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Playing Games With God

By Robert M. Smith


 

Playing Games With God

By Robert M. Smith

 

 
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Who is the winner?
 

 

 

 

                             “Search me, O God, and know my heart;

                        Try me, and know my anxieties;

                        And see if there is any wicked way in me,

                        And lead me in the way everlasting.”

                        (Psalm 139:23-24 NKJV)

 

 

Over the years I have lived in a number of different communities. During one span of six years my family and I lived in southern Ontario. In the small town that was “home” for a while there was a tremendous interest in “fast-ball” and “slow-pitch”. This was so dominant in the region that some of the evangelical churches had actually formed a league of their own. I had some “hard-ball” experience and so I joined a team along with several other guys from our church. None of us were spectacular but many of us could contribute in a game where the main objective was to have fun. The fact that two Christian teams could go out onto a baseball diamond and enjoy playing a game without getting overexcited about the outcome seemed much more important than winning or losing to me: this was the essence of an old proverb [“it’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game that counts”] that I had heard since I was a youngster … and that proverb is indeed true.

 

In the Christian life, the same principle applies … but, as in life, we don’t apply it often enough. We have, however, inherited an immature and unnecessary intensity over certain peripheral aspects of Christianity that have resulted in the formulation of the games that we have examined in this book. We do not stop to realize the destructive tendencies that these games have within and without the church. For instead of enjoying our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and letting that draw others to Him, we tend to make the rest of mankind weary by the profusion and proliferation of these games we play. Instead of showing that Jesus Christ is a very present and real help in life, and that He injects vitality into living, we have often merely added more frustration to an already complicated lifestyle. And no one – believe it or not – is attracted by the presence of more tedium in life! This is not to suggest that dedication and discipline ought to be shelved in favour of ease and convenience but rather that we should hold fast to a realistic and truthful outlook upon life that can shine through us into the world. The real winners in this life are Christian realists as Chambers is eager to share, “It is quite possible to be a sincere person, to be in earnest in proclaiming the truth of God, and yet not have one iota of reality along with it. This does not mean that the sincere person is a hypocrite or a sham, but it does mean that he has never understood that God wants him to be real.”[1] Now let’s find out what a Christian realist is.

 

First of all we must look at the levels of reality [and I’m using the term quite loosely at this point for reasons that will become increasingly clearer as we go along] in life. The world itself – particularly our own North American part of it – continuously unveils the primary level of reality to us. Every day the world of fantasy plays a large role in each and every life in our western civilization. This stage is of importance because all men and women have the capacity to imagine … and that imagination is the field within which fantasy grows. Every person, according to the limits of his/her mind, can escape life by becoming totally absorbed in a novel, a TV program, a movie, a song, a magazine article, a commercial, a video game, a dream or any other mind-stretching ethereal experience. Although this phase of reality might more accurately be termed non-reality or even anti-reality, because playing games is so often a denial of reality, there are hundreds of thousands of people placing more value upon this than any other part of daily living.

 

We have this innate faculty of image-creation: the power to formulate and escape to other worlds beyond the boundaries of the physical universe. Nothing but the divine benevolence of our Creator can account for the presence and competence of human imagination and no one other than Satan could influence man to use it the way we do. Our present application of this mortal capability is to use it in mass-desensitization and fantasy-reality transferal. And in this entertainment-obsessed culture Christians find that we are affected as much as anyone else. We see movies, advertisements, copy ads and other media paraphernalia and we become as subconsciously transfixed as anyone else in society. We are told that murder and promiscuity, among a vast array of other things, are relative. They are promoted as being right in certain situations and for certain people; our emotions and sympathies misdirected by the power of the plot, the theme, the innuendo and the subliminal.

 

In our culture, the entertainment industry which proliferates the profane is assumed to be a strength, a freedom, a right that we possess. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the pursuit of such freedoms are embodied in this fantasy world but even a brief examination of history reveals that an entertainment-obsessed empire is doomed. Empirical fatalities like Babylon, Greece, Rome, Britain and France declare this. They have testified that culture-wide participation and acceptance of fantasy, where moral boundaries are simply obstacles to overcome instead of guidelines to follow, leads to destruction. In our day the fame and fortune to be had on the silver screen, on the little screen, on the sports field or on the stage – whether acting, competing, singing or playing – are the areas where influence, idolatry and error find their easiest access into the lives of ordinary citizens. Under the guise of “artistic license” the obsession for fantasy comes around to serving the devil. Human beings like to “push the envelope”, always trying to go a step further, and this merely plays into Satan’s hands.

