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?)

e3-2019-promo

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.

animal-crossing-switch-top-625x352

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…

phil-spencer-xbox-e3-2019.900x

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.

HaloInfiniteHERO

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.

legend_of_zelda_CsGD2M4.jpg

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?

adK0BL2_700b.jpg

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.

train-7.jpg

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.

Like us?  Follow us on Instagram or Facebook for video versions of our online blogs!

Facebook: Finding God in Video Games

Instagram: Finding God in Video Games

YouTube: Finding God in the World of Video games

Advertisements

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…

093773.jpg

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…

ghost-recon-wildlands-sam-fisher.jpg.optimal

 

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.

nintendo-e3-2019-animal-crossing-luigis-mansion.jpg

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.)

Avengers-Project-Square-Enix-combat-gameplay-detailed-melee-stealth-and-more-revealed-776530

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.

mgid-ao-image-mtv-9

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.

the-ancients-face-off-featured-image-1024x739.jpg

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.

tripartite-01.png

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.

master-oogway-quote4

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…

v1iib8tovau21.jpg

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

Prison Break and the Secret Life of Plumbers (Acts 16:22-34)

Mario may be the most well-known plumber in the history of the planet, which is ironic since I have never seen him do anything that seems remotely “plumberly”.  But while his labor union may be wondering when he will take on a job that does not see him disappearing into warp pipes and leaving all of the dirty work to them, I am quite glad the games that bear his name are full of exploits that have nothing to do with leaky sinks or overflowing toilets.  In my experiences with the early Mario games on the NES and SNES, I found that these games were populated with something that was unfamiliar to my young mind at the time – hidden secrets within the level that would give you advantages in the game.  I will never forget the first time I jumped up and hit my head on an invisible block, finding it contained an extra life mushroom to help me on my way.  The more I explored, the more I found these hidden blocks… little secrets full of coins or power-ups in each level that were designed to reward my curiosity.

hqdefault

At first, I thought I was the only person on the planet aware of these hidden bonuses.  But then one day, I found a book in a video game store that promised it contained ALL of the secrets in my favorite games.  I was stunned.  Could it be that someone else was aware of not only those hidden coins and lives that I had found, but that there were even more that I had not discovered?  After successfully begging my parents for the book, I took it home and devoured it, going through it page by page and realizing the limited view I had of my favorite games had just opened up to a whole new dimension. I never looked back.

how-to-win-video-games

Strategy guides, walk-throughs, and the online videos you can find nowadays to help you nail a tricky jump or find a secret area are common place, but there was a time where these bits of knowledge were passed around reverently from gamer to gamer like tribal knowledge, written on scraps of paper and placed inside of a book for future reference.  We live in a day and age that has made it possible to have every gaming question answered by a fellow gamer instantly, and while I will always look back on those old days of scribbling the Contra code in my notebook with fond nostalgia, it is quite convenient to have somewhere to turn when I simply cannot figure out where to shoot my second portal.

maxresdefault

And this is the reason we have the Bible, God’s authoritative strategy guide for life.  Absolutely everything you will face in your life has been lived by someone else, and these experiences have been documented for our benefit and placed in a volume that we can reference at any time.  All of the secret pathways have been explored, the bonus point areas are notated for easy return visits, and the traps that threaten to take you down have been marked to help you avoid the pitfalls of our predecessors.  Even with all of the advances in technology that have occurred and the “supposed” cultural advances that we enjoy as a modern civilization, the Bible has all of the answers for every problem you will ever face if you just know where to look.  And in this “walk-through” for the game of life, we find the story of a man of God, a miracle, and a prison guard with a serious “victim mentality”.

You know these people.  The ones that clutter their Facebook with complaints of how hard their life is, always negative and looking for sympathy for problems that are typically of their own doing.  The guy that only calls you when things are bad, taking your previously cheerful mood down to their level.  The girl that encourages you to join her in her misery so you can throw a pity party together.  And in an honest moment, we have to admit that at times we can play the “victim” too.  I know I have been guilty of several “Woe is me” moments, wanting the world to feel sorry for me and share in my suffering while we all listen to Evanescence and eat Cold Stone ice cream by the gallon.  You may not choose to go to Hot Topic to load up on skinny jeans and black nail polish, but make no mistake about it; we have all walked that road in some form or fashion.  And in our current era of human history, the tragedy is that many people choose to end their lives over trivial and solvable circumstances due to this terrible lie, the lie whispered in our ear that the world would be better off without us.  And this is where we find a man in the book of Acts, chapter 16.  Let’s jump there…

