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Every Saturday morning I walk across Mexico Highway 190 from the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I volunteer,  to Centro De Intenamiento Feminil De Tanivet, otherwise know as the women’s prison.  Usually I look forward to this time where I teach English class and share the Gospel with incarcerated women.  Sometimes, I admit, I think of other things that I would rather be doing.  On those occasions,  Jesus words from Matthew 25 comes to mind, “I was in prison, and you visited me.”  They become a mantra for me which I repeat over and over.  I see Jesus’ face in the faces of my students, and thinking about each one of them, I repeat the phrase over and over, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

WOMAN in jail

 

I was in prison and you visited me.

woman in prison1

 

I was in prison and you visited me.

Womens-prison

I was in prison and you visited me.

jesusjail

 

This last Saturday was one of those days when I thought about all the things I needed to do at the home for needy children, and my mind changed gears from what I wanted to do, to what God wanted me to do for the “least of these” behind bars.  Once again those old, familiar words of Jesus came to mind, “I was in prison and you visited me.”    But that time I thought of those words differently.  Instead of Jesus saying those words to me, I began to say those words to Jesus.  “I was in prison and you visited ME!

I realized that long before I began to “visit Jesus in prison” he had visited me in prison.  I was in a spiritual prison of sin, pride and selfishness.  I was held captive by the world, the flesh and the Devil.  I was a slave to evil desires and the lusts of the flesh.  And then one day, Jesus came to visit.  He not only visited me, but thanks be to God, He set me free!    I was like Peter, bound by chains in the gloomy depths of the jail, and then the chains were broken and an angel guided him to freedom.  I was like the Hebrews in Egypt, tormented by cruel taskmasters, and then they walked to freedom, delivered by a gracious and compassionate God.

The next time I read Matthew 25, I will think differently about Jesus words.  He talked about being hungry and thirsty; being naked and a stranger.  Being sick and in prison.  Before I think about those I help who experience these conditions, I will remember that I too, spiritually speaking, was hungry and thirsty and naked and sick.  I was a stranger to God’s holiness and righteousness.  I was bound by sin and chained to a seemingly hopeless situation.  And then Jesus visited me, and set me free!  Glory hallelujah, Jesus set me free!

What jail cell are you in?  Maybe you are captive to an addiction, depression, anxiety or anger.  Jesus stands outside your cell door knocking.  He wants to come into your hopeless situation and not only visit you, but set you free.  Think about it.  He loves you and wants you to be happy.

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jail quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen-Shot-2013-11-18-at-12.32.45-PMI just read this book for the second time called Ready Player One.  It’s about an eighteen year old boy who lives in the future.  The future is ugly and all messed up.  Nobody likes the real world, so those who have a computer and internet access, live in a computer simulated world where everything is beautiful.  The billionaire who created this computer universe has died.  Before he dies he created an elaborate game where the object is to find an egg that he has hid in his universe.  Whoever finds the egg gains control of the universe and all of the creators wealth.

After reading this novel, I have begun to think of the Christian life as a huge computer game.  I know that the Christian life is much more than a computer game, but I see similarities to following Christ and playing a computer game.

When I was in my early twenties, computers and programming and software were relatively new and I was fascinated by it all.  I had played many computer and video games and I loved them, although I wasn’t very good at them.  Except Pong.  This was one one of the first video games to go on sale to the general public.  I begged my parents for it incessantly at Christmas one year,  and I got it.  I played it every free moment I had and nobody could beat me.

In my senior year of high school I took a basic computer programming class in the basic language in the very first class that was offered at my school.  I enjoyed it a lot, and later went on to take programming classes at a Jr. College.  I started a little software business called Onward Christian Software and began to make my own  Christian Bible adventure games.

I said all of that to say this: I have played a bunch of computer games and I have made some computer games and I see a lot of parallels between computer games and the  Christian life.
One is that people who program computer games make them for the players to have fun.  Naturally they want to make money, but they won’t make money if people don’t have fun.  God created the incredible universe that we live in because he loves us and wants us to be happy.
Two.  Games have rules.  If you follow the rules you advance.  If you don’t, you lose points and eventually die.  God made a lot of rules for us to live successfully in this world he created.  If we follow the rules we live happily ever after.  If we don’t, we live miserable lives and die in our sins.