 

In Genesis 6:5 we are told that the imagination of man is evil continually. It was true of the generations before the great flood and it is still true on this side of the deluge as well. We are finding out the hard way that unchecked imagination is a curse not a blessing: evidence of which can be found in any video store. By constantly blurring the line between the reality of the material universe and the ethereal world of fantasy, the entertainment industry seeks to desensitize the conscience under the pretense of “entertainment”. Although the industry is filled with what we know to be illusion after illusion, its affect on us is delusional: we think we can “handle it” when we are, in fact, succumbing to the negative power of it all.

 

Recognizing the insignificance and moral bankruptcy of the fantasies created by the media is the best defense against manipulation. Taking all things, but especially these things, into captivity to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:5) is fundamentally necessary for the true follower of Christ at this point. The Christian must, subsequently, gather up his/her life’s investment and take it further up the scale of reality, for this first realm is no place for any reasonable person of integrity to dwell.

 

The next stop on the reality chart is “life.” Though this is the home of the materialist we must be honest enough to include this – even with its negative connotations – as being more important than the phantom world of “make-believe.” After all, is food and clothing not more important than vain imaginings? The Apostle Paul thought so, for he wrote, “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10). Obviously the provender necessary for existence should and must take precedence over those things that are governed by the imagination simply because of the intrinsic value of human life, and the value of health and sustenance within that life.

 

If you read these passages in sequence you will obtain a clear impression of what the Scriptures teach on the subject:

“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (Jas 2:15-16 NKJV)

 

“For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” (Matt 6:32 NKJV)

 

“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt 6:8-11 NKJV)

 

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:31-46 NKJV)

 

It is quite apparent that God recognizes the importance of meeting the needs of mankind; these passages address the necessities of life. He knows the importance of maintaining one’s health in this life. Self abuse and severity, as forms of religious observance apart from God’s specific will to do so, have no appreciable place in the life of a follower of Christ (Col 2:20-23). The well-being of the body is that important to God.

 

Man may not like the way things unfold in this life but he is nevertheless very dependent upon tangible substances for his existence. He cannot go without food or water for long; he cannot go without human contact either. This earthly life is far more important than the world of fantasy even though mankind attempts to escape that conclusion constantly, as we have considered. But this is not where a Christian realist stops … indeed he/she cannot stop here. The Christian realist is looking for that level of existence that is permanent, genuine, absolute and ultimate. Anything short of these attributes is tawdry and elemental … not worthy of full-fledged pursuit and commitment. Both fantasy and life in this world are too transient and temporal for complete and total investment by any one of us. Upon comprehending this we ought to see this world and ourselves much differently. When we finally come to this mindset about reality we shall have a different perspective about everything – as 2 Cor 5:16-17 states (“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”).

 

The Christian realist has transferred his reason for living from his own interests to the interests of God, in response to the call of Jesus Christ (Matt 16:24-26; Mk 8:34-38; Lk 9:23-26; Lk 14:33). He realizes that this material world and the things in it will not last (2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:1). So he invests his time, efforts and life accordingly. He realizes that there is more to reality than a mere day to day existence (Matt 4:4) and he knows the power and permanence of God’s Word (Matt 24:35) over all else. This description reveals where a Christian realist subsists but we shall have to go further in order to find a Christian realist’s personality and character. The best place to look first is to the epistles of the Apostle Paul:

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4 NKJV)

 