super_mario_bros_nes_classic_01

In Acts 16:23 we find the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Silas falsely accused of creating insurrection, beaten with a whip for crimes they did not commit, and thrown into prison.  These innocent preachers were locked into stocks in the deepest part of the prison, far past the cells for the murderers and thieves, under the strictest of night watches.  Seems a little overkill if you ask me, but with all of the precautions that had been made to keep them imprisoned, it was not enough.  Rather than get on their Twitter accounts and inform their followers of how terrible their day has been and how unfair life can be, they chose to sing.  And this was no tragic blues festival… no, they were faithfully praising their Creator and understood that He had not abandoned them, no matter how bad things looked right then.

As they sang, the Bible records an incredible event… the first recorded missionary “Prison Break” .  At midnight God stomped His feet to the music so hard that He caused an earthquake… an earthquake so massive that it shook the entire prison structure, breaking open the locked cell doors and freeing every prisoner in the facility.  Picture this – a maximum security prison full of the people society has deemed unfit for freedom, as its walls suddenly crack open.  Security panels are overridden, alarm klaxons blare over the loudspeakers, and flashing red lights fill the hallways in the chaos after the massive quake.  And in the midst of all of this chaos stands one man, the prison warden.  He has only one job to do really – keep the good people safe by locking the bad people in.  And despite all of the security protocols and carefully programmed electronic locks he has designed to prevent this possibility, forces beyond his ability to control or to understand have just rendered all of those mechanisms moot.

And here is where we see the sad pattern that I have personally witnessed so many people fall into.  With everything going wrong around him, the prison guard fails to see that despite all of the confusion and destruction that he is surrounded by there is nothing to fear.  Unaware that none of the prisoners have taken advantage of their newly found freedom, the jailer chooses to end his life, pulling out a sword to end his existence.  Have you ever known anyone who has faced this or perhaps have been tempted by this yourself?  Have you or someone you know felt the desire to inflict pain on your body as a means of dealing with a world around you that seems completely hostile?  This is not a new temptation – this existed thousands of years ago, and the Bible records this for us so we can avoid this danger, as well as save others from enduring this pain.  I have talked to many friends who felt that slitting their wrists was the only answer to an insane world, and I have a feeling you know a few of these people as well.  So let’s see what happens next…

Our prison guard has given up, failing to see the reality of his situation because of his limited view and assumption that there was no hope.  He is about to make the fatal cut when out of the madness rings out the voice of the Apostle Paul, screaming “Don’t harm yourself!!!  We are all still here!”.  Such a simple line, but if you or someone you know has ever faced the darkness and felt they could not go on, I am telling you and them right now “Don’t harm yourself!”.  No matter how bad you may think it is, there is more than just hope.  There is PURPOSE.  Behind all of the wreckage and rubble that you see right now in the aftermath of the traumatic earthquake you have just experienced in your life, the plan for your life is STILL here.  God’s will for you is still intact.  You are a perfectly designed vessel, meant to carry His very Spirit with you through each and every day of your life, and He has plans to prosper you and take care of you.  It may look bad right now, and you may not see a way out of your situation.  But I promise you, just as the jailer is about to find out, this was all a plan to benefit you.  We just need to realize that the extra life mushroom may be invisible to us right now, but it is there nonetheless.

Acts 16:26-28 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.  And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

The prison guard races to the sound of Paul’s voice, and having found all of the prisoners still in place just as he had been told, he and his whole family give their lives to God.  The entire episode has a happy ending all the way around. The warden throws a party and cares for the unfair and painful wounds that had been inflicted on Paul and Silas, his entire family is brought together by this incredible circumstance, and the next day Paul and Silas are released to continue their missionary voyage.  Lives were changed forever, and every one of them had a deeper understanding of how truly in control of our lives and circumstances our God is.  It may not always look that way from the outside, but this entire story is recorded for our benefit so we can know that it does not matter how dark and scary our circumstances appear right now, the solution may present itself in the midnight hour.

Cr60WUdWEAAbIW5

Jeremiah 23:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

So if you ever have a doubt about if God sees you and the particular challenges you face, rest assured that He does and He has a plan.  God did not show up and prevent the arrest of Paul and Silas, nor did he protect them from the brutal beating that they had not earned.  There was a deeper and more important plan at work here – there was a prison warden on the razor’s edge, and he and his entire family had a date with destiny.  In your life, every moment of pain and every scary situation you face serves a purpose.  Someone else out there, someone who you may have not even met yet, is depending on you and your success in the trial you are facing right now.  And only by facing this and trusting God for the answer will we be able to take that next step that not only benefits us and God’s plan for our lives, but may save someone else’s life too!

large

 

Yoshi’s Crafted World: The Untold Story of Yoshi’s Need to FEED (Esther 2-10)

Ever since Yoshi made his official debut on the SNES in Super Mario World in 1990, he has demonstrated a skill set wholly unique to him.  We have grown accustomed to seeing the all-too familiar spectacle of Mario and his pals jumping on the tops of enemies heads to eliminate them.  I will note that in real life this practice is typically quite cumbersome and even if executed successfully only seems to anger them.  This is NOT recommended for dealing with actual conflict, so please do not try this at home.  We also often find characters such as Donkey Kong and the like picking up items such as barrels that have been conveniently left lying around for the purposes of hurling at one’s opposition, also typically with a great success rate.  But not Yoshi.  No… his friendly face and gentle demeanor holds quite the secret to his success…

Yoshi's Crafted World

You see, if you are a friendly neighborhood Shy Guy or Koopa that happens to find yourself crossing his path, he will probably do the following… EAT you alive, DEFECATE you into the form of an egg, and then carry you around with him so if the mood should strike he can throw you as a weapon at another adversary or obstacle.  That’s kind of dark and disgusting if you actually considered the mechanisms involved here.  How this game gets an “E” rating after a sentence like that is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Master Chief does none of those things and gets a “M” rating every time.  But I digress.

watch30minutes_2643773b

This world that is LITERALLY filled with rainbows and butterflies conceals the reality of Yoshi’s journey… hundreds of enemies are devoured and pooped out into cute little eggs throughout the course of the game, following behind Yoshi helplessly until the moment comes when he needs to throw what remains of them at a target to continue on his path.  Talk about an appetite for destruction.  Fortunately it tends to be a relatively quick and clean process and I have yet to observe any long-term intestinal trauma from Yoshi due to his carnivorous activities, so all seems to be good here.  But it got me to thinking…

yoshiscraftedworld1

As gamers we observe so many different means and methods of dispatching enemies throughout video games, some incredibly clever and unique and others mundane yet effective.  But this particular method of not only swallowing your antagonist but then using them as a weapon against future challenges seems not only unique but also remarkably similar to how we can deal with challenges in our every day lives.  And NO, I am not espousing actual cannibalism or throwing our devoured obstacles as processed feces at one another.  That would violate multiple laws and is quite unhygienic.  Fun for a few hours, but let’s try to stay sophisticated here.   No, I am looking more at the principle behind the actions… seeing your enemies and obstacles as literal weapons for progress.

switch_ycw_releasedateannounce_scrn05_bmp_jpgcopy

Previously we have looked at the importance of villains in your life and how they are critical to your journey (The Value of a Villain: Why we Need Darth Vader (John 11:45-53) We have even observed how the presence of opposition can be a guiding force to lead you towards your destination (CAUTION: Obstacles Ahead May Be More Vital Than They Appear (Judges 14-16, Acts 13, Luke 9:51)  But now we are in completely unmarked territory… what if the challenges you face are not merely important for your growth and direction, but are actually the MEANS of progression?  Let’s scratch a little bit deeper…

In the book of Esther we find so many rich topics for exploration, but the simplest through line of her story can be summarized pretty easily and should be relatable to all of us.  After all, this is a simple matter of:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Boy falls in love with girl
  • Boy marries girl
  • Boy adds girl to his massive harem
  • Boy accidentally creates a law that would result in complete genocide of girl’s race

Hold on, WHAT?  I feel like this one went off the tracks somewhere.  Ok, so maybe this isn’t as easily summed up as one of those romantic comedy Netflix subplots.  You know… the ones typically starring only one person that you “kind of” recognize and later realize that you only know them from a DIFFERENT crappy Netflix movie.  No, this one has a lot more moving parts to it.  But this IS the story… the king of Persia marries Esther, who won a national beauty contest and was made queen.  Unbeknownst to the king or just about anyone else, Esther is Jewish.  The chief advisor to the king (Haman) was possessed by a hatred for one Jewish man (who happens to be Esther’s biological uncle), but instead of targeting only him he decided to label the ENTIRE race as hostile terrorists who needed to be eliminated.  And that’s when the plot begins to thicken like Jell-O after a night in the fridge…

Haman tricks the king into signing a decree that would essentially act as a PURGE… on his selected date every citizen could murder any Jew they found in cold blood and take their possessions LEGALLY.  When Esther hears of this plot, she is predictably distraught.  Most princesses would consider exiting the ball Cinderella style right now, leaving even their GOOD shoes behind.  But with the guidance of her uncle and the providence of God on her side, she flips the tables on her aggressors by having the king sign a new law which would bring all of the Jews together and give them permission and support to defend themselves against those who wished them harm.  What was meant for their destruction was actually an opportunity to isolate their enemies, gather them together, and defeat them with the support of the king.  When the dust settled, the king’s evil advisor along with 75,000 fellow haters were destroyed by the very law they had attempted to use for the elimination of the Jewish race.

Now for the application… it is always easy to see when the deck is stacked against you.  And try as you might, the fact that your adversaries are lighting the way for your continued progress in life is not typically a comforting fact.  But like Yoshi, we have to stop looking at these as challenges and realize that these are the means by which we will move forward.  These temporary obstacles are not simply in your way… they are meant to be used as propulsion and ammunition.  Your testimony IS your weapon… everything you have fought and everything you are still fighting is what you are intended to USE in the battle.  If you feel overwhelmed with opposition, stop and see them for what they actually are… your undigested arsenal of weapons for victory.  Esther could have run, or she could have hid her true self and hoped nobody ever guessed her nationality.  Instead, she embraced the fact that she was a Jew and used the law that was meant to destroy her and her people to generate their greatest victory.

When Esther doubted her role in her own deliverance, her uncle had to challenge her with the following quote, which I feel is quite appropro for all of us:

Esther 4:14: Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source; but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?”

Just like Esther, we can often feel like we are seeing life from her viewpoint… over-whelmed, running out of time, surrounded by obstacles and adversaries, and unable to imagine a path to victory.  But you are exactly where you are meant to be, or you wouldn’t be there.  And God has His hand on you and has not only guided your steps, but placed you in the only position in which victory could be achieved.  When David confronted Goliath, he did not bring a shield with him.  He never planned on playing any defense.  His faith was all the shield he needed.  He grabbed some rocks and took the offensive against the giant, and the rest is history.  I would encourage you to look at the challenges you face and see them as God sees them… your ammo.  Your weapons.  Your means of advancement… maybe not in the direction you would like to go, but in the direction He planned for you.

cYiUWfdUHwDf5A7wrUYjEDWhen we are feeling overwhelmed, it’s often because we think we are responsible for the outcome of our situation.  We aren’t… we are only responsible for our obedience (Exodus 4:1-12).  When we feel outnumbered by opposition, it’s often because we forget that greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world (1 John 4:4).  Don’t fear your challenges, your enemies, or your obstacles… it won’t do you any good anyways.  These problems are actually your weapons once you choose to stop avoiding them and actually INGEST them into your life.  Your path to victory is through them, not by going around them.  I would like to encourage you that no matter what level of genocidal apocalypse you are facing, just like Esther you were placed intentionally where you are for a reason.  It may seem dangerous and hostile, but as Yoshi can tell you it is only when you are up close to the enemy that you can do the most damage.. in his case by consuming them.  Ask Joseph, the guy in Genesis who was sold by his brothers as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and thrown in to prison what he thinks about using his enemies as weapons for good…

Genesis 50:20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

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

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

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

hqdefault

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

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

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

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

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

super-smash-bros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nintendo-Labo-1

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

nintendo-labo-swtich-piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metroid Prime: Solving the Problem of a Powerless Power Suit (1 Peter 4:12-13)

It’s a great time to be a Metroid fan… from the recent re-release of Metroid: Samus Returns, the inclusion of the masterpiece Super Metroid on the upcoming SNES classic, as well confirmation from Nintendo that a new Metroid Prime is finally in development… let’s just call it an embarrassment of riches that we should all be grateful for.  The original Metroid Prime games still stand up today and are well worth tracking down if you have the hankering for some excellent first-person exploration.  Just do yourself a favor and avoid the abomination that is Metroid Other M.  Please.  Think of the children…

   The original Metroid Prime starts off with a bang, as everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Samus Aran takes down enemies and searches for clues within a derelict space station. All of your suit’s powers are on full display as you fire missiles, transform into a ball and roll around, fire your grappling hook to navigate… you are an unstoppable force of nature laying waste to all who dare oppose you.  But at the end of the first level an event occurs that strips you of ALL of your suit’s special abilities, and you spend the entirety of the rest of the game slowly putting yourself back together so you can take on the final boss.  After getting spoiled to all of these powerful abilities, you suddenly find yourself quite under-powered for the journey that lies ahead and without the full arsenal of options you had just become accustomed to the world seems a little more hostile and dangerous than it did when you were at full capacity.

