entertainment budget now to pay for the 2019 titles that are available, or do they save their money to afford what 2020 is going to demand from them.  It’s a hard choice… do you pick up titles like Ghost Recon and Gears this year, or do you save up your money to buy a new Xbox console and Halo next year?  Choices, choices…

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There are a lot of inherent problems with focusing on the future at the expense of the present, and this led me to consider how many of us do this in our spiritual life as well.  I have asked many people about their faith choices in life over the years, and I have found an interesting commonality.  When asked directly about why they follow their particular faith, many people who follow Christ or any other form of religion often have a similar response regardless of their actual belief system… because they want to go to heaven after they die.  Or conversely, because they don’t want to go to hell.

We often look at our choice of religious commitment as a means to either insure our eternal salvation or avoid everlasting judgment.  And as a result, we live an artificially constrained life where we follow the rules and the guidelines of the life that is required of us in order to insure we are on the right flight when our time comes.  And those are completely understandable reasons for making the choice to follow God… they just aren’t the RIGHT reasons.

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This begs a troubling question… do we serve God because we truly see the value in spending each day of our earthly lives with Him?  Or are we merely heavenly “gold-diggers”, making sacrifices in our current physical existence because we view it as some kind of investment into those “streets of gold”?  I will confess that for the majority of my life I viewed my Christianity through this lens… a means to an end.  I will do what God says to do so I can get to heaven, whether I like it or not.  I was looking at heaven the way one does a 401k or retirement fund… a little less fun for now so I can afford to have fun later.  Have you ever viewed your walk with God the same way?

Or… perhaps you are still on the outside looking in. You like the idea of heaven a WHOLE lot more than the concept of an eternal lake of fire.  But you see no compelling reason to make that choice right NOW… I mean, what’s the rush?  Why sacrifice the fun and the freedom you currently enjoy for a list of restrictive rules when you can just wait until a more convenient time to punch your ticket?  I can definitely relate to that way of thinking as well.  And both of these concepts are missing out on the point of being a follower of Christ in the first place.

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Going to heaven in the future is a MASSIVE benefit to the choice to follow Christ, but our eternal life with God does not start with our death… it starts right HERE, in THIS LIFE, in the PRESENT.  We have a Creator who desires to live INSIDE of us throughout each and every day, helping with every decision, with a promise NEVER to leave.  This is captured in both the Old and New Testament…

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5-6 For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

With the promise of the best tag-team partner on the planet, why would anyone choose to go forward alone?  With the wisdom of the Almighty at your disposal, why would you ever want to make a choice without His guidance?  Think of it this way… if you have a 30 mile drive to a destination you have never been to before, you will most likely use your GPS to guide you safely there. The GPS would be giving you route directions all the way to your destination… not because it wants to ruin your journey, but because it knows where you are going and you don’t.  And walking would be a painful, pointless way to travel if a vehicle is available, wouldn’t you think?  So… why would you want to walk this life alone without the support or guidance that would get you there the safest, smartest, fastest, and easiest way?

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Psalm 18:30 As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.  

The main reasons a person would choose to forego this incredible support partner in life is if they either A) don’t believe in it or B) they think they know better.  I know because I was both of these at different points in my life.  And both of those thoughts were incorrect.  For most of my life I ignored the guidance of the Lord because I thought He was going to take away my fun and restrict my choices to horrible, boring, tasteless experiences.  It is sad that for so long I viewed my loving Creator as this angry librarian who existed to shush me every time something happy occurs.  Because of this flawed thinking I lived my life on my terms, trusting my own decisions and thought processes. And the result?  Let’s just say calling it a train wreck would be a disservice to all of the real wrecked trains around the world.

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Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

I hope to encourage you today that if you are only identifying yourself as a Christian for the future benefits, you are missing out on the point of the experience.  He is not only the God of your FUTURE, He is the God of your PRESENT.  And you will NEVER live a happier, more fulfilled life than the One that He will guide you in if you will only include Him in it.

And for those who are waiting until the most opportune time to serve Him comes up (like on your death bed), let me say this.  If you are waiting for the next Xbox to come out before you play ANY more games, you are going to miss out on some pretty awesome stuff.  Some unique experiences that you will never be able to get back.  And likewise, waiting until you think you are nearing the end of your days to invite Christ into your daily life is only STEALING all of the joy and experiences that you could be living EACH AND EVERY DAY.  You can drive without a GPS if you want, or you can try to hike it… you will only end up taking a longer, more expensive, more dangerous path to get to the place where you are meant to end up anyway.  And there will be a lot of pointless collateral damage left in your wake.  Why not choose the blessed life of companionship with the One who designed you for this course?  Your BEST life is with Him… both now and later.

Philippians 1:21-26 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.

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Star Wars Jedi – Fallen Order: Exposing the Dark, Secret Truth About the Force (Luke 22:39-46)

E3 is officially under way and the most exciting week of the year in the video game industry is about to tear the roof off of the building.  This would normally be problematic, but after years of playing the Sims I have found that in the video game realm, roofs are optional.  Now ladders for swimming pools on the other hand… those are a NECESSITY.  If you haven’t built a swimming pool for your Sim before and had the experience of forgetting this critical accessory… well, let’s just say your Sim will not solve the impossible riddle of how to escape from the challenge of a ladder-less swimming pool on their own.  You can probably kind of figure out what happens from there.  What were we talking about again?  Oh yes… if we are talking about the Sims then we must be talking about EA (Electronic Arts).  And if we are talking about EA, then we HAVE to be talking about the new Star Wars title they are developing… Jedi Fallen Order.

sims-meme-original    This one actually looks like it is going to check ALL of the boxes I was looking for, and as a MASSIVE Star Wars fan I am pleasantly surprised with the reveal trailers and gameplay that was showcased.  We have an original storyline, a fresh Jedi protagonist, some refreshingly deep combat, and some cool force powers on display.  It’s been a minute since we have had an opportunity to leverage the mystical powers of the Force in a Star Wars game in a truly innovative way and it is exciting to see that this will be integrated into multiple facets of the game… level exploration, environmental puzzles, and combat scenarios.  It’s honestly about time.  But the gameplay reveal also left me with a very important and relevant question….

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I have often wondered why all of these incredibly powerful Jedi and Sith don’t simply use the Force all the time.  I mean, ALL the time.  I hate to admit it, but if I had even 1/10th of their capabilities I would be the laziest person in the history of EVER.  Let’s be honest.  Are you walking that envelope to the mail box if you have the Force at your disposal?  Nope.  I’m flying that thing there with my MIND powers.  I’m not shaving anymore either… I’m just gonna Force push those hair follicles clean out of my face.  I would be just like Mickey Mouse from Fantasia with brooms sweeping on their own, dishes flying around the room… all while fresh cookies bounce from out of the oven, dip themselves in some milk, and drop into my mouth.  It’s a simple dream, and I suppose I could probably do a bit better than that if I put my mind to it.  Maybe there will be a self-sustaining nacho fountain too.