Here is an individual who sees things as they really are, with a mind set on “things which are above” and “not on things on earth.” In the words of Jim Elliot, this person has given up an earthly life that he could not keep in order to obtain an eternal life that he could have never won and yet shall surely never lose. Does that, however, make him so “heavenly minded” that he is of no “earthly good”, as the old saying goes? Can one concentrate so much on the great “other” that we are found escaping reality like the fantasy addict on the other side of the equation? Certainly, we have examples of such things in various cults – like transcendental meditation – that are true escape mechanisms but we are not talking about a cult here … and this is the essential difference: cultish promises of tranquility, Nirvana, cosmic consciousness and other goals of trance-like states are based upon one’s desire and capacity to get away from this world and from this life. Christianity, on the other hand is the polar opposite. Our Lord Jesus said, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (Jn 17:15-18 NKJV). Christianity is the constant reintroduction of the blessing of the gospel into the world in accordance with this prayer of our Lord which actually encompasses verses 13 through to 36. Instead of working itself away from or out of the world, Christianity is to work itself into the world; to be an influence upon the world with the objective of bringing the higher plane of reality into life on earth. And when we turn back to Colossians chapter three we see, in verses 5 to 17, how this process works.

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

Paul writes, “put to death” the things that are a detriment to holy living in one’s self, in this earthly life. The reality of the higher plane is to, therefore, cause a positive reaction in the lower stratum by working with and upon our life in the physical universe, not against it or away from it. Look at the extractions in verses 5 to 9 (“fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”; “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth”; “do not lie to one another”). These things are deleterious and can be driven from life only by the type of person described in verses 1 to 4. Note, however, that the Holy Spirit is not merely interested in citing those things that must be put to death or eradicated from the Christian life, he accentuates a positive response as well: “… since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col 3:9-10 NKJV). The question remains, “what is this new nature or new man?” So the Holy Spirit goes on to tell us in verses 12 to 17.

 

Note the powerful contrast exhibited here: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness versus tender mercies, kindness, humility and meekness; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language and lies versus longsuffering, bearing with one another, forgiveness and love. Obviously, the Christian realist – which this depicts – who can activate and interject a positive spiritual influence into temporal existence is much more suited to life in the material world than the person who lacks this higher dimension of reality. This Christian realist can be trusted with great responsibility and this Christian realist can be relied upon in all his/her associations. And there are three key elements of renewal that promote the development of all these good traits listed in verse 12. We must notice these elements because, although each Christian should concentrate upon such a transformation as described here, this is still an optional thing … on the same scale as breathing. We do indeed have the option of breathing in this life: we can choose to quit breathing if we so desire but that is not a very healthy practice, particularly if you, at the same time, wish to go on living in this world! We can, therefore, decide to be and act like a Christian or be and act like something else entirely. And that is why this epistle from the Apostle Paul carries in it firm instructions like “(you) put to death” and “(you) put off all these” and “(you) put on”. Along with these commands, however, he acknowledges the fact that each Christian must decide for him or her self whether to allow God to influence or not. He uses the word “let” in the same way that Jesus Christ used the word “if”: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts” and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” being wholly compatible and fully similar to “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23).

 

The three key elements that I am referring to happen to be strikingly emphasized, right here, in Col 3:12-17.

 

The element that initiates all others is that of forgiveness (“forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do”). We have been given an example of real forgiveness in our Lord Jesus Christ and so Paul proclaims that this same characteristic must be evident in us. To forgive is to show the traits mentioned in verse 12 (“tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another”). To forgive is to rise above problems created by others and to see through the eyes of Christ. The ability to forgive in overwhelmingly untoward circumstances sets one apart from the rest of the world. One can be the embodiment of Rom 12:17 (“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.”), Rom 12:19 (“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’, says the Lord.”), and Rom 12:21 (“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”). The Christian realist is one who forgives because he can see beyond the temporal.

 

Paul then writes, “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” (Col 3:14 NKJV). Love may be a subject that receives a lot of attention in society but it is seldom understood by society. The kind of love found in Jesus Christ, and which should be found in His followers as well, is that sacrificial love that goes beyond words (1 Jn 3:18) to doing what a loving God would want for even the unlovable (Rom 5:8). We believers have come to know the extraordinary supernatural love of God. A knowledge and experience of that should motivate us, and here is the process of love beyond such motivation:

 

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

 

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

 

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

(Jn 14:15, 21, 23 NKJV)

 

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.”

 

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

 

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

(Jn 15:9