Three.  To play computer games, you have to put quarters in a machine, or have to buy some kind of computer device and software to play the games or someone has to buy it for you, as my parents did for me with Pong.  To play the ultimate game, or live the Christian life, we have to realize that Christ paid the price on Calvary.  Most of the Old arcade computer games began with the words, Ready Player One?  Revelation three has the words of Christ, “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears and opens the door, I will come in.”  That is the biblical equivalent of “Ready Player One?”  We push the red button on the console of our existence, indicating we are ready to commit our lives to Jesus, and the real game of LIFE begins.

Four.  Levels.  All computer games have levels.  Many have more than 100 levels.  Naturally the first few levels are relatively easy.  As the player progresses they become more challenging, both in strategies and in quickness of the fingers in playing the game.  This too is like the Christian life.  Many Christians talk about when they first began to follow Christ, and the constant joy they experienced when the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of their hearts and they saw everything with a new perspective.  Levels of a new believer often include baptism, joining a church, long periods of Bible reading, and, hopefully, discipleship classes.
Most new computer games kinda hold your hand and give you detailed instructions during the first few levels to acclimate the player to the game’s environment, how to maneuver in that environment and what tools or weapons are necessary and how to use those tools or weapons.  A new Christian generally receives much of the same hand holding with the pastor of the church, elders, teachers and new  Christian friends.  Small groups can be especially encouraging.  Most importantly, the presence of the Lord seems tangibly ever near.

As a game player advances in levels, he or she faces grater challenges.  Frustrations increase and the game helps disappear.  Their are temptations to quit and to move on to an easier game. Many Christians face similar challenges as they progress down the spiritual path of New Life.  Sometimes God feels distant.  Joy no longer floods their soul as it did before.  They see factions in the church and perceive hypocrisy.  The Christian life is no longer the utopia they once thought it was.  The worst thing is that intimacy they once felt with God seems distant.
In the book Ready Player One, there are instances when all the players in the world are stuck on particular levels for months at a time.  Many end up giving up.  This is not unlike the Christian game of LIFE, where some people struggle with a particular situation for months at a time.  They see no way out.  No answer is immediately forthcoming.  Some face many dark nights of the soul where God seems absent from them. Many give up.  Jesus alluded to different “levels” with his parable of the soils.  There is the level of joy and then persecution.  There is the level of peace and then worry.  Finally there is the level of endurance and then much fruit.

When a player tries and tries and tries again, and then finally masters a difficult level, he is filled with happiness and is excited about the new knowledge and strategies that he has developed that will prove very beneficial to him as he continues the game.  The same is true for the Christian who remains faithful to the truth and cause of Christ.  When she comes out on the other end victorious, she feels a greater intimacy with her Lord and Savior, a joy and contentment never felt before.  She can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in all things to be content.”  She knows now, that when there was only one set of footprints on the sand, that Jesus was carrying her.

Five.  Game Over.  You Win.  This is where I think that the parallels of the Christian Life and video games break down.  The Christian Life never ends.  We never ultimately win because Life goes on forever.  When we get to heaven it is not Game Over, but in a sense, just beginning.  God calls all Christians to make beauty, do good, and learn and disseminate truth.  I think that continues in heaven and in the New Earth.  An example.  I am the gardener at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I love designing and planting gardens.  I designed the courtyard at the mission with flowers, bushes, a fountain, paths and grassy areas.  Recently the administrator at another home for needy children in Baja, California, Mexico, asked me to go there and design and plant another garden area.  I was happy to do it because God loves me and wants me to be happy and wants me to make others happy enjoying a beautiful garden.  Now, will my happiness in making gardens end when I get to heaven?  I don’t think so because it is a desire and gift that God has given me.

I don’t think that when we get to heaven we will be standing around the throne of God worshipping Him  for ten thousand years and then God will say, “You may be seated.”  We will be worshipping Him for eternity, but worshipping Him and glorifying Him and enjoying Him by using the gifts and desires He gave us while on earth.  The Bible talks about being faithful in the small things (on earth?), and being rewarded with greater things (in heaven, or on the New Earth?).  Paul said that our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard, nor can our minds comprehend what God has prepared for us.  This verse has application not only for our life on earth but for the afterlife as well.  C.S. Lewis writes that our life and service to God in this life is only a preparation for what we will be doing in the Life to come.
Having said all that, I think that when I get to heaven, that God just might give me a thousand square miles of wilderness with rivers, lakes, ponds and mountains, and tell me to get to work turning it into a garden, with unlimited resources at my disposal.  Now that would be fun.  I won’t be done with gardening, making beauty, in heaven.  I will just be beginning.  It won’t be game over, but a new level, beyond my imagination, just starting.

Ready Player One?

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“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis