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.  

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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.

Has-Been Heroes: Waiting on Lazarus (John 11)

If you were fortunate enough to pick up a Nintendo Switch then you are probably hankering for some new software to supplement your Legend of Zelda diet, and the next title in the pipeline is a little rogue-like adventure called “Has-Been Heroes”.  This highly tactical, procedurally generated experience insures that no two play-throughs will be alike as it openly embraces the concept of perma-death.  Once your character has fallen in battle, they are gone. No respawn, no continue screen, just a sudden, jarring, and final ending to all of your time and investment into a character who has graduated to another plane of existence.

 

To be blunt, cheating death is one of the primary escapist fantasies in gaming.  The ability to resurrect on cue enables us to explore environments boldly, utilize trial and error to problem solve, and even find our most recent failures humorous and share-worthy on social media.  Removing this fail-safe certainly ups the ante and ratchets up the tension for the player and makes every step as well as each mis-step as costly as they are in the real world.

 

I don’t want to rehash previous ground with reflections on permadeath (this can be found in a previous blog entry), but if one is going to embark on a series of thoughts about the concept of losing, it only makes sense to take on the one form of losing that we are all guaranteed to deal with.  Throughout our lives we are surrounded by it, we endure the pain of it as it takes our loved ones, and one day we will eventually succumb to it ourselves.  Death has an almost flawless record of victory, and losing to this enemy was assured the day we took our first breath.  The pain it delivers is real, and throughout the Bible this is handled seriously and with respect.  We will approach this the same way here as we consider the case of Lazarus, the man who Jesus raised from the dead.

 

This is not Christ’s first resurrection miracle, but it is distinguished by the length of time between the death of Lazarus and his re-animation.  In John 11 we start with Lazarus alive but fading as his sisters send an urgent message to Jesus to come quickly.  Verse 6 records His difficult to understand response, “when He heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where He was two more days.”  Hmmm.  What an odd decision.  When Christ was asked by a centurion to heal his servant, His response was to head there immediately.  When He was asked to heal Jairus’s daughter He also began to move that direction with haste.  But here lies His friend, a man referred to by his sisters as the “one that you love”, and Jesus hangs out for two more days.

 

Have you ever felt like God was just chilling out when you were at your breaking point?  Have you been in a state of unmitigated crisis and it seems like the answer is in no hurry to get to you in spite of your urgency?  By the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days.  He has clearly  demonstrated previously that he can do long-distance healing, but in this case He simply chose not to.  There is about to be a lot of heartbreak here, and John is going to record all of it in unflinching detail.  Let’s dive in…

 

We get our first insight into what Christ was thinking in verse 4, when His original response to the news of the illness is that “this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God and that His Son would be glorified through it”.  There is a higher order here than what anyone else in the scene is considering, and while the suffering could be ended quite easily by the hands that have healed countless others, this pain had a purpose.  There was also a purpose to what seemed to be meaningless waiting.  Our clue is in verse 8, when the disciples respond unfavorably to the plan to go to Lazarus.  When Jesus rolls out his itinerary their immediate feedback is that this is the place where the people just tried to stone Jesus to death.  Indeed, if you flip back just a few verses to John 10:31 you see why the disciples had cause to be concerned.  Because, you know…. the afore-mentioned stoning to death.  They felt a certain kind of way about that.

 

Waiting on God has many purposes, and none of them are particularly enjoyable.  But in this circumstance, it was exceptionally necessary even though it seemed callous and uncaring at the time for Christ to choose not to immediately run to his friend’s aid.  This action, the raising of Lazarus, is the official starting point of Christs’s ascent to Calvary.  This was the point of no return.  Once He completed this step every wheel starts to spin with added purpose.  In John 11:45 the governing council begin their plans to frame and murder Jesus in direct response to the resurrection of Lazarus.  Chapter 12 marks the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and His final days on earth.  Everything picks up speed once this seemingly innocuous action of raising Lazarus occurs.  So the answer to the question, “Why did He wait until it was too late?” Is more clearly understood in the context of the eternal significance of the chain reaction that occurs.  Lazarus had to die, Mary and Martha had to cry, and Jesus had to bide His time because there was more going on here than anyone was aware of at the time.

 

So now that we have the context, let’s return to the city of Bethany as we find Jesus arriving and Martha choosing to go out and meet Him on the way.  And as always, Martha gets straight to the point greeting Him with, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I think we have all had a similar thought in regards to God’s hands on a situation of ours.  I can feel her pain as she tries to balance reverence to the Messiah with the bitter emotion of knowing He could have so easily prevented her pain and loss, and for reasons completely invisible to her He simply didn’t show up.  He wasn’t there for the healing, He didn’t come to the funeral… He didn’t even show up for the burial ceremony.  Have you been there?  Ever had this internal dialogue?

Surely He will fix this, He’s never let me down.  I just need to have faith.

 

Well, it’s a little late, but God’s still in control.  This is just a little test.  He will show up.

 

Hmmmm…. really felt He would have handled this by now.  I know I prayed about this… maybe I have some sin I need to deal with.  That’s got to be it.  Then He will fix everything.