   Many games have taken this approach over the years, giving you a tantalizing taste of your character with unlimited capabilities and then using a plot device to remove most or all of those abilities so you can spend the next ten to twelve hours gaining them back.  This is also common in many theatrical releases, as super heroes such as Iron Man or Thor spend an entire movie trying to get back to a place that they had originally possessed and perhaps had taken for granted when they had it.  It almost seems cruel if you think about it.  Why give me the taste of the good life if you are just going to rip it away and make me fight to earn it back?  But whether you are trying to rebuild your Iron Man armor, prove yourself worthy of wielding Mjolnir once again, or simply trying to get your super suit firing on all cylinders we can all agree that this part of the process is the most time-consuming and painful yet ultimately necessary part of the hero’s journey.

   Walking the Spirit-filled life has been a lot like this for me.  I remember the glorious feeling of being born again… the excitement of knowing that I was finally who I was meant to become. The world looked and smelled different and I felt connected to God in a way that was impossible to describe.  For days I felt a unique euphoria as I listened to praise music in my car and it seemed like the trees were singing along with me as I drove past them.  When it was sunny it felt like the Lord was smiling on me.  When it rained I just sat and was amazed at how He continues to nurture His creation.  And I thought that I would just dance this dance with Him all the way up to the pearly gates.  And then, much like our Metroid Prime power armor, it felt like all of it was ripped away piece by piece.

   The rain that I previously admired is much less desirable when it is intruding in your home and creating mold that makes your family sick.  That glorious sunlight just feels hot and angry when you are sitting on the ground next to your new car that someone just plowed into while you were in a stopped position.  Slowly I found myself driving with the radio off and my mind preoccupied with much more mundane considerations such as how to schedule contractors and which credit card has enough room to pay for groceries this week.  All that power and joy I had been walking in was stripped away so quickly and replaced with fear, anxiety, and anger.

   1 Peter 4:12-13 sheds a lot of light on the issue of power suit problems:

” Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

   Of all the people who experienced this transition into losing power, it is Jesus who understands it best.  From having legions of angels to attend to His every thought to transitioning into consciously choosing the challenges of such activities like hunger, pain, homelessness, wood splinters, and (gasp) using the bathroom without the conveniences of indoor plumbing… He dropped his super suit off in the tutorial level and chose to face life the same way we must.

   Now to be honest, at first this knowledge didn’t make me feel any better.  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get hyped thinking about suffering.  I gave my life to the Lord, I’m praying and walking in obedience, and I’m putting on the armor of God as defined in Ephesians.  And then it hit me…

The armor of God does not keep you from getting hit… it protects you from being destroyed by the inevitable hits that are coming.

   

   I was disappointed and frustrated that my service to God did not prevent these events that seemed tailor-made to steal my joy and break my spirit.  And I was misguided in thinking I was going to bounce from cloud to cloud just because I have chosen to serve the Lord.  My armor is protective, but it is not a repellent.  And as I walk through life I will continue to achieve growth that unlocks greater capabilities to serve the Lord, and along with that stronger armor will come even greater challenges and trials.  In Gamer language, our enemies level up with us. But the joy of my salvation that I started with?  That’s mine to keep, as long as I choose to use it. 

    So if you have been facing tough opposition and have been wondering why everything seems harder now than it did before, don’t panic or give in to stress.  It’s not an error in the program and we didn’t make a mistake by choosing to serve the Lord.  And He certainly has not forgotten us or is unaware of our struggle.  It’s simply our path to assemble our armor.  And we can grow in power and in our Spirit-filled walk each day by accepting that our challenge will grow each day as proof that we are growing too.  I think I just unlocked the Morph ball… bet that means I’m about to have a use for it!

Shattering the Facade: The Truth Behind Super Mario Bros. 2 (Romans 7:15-25, Romans 8:1-2)

As a self-proclaimed Nintendo fan-boy, it almost hurts to make this admission. I suppose I should have been able to figure it out on my own. Maybe I didn’t want to believe it, but deep down in my heart I knew. Like a mother hen gazing down at her newborn chicks and seeing that one of them is green, reptilian, and carries a mouthful of sharp teeth I likewise felt that something wasn’t quite right about this one. But I wanted to love it, I wanted to call it mine, and this crocodile became a member of the Nintendo family whether it belonged there or not.

   I suppose the first sign should have been when I jumped on an enemy’s head and it had no effect. That didn’t seem very “Mario-ish”. Or the lack of the standard power-ups that littered all of his other adventures. The absence of Bowser and his kin was a red flag. And if that wasn’t enough, the sudden obsession with throwing vegetables, something that never occurred to Mario in his previous or later adventures, just seemed out of place. And now I know why. It’s because the Super Mario Bros. 2 that we all know and love is in fact a LIE.

   Well, maybe a lie is a tad bit harsh. It is not what you think it is, that is for sure. Now for the history lesson. In 1988 Nintendo released the Super Mario Bros. 2 that we are all familiar with to a Western audience who was desperate for a new Mario adventure. But the truth is this was not Super Mario 2 at all. That title was released in the East and determined to be too difficult for a Western audience, so instead a game titled Doki Doki Panic was re-skinned with Mario and his friends and released as the next chapter in Mario’s saga. A simple google search will uncover the truth that the screenshot below reveals:

   The truth is the Super Mario Bros. 2 experience we received was another game entirely, which is why it never really felt quite right when compared to the other games in the series. Nintendo slapped Mario on the cover, replaced the main characters with Luigi, Peach, and Toad and hoped we would never know the difference. And for many of us, we may never have known until the harsh truth was presented to us. And while this was a harmless facade that most people have given very little thought to (and honestly the game is just fine even if it isn’t a TRUE Mario title), this brings me to the thought of the masks that we wear so we can continue providing the output we are counted on delivering without risking disappointment with what actually lies within.

   In my life I battle daily with the facade I have built to show the world versus the reality the exists inside me. I work feverishly to present the right face and demeanor at work, home, and in public so I can continue to provide for my family, meet their needs, and co-exist peacefully in society. But as it is written in Romans 7:15-19:


“15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”

  There is a wealth to unpack in those few short verses, and when you realize that this is none other than the Apostle Paul himself sharing this it becomes even more critical to process this. Suffice to say, even after all of his missionary journeys around the known world preaching the Gospel Paul still found that he struggled each day to stifle the sinful desires that run contrary to the good that he truly desired to do. I don’t know if that speaks to you, but to a broken and frustrated sinner like me it helps knowing that the greatest preacher of all time was able to be honest and admit that he has something inside him that wants to do, say, and think things that he knows he shouldn’t.

   
Now you might be thinking at this point that this is not terribly helpful information. I mean, the whole point of this is to get rid of the mask and live boldly in freedom from sin, right? And it’s hard to do that when you are struggling in areas that nobody expects you to struggle in. Christian “pride” kicks in as we realize how others would judge us if we admit that we are struggling with an addiction, have issues dealing with anger, or have made mistakes that we carry with us deep inside so nobody else will find them.

   

   Fortunately, Paul never brings up a problem without also offering up a solution, typically from his personal experience. And as he goes on in his discourse with the Roman believers…

“21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

   So what is the answer to the sin problem that plagues us all… sinful and holy, rich and poor, regardless of environment or upbringing? First, we must accept the reality of our situation. We can slap a picture of Mario on the cover of the box all day long, but the game inside is still Doki Doki Panic and anyone can see that now. We are all fighting to do what is right while we are internally driven towards particular weaknesses that threaten to bring us down. These are different for all of us, just as we each have different blood types and genetic data we also have spiritual challenges that operate under the surface that are as unique as our physical DNA. Let’s admit it as boldly as Paul does… I have a war inside me and it wants to win.  

   Now for my choice… I choose to accept that there is no condemnation for me for my past transgressions as well as for the truth of my current struggles because I am making the conscious choice each day to win this war by living according to the will of Christ, not my flesh. I do not have this ability inside me, and if I try to do it myself I am doomed to fail. But when the war for my mind, my heart, my body or my mouth is waged I can make the choice to call on Him for the strength I do not possess and claim victory for that battle. If you are disappointed that belief in Christ did not remove all of your sinful desires, you are not alone. And don’t for a moment believe your conversion was ineffective simply because the war inside you still exists. The war is the PROOF of the Spirit inside you. You would not be battling with sin if you had not chosen Christ. Sin does not battle those it already possesses. The existence of a fight proves the presence of the Spirit of God in your battle.

