Video Game Spotlight: A Hero’s Sacrifice

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

~Philippians 4:8

In the last chapter of The Hero and the Dragon: Building Christian Character through Fantasy Fiction, I recognized the fact that many secular stories, movies, and games contain wonderful, virtuous elements – even if the source itself is not “Christian”.  I recently discovered one such example in a rather surprising place: the video game series of “Halo”.  I certainly would not say that these games are something I would promote for the development of Christian character in young people, since the theme of the series is violent combat (although against clearly evil, non-human threats) and some of the characters use language that is not exactly Christ-like (although this improves throughout the series).  However, despite these shortcomings, there is a shining star in the midst of these games that provides an incredible example of faithfulness, hope, patience, endurance, humility, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for those around him – even those who hate him.

The main character of the series is known as Master Chief.  Only a few know him by his real name and officer number: John 117.  This is our first glimpse of the hero behind the mask in this series.  John 1:17 in the Bible says, “ For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The alien forces who threaten mankind in this series are known as “The Covenant”.  While we know that the old covenant under the Law of Moses could promise only death for sinful man, it was Jesus Christ who saved us by overcoming sin, death and the devil through His death and resurrection, establishing a new covenant through His blood.  Halo players quickly surmise that Master Chief is the only hope humanity has against the alien threat which promises destruction for all mankind.  When he appears on the scene, the hopeless, demoralized, embattled troops of earth know that with him, there is life and hope.

Master Chief is never once arrogant or proud, despite knowing that he is all that stands between human beings and utter extinction.  He moves steadily onward, never neglecting his duty for our sake.  In John 11:7, Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them that the time has come for him to return to Judea.  They try to prevent Him, reminding Him that His enemies are waiting there to kill Him.  But the Son of God knows that His path leads to Jerusalem and Golgotha, and nothing will stand the way of His accomplishing the mission for which He was sent.  Likewise, Master Chief is marked by a character of pressing ever onward, even when his path means certain death for himself.  No matter the cost, he will complete his mission to save humanity.

There are so many rich elements that we could connect with as Christians in this story that I suspect someone on the game’s writing staff must have been a Christian.  A new threat is introduced soon into the game, a vicious, all-consuming race of parasites known as “The Flood”.  The key to humanity’s survival from this new threat lies in a hidden place called – you guessed it – “The Ark”.

As Master Chief travels on through the series and resolves each crisis toward humanity in turn, many look to him for hope in the darkest of times, trusting him to save them as they know only he can.  However, there are those who doubt him.  In fact, there are even those who hate him.  They reject him as the hero who will save mankind and even seek to get rid of him.  His response?  He fights with all the more determination to save those who have spurned him.

For this Good Friday Video Game Spotlight, I want to present my readers with a description of a scene that I think you will recognize.  The forces of evil have gathered thickly upon a bleak hill outside a city.  It appears the battle has turned against our Hero.  As his body is lifted for all to see, his followers cry out in despair.  How can this be?  He was our only hope, the only one who could save us!  As they gaze upon his lifeless form, all courage vanishes.  Some beat the ground in hopeless rage.  Others flee in terror now that their annihilation is certain, pursued closely by the monsters who seek to devour them.  Some simply hang their heads in anguish and await the inevitable end.  From the host of evil, a triumphant tumult arises.  The Hero is defeated.

Or is he?

Click here instead if you have a few minutes and want the full experience.

Showers of Blessings

“Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.”  ~Isaiah 45:8

 

“April showers bring May flowers.”

I think these words give us hope as we stare out the windows at the early springtime weather. It’s wet, gray, sloppy, and at times simply depressing out there. So we have to remind ourselves that the current dreariness will soon produce the beautiful and abundant fruits of the earth. God’s blessings for tomorrow often come in the form of cold and bitter rainstorms.

In our personal lives, it is often the same. I know there have been times in my life where I was very angry with God over some temporary pain, loss, or disappointment – only to feel the sting of shame later when I realized how God was bringing about incredible blessings in my life through that same event. Scripture tells us that affliction leads to perseverance and eventually hope. Strangely enough, none of us jump up and down and get excited when affliction comes our way.

Heavy rain certainly reduces visibility. We tend to be so self-centered and short-sighted that we immediately become blind to the many, many other present blessings that God continues to shower down on us, even as we shake our fists at Him for our current discomfort. Our heads are hunkered down against the stinging cold of adversity, forgetting that it is the same rain that will bring forth fruitfulness, life, and abundance in the near future – but also pushing away all thoughts of other comforts and joys that are ours through God’s grace.

Perhaps this is our present state as we feel a certain amount of disgust toward our culture and society. We get frustrated and depressed over the Godlessness and immorality in our country, and forget the fact that God has graciously preserved our ability not only to worship Him openly, but to speak freely and challenge the empty philosophies of secularism. As we despise the humanistic notions that are running rampant around us, we lose sight of the many joys, comforts, conveniences, and luxuries that we so richly enjoy in our country. And who knows, but that this current shift in culture is not the rain that will moisten the earth and provide the perfect setting for the seed of the Gospel to sprout and flourish in the hearts of millions?

Occasionally, there will be rain showers; financial difficulties, health problems, frustrations and dilemmas in future planning. But we know that in all these things, God is faithful to the work which He has begun. We stay mindful of the hope we have of the growth occurring just below the surface, which will soon spring forth in splendor as God’s Word blossoms in our community and country. And we do not lose sight of the many, many blessings that He continually bestows upon us; the faithful members of our congregations and families, the devoted friends and neighbors, the beautiful children of God who have been entrusted to our care – and most of all, the life and forgiveness we have through Jesus Christ our Savior.

What a blessing it is to be allowed to tend this patch of earth!

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  ~Isaiah 55:10-11

Prayer: Heavenly Father, bless Your Word as it goes forth in our communities, our nation, and throughout our world.  Grant that the seed which is sown will fall upon fertile soil, that the harvest be one of hope in the righteousness won for us by Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In His name we pray.  Amen.

Fits of Rage – Dangerously out of Control

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Warriors must be disciplined.  In the midst of battle and turmoil, a warrior must have the strength and clarity of mind to put personal fear and self-preservation instincts aside and boldly push forward with their mission.  If they become overwhelmed by the stress, the danger, and the confusion all around them, they are likely to abandon their orders and fail in their duty – to the ruin of all that they have worked for.

In our spiritual warfare, conditions can sometimes be fierce enough to drive a warrior nearly out of his mind.  The darkness, unbelief, and antagonism toward the Word of Life that we share can take its toll on even the hardiest soldiers.  Fears and doubts over the problems of this world can shake even a veteran’s faithful discipline and strict obedience.  In the midst of all the spiritual carnage with which we are daily confronted, it can be easy to lose control.

It doesn’t matter who is the target of our “fits of rage” – such displays never promote God’s kingdom or His righteousness.  If it is directed at an unbeliever, chances are that we are driving a wedge even further between this lost soul and the God who would redeem them.  If it is directed at a brother or sister in the faith, we disrupt the unity and fellowship that serves as a vital part of our witness and ministry to the world.  And if it is directed at God…well, it’s easy to see how the tide of battle is quickly turning against us in our own faith walk.

Any fit of rage is a rebellion against God.  Our fear, anger, doubt, or despair drive us to desperation.  We know what God’s orders are, but we abandon our duty in the belief that our odds are better if we follow our own instincts.  The problem is, our instincts are sinful and corrupt from the start.  I give in to my rage because it feels good, because I want to gratify my desire for vengeance, power, or control.  Ironically, it is at these moments when we are least in control – as we demonstrate that we cannot even control ourselves.

God’s weapon of self-control through the Holy Spirit can help us in our struggle against ourselves.  By the peace and joy that comes through His love in Jesus Christ, God fortifies us against our own sinful instincts.  The patience and faithfulness that He grows in our hearts through the Word give us the discipline we need to put God and neighbors before self.  By exercising daily through prayer, praise, and meditation upon the Word, we allow God to shape us into warriors who are stout of heart, boldly and humbly advancing into battle and steadfastly following God’s orders.  He is our loving Commander, and though we are often plagued by fear and doubt, we can come to know that His orders are the way of Life and peace for us, now and forever.

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the grace to control myself in the midst of fear, doubt, and anger.  Help me to always put service to You and witness to others first, that I may be blessed to grow in Godly discipline and prove fruitful to Your kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Hatred – Directing our Anger Rightly

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Nothing destroys the credibility of Christian witness like a healthy dose of hatred.

Unfortunately, our world has been misled about what hatred is.  We are told that the worst form of hatred is “intolerance,” and that it is more loving to simply “live and let live.”  This, my friends, is a deadly lie.  We ought not tolerate sin in our midst any more than we would tolerate a boa constrictor in the crib of a sleeping infant.