 

Hello?  Is this on?  We are well past the point of making a dramatic entrance now.  I’m claiming promises and quoting Scripture…. can you still hear me?

To her credit, Martha balances her pointed statement of blame with a follow-up indication of a still flickering flame of faith.  In verse 22 she finds the courage to say “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God He will give to you”.  And with that tender step onto holy ground, the miracle begins to take shape.  Time to get a little closer.  Christ, having been greeted by Mary with the identical passive-aggressive statement that He could have prevented this, has a remarkably human response to the setting around Him.

 

He is not confidently striding towards the tomb without showing feelings or compassion like a T-1000 robot, even though He knows exactly what He is going to do when He gets there.  He doesn’t say,”Stop your crying, I will fix it”.    He listens, and in verse 33 we see that He is troubled and groans in His Spirit after He saw the pain that Mary and the others were in.  And when they wept… He wept too.  Verse 35 is the shortest but yet one of the most critical verses in the entire Bible as it simply records, “Jesus wept”.

 

I cannot overstate the importance of that simple sentence.  God’s response to their pain was to FEEL it with them.  This is not the action of an uncaring deity living somewhere over the rainbow.  His heart broke and tears rolled down His cheeks as He fully experienced the wave of emotion that accompanies the passing of a loved one.  He deliberately chose not to cheat death, at least not yet anyway.

 

In the comics or movies when a superhero can fly anywhere they want but instead choose to walk and ride in cars, the reason is because heroes want to travel WITH others who do not share their powers.  This keeps them grounded, approachable… human.  Christ, the ultimate immortal superhero, could have floated on clouds but chose against that so He could experience the act of losing with us.  And while a miracle is about to occur that launches Christ towards His own date with death, the most remarkable thing that occurs on this day isn’t when God flexes his muscles and dusts death of His shoulder… it’s when He shows us that the experience of death and loss affects Him just as deeply as it impacts us.

 

Are you ready for a resurrection? Because the story doesn’t end there.  In a foreshadowing of things to come, the stone is rolled away and the man who was irrevocably dead emerges from the tomb alive and well.  And similarly, our losses in life are oftentimes the means in which God will use His resurrection power to bring them back to life at the proper time.  All who have chosen to put their faith in Him will experience this miracle.  Our belief in our personal resurrection hinges on the proof that Christ can raise the dead.  And through this example as well as His personal resurrection from death we have the confidence that He can and will do the same for us and each of our saved loved ones when the time is right.

 

Our faith, even when applied to a losing scenario, is the ignition point for resurrection to occur.  He is moved by our pain, but His power responds to our belief in Him.  Those who have placed their lives in His hands and have been wrenched from our arms in this life have been laid to rest with this eternal flame already lit to claim their resurrection.  As we close this thought, I want to leave you with a scripture that can sometime be poorly understood.  Psalm 116:15 records the statement, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”.  That can be easily misunderstood when taken out of context.  The Hebrew word here is what is used when describing incredibly valuable, rare, and expensive jewels or stones.  The implication here is that our death is an exceptionally rare and costly moment for Him, one that he values and fully understands in terms of cost.  He does not take our passing lightly.  But His free gift of resurrection is a PROMISE that supersedes this loss, even though death is implied for a resurrection to occur.

 

When it comes to losing, death is most likely the most painful loss to absorb because of the sense of finality.  But He holds the keys to this adversaries’ lair and resurrection is guaranteed for all who placed their trust in Him.  He understands, He feels your pain, and He mourns the loss with you… and He will fulfill His promise of eternal life for all who choose to believe.

 

Losing to death may be fatal but it is not FINAL.  The pain it causes is real but not PERMANENT.  Through His resurrection of Lazarus as well as His personal resurrection shortly thereafter, Christ demonstrated how he views death.  It is an exceptionally painful experience that impacts all who are near it,  and even He was not immune to its effects.  But even this pain serves a purpose as Lazarus and Jesus both had to die to be resurrected, one to serve as a catalyst for the cross and the other to serve as the sacrificial solution. It is right to mourn those we lose, but just as critical that each death serves the purpose of leading others to the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection power.

 

To Switch or Not to Switch, That is the Question… Abraham and the Loyalty Test (Genesis 22)

In just a few short days Nintendo will release the long-awaited Nintendo Switch console into the outstretched arms of their adoring fan base.  As a die-hard Nintendo fan myself, I will confess to a large amount of bias for the company that that represents many of my happiest memories from my childhood up until now.  They have earned my goodwill, and to be honest they have earned my brand loyalty as they have continued to innovate and defy market trends by remaining steadfastly “Nintendo” without apology.  So needless to say, when this console releases I will be coming home with one on launch day just as many of you might as well.

What is it about Nintendo that inspires such fan fervor?  It has to be more than nostalgia, because many of their new IPs such as Splatoon and Pikmin are just as beloved as their classic licenses like Mario and Zelda.  It is all about the word “loyalty”, and the more I thought about this the more I questioned what this really means in this day and age.  Celebrities are one ill-timed tweet away from disgrace, directors are one failed movie away from unemployment, and game makers are cast aside as soon as they have shipped their title in many cases.  Marriage relationships are failing at an all-time high rate and those who merely co-habitate don’t fare any better.