   Don’t be ashamed of your battle. And don’t photoshop a grinning picture of Mario on yourself as an attempt to convince yourself or others of a “normal” that does not actually exist. Inside me I am Doki Doki Panic all the time. I wish I was Mario… heck, I wouldn’t mind being Toad. But rather than try to look like a Mario title that I am not, I going to stick with my fight to engage with the Birdos and Mousers that dwell inside me. And if you have any leftover vegetables (otherwise known as prayers outside of the Mario realm) that I can throw at them, I’ll be happy to take them off your hands because our friendly neighborhood plumber is off to find his princess in another castle. But you and me and Jesus makes three, and that’s more than enough to beat this level.  

Nintendo Loves Me, Nintendo Loves Me Not: The Real Desperate Housewives of the Bible (Genesis 29)

Nintendo do you love me?  Let us count the ways… you give me Legend of Zelda at the launch of your new Switch console, but I can’t get my hands on a Mario title until the nebulous “Holiday 2017” time period?  You gift me with the NES classic console I never knew I needed, but then package it with a wired controller with a 3 ft. cord?  And you return to cartridge based gaming, which is awesome, but make all my investments in both physical and digital games on the WiiU obsolete?  Launching incredible new hardware which is only available in limited quantities, making an awesome pro controller but charging a whopping eighty bucks for it… Oh Nintendo, I definitely feel like I love you more than you love me back.  Considering your third place standing in the marketplace, I would think you would be a little more thoughtful about my needs in this relationship.  To be fair you haven’t really changed that much over the years, so what should I expect really.  But who am I kidding… I can’t help falling in love with you.  Call me… when Splatoon 2 comes out I’ll be there.

When you feel like you are giving more love than you are receiving it can be incredibly difficult to sustain that relationship.  While the Nintendo reference above is meant to be tongue-in-cheek (mostly), there are few pains that match the feeling of being a loser in the game of love.  And if you are a living, breathing human being, you have probably been there more times than you care to recollect.  But you have probably not had your personal pain and shame documented to the degree that our survivor of the day has endured:  the unfortunately painful experience of being the wrong wife that Leah experienced in Genesis 29.

Leah is part of a beautiful love story…. between Jacob and his desired bride Rachel.  And her story is a third wheel story for the ages, so if you have felt or are currently enduring this pain her story is for you.  Jacob has met and fallen head over heels in love with Rachel, the youngest daughter of a schemer who is easily a match for the duplicitous Jacob.  While Jacob only has eyes for Rachel, Laban’s eyes grow wide with opportunity.  Jacob’s infatuation leads him to offer himself as an unpaid employee for SEVEN years in exchange for the hand of Rachel in marriage.  Forgoing the typical dowry for the currently unemployed Jacob fell in his favor, and for a moment he may have felt like he had made an honest deal with his uncle.

But the disingenuous apple did not fall far from the family tree, and Laban pulls one of the most devious bait-and-switch deals recorded by swapping his older daughter Leah at the altar, completely unbeknownst to the groom.  Before we get too deep in the repercussions of this act, let’s get to know Leah a little bit better since this is her story.  She pops into play in verses 16 and 17, and not in the way you would hope to be introduced.  Put simply, Leah enters the stage described as the older and less attractive of Laban’s two daughters.  We will get a deeper look at the sibling rivalry that existed here soon, but for now Leah was completely overlooked by Jacob and overshadowed by Rachel.  Her credentials for membership into the survivors club are growing by the sentence.

After seven long years it is time for the wedding, and Laban is all too happy to pay up.  The ceremony is planned, guests are invited, gifts are given, good times roll and the vows are consummated.  But whether it was the result of bad lighting or a little too much consumption of the celebratory liquid refreshments there was a small problem that revealed itself in the morning light.  Verse 25 is hilariously concise by simply stating what Jacob saw as he rolled over that morning, “It came to pass in the morning that behold, it was Leah”.  Needless to say, Jacob was not amused and he immediately approached Laban about the double-cross.  As Laban and Jacob work out a deal for Rachel that involved seven more years of service, I want to keep the camera on the unwanted bride Leah.  Her one and only wedding day was to a man who did not want her as a wife, and in the morning of her first day as Mrs. Jacob her new husband’s response to seeing her lying beside him is to run out the door to find the wife he really wanted.  Tough first day…

We don’t know how much she knew about what was going on and if she was even aware that a trick had been played on Jacob.  To be honest that interpolation isn’t entirely relevant, because whether she had awareness or not she is still a human being with the desire to be loved and wanted by her spouse… and verse 30 captures the sad but painfully obvious outcome that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Leah gets one whole week of being married to Jacob before Rachel takes over as the desired wife he was infatuated with, and life was just beginning to get complicated for all three of them.  But within the sad state of Leah’s new life there was One who saw exactly what was going on, and His eyes are the most important of all.  In verse 31 the God who sees into the hearts of all casts His gaze on poor unwanted Leah and rewards her, with Scripture recording that when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb but Rachel was barren.