Out of love for the precious child, we would strike at the fiendish serpent, tearing it from the body of the infant and crushing it underfoot.  However, at the same time as we are ruthlessly killing the snake, we would take the utmost care not to harm or damage the child.

In the same way, though God instructs us to hate sin and take all measures to remove it from the life of a believer, we care deeply for the one who has become entangled by the serpent and exercise great caution lest we harm their faith.  Sin has crept into their life as they lie numbed and sleeping, lulled into a sense of comfort and safety by the world.  Though their sin may be large and hideous, what mother would be so overwhelmed by the sight of the gruesome serpent that she would forget herself and strike out at her own child in order to kill the snake?

And yet, that is exactly what happens all too often with Christians.  Our hatred is misdirected; we forget that sin, death, and the Devil are the enemies, and that the sinners are – in at least some sense – victims.  Even if your child had been playing with snakes and bringing them into his bedroom, you would still not hesitate to rush to their rescue when they lie crushed and strangling.  A lecture may soon follow the harrowing experience, but saving the life of the child would undoubtedly come first.

Our “enemies” are such because of sin in the world – the disgusting serpent that has wrapped its slimy body around you and me and all people.  We react angrily to sin, especially sin directed toward us.  This anger translates quickly to hatred when we put ourselves first, thinking about my comfort, my peace, and my reputation before the needs of our sinful neighbor and the commands of our loving God.  Instead of directing our ill will towards this person, we can respond in love, showing them God’s “more excellent way” and gently, yet firmly, pulling the serpent from around their throat.

The “me first” philosophy is certainly prevalent in our society, and perhaps it is largely to blame for the rampant hatred in our world.  Our weapons against this evil are patience, kindness, gentleness, and of course, love.  Don’t be deluded into thinking that your own neck is serpent-free; rest assured that you offend others daily with your carelessness, thoughtlessness, and callous insensitivity.  Let us look always to the needs and interests of others (even our “enemies”) and to the calling we have received from our great and merciful God.  Let us ever be ruthless and unrelenting when handling the serpent of sin, yet tender and loving to the precious child of God about whom it is wrapped.

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29;31-32)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as You strengthen and equip me to fight the evils of sin, grant me also an extra measure of Your love, that I might deal compassionately with those who deal wickedly with me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Patience – Today’s Battle

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

There is a general sense of arming for battle in this passage, and patience is a key element in the protective gear that is being described here.

Unfortunately, our generation has been subtly stripped of this magnificent armor.  What has happened to patience in our world?  Why is it so difficult to bear with one another in love?  How can we receive forgiveness so richly and abundantly every day and be so stingy when it comes to sharing it with others?

Two words: “instant gratification.”

Satan has launched an aggressive campaign against one of our nine chief spiritual weapons, and it has been devastatingly effective.  We want what we want when we want it – now!  Whether it’s material wealth and possessions, earthly success, answers from God, or even compliance from other human beings in our lives, Satan has rendered most of us nearly incapable of wielding patience as a weapon.

Across the country and throughout the world, Christian couples are finding it more and more difficult to overlook offenses and patiently endure the minor (or major) annoyances of their spouses – we’ve seen the casualties in the broken relationships and divorce statistics.  Christian parents have trouble rearing their children gently and patiently in a world that teaches instant results and entitlement.  Road rage, workplace disputes, and all manner of senseless reactionary violence demonstrate the basic inability to brush off even the most petty and insignificant insults and inconveniences.

Satan’s war on patience has perpetuated every kind of evil imaginable.  Truly, a great many of our social ills are caused by the absence of this virtue.  Much of the conflict and tension in every kind of relationship is due largely to a lack of patience.  And do we really think that our witness and testimony to Christ’s cross goes unaffected by our impatience with those to whom we preach – and with the Holy Spirit?

The key to a patient heart is love.  Whenever we feel ourselves losing patience with our spouse, our child, our coworker, or anyone else, we need to look to the cross.  Mindful of Jesus’ patience with our sinful world, we draw from Him the strength to bear with our loved ones patiently.  Love binds the armor tightly together; without it, our protection falls to the ground and fails.  Along with love, the joy and peace we have through Jesus’ righteousness and salvation will help us to patiently resist whatever temptations and attacks the Devil hits us with.  We can once again take up this keen spiritual weapon, strike down the wicked inclinations of our impetuous hearts, and wait with gladness upon the Lord our Savior.  Where the Devil has disarmed us, the Lord our God equips us mightily through the power of His Word.

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as You have dealt with me in patience, help me to also deal with those around me in a manner that reflects Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.