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But then the answer hit me like a ton of Lego bricks (not as heavy, but absolutely LETHAL if you step on one in the dark).  The Jedi I have been watching in the movies, reading about in books, and playing as in the games don’t use the Force ALL the time because, as demonstrated in the gameplay video, they CAN’T.  They have a finite amount of Force ability to use, and in the game the only way to refill the meter once you have depleted it is to engage enemies in combat.  Maybe that’s why the original lightsaber battle between Vader and Obi-Wan in Episode IV:  A New Hope looked less like an epic final battle between two of the most powerful force-wielding masters of all time… and a little more like THIS.

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Here is the funny thing.  After all these years, I hadn’t truly considered the force as having a “meter” that could run out, leaving it’s user lacking both defensive and offensive options.  I just kind of expected it to always be there, ready to do one’s bidding.  But when watching the video it became clear that without carefully balancing your force use between combat, exploration, and puzzle solving, your Jedi is going to end up on the wrong end of a lightsaber battle real quick.

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Even more interestingly, I also neglected to consider my connection to God in the same way.  I just figured that once I made that connection with Him that I could just coast by without requiring any further “system updates”.  But then I read Luke 22, where Jesus was preparing for His crucifixion.  And even though He is the LITERAL Son of God and has proven His ability to command the wind, the waves, sickness, and death itself… He still required time to PRAY.

Luke 22:39-46 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

Let’s look a little deeper for a second and ask some pretty hard questions.  Why did Jesus have the need to pray?  Why was He asking the Father to take away the path He was about to walk on?  And why did He need to be strengthened by an angel when He HIMSELF is God in the flesh?  Why does He need any help at all?   These questions deserve to be answered, and after observing the force meter in the “Jedi: Fallen Order” video we have our first clue.

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Jesus was about to face His most challenging mission; to be beaten mercilessly, betrayed completely, disfigured horrifically, and then burdened with all of the sins of mankind that had been committed from the very beginning of the world.  Oh… all while he was being slowly murdered in front of his own mother.  So… in order to endure what that dark day was about to bring, He had to recharge His spiritual batteries by talking to God in prayer.  He needed the power to face His destiny.

Jesus told His Maker the truth.  He admitted what He was struggling with and chose to submit His will and desires to the plan of His Father.  It was a simple, direct, and earnest prayer from a Child to their Parent, and it was answered with an angel who came and gave Jesus the strength He needed to endure what was next.  Jesus, even being the Son of God, still needed consistent communication with God for instruction, strength, and peace.  It doesn’t say God talked back to Him.  It doesn’t even record that God gave Him a response to His question.  God simply gave Him the strength to endure what was coming next.  And this is where things can sometimes get confusing for us…

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I know for me it is easy to forget that we are in a battle.  This life is not going to be easy, and becoming a follower of Christ does not grant any of us exemption to the challenges that lie ahead.  It simply provides us with the power of God to support us as we continue to fight the good fight.  There is a mistaken view in many Christian circles that becoming a “Christian” is about being set free from everything.  But Jesus Himself contradicts that quite directly in Matthew 16…

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

We are free from the bondage of SIN, but we still have a cross to bear.  We still have a self that must be denied.  And that is LITERALLY what Jesus was doing when He was praying in the garden.  He was asking for help in denying His own desires and strength to take up His personal cross.  And THIS is why we must pray.  As often as we can.  Paul says to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  Not because GOD needs it.  God is not sitting in heaven like an aged relative wondering why the grandkids never call.  He doesn’t need anything at all, and you are not doing Him a favor by praying.  Prayer is for US.  To replenish our strength and provide direction.

Now you might say, “But when I pray God doesn’t answer my questions. He doesn’t say anything at ALL”.    Let me ask you this… did God answer Jesus when He prayed in the garden?  Did He audibly say, “Now Jesus, I know this is hard.  But I kinda need you to go take up that cross.  It’s a big deal”.  No, there is no record of that.  He DID answer Jesus’s prayer… but not by having a long verbal conversation with Him.  He answered it by giving Jesus the strength He needed to do what He knew He was meant to do.  And God still does the same for us… but ONLY if we give Him the opportunity.

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If you are feeling world-weary, exhausted, powerless, or defeated, I want to encourage you that the problem is not necessarily you or the path you are walking.  It is because we are trying to carry our cross without God’s help.  Jesus couldn’t do that… why would we think we can?  If you are feeling burdened, join the party.  Jesus didn’t promise a life without a burden… He simply said in Matthew 11 that compared to the burden of sin that we carry, His burden is LIGHT…

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Just like the Jedi in our gaming example, we need power to solve the challenges and win the battles that lie ahead.  There is only one way we can recharge our meter, and that is in simple prayer to our Creator.  It does not refill automatically, and you didn’t get an infinite supply tank the day you chose to follow Jesus.  It is our DAILY bread that we receive when we go to God each day, all throughout our day, and ask Him to guide us through every step of the way.  None of us, not even Christ Himself, can carry our cross without it.

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare: The Day the “Cross-Play” Walls Came Down (John 4)

In a surprise announcement that fooled absolutely nobody on the planet, the next Call of Duty has been announced for this October.  I know, I know… insert shocking gasp here.  I just lost five bucks… to MYSELF.  (That’s a joke BTW… from a movie. But if I explain it then it won’t be funny anymore.  Maybe… maybe it wasn’t even funny at all.  Oh man… I should probably stop while I am behind).  But honestly, I will confess that for the first time in a looooooong time I feel a small sense of excitement about a COD preview.  We are returning to the “Modern Warfare” theater of war this time around, an arena that I personally feel marked the peak of this long-running series.  I mean, think about it… the ghillie suit mission… the nuclear blast… the stunning betrayal and murder of Ghost… there were so many watershed moments in Modern Warfare 1 and 2 that still stand up when replayed.   Refreshingly, this is not another remastered experience like we saw a few years ago of the original title… this is a full-on re-imagining.  A “spiritual reboot”, if you will.  Somehow, some way, we are in an alternate universe with Price and Soap back to save the world through their unique brand of pinpointed destruction.  All that was old is new again… in more ways than you were prepared for.

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This release marks the beginning of the end of one of the longest running obstacles in mainstream gaming… the issue of platform cross-play.  Sure, this newest iteration of COD has an impressive new engine to create near photo-realistic visuals, and it is likely to make a number of headlines with its “edgier” take on an already divisive story subject.  But within all of these bells and whistles lies a decision that will have a much larger impact on the entire gaming industry than simply releasing yet another run-and-gun shooter in the holiday season.  In an attempt to cast the widest net possible, reports say that Activision is releasing, for the first time in the history of EVER, a Call of Duty that supports full multiplayer cross-play with players on PS4, Xbox 1, and PC.  And while Fortnite and a few others can lay claim to traversing this road first, an industry stalwart such as COD taking up this mantle is going to change things FOREVER.  The importance of this moment in the history of gaming simply can’t be over-stated.

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I never thought I would type or even THINK the words “if other developers follow Activision’s bold lead”… but here we are.  Think of the possibilities now that this door has been opened.  For years gamers have been stranded on islands, separated from their friends and fellow gamers by the borders of whichever platform they chose to play on.  Now, every multiplayer game could potentially have it’s user group doubled or tripled, making it easier to find matches as well as play with your friends who game on a different system than you.  Previously you were stuck purchasing the hardware platform that your friends already owned because that was the ONLY way to stay connected with them… this COD could actually shatter that paradigm.  Fortnite may have laid the ground work, but it took a gaming JUGGERNAUT like Call of Duty leveraging their massive presence and influence in the industry to bring these walls down.

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These walls between Sony and Microsoft ran DEEP.  PC has typically been content to play in anyone’s backyard who would let them, like the neighbor kid who has all the best toys at their house but still acts happy to play with yours.  But for PS4 and Xbox to finally let this part of the cold war rest is no small feat, and kudos to Activision for leveraging their massive influence to bust that wall down.  Hopefully this is only the beginning.  But this got me to thinking about not only walls, but the barriers we often come to accept in our lives.

The wall between Sony and Xbox was not merely technological, but ideological at its core.  The technical ability to create this bridge has existed for a while, but the parties involved simply did not WANT to participate.  Maybe it was because of their fear of damaging their market share or segmenting their fan base.  Perhaps it was due to previous contractual agreements that they were still legally required to uphold.  It could even be the simple matter of being competitors in a tough environment and the stubborn refusal to do anything that might inadvertently help the other side out.  Someday we may know all the answers, but no matter what the rationale was behind it these walls were going to stay up until a more powerful force decided it was time to knock them down.

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In John 4 we find a fascinating take on the figurative walls that unfortunately exist in our real world.  Jesus is in the beginning stages of His earthly ministry and is headed north from Judea, where he had just been working in close proximity with John the Baptist.  He was heading back to where He was from, the area of Galilee.  To do so meant travelling through the land of Samaria, a portion of Israel that may have PHYSICALLY existed between Judea and Galilee but could not have been farther away in the figurative sense.  We will let John speak for himself here…

John 4:3-9  He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

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I hope those words stung you as much as they did me.  “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”.  Ouch.  And no, before you jump to a conclusion, this was not simply a racial thing.  We find the answer a few short verses later…

John 4:16-26 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

Before we unpack that a bit, I just need to say “Oh, SNAP!”  Because Jesus just totally called her out on some STUFF.  But this Samaritan woman was undeterred in the discussion because she was here to knock a few walls down.  The issue was a matter of religious belief, specifically in regards to the appropriate place and manner in which to worship God.  These were deep rooted issues that had created a massive division in a group of people who had much more in common than they chose to admit.  Hmmmm… that sounds kinda familiar.  Are we sure this was two thousand years ago?  I’m just gonna let you chew on that one on your own time.  Anyway… without dismissing the previously established rules of order, Jesus guided her to the new and better way…  serving God from the inside out rather than the other way around.

Now this is where we get to the practical part of this… the part that hits home for me and hopefully for you as well.  After Jesus had successfully broken down the walls that divided this unnamed Samaritan woman from the truth, she could not help but to go and find others and share the truth of Jesus with everyone in her city.  Let’s stop and consider this for a moment.  I want you to really understand the reputation this woman must have had.  Even in our modern era, someone who has been divorced FIVE times is typically not given a pulpit, labelled as the ideal minister of Christ, and sent off to the mission field.  In her day and age, a time period in which adultery was punishable by DEATH… let’s just say it would have been MUCH worse.  There is a stigma associated with divorce, as well as many of the other less than ideal circumstances that occur in life.  Often these negative labels that we earn can create a sense of disqualification or “second-class citizenship”.  There are WALLS that keep such supposedly “damaged” folks from being able to make an impact because of their previous failures.  And not all of them are external.  Many times WE are the ones who disqualify OURSELVES.

I am quite guilty of this, because I am quite guilty of a number of things.  At various points in my life I have been party to a number of shameful things that do not deserve mentioning.  I am not proud of many parts of my life, both before I knew Christ and after.  And while my sins are no longer an active or present part of my life and Christ’s forgiveness is full and absolute, it is easy to allow walls that are either self-imposed or society-driven to erect themselves and keep us contained within their borders.  Have you felt the same way?  Feeling trapped by choices you may have previously made but are no longer part of?  No longer burdened, but also not truly free?   Let’s look at our friendly neighborhood Samaritan woman for the answer…

John 4:28-30 and 39-40 The woman then left her water pot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.

There it is.  She didn’t ask permission to become an ambassador for Jesus.  She didn’t go to the disciples to get her “Doctorate of Divinity”, apply for a license, and wait for board approval.  She just WENT.  She ignored the walls and hit the highway, telling everyone she ran into to come and meet Jesus for themselves.  And it was HER testimony that reached an entire city… not James, John and Peter… not one of the “approved” saints… not some official, authorized outreach program…  No, it was this unnamed woman who changed the minds and the lives of many people REGARDLESS of her so called “qualifications” to do so.  She didn’t have a business card… just a fire in her belly to share the good news.  And she didn’t need anyone’s permission or approval to do it.

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Many times, like the walls that existed in the cross-play space between Sony and Microsoft, we simply accept things as the way they are because the status quo is safe and predictable.  Honestly, we tend to hide behind these walls because they limit our risks… the risk of failure, embarrassment, or exposure.  But those walls are either self-imposed or societal constructs that must be either ignored or knocked down.  This Samaritan woman was not qualified by anything more than this one simple thing… she had met Jesus.  And that was enough.  Her sins, both past and present, were irrelevant to the message that only SHE could spread.

Activision, as a studio, is not the most well-regarded publisher in the industry.  NOBODY says the name “Activision” and other words such as “integrity”, “innovative”, “forward-thinking”, or “gamer-focused”” in the same sentence. But you know what?  They are the ones who decided to strike the largest blow for doing the right thing.  And we will all be better off for it.  And you, just like me, may not be the most qualified person (by your own or the world’s estimation) to carry your message forward.  Who cares?  If God placed this before you, then it is up you to carry out YOUR mission and let him worry about your credentials (which HE isn’t worried about, by the way).  He is the God that doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED.

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So GO.  Go and take that interview that God set up for you.  Yes… the one you don’t have the perfect resume for.  Go ask that person that God put on your heart out to dinner.  Yes… the one who is WAY out of your league.  And most importantly… GO and tell the world the good news.  Yes… the person you think would never listen,  the person who you think might feel “weird” when you bring it up.  The person who you are afraid will confront you on your own sins and mistakes.  YOU aren’t the message… YOU are the MESSENGER.  And the walls that are in your way… they are only there for as long as you permit them to be.  Don’t let Activision be bolder than you today, my friend… answer YOUR call.

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E3 2019 Previews, Predictions, and Spoilers: Meeting at the Crossroads (Numbers 13-14)

We are just a few short weeks away from the curtain being pulled back on the future of gaming… the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo begins on June 11th and speculation is rampant on what we WILL as well as what we WON’T see when it is all said and done.  The event has not yet even begun and we already have some major departures from the script, as major players like Sony and Electronic Arts has opted to forego this year’s E3 and instead focus on their own individual events.  While there is most certainly some gamesmanship afoot, it also feels as if this year the floor is being ceded to Microsoft and Nintendo to make some pretty bold statements about their future.  So without further ado let’s dig into some previews of what we already know and some predictions on what we think we might see…

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PREDICTION: Microsoft will reveal their next console and we will all be… Whelmed.  Not over-whelmed, not under-whelmed… just whelmed.

This one feels pretty safe… Microsoft is set to have a massive presence at this year’s expo and despite the moderately successful launch of the technically superior Xbox 1X they cannot seem to crack into Sony’s substantial market share lead in this console cycle.  The PlayStation 4 clearly dominated this generation and Microsoft must come out firing with more than just some pretty specs this time around.  They need some massive, exclusive, game-changing software support at launch for one… Halo: Infinite will most likely get a larger reveal but I am holding out hope for a few wish list items:

  • A Fable game that ISN’T a horribly flawed idea this time (I am looking at YOU Fable: The Journey and Fable: Legends)
  • PORTAL THREE PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE
  • A new Left 4 Dead… not a “spiritual successor”,  but the real deal
  • A remake of the original Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (let me DREAM, man)

The problem is that time and time again Microsoft has seemed determined to evolve the gaming landscape without regard for the preparedness of the people who currently occupy that space.  Can they resist the urge to FORCE change and instead provide a platform that embraces physical, digital, and streaming all while keeping everyone included in the game?  We will know the answer soon…

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SPOILER: Timed/total exclusivity will rear its ugly, unpredictable, pointless head again.

Unfortunately, this one is more of a spoiler than a prediction.  When you don’t have any original ideas, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to pay for exclusive access to someone else’s original ideas.  I have a feeling we will see this for the Final Fantasy VII remake, possibly Beyond Good and Evil 2 (if that one shows it’s face again), and if we are TRULY unlucky CyberPunk 2077.  But there could be a few other surprises… maybe a major player like Destiny or Dragon Age, or perhaps someone needing the push like Splinter Cell or TitanFall 3 will take the jump for the opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond to kick start the next generation of gaming consoles.

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PREDICTION “ALL YOU CAN EAT” BUFFET:

  • Sony will still provide a sneak peek at the PlayStation 5 once Microsoft has tipped their hand (ODDS: Exceptionally high)
  • Sam Fisher will popup and give us a look at a new Splinter Cell.  Finally.  (ODDS: Nope… sorry)
  • Nintendo will show a new version of the Switch that will seem to serve no purpose and yet we will all need it immediately (ODDS: Unfortunately pretty high)
  • The untitled “Avengers Project” from Square Enix is further along than any of us had anticipated and will launch in the fall of 2019 (ODDS: Lower than a sequel to Two Worlds)
  • Destiny 3 is already playable and will be unveiled for release in 2020 (ODDS: High)
  • We will get a FIRM date on major Sony exclusives such as Last of Us 2 and Death Stranding (ODDS: Medium Well.  Not so good for a steak, but I would take a FIRM date for at least one of these and call it a win.)
  • Ubisoft will demonstrate a new Just Dance game!  It will have musics!  And dancings!  And also MORE musics!  (ODDS: Ugh… let’s go with astronomically high.  We know they will show us this.  And if they truly hate us they will include Sam Fisher in it too.  Because #Synergy.)

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It’s always fun to predict and prognosticate and see how many of these ideas truly see the light of day.  And while many of these may turn out to be a false lead, it can be exciting to dream of what could be and hope for a tomorrow that is brighter than today.  It would be the death of our industry if we decide we are better off staying right where we are, or even worse head back to where we have just come from.  And in our lives many times we find ourselves at a similar crossroads… still seeing the potential in where we are or where we just came from because the road ahead is both daunting and unfamiliar.

In Numbers 13-14 we find Moses and the Israelite people at a similar crossroads.  Moses has led his people to the border of the Promised Land that they have been dreaming of throughout their hundreds of years of slavery… the land they have been marching towards over the last several weeks.  This is the culmination of the promises that had been made centuries prior to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… this was the beginning of not just their next chapter.  This was, to quote the Pulitzer Prize winning philosopher/generational poet extraordinaire Aladdin… a whole new world.

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Unfortunately, with a great destiny comes even greater obstacles and they were about to run headlong into some intimidating circumstances.  Moses sent spies ahead into the land to scout it out, and for forty days they observed massive fruits, lush landscapes, ample water… they coined it the “land of milk and honey”.  It kinda sounds like the pitch for an infomercial. I can picture the images of waterfalls of milk like the chocolate waterfall from Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory…  wait… milk needs refrigeration.  That waterfall would smell PUTRID.  Scratch that image.  Let’s get back to Moses and the report from his spies…

Numbers 13:27-33: Then they told him (Moses), and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Now, before we start judging these spies for the insurrection that their report is about to instigate, let’s take a quick pause.  It would be easy to condemn them for their cowardice, but let’s look in the mirror for a moment.  God puts promises into our hearts that we are meant to achieve, full of dreams and purpose.  But oftentimes we spend our time scouting the challenges that lie ahead instead of realizing that we are on the cusp of what has been prepared for us by our loving Father.  We can practically smell the (pasteurized) milk and honey, but the sight of the giants roaming the land and the size of the walls that lie ahead can make us feel like little more than insignificant insects staring up at promises that are too big for our Maker to keep.

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Unfortunately, the story heads the wrong direction REAL quick as the people begin to complain and doubt that the God who had freed them from slavery, parted the Red Sea, and fed them miraculously each and every day could do what He had promised.   And I know it’s easy for any one of us to wonder HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE.  They have been observing the deliverance and sustaining power of God on a DAILY basis… why are they tapping out now?  But if we look a little deeper into this I believe we can see ourselves in the reflection.  I know I can.

If you are reading this, it is pretty likely that you are alive.  VERY likely.  As a matter of fact, based on my readership statistics, 100% of my readers are currently human beings occupying this plane of existence.  You possess the ability to read and comprehend this, you have access to an electronic device that allows you to view this, and you very likely ate and slept at some point this week.  God has provided for you in ways that may not seem as “miraculous” as what we read in the book of Exodus and Numbers, but He still has given you everything you needed for your journey so far.  How do I know?  Because you are HERE.  He gave you the breath of life in your nostrils, the image of Himself in your body, and if you have chosen to receive Him you carry His very Spirit in your being.  He has brought you to the place of entry into the Promised Land.  But the next step is up to you.

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Moses and two of the faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, attempted to squash the fears of the crowd and remind them of the journey they had been on to this point.  But the seed of doubt had been planted and unfortunately they were unsuccessful in steering the unruly mob back towards their Provider.  And as punishment for their failure to believe and enter the Promised Land they wandered the desert another FORTY years… one year for each day the spies had scouted out the land.  Joshua and Caleb would eventually lead a new generation of people into a successful conquest of the land, but only after all those who had doubted were no longer present.

Now as for us… each and every day we make the choice of whether we will listen to the reports of what lies ahead and allow it to destroy our progress or steel our resolve.  The reports were not false… there WERE giants in the land.  And cities with giant walls.  And armies prepared for war.  The question is not the accuracy of the scouting report, it is a matter of FAITH.  There is no good news or bad news… only news.  And that news is irrelevant to the God of the universe who planned your each and every step before the dawn of time.

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I hope this encourages you to seize what has been promised to you and the destiny that awaits you regardless of the literal or figurative giants that stand in your way.  What God has ordained no man can stand in the way of.  Only YOU can prevent your entry into what God has promised for you.  At E3 this year it is entirely possible we will see some things in the future that we don’t feel prepared for.  There may be some scary obstacles that threaten to change all that we have known up to this point in our journey.  We cannot choose what the path is before us, only our participation in its continued unfolding.  And similarly, what God has placed into your heart to perform is your DESTINY, and the presence of the massive challenges that lie ahead and even the scary twists and turns that you will face are simply your adversaries methods of turning you back the way you came.  You know where that road goes.  Time to take the red pill my friend…

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Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ

MegaCon 2019 and the Art of Cosplay: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (Psalm 139)

We just attended the 2019 Orlando MegaCon, and if you have not had the pleasure of frequenting this or a similar convention event, you are missing out on a truly unique experience.  In so many ways the world of gaming is inspired by the art, stories, characters, and tropes from the multiverse of comic books.  To tell you the truth, most gaming developers owe a massive debt to the source of all that is truly good and nerdy in the world… the original place where these larger-than-life heroes pummeled enemies,  saved universes, and became the best versions of themselves in the process.  And with all the amazing sights and sounds within the convention halls it is easy to lose yourself in the creativity and imagination on display… and not just from the massive dioramas, exhibits, and panel discussions.  The most unique and interesting portion of this and many conventions similar to this one are the attendees themselves… The COSPLAY artists.

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For the uninitiated, many of the attendees to these events come dressed up as their favorite characters from video games, comics, TV and movies in a form that has come to be known as “cosplay”.  There is just such an amazing energy that exists from being surrounded by people who are fully in their element and celebrating their various passions, whether it is something mainstream such as the cinematic Marvel and Star Wars characters we saw or the unique and impeccably detailed Monty Python and the Holy Grail characters we had the fortune of bumping into.   I wish I could have asked them if they used an African swallow to carry the coconuts to Orlando.  They aren’t migratory birds, after all.

I know for many of us it is easy to dismiss this as a group of adults playing dress up and unfortunately failing to recognize the artfulness and ingenuity that is on display here.  But after sitting and watching people pay hundreds of dollars for new character “skins” for Fortnite or grinding for hundreds and hundreds of hours for alternate cosmetic content to place on their gaming avatar in so many other titles… the truth is that all of us who are connected to this bountiful world of video gaming are doing the exact same thing in a digital format that these brave and creative souls are building physically.

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It is easy to dismiss this as a waste of time and wonder what else they could have been doing with themselves while they were carefully stitching each and every detail into their costume of choice.  To do so would be to completely miss the point of what each cosplay artist is creating… a living work of art that they happen to be carrying on their person.  I doubt too many people walked up to Leonardo Da Vinci and said, “Man, you are wasting your time.  If I wanted to look at a bowl of fruit, I would just go look at one.  They aren’t exactly hard to find.  There’s like two of them right over there.”  For years I failed to understand the meaning of the canvas that a cosplayer was working with.  So much money and time being put into a costume that may only be worn a handful of times… what is the purpose?  And after exploring this in the Bible, I believe I have found an answer.

Most of us spend our lives searching for meaning on this third rock from the sun, but the largest issue we tend to struggle with isn’t necessarily just finding our place in this world.  No, it runs much deeper than that.  It is that eternal question that haunts us… challenges us through each and every decision we make, keeps us up at night and unsettled during the day;  Who am I?  Libraries of books exist to help us “find ourselves”.  Truly, finding yourself is one of the fastest growing realms of self-help these days.  But if we don’t truly know who we are, who else possibly could?  We lash out at our parents because they MADE us but don’t actually UNDERSTAND us…  we raise our fist at heaven as we challenge God on how a good and loving Creator would craft us into what we are.  And we live these unsettled lives and try to find the happy place between accepting who we are and yet feeling the burden of something much greater pressing underneath our skin, coursing through our bones, begging to be unleashed.

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I truly believe this is what causes all of these fictional characters in our games, movies, and other forms of entertainment to have such a draw to us.  They are living these big, exciting lives and fulfilling these massive destinies in a way we long for and dream of, but can never touch.  While Captain America faces down Thanos and his entire army, we change the motor oil in our car.  When Green Arrow is bearing the burden of his city on his shoulders, we try to carry in all the groceries in one trip without dropping anything.  We live vicariously through the stories of these character’s heroic acts, and these cosplay artists take it one step further by inhabiting their characters through the most authentic replicas they can build or create.

In truth, the cosplay artist is the most honest person in the room.  They are giving birth to their desire to externally replicate what they possess internally.  While your passion may not reveal itself in this exact manner, throughout our lives we tend to have a passionate soul buried deep within this pile of flesh that is not being recognized for what it truly is… the very image of God Himself.  Society has convinced us that we are not perfect enough in our native form because there is simply no way for them to monetize CONTENTMENT.  In order to keep the economy rolling, we are overrun by advertisements that say we need this makeup to look more flawless, this tanning spray to look healthier, this hair color to look more natural, these clothes to hide that we are too skinny, too fat, too tall, too short… it is a never ending chase to put the most effective image of ourselves forward so we can look on the outside like what we feel like in the deepest parts of our hearts.

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I could put the entire chapter of Psalm 139 here, and I would highly encourage you to read it.  But I would like to point out a few of the most exciting parts to me…

Psalm 139:13-18:

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

Let’s break this down for a second.  We were individually hand-crafted by a loving Creator who knew exactly how many days we would have on this earth and how we would spend each and every one of them.  We are loved and thought of by God more than we have the capability to comprehend.  What we may consider “flaws” are actually subtle nuances made by a designer who knew exactly what He was doing.  The reason we struggle is not because we were made incorrectly or improperly, but because we often live our lives in denial of what we were made FOR.

When the legalistic Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night for a way to understand and solve this conundrum in John chapter 3, Jesus had a simple yet profound answer for him that still causes people to scratch their heads to this day.  A new birth.  And it is not as complicated as we have been led to believe.  In fact, cosplayers figured this out a long time ago.  Let’s look at Christ’s response and dissect it…

John 3:3-8  Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus is explaining that we have all been born of water, meaning our natural birth.  He makes that clear in his next statement when He says that which is born of flesh is flesh.  But not everyone has been born of the Spirit, which if using the childbirth example he is demonstrating means we exist as spiritual beings but have not been actually “born”.  We are still waiting for a push to exist in the fullness of what we were meant to be.  We have that feeling of discontentment because of the Divine spark that has been placed into our very spirit that is anxiously waiting to escape and come to life.

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In childbirth terms, the womb is not the baby, it is simply where the baby is being housed until it is born.  Likewise, your fleshly shell is just a structure housing the real you, the one who is anxious to get out into the real world and achieve it’s full potential.  It is not as safe outside of the womb as it is inside… that is where hurt, pain, and disappointment live and dwell.  Similarly, to live your life out loud as the spiritual beings that we truly are on the inside is not safe.  Like the cosplayers I observed at the MegaCon convention, cruel and misinformed people may point and laugh even though they lack the courage to do what you are doing.  People may misinterpret your passion as you reveal the truest version of yourself.  That is the risk one takes when choosing to stop hiding the real you that has been buried deep behind the facade.  But when you choose to experience the reality of being born again and allowing God to unlock your full capacity as the perfect creation He formed you as, there is truly nothing like it.

If you have never experienced being “born again”, I am going to ask you as kindly as I can… What are you waiting for?  Your spirit… your truest self… is chomping at the bit waiting to be reconnected to the mainframe.  Only in the hands of your Creator can you finally unlock your full potential as your capability meets your purpose.  And for those who have already experienced the new birth I will gently challenge you as well… are you living your life out loud?  Is your true spiritual self on the outside, apparent to all who see you like the cosplayers we met in the exhibition halls?  Or is it hidden from view because of the fear of rejection or mockery that you may endure?  I would like to encourage you to cover whatever physical or emotional scars you have and lay down any burdens of guilt from your past that you are carrying and allow God’s perfect presence to be what shines through you.  You have been perfectly, wonderfully made from the inside out… skillfully crafted in the most intricate ways.  Every detail about you was built for you to fulfill YOUR personal hero’s journey.  Let your true, born again, spiritual self come to the forefront.  It’s what you were designed for.

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Sony’s “State of Play 2019” and the Lazarus Effect (John 11:1-44)

The first salvo in the war for gamer’s hearts and minds this E3 season has been fired by Sony with their “State of Play” announcements this week.  And in this brief but impactful 10 minute presentation we got a glimpse of what PlayStation has in store for us in the future… some fresh new content for the critically acclaimed Monster Hunter World, a very interesting take on the asymmetrical genre courtesy of everyone’s favorite Predator, a full remake of the PS1 classic MediEvil, and most interestingly to me, some fresh footage of the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII remake.  While there weren’t very many announcements that broke new ground or demonstrated a fresh IP or concept, these Final Fantasy snippets were definitely enough to keep my eyes glued to Square Enix’s E3 press conference for more details on what has to be the most anticipated remake of all time.

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FFVII occupies a special place in this as well as many gamer’s hearts, and it’s easy to see why.  Cloud and Sephiroth are veritable gaming ICONS who engage in a deeply personal quest to save/destroy the world while excellent supporting characters rise and fall to support Cloud’s quest to not only preserve his planet, but to find and save himself.  And if you are looking for moments, this one is PACKED with them.

******* REALLY DATED SPOILERS AHEAD!!! *******

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***Like seriously, if this is truly a spoiler for you what have you even been DOING with your life ***

Ask any gamer who played through this title without the benefit of spoilers and they will tell you that the moment that Aerith is cruelly and unexpectedly dispatched by Sephiroth will NEVER be forgotten.  Personally, I always thought Cloud belonged with Tifa, but no matter what side of the Tifa/Aerith fence you are on it is ALWAYS hard to watch that fateful moment without gasping and maybe, just maybe, needing to grab a kleenex.

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Getting back to Sony for a moment, I will confess to a small amount of disappointment with their brief presentation this week.  Don’t get me wrong, I plan to be there for each and every episodic release of Final Fantasy VII whenever that finally happens.  And while nobody was really asking for a MediEvil remake, it’s nice to see that Sir Dan will get a chance to blunder his way through his tale one more time with modern graphics this time around.  Even the Monster Hunter content, while fairly predictable, is welcome and looks pretty exciting.  No, my disappointment doesn’t come from what was announced, but what WASN’T announced.  No fresh IP.  No truly new ideas.  Just going back to the well and either remaking an old idea (MediEvil), remastering a great idea (FFVII), expanding an excellent idea (Monster Hunter World), or performing a palette swap on an existing idea (asymmetrical gaming with Predator)…. there simply wasn’t much FRESH to be found.  (And no… I am not feeling “Away”.  Not at all.  Sorry, not sorry.  If I am going to run around as some raccoon thing, it better be Rocket Raccoon.)   

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The problem lies in the gaming industry itself… it’s just not a very safe place to trot out new and expensive ideas.  Just ask Vampyr…. We Happy Few…Anthem… or even the newly released Days Gone, all of which struggled to find their footing in a gaming landscape that practically screams for new, fresh ideas but only tends to financially reward a tried and true roster of sequels, remakes, and remasters that involve less creativity but also substantially less risk.  We claim to want gaming developers to try their hand at something we haven’t seen before, but honestly very few of those ideas are met with that “rarified” air of success beyond our appreciation.  And unfortunately applause does NOT pay the bills (although it CAN turn the lights off for you… cue Clap On product placement here).

The truth is we are typically just more comfortable with the familiar because it delivers something predictable… something safe.  Lower risk, but also lower reward.  And in our relationship with God, this tendency can also rear it’s ugly head.  We want the dreams that He has placed in our hearts to come to pass, but we want them housed in our comfortable, pre-determined concepts of how He is “supposed” to do things.  We want His answers to prayer but without any meaningful disruption to our lives.  We seek neat, tidy, clean solutions to life’s messy, dirty, complicated problems.

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In the book of John we find one such circumstance… when Jesus raised His friend Lazarus back to life.  Many of us may be familiar with this story, or at least the name Lazarus (because it is fairly uncommon), but I find the prologue of this resurrection more interesting than the actual display of supernatural power itself.  We start with Jesus receiving a message from Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, informing Jesus that Lazarus is sick.  In the days before cell phones there was no option for a “read receipt” on their text message, so they had to offer this prayer request up in faith that by simply hearing this news Jesus would pack up and head their way.  I mean, it makes sense right?  Every time Jesus hears that someone is sick to this point He has immediately stopped what He was doing to help them.  Surely He would do the same here for his FRIEND.  SURELY.

John 11:5-6 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he (Lazarus) was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.

Whoa whoa whoa.  Time out.  Let’s look at this.  Jesus loves Mary, Martha and Lazarus… CHECK.  Jesus hears Lazarus is sick… CHECK.  Jesus immediately rushed to his friend’s side to save Him like He has done for so many others… NOPE.  Swing and a miss.  He stays right where He was for TWO MORE DAYS.  It doesn’t even bother saying what He is doing for those two days.  He just WAITS.  By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is quite predictably dead.  VERY dead.  The kind of dead that people don’t come back from.  Mary and Martha both know this, as Mary cries out to the seemingly “late” Jesus…

John 11:32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

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HAD been here.  Past tense.  Let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves here.  How many times do we have that “if only” attitude?  I know I have.  If only I hadn’t made that mistake.  If only I had said or done the right thing.  If only God had answered my prayer before it was too late.  But while Jesus was truly saddened and emotionally impacted by this entire circumstance, His determination was unmoved.  God wasn’t here to do the same old thing.  He was here to do an entirely NEW thing (Isaiah 43:19).  Their prayers had been heard and were about to be answered… just not the way they had imagined or wanted.  They wanted the healing… they received death and burial.  They wanted urgency… they got a seemingly unnecessary delay.  They wanted Jesus there when they WANTED Him… but they didn’t understand the difference between what they “wanted” and what they “needed”.

If you are not sure what happens next, this is your FINAL spoiler alert.  Jesus commands the stone in front of the tomb to be rolled away and calls Lazarus back from the grave, FOUR days after Lazarus had been laid to rest.  This was no mere healing or resuscitation… this was possibly the most dramatic display of power ever demonstrated in the entirety of Christ’s earthly ministry to this point.  Sure, Jesus had healed blindness, miraculously made thousands of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and even performed other resurrections… but never after decomposition had started.  This was a completely dead and decaying dream being brought back to life in an incredibly disruptive way to the shock of all who witnessed it.

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I know I am often guilty of “giving God a hand” by letting Him know the best way to solve my problem.  Having seen His previous work in my life, it would be most comfortable for me if He would just deliver the answer in a nice, predictable manner at least ten minutes prior to the deadline.  But God is not interested in a remastered, remade, or safe and predicable sequel to our prayers.  He is all about shocking the system, and while God Himself never changes we find that His methods of communication are always unique and personalized.  Whether its a burning bush (Exodus 3), a mighty thunder (Job 37), or a whisper in the wind (1 Kings 19)… He enjoys working in mysterious ways both then AND now.

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We cannot put God or His plans into our neat little box, no matter how hard we try.  His answers to prayers are meant to challenge us and our faith so we can move past our preconceived notions of what He has done and realize there is so much more He wants to do.  Not a rehash or a repeat of your previous successes and failures, but something new and fresh.  It may seem to appear too late… at least by our measurements of time.  It may even seem to be uncaring or unsympathetic on the surface.  But it is because His ways are not our ways that His answer will, in due time, show that they are both beyond our wildest dreams and better than we could have ever imagined.

  Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

 

Slowing Down to Speed Up: Halo 5 and the Path to Halo:Infinite (Exodus 23:29-30)

We are mere weeks away from the 2019 E3 Expo, and a slew of announcements regarding our favorite games and franchises are right around the corner.  Some will be surprising, some will be revolutionary, and some will probably just be another Call of Duty.  But as we salivate over the thought of seeing what the future holds for the world of gaming it seemed right to me to go back to a few games that were gathering dust on the shelf and refresh myself on them before their next iteration unfolds.  And this is why Halo 5 is in my Xbox right now… a game I unfortunately didn’t give much time to when it came out.  With news on the latest adventures of our beloved Master Chief bound to be revealed shortly I decided to give the multiplayer mode of Halo 5 a little attention for the first time… and I learned a few critical things about myself in the process.

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Like most modern multiplayer shooters, Halo 5 equips your Spartan with the ability to regenerate health and armor simply by standing still for a short period of time without taking further damage.  Now, in the real world, that is unlikely to be a great strategy if you are experiencing the type of blood loss that these space marines are facing.  If you are just walking through the park one day and suddenly you are struck in the face with a glowing energy sword, I would highly encourage you to proceed immediately to the nearest urgent care or ER.  Standing very still behind a tree is not likely to improve your situation.  But in Halo, your mere lack of movement seems to be sufficient to raise your shields AND heal any damage caused by taking a laser rifle bolt to the chin.

Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why we wait SO LONG in waiting rooms at the doctor’s office.  Perhaps the doctors and nurses are huge fans of Halo and are thinking that maybe your respiratory infection will get better if we just sit still in an uncomfortable chair and read outdated magazines long enough.  But either way, this “regeneration-based” gameplay mechanic has presented me with an uncomfortable mirror in which to view myself.  See, I am not the most patient player in the world, and every second that I am not actively chasing an opponent down feels like an ETERNITY.  Stopping to allow my shields to recharge is PAINFUL.  It just seems like so much important stuff is going on around me while I am just sitting here passively wasting away.  Honestly, I feel like I am letting my team down as well as myself when I am not actively contributing, and instead I am just a coward hiding in a corner waiting for my wounds to heal.  My lack of forward progress feels like I am only active at failing.  But more often than not, I have found that if I DON’T wait and allow my circumstances to improve I am only a liability to myself as well as my comrades.

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I will give you an example.  At one point I was racing around a small multiplayer map with a gravity hammer and had been experiencing a fair amount of success with it.  Unfortunately the last enemy I encountered had “felt a certain kind of way” about being smashed with a giant hammer and had let my shields and health know it through a barrage of bullets that left me on the verge of death.  In my weakened state, the wisest course of action was to slow down and allow my health to recharge before diving in for more.  And while I was fully aware of the importance of going back into battle with full health, I could not resist the siren call of the multiple red dots on my screen indicating ACTION was nearby.  I blasted towards the sound of bullets and explosions expecting to catch my foes by surprise and overwhelm them with my sheer audacity.  Much to my chagrin, they were not overwhelmed.  They weren’t even WHELMED.

As the dust settled on my freshly exploded carcass, I would like to say that I sat and pondered my reckless strategy and reflected on where it went wrong.  I would LIKE to say that.  But instead I blasted forward immediately after respawning with the intent to pay them back.  Surely they wouldn’t see THIS brazen offensive coming.  Well… the plasma pistol I spawned with was no match for the four well-prepared adversaries I ran into, and once again I received the opportunity to count the seconds until my return and reconsider the importance of a slower, but wiser, path to the finish line.

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Many times in life we reach this point of seeming futility.  No outward signs of massive progress, no giant rain clouds in the sky when we were PROMISED an abundance of rain… just the slow and steady drip of each day imperceptibly moving us mere centimeters closer to the finish line.   It is incredibly frustrating when you can palpably feel your sense of purpose, your raw naked destiny just hanging there like a fruit ready to be plucked from a tree… but nothing is happening.  Maybe it’s a job you interviewed for that would be PERFECT for you… but the phone stubbornly refuses to ring.  Sometimes it’s an opportunity or idea that you know would be HUGE if you could just get your viral moment or some financing to grow it… but the world simply ignores your ground-breaking concept.  It can be a relationship, a personal struggle, or literally any area of your life in which you can see the bright glow of victory so clearly in the distance that you can TASTE it, but it simply won’t materialize yet.

In the book of Exodus, Moses found himself in the very same place.  After a narrow escape from slavery in Egypt and a frosty reception from the local inhabitants of their new land, the people of Israel were staring into their new future.  The Promised Land.  The land of dreams… the destiny that they had been working towards for hundreds of years.  It was right there in front of them waiting to be taken.  There was only one teensie-weensie problem.   The Promised Land was currently occupied by people who were going to be less than enthused at the prospect of being mowed down and pushed out of their current residence. A lot of conflict was ahead.  But before Moses and the Israeli people could even start planning for conquest, God had a plan that was bound to ruffle some feathers…

Exodus 23:29-30 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land. 

Hmph.  Let me get this right.  Even though the Lord was perfectly capable of wiping them out with a snap of his fingers, Thanos style, He was actively choosing not to.   Not because He was being cruel, and not even for some object lesson they needed to learn.  No, it was much more simple than that.  Their lack of capacity for tending to the land at this stage would have ended with them inheriting a land that was infertile and uninhabitable.  They had big dreams and ambitions, but they didn’t have the means to sustain all that they envisioned yet.  So instead they would receive their victory piece by agonizing piece… slowly, steadily, until they were in a position to truly inhabit it.

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It did not mean it was not theirs to claim.  It was simply a matter of practicality.  God was not going to give them a land that they were not yet in a position to sustain.  Possessing the entire land in one shot without having the infrastructure in place to support it would have devastated the entire country. They had to slowly grow into their new role as stewards of this land.  And so it is with us… The Lord has a deliberate plan for a slow, steady, step by step process that will end with us exactly where we belong at the exact time we belong there.  But in the meantime the movement forward will often be SLOW.

I will freely admit that I do not enjoy slow progress.  When I am making a batch of brownies and realize it will be THIRTY WHOLE MINUTES until they come out of the oven, I think about my past self thirty minutes ago and wish he had been more proactive so I could have brownies right NOW. But partially cooked brownies are simply not as good as the finished product.  That slow process is what makes them so good, and if you have ever compared microwave brownies to oven baked you know what I’m talking about.  Similarly, the Bible tells us in Zachariah 4:10  “Do not despise small beginnings”.  Whatever your dream or vision is, your slow or seemingly non-existent progress is not an indication that the answer to your prayers remains out of reach.  And the fact that your adversaries still possess what you were promised only means that they are actively cultivating what YOU will inherit when the day and time is right.

I am now at the stage of my life where I can see quite clearly in the rear view mirror how many times my lack of perceived progress was actually the presence of God insuring I was in a position to truly succeed in what He had planned for me.  He showed His kindness and wisdom by forcing me to stop and allow my shields to fully recharge so I would not fail at my next conflict.  He insures that we possess the necessary mental, physical, and spiritual bandwidth before we are placed into a position that would demand such things from us.  His grace allows us to fight these battles slowly, intentionally, and gradually.  He is preparing us through these seemingly unnecessary tragedies, setbacks, and mundane daily activities for the destiny and future that your heart received from Him.

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Our culture is inundated with the expectation for everything to happen NOW.  We can’t even wait for fast food anymore… we order it on our phone so it is ready for us to grab and walk out without waiting those long, painful three minutes for our hamburger to be microwaved.  I see infomercials promising IMMEDIATE results on weight loss or the removal of blemishes, investors guaranteeing RAPID and EXPONENTIAL return on your investments, and most disturbingly preachers informing us that our destiny is NOW and we can have everything that God has for us RIGHT NOW.  Usually for the low, low “suggested” offering of $49.99 for their book or DVD series.  David was promised to become the king as a boy but he did not achieve that promise until he turned 30 and had endured an incredibly harsh path to get there.  Even Jesus had to wait thirty years in relative obscurity before He took the first steps into His earthly ministry.  While the Lord can certainly do anything He wants in any amount of time, as we saw in Exodus He has a more sustainable route for most circumstances.  Slow, patient, steady growth until you are in a position to receive all that He has for you.

I am learning that when playing Halo I am at my best when I have a full complement of health and armor before I take on my next opponent.  That slow regeneration of health puts me in the best position to be successful in whatever is waiting around the next corner.  And similarly, the Lord absolutely has plans to prosper each and every one of us, but He doesn’t usually do it by dumping a pile of lottery winnings into our laps.  We wouldn’t necessarily be the best stewards of something we received without any sacrifice to achieve it.  Instead, He slows us down enough to truly grow through each successive experience in our lives, lovingly investing into us through the blood, sweat and tears of gradual progression.  And then, when it is time, we are able to confidently and boldly walk into our destiny knowing that this was what we were being prepared for all along. See you in the arena….