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.


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.


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 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.


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.

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….