As a society we have struggled to come to terms with the word loyalty and have mistaken it for “mutually beneficial relationships”.  Loyalty rarely lasts longer than the length of time it benefits the individuals involved, and unfortunately our relationship with the Lord is no different.  One of the best examples of this is one of the hardest to understand sequences in the Bible… when the Lord asked Abraham to do the unthinkable and sacrifice his dream as well as his son Isaac to see if his loyalty was real.  After years of a mutually beneficial relationship, Abraham’s loyalty would be put to the test in an effort to see whether he truly followed the Lord, or just the blessings that were promised to him.

In Genesis 22:2 the predicament presents itself.  God calls out to Abraham and utters a phrase that I doubt anyone could imagine coming from His lips, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  That would be a moment in which I would be quite certain I had not heard the Lord clearly and would need to do some validation.  But this is occurring in Genesis 22, which means there was no Bible to refer to yet, no Scriptures to cross-reference, and no Christian bookstores full of self-help books on what to do when God asks you to sacrifice your child on an altar.  There was just the command of the Lord and the expectation of an obedient response.

Place yourself in this man’s shoes for a moment.  He has lived his entire life with a name that held a meaning that was a mockery of his childlessness.  He has carried the burden of a dream that seemed impossible only to finally experience the breakthrough that should lead to good times, and now he is being commanded to personally KILL his dream.  When the Lord requires you to return what He has given you, that is an entirely different level of losing.  With Job, Joseph, or Ruth they did not have any choice in what happened to them.  There was no warning, it simply happened.  Abraham, on the other hand, has the unique requirement to be the executioner of his lifelong dream.  Not to simply give it up, but to hold the knife in his hand and end it.

Further complicating this is the awkward reality that God is not asking him to merely give up on his dream to own a home with some land, or a career choice, or maybe a ministry that you hoped to build.  He is requiring the life of his physical child to be returned to Him through a sacrifice on an altar.  This runs completely against everything we thought we knew about the Lord at this point and may challenge many people’s theology in a very uncomfortable way.  But remember, as the Creator the very dust we are made from belongs to Him, along with the breath of life He breathed into our lungs.  We may not always agree with the means with which these are returned, but when He requires our dust to return to dust we cannot forget that He is sovereign and has the right to.

Abraham, to his credit, does not appear to flinch in his obedience to lead his dream down the green mile.  He even got up early in the morning (Gen 22:3) and got right to it.  For someone who is about to sacrifice their child and lose their dream forever this is a demonstration of remarkable unwavering faith that at this point seems a bit misplaced.  As he and Isaac proceeded to face down the loss of both Abraham’s dream as well as Isaac’s life God steps in at the last minute to put a halt to the proceedings, having fully tested Abraham’s faith and obedience and proving that Abraham would give back to the Lord anything that he requires, no matter how precious.  If Abraham was going to lose, he was going to do it with the belief that the Lord would still provide.  He didn’t understand how, and he didn’t have to.  He simply chose losing at the hand of the Lord over any other alternative, and by proving to God that he would rather serve his Creator than serve his dream, he received the blessing of both in return.

So now for us.  It is not terribly likely that God is going to ask any of us to perform an act of obedience to Him similar to what Abraham just endured.  But He does require things from us, and many times it is through these tests that we have the opportunity to prove to both him and ourselves the true nature of our devotion.  Do we serve Him only when He is answering prayers and fulfilling promises, or are we more than fair-weather followers?   God is looking for early-adopter disciples like Abraham, who look at circumstances such as these and understand that they are a validation of our loyalty.  Anyone can follow Him in the good times, but only someone who is truly loyal to Him will blindly obey even when it doesn’t make any sense and stretches our understanding of who He truly is.

I will be there day one for the Switch, and Nintendo will always be able to count on me to plunk down my hard-earned dollars to support their next innovation.  But much more important than that, as I consider what loyalty truly means, it meant following them through the dark days… playing cartridges when others were showing off their shiny CD-roms.  It required espousing the virtues of Mario in a world that was embracing space marines.  And when everyone else had a controller that made sense, I had to wave a remote around and pretend that this was optimal.  But in the end, we are here at the launching point of yet another hardware and I want a front row seat.   And with the Lord, we also must choose to follow when the directions make very little sense, when it seems that we are behind the times, or when what He is asking looks embarrassing or is unpopular.

Someday He may ask for what you value the most, such as with Abraham and Isaac.  Will your loyalty to Him go beyond when the relationship is mutually beneficial?  Do you follow Him, or your vision of what He is?  When He asks you to lose, to suffer, or to deny yourself will you still follow?  It is not easy to be loyal.  There is a cost requirement which involves suspending your disbelief and restricting your impulsive, instinctual responses.  But this is the follower that Christ is looking for… and the deeper we prove ourselves loyal to Him through accepting the undesirable the more fulfilling our relationship with Him becomes.  Each and every day we are given the opportunity to choose between loyalty to the Father or to partake in only those actions that are of benefit to both of us.  To step out onto troubled waters or wait safely in the boat.  Are we ready to flip the Switch?

 

Zelda, Breathing into the Wild and The Siren Song of Side Missions (2 Sam 11)

There are very few games that have the power to sweep across nearly all gamer generations with as much emotional and visceral response as a Legend of Zelda announcement.  As we become accustomed to annualized releases and expansive downloadable content that extends the “newness” of a title for several additional months of new experiences, the Zelda franchise eschews all of these trends and exists on its own playing field as a result.  Each new tidbit of information is celebrated by fans worldwide, press conferences are eagerly watched and immediately dissected for fresh insight, and all of this continues to build towards a boiling crescendo with each drop from the faucet that will soon release Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to the eager masses.

But this one, however, will be a little bit different.  While each title in this venerable franchise has slowly drifted from linear storytelling to adding on optional areas to explore and additional side missions to lose some time in, this release will mark the first time  Zelda has truly become an “open-world” game.  For those unfamiliar with this distinction, this means that the entire environment is open to full exploration and as the player you are free to pursue the main quest or spend the day climbing, fishing, or scavenging to your heart’s content.  But with this new-found freedom some interesting questions are raised.  Will gamers still feel compelled to save Hyrule when there is so much room for activities?  Will the presence of all of these options water down or detract from the reason we entered into Link’s oh-so-comfortable looking shoes in the first place?  I can honestly say that in many open-world games I have played I often forgot what the next item in my main quest log was because I had so many other competing priorities, or simply found the side quests more compelling (Oblivion, I’m looking at you).  So while this is a delightful conundrum for gamers to solve in the very near future, I believe there is a real world application that has some much larger ramifications to explore.

2 Samuel 11 may be one of the most bitter chapters in the entire Bible, at least it certainly is for me.   After so many chapters of following the heroic, virtuous, and honorable David through his path from shepherd boy to kingship we finally land on a fatal chink in his previously impenetrable armor.  We see the problem emerge promptly in the very first verse, as the text informs us that it was the spring and the time when “kings go off to war”.  Only this time we don’t see David follow this practice… instead the verse finishes with David SENDING his army instead of going with them, remaining behind in Jerusalem instead.  Seems harmless, right?  After all, the preceding chapters are replete with David’s victorious conquests over the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites… it was just rough times for the “-ites” in general.  He even threw in the Philistines and Arameans for good measure.  He must have had a coupon for “defeat two nations, get three free” or something. So what is the harm in going a little AWOL just this once?  Just a little side mission as a breather after all his hard work completing so much of his primary mission? Well, as we will see this unapproved respite would have a barrage of unintended and fatal outcomes for multiple innocent parties and planted the seeds for the future civil war that would rip Israel into two separate nations for hundreds of years.

While David restlessly patrolled his balcony, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, his eyes fell on a bathing woman and a chain of events were launched that would change his life forever… outcomes that were utterly avoidable if he had simply stayed on mission.  David saw, sin came, and satan conquered, and sadly David would fall from His previously untouchable pedestal to add adulterer, conspirator, liar, and murderer to his résumé.  When this forbidden tryst ran its course, Bathsheba’s innocent husband Uriah was a betrayed corpse on the battlefield, the newborn child produced by this act of infidelity occupied an undeserving grave of its own, and David’s conduct infected his own sons leading to incredibly dark acts of incest, rape, murder, and insurrection.  David lost four sons (the newborn, Ammon, Absalom, and Adonijah) in a fulfillment of his pronouncement in 2 Sam 12:6 that the guilty should have to repay four-fold for their crime.  And while David would ultimately repent of his actions and find restoration in God, his dalliance in this unapproved side mission came at an unacceptably high price.

It’s easy to come down hard on David… his actions are incredibly reprehensible and impossible to justify.  But looking in the mirror, I have been this same man many times in different ways and have drifted off mission more times than I can count in pursuit of self-serving side missions that hurt others, damaged relationships, and drew me into a spiral of sin that I will always regret.  Throughout the years I have been a failure as a father, a son, a husband, a friend, and any other role I have occupied, and each time I can trace the path back to one seemingly small decision to branch off of my primary life quest to serve God and love others as myself.  David didn’t wake up with murder and adultery on his mind…  but he did something just as dangerous.  He made a choice to linger where he didn’t belong and allowed a sin that had previously laid dormant the time and opportunity to fester and grow.  

And therein lies the inherent danger in unscripted side missions in life… when we forget who we are (in David’s case the king) and what we were given that position for (in his case to go to war and grow his nation) we end up in places we were never meant to be doing things we we never imagined we would do.  In a video game, often times curiosity and exploration are rewarded and some amazing easter eggs can be found.  But in our daily walk through life, we must always remember that the very steps of our feet are ordered by the Lord and He alone is in a position to authorize a detour from the very specific plan He has for your day.  So before you look, ask Him what He would have you do.  Before you go, seek His guidance.  And if He has already given you an answer, it would be wise to accept His path.   He knows what snares await you if you choose to call in sick today when you aren’t, or who you will run into if you go somewhere you know you aren’t meant to go.  We are not called to live life through trial and error, that is a thematic concept from evolution.  We are a new CREATION called to walk by FAITH.  I encourage you to walk in faith in the mission He has given you today… just as David alone was called to lead his army to war and Link seems to be the only one capable of saving Hyrule, you are the one perfectly designed to fulfill your quest log.  You never know… that boring mission that you would rather skip today might be protecting you from a world of bad choices later on.