Children are a gift only the Lord can give, and He lavishes this gift upon Leah with four sons.  In our modern era this loses some of its significance, but in those days this was the most important gift a wife could give her husband.  They are the building blocks of what would eventually become the tribes of Israel, and in the short-term represented the expanded abilities to grow their families capabilities and fortune.  This was a game-changer in the home, granting Leah a status that Rachel and all of her beauty simply could not provide.  And through these four sons we get a wonderful insight into what Leah is feeling and thinking for the first time.  Let’s start with her firstborn, an event that no one could ever deny her.  The first child of Jacob, Reuben, was named this because in  verse 32 Leah says,” The Lord has looked at my affliction, now surely my husband will love me.”  Such a tragic sentence… how much pain is reflected in the simple hope that this birth would turn the heart of the man she sees as HER husband towards his original wife.  But we see that Leah has not lost faith in God through her ordeal… and we will continue to see her faith develop as the Lord continues to stand up on her behalf.

Did bearing her husband a child improve the relationship?  Let’s see… in verse 33 we find the birth of the second son of Israel named Simeon, with the quote from Leah, “Because the Lord has heard I am unloved He has given me a second son”.  Unfortunately, a child wasn’t the magical cure to her problem.   But we do see the seed of Leah’s faith in God growing as she moves from believing the Lord SAW her affliction in verse 32 to realizing the Lord HEARD her in verse 33.  This is significant growth and this foundation will continue to be built upon.  Her third son she names Levi, with the hope that her husband will become attached to her through this child-bearing, but it is with the birth of her fourth son that she simply says, “Now I will praise the Lord”.  The name of this son?  Judah.  As in the lion of the tribe of Judah.  The Judah who would be the head of the royal lineage that would lead to David, Solomon…. and Jesus Christ himself.

Leah stopped trying to use God’s gifts to gain favor with her earthly husband and turned her thinking towards her Heavenly Father, as she finally realized that the love story was not between her and Jacob, but between Leah and the Lord.  Once she flipped the script and shifted the focus from her pain and disappointment to finding her place in service to Him everything clicked into place.  To be clear, there is no recording of Jacob and Leah’s relationship improving and honestly no reason to believe that their marriage lived up to the hopes and dreams Leah had for it.  But in the lineage of the Christ it is Leah and her child who provided the genealogy that would save the entire planet.

Much of our pain and suffering is the result of our inability to see that there is a significance to what we endure that surpasses the disappointments we are currently facing.  When your heart’s desire is to possess the love of someone who simply won’t return it to you the way you want them to… well, that can be very difficult to accept.  But the reality is there will never be a relationship between two humans that will satisfy the longing for true love that only exists between a created being and their Creator.  Our relationships in this life are not meant to fulfill that need, nor is it fair to expect them to.  It is only through putting our full heart into pursuing Him and His will that we can achieve true fulfillment and find our place in the plan He designed just for us.  Leah was the mother of the most important son of Israel, even while she remained the undesired and less attractive wife of the man Jacob.  The losing she experienced was a critical component of her eventual victory, and because Leah stayed faithful and served the Lord’s will even in a thankless relationship every believer today can thank her for giving us the Davidic line of leaders through her son Judah and the Levitical line of priests through her son Levi.

So for all of us that were picked last for dodgeball, danced alone at prom, or are currently sitting in an empty room eating Funyuns because there isn’t anyone there to smell our breath… Leah’s story is ours.  And her heartbreak and disappointment was not something that God was blissfully unaware of.  He saw, He heard, and He rewarded.    He was not disconnected from the life challenges of a desperate housewife thousands of years ago, and He remains just as active in yours.  And just as Leah endured years of struggle and pain as child after child was placed in her husbands arms only to see her situation fail to improve, so too we must endure extended seasons and oftentimes years of losing before the purpose becomes clear.  But those years shaped Leah and grew her relationship with God, something that simply wouldn’t have occurred if her life had played out the way she had dreamed it would.  She, like each of us, had a vital role to play in the history of the human race.  Take heart… your current situation may simply be an opportunity to grow your relationship with your Savior, and if you stay strong you might just find you have the most prominent position after all.