Squid Kids, Ink, and a Failure to Launch (Ephesians 2:1-10, Colossians 3:1-11)

Multiplayer shooters dominate the game store shelves these days and almost any theatre of war, real or imagined, can be brought to life on the home console of your choice to reenact over and over again.  But nestled in between World War 1 recreations and futuristic space simulators is a title that is completely it’s own… the colorful ink-fest that is Splatoon.  Brimming with character and a flair that is all it’s own, Splatoon is the anti-thesis to almost every competitive shooter on the market.  Bright and cheerful, featuring childlike avatars who transform into squids (yes, bear with me) who wield paintbrushes and rollers as their weapons of choice to literally cover the canvas of the level with the paint color of their faction.  Call of Duty eat your heart out…

It’s simple enough for my 4-year-old to pick up and play successfully but buried underneath the slick visuals and smooth gameplay is a surprisingly tactical and fiercely competitive online masterpiece.  At least, it usually is.  With the matchups locked into 4 on 4 battles, each participant’s contributions are critical to the success of the team, and when you find one player who is not pulling their weight this often spells defeat for even the most synchronized team effort.  After being vanquished by an opponent and sent back to my respawn point, I emerged from the ink ready to regain lost ground only to find a fellow teammate was standing stationary at our home location.  As time is of the essence in these battles I couldn’t observe them for long, but sure enough as the match wore on it was clear that this teammate, who had previously been fully engaged in the matchup, was not moving on from our home base.  Were they upset that they had been outgunned and simply walked away?  Did their battery die on their game pad?  Maybe they were summoned to take out the trash… regardless of the reason, they were given the gift of regeneration but did not move forward from that point and as a result our under-manned squad ended the match with a loss.

In the whole scheme of things, this was a pretty minor setback and the next session went on with this disappointment firmly placed in the rear view mirror.  But I couldn’t shake the idea of being given the opportunity to be re-birthed but stubbornly refusing to embrace the opportunities within that new life.  As a believer, I have observed many people “give their life to Christ”, “get saved”, or become “born again”, but then give no evidence that a change has occurred in their day-to-day life.  Surely a new lease on life, combined with the power of God’s Spirit taking up residence within us would be reflected in our approach to life going forward, right?   Not through imposed legalism or receiving a church handbook of appropriate musical selections and approved hair styles… no, I’m talking about an internal change that would impact decision-making and priorities at a spiritual DNA level.  This failure to launch intrigues me, and to determine if this is a by-product of our current culture and environment or if the roots run deeper I turned to the New Testament for help.

In Ephesians 2:1-10 we find one of Paul’s most succinct responses to the challenge of balancing the gospel of grace with the abandoning of dead works.  He draws a vivid example of the contrast between our previous condition as an enslaved corpse and our new life as a born again believer.  Sometimes we read these verses so often and hear key phrases in sermons and songs so frequently that we can lose the picture Paul is painting here.  So let’s really develop this in detail.

Paul equates our bondage to sin to the finality of death… an irreversible state of never-ending decay which would require a supernatural occurrence to alter.  We walked through our lives without Christ like the walking dead, hungering at a primal level without any hope of being satisfied, slaves to our fleshly desires lacking the strength or capacity to re-animate into something better.  This was the spiritual existence for each of us… until Jesus called us out of our tomb the same way he summoned Lazarus back to life.  But here is the interesting question… once Lazarus was resurrected and his life-force restored, what if he chose to continue living in the tomb?  What if he used his newly gained lease on life to simply occupy the tomb that had once imprisoned him?  What if he respawned but chose not to relaunch?

And therein lies the battle… there is a purpose to our lives that only BEGINS at the point of our salvation.  It is not the destination, but merely our respawn point.  Colossians 3:1-11 draws this out very dynamically, as Paul explains that if we have truly been reborn, then everything from our thoughts and actions to our words and deeds should reflect our new trajectory.  It is almost as if Paul peers ahead into the world of gaming as he uses language that should be very familiar to us in explaining in verse 3 that the act of salvation means that we DIED, and have now respwaned belonging to Christ.  But it does not say we are automatically changed in our way of thinking, as appreciated as that would be.  Paul cautions us to “Set your mind on things above, not earthly things”, which means we will have to participate in this process.  Have you ever “set your mind” to something?  If you have, it may have looked something like this:

If I set my mind on having tacos for dinner tonight, that will impact me in multiple ways.  I will assess my current capacity for producing tacos, review my budget for purchasing the ingredients I lack, make a plan for where I will procure these items, and make adjustments to my travel itinerary to accomplish this.  In addition, I will be thinking about these tacos throughout my day in anticipation and will most likely alter my lunch plans to avoid tacos since I will be having them for dinner.  I would communicate my “Taco Tuesday” plans to my family to gauge their interest and give them time to properly prepare their palettes for the feast as well.  And when I get home I will understand that these ingredients will not simply arrange themselves into tacos for me… no, I will need to perform some chopping and shredding and cooking to achieve the desired result.

There is a very similar process on “setting our minds on things above” that will remove the failure to launch dangers from our new birth.  Christ Himself guided us to “count the cost” of following Him, understanding that while His yoke is easy and His burden is light compared to the yoke of bondage to sin, there still is a load to be carried.  Salvation is a free gift, but our daily walk with Christ is not a free ride.  It requires our participation.  It is an intentional walk that impacts us on every decision we make and is intimately intertwined in every relationship in our lives.  I highly encourage a full reading of verses 1-11 as Paul is very detailed in the differences between a life that has not embraced this way of thinking versus one that has chosen to emerge from their respawn and begin painting their entire world with the ink of Christ, one glob of paint at a time.

Whatever the reason might be, if you have found yourself stranded at home base I encourage you to bring out the paint roller and start covering the area around you with the ink from above.  Saturate your thoughts with prayer, fill your words with the Word of God, and bathe your actions with the fruit of the Spirit.  We all spawn at the same point regardless of what happened in the life we used to live, just like in Splatoon.  There may be more ink and in different  colors on our maps because we each got here differently, but we are all equal in Christ Jesus.  So let’s get to painting….

 

A Retro Revolution?  The NES Classic and the Nostalgia Syndrome (Phillipians 3:12-14)

If you have a gamer on your Christmas list this year, odds are the NES Classic is on THEIR list and you have been frantically searching retail stores attempting to hunt one down while promising yourself you will not overpay on eBay for the most sought after hardware this holiday season.  This tiny little console houses a smorgasboard of the greatest hits from the 8-bit Nintendo days in all their glory: Mario, Zelda, Samus… the gang’s all here to be explored by both first timers and those old enough to have bought these in their original cartridge form like me.  But expect to have a hunt on your hands if you have the fortitude to track one down… retailers are typically out of stock and Internet scalpers are taking advantage of the high demand and limited availability by snatching them up and putting an unthinkable price tag on such a simple nostalgia trip.

Rather than focus on the difficulties associated with acquiring the hottest gaming gift of this fall, I am more interested in exploring the desire to take a walk down memory lane with these golden oldies one more time.  Certainly this device is a museum that contains many gamers fondest childhood memories in one sleek package, but what fuels this urge to go back in time to gaming’s yesteryear?  With all of the amazing new experiences available on current platforms supporting 4K output and VR headsets prepared to literally explore entirely new horizons, how is it that this year’s “Gamer’s Most Wanted” is simply a collection of retro games that can often be found at your local flea market or through download on the eShop?  A deeper dive beckons…

The temptation to live in the part is not new by any means… Scripture has multiple accounts of people just like you and me who for a variety of reasons would rather return to the “good ol days” than move forward into the brave new world of tomorrow.  The Israeli people are the most obvious reference as they spent much of the Exodus looking back and complaining about how good they used to have it when they were slaves in Egypt as compared to their freedom in the challenging and difficult desert before them.  For Lot’s wife it was the inability to let the past go that compelled her to turn back towards Sodom, with some salty repercussions.  King Solomon spends a decent chunk of time in Ecclesiastes lamenting how youth is wasted on the young as he takes a hard look back in the mirror of regret and realizes how many foolish pursuits he chased in his past.  While there are certainly times we should take a moment and reflect on how good God has been to us and celebrate the victories He has provided as well as to reflect on lessons learned, there is also a pronounced danger in allowing what should simply be a monument to become a dwelling place.

In Phillipians 3:12-14 we find what is perhaps the most straight-forward and poignant statement on this topic from none other than the Apostle Paul.  If there ever was a servant of Jesus who deserved to take a break and reflect on his accomplishments it was this man. The first verses of this chapter provide much-needed context to understand his mindset when framing this study… Paul has just finished explaining his credentials as both a Jew and a Christian, and as always they are quite impressive.  It is unfortunate that he had to do this several times in various epistles, but it just goes to show that even the mighty Apostle Paul received little respect while he walked this earth so we should not be surprised when we face similar challenges.

After documenting his pedigree, Paul does a curious thing…. he throws it away.  In a world obsessed with branding, marketing, and building the perfect resume this is hard to understand.  As a culture we populate our social media pages with accomplishments and document the various checkpoints of our lives.  We blanket our homes and even tattoo our bodies with the souvenirs and reminders of our adventures.  So to see Paul so callously consider all of it garbage to be tossed certainly runs counter to our modus operandi.  But rather than be defined by what he has done, Paul chooses to be characterized by what he is CHASING.

With the phrase “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” we get a very clear view of how Paul accomplished such an incredible amount of evangelism and missionary work in his life span.  He did not allow himself the luxury of coasting on his successes when there was still so much left to be done.  He had a myopic focus on what he termed “the prize”… the upward call of God in  Christ Jesus.  Or put even more simply in verse 8, “to gain Christ”.  Paul was not satisfied with merely receiving Christ… No, he chose to make the daily seeking of Jesus his driving force as he relentlessly marched across the continent.  And his dogged and relentless pursuit of his Savior both defined him as an individual as well as informed his decisions and choices.  And when he tells us later that he has finished his race, he can say that with the confidence of a man who had truly chased and caught his Lord in the end.

I can honestly say, unfortunately, that this has not been my approach to my Christian walk.  I have been content to look at my conversion to Christ as a totem that I can reflect on when concerned about the state of my salvation, rather than a continual journey towards Him that is never fully completed until I have finished my course here.  I am ashamed to say that I have lived a NES classic life, hanging my hat on old accolades and choosing to allow a handful of correct decisions to create a comfortable sense of standing with my Lord.  But if I continue to live there, existing in the museum of my faith instead of pressing towards the untapped potential that lies ahead, I deny myself the potential that God has planned for me.

We each have a destiny greater than a mere salvation decision, as important and life-altering as that is.  We have a relationship with God that is designed to grow daily, a path that is only lit up upon each step of obedience completed, and each day is another opportunity to expand His influence in our world.  The danger of living in the glories of yesteryear is an ever-present snare that limits our futures.  I have visited this more often than I care to admit, and as a living, breathing NES classic version of a believer intend to take bolder steps into seeking not just God’s plan or his will, but God Himself.  Because if I stay close to Him in my thoughts and actions, the rest of the path tends to illuminate on its own.

When Making your Mii Matters – God cares about the details (2 Kings 6)

 

Many times the best way to experience a video game is with someone else.  I have held numerous get-togethers with friends and co-workers where a video game console took center stage, and there are few things better than sitting down with your family and enjoying a good old-fashioned family game night with some Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers or one of my favorite party game addictions, Fortune Street on the original Nintendo Wii.  (Seriously, if you haven’t tried the hidden gem that is Fortune Street you are missing the greatest Monopoly-style Mario party game that has ever existed.)  But on occasion, you have that one friend who brings the whole party to a standstill.  The guy who isn’t ready to start the game yet, because he has to do that dreaded fun-killer… he has to MAKE his Mii character.  And for reasons known only to this guy, he will not move on until the character looks exactly like him.

… he has to MAKE his character. 

At first, you hand him the controller, hoping he will simply make a rudimentary avatar that vaguely resembles him with hair color and size, but then the horror of what is truly happening here dawns on you.  Your friends all sit staring at the television, awkwardly and quietly, as this one guy spends fifteen minutes trying to decide which pair of eyebrows look most like his.  Gradually your friends lose interest and meander back towards the snacks to make a take-home plate, fumbling for their keys and explaining they actually need to go check on their cat, who was perfectly worthy of their trust until just a few minutes ago.  Of course, our good friend Mr. “DoesMyNoseLookLikeThisOne” is blissfully unaware of everything going on around him, and as the party dissipates into goodbyes and farewells, he finally settles on a character that you can tell he is still less than enthralled with.  And the best part of this?  He has no awareness that he ended your get-together with his creative exploits, and he is now finally ready to play some Wii Tennis.

Does God truly care about the minutiae of my life?

If you have never experienced this phenomenon, you are truly fortunate.  In my life span I have watched helplessly as people have spent valuable fun time making the most accurate Mii character for a Nintendo Wii or WiiU game, or felt the pressing need to make their boxing avatar photo-realistic before sending them to the ring.  I have showed many an epic role-playing game to a friend only to watch then lose themselves in the customization menus and never actually get to the gameplay, and after an hour of character creation decide that the awesome game I am waiting to show off to them is boring.  I suppose to some people the little details matter, and everyone has their own threshold of needs in this area.  What may be a small matter of no consequence to me may be mission critical to someone else.  So this begs a few questions – Does God truly care about the minutiae of my life?  Do the little challenges in my life really matter to the One who holds the fates of billions of souls in His hand?  Should I even bother Him with my small difficulties when He has a universe to run?  Let’s find out…

In the Biblical book of 2 Kings, chapter 6 we find one of the most powerful prophets who ever lived, the prophet Elisha.  I know some people hear the word prophet and immediately disconnect, so let me explain what Elisha was.  He was simply a man who was chosen by God to be God’s mouthpiece, and share God’s words with the people.  In those days, people didn’t have God’s Word in a nice, neat, leather-bound book they could carry wherever they went.  No pocket Bibles in those days, no iPhone with a conveniently downloaded app to reference.  They were at the mercy of God’s chosen ministers, the prophets, to tell them what God had to say to them.  Now we have all of these words available to us in physical and electronic form, neatly divided into chapters and verse for easy reference.  But in those days, God used his chosen spokespeople, code-named “prophets”, to speak His mind and thoughts to the rest of the nation.

Elisha was one of these people, a prophet who had been hand selected by God to meet the spiritual needs of the nation of Israel.  This was an awesome and incredible responsibility, and Elisha was a faithful minister of God who had already been faced with many challenges that required supernatural provision from God.  In his tenure as a prophet thus far, he had already parted a river, blessed a barren land with healthy water, prophesied a great victory for Israel over an enemy army, restored a child to life, turned poisonous food into a safe dining experience, cured a man of leprosy and multiplied food to feed a hungry crowd.  Quite a busy man, if you ask me.  His account to this point reads like a best-of Elisha list, with story after story of incredible supernatural exploits God had worked through His mouthpiece.

…a beautiful moment of Divine interruption

So what does this have to with what we were discussing?  Everything… you see, even with all of the things God’s chosen prophet had on his agenda; God still had His eyes on a special situation that is seemingly so small and insignificant that if you blink, you may miss it.  We find Elisha tagging along with a group of men chopping down some trees, with plans on building a larger dwelling place.  Looks like a pretty ordinary, mundane activity so far.  As the men are chopping down the tress, a very unfortunate happenstance occurs – the ax head of one man’s ax goes flying off of his handle and lands in the Jordan River.  As the heavy iron sank to the bottom of this notoriously dirty river, the man cries out in horror – this particular ax head had been borrowed.  In the particular circumstances of this man’s life, this was a dreadful occurrence.  And here is where this simple story has a beautiful moment of Divine interruption.

Hearing the man’s desperate cry, Elisha asks the worker where the ax head had fallen in.  Once he was showed the place, Elisha cut a stick of his own, threw it into the same spot, and in a moment of supernatural provision that defied the laws of physics and gravity, the ax head floated up to the surface of the river.   The man picked it up, and this brief interlude in the life of Elisha ends with the recovery of the lost tool.  The next chapter continues the incredible life of Elisha and God’s continuing mighty exploits with an entire army being struck blind at his command.  So why is this story, the tale of unfortunate loss of a borrowed tool, sandwiched here in between all of these incredible miracles and moments of international intrigue?

The truth is that God is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives.  In Jesus’ teachings, He plainly told us that God knows our needs, and if we seek Him first He will supply all of them for us.  There is nothing that transpires in your life that escapes His notice.  He has a running count of the amount of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30), and keeps all your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).  Every experience of your life is of intimate interest to your Creator, and if you think your problems are inconsequential to God or your circumstances are not of enough importance to gain his attention, I invite you to turn your Bible to the book of John, chapter 2.

Every experience of your life is of intimate interest to your Creator

Jesus, the very personification of God in the flesh, came to the earth on a mission to save humanity through His death on the cross.  His time of ministry was exceptionally short, and with the knowledge that He only had three and a half years to accomplish all that He had to do, every single day and every single choice HE made was exceptionally precious.  One would expect that the Son of God would have a very deliberate plan plotted out to insure he maximized every moment of His time here.  So that is why it is so incredible that the very first miracle Jesus performs is not a dramatic resurrection of a deceased loved one, or an incredible healing of someone who was blind or paralyzed.  Certainly He would get around to all of those and so many more, but our Creator, the God of the universe, chose for the first act of His ministry to be a miracle that had nothing more at stake than a poorly planned wedding reception.

In a quiet and thankless act of kindness, Jesus secretly supplied the liquid refreshments that had not been provided by the wedding organizer.  His supernatural gift could possibly have never even been realized by the recipients of the miracle, the bride and groom who could now continue their celebration without the embarrassment of failing to provide for their guests.  So stop and think about that for a minute.  Almighty God, He who set the entire universe in motion, the One who hand-crafted every star, whose very words create kingdoms and topple governments, decided that his very first recorded act of ministry was that He would provide what was needed for a newly married couple.  With all of the troubles of a world lost to sin pressing on His back, He took the time to turn water into wine.  What an amazing God we serve.

He is waiting for you to ask for His help!

I hope this helps you realize how truly special you are to your Heavenly Father.  He longs to provide for your needs, if you will simply stop trying to do all of this on your own and let Him help.  Whatever your worry is, and no matter how seemingly small your problem – He is waiting for you to ask for His help.  Lose an axe head?  He will help you find it.  Fail to prepare a proper reception?  He has capabilities that you cannot even imagine.  The key is that only by establishing a true relationship with Him and surrendering yourself to His plan for your life will you be able to experience His wonderful provision.  This does not mean everything will always turn out the way you hope, or that God will prevent anything negative from ever happening in your life.  Jesus promised us that we would always have trials and tribulations, but that we should not fear – because He has overcome the world.  He is in charge.  And His eyes are always on you.  You are never alone, and your troubles are never beneath Him to listen to.

Next time you have a problem, don’t think for one second that the little details of your life don’t matter to God.  Go ahead, talk to Him about it.  Cry on His shoulder, and give Him your worries.  Because unlike us, He is actually interested in seeing you create your own Mii character.  He wants to share in every aspect of your life, and you will be amazed at how your life changes when you take your concerns directly to Him instead of to your friends or Facebook.  And let Him do for you what He has done for me so very many countless times…. what He does best.  He stops what He is doing, and listens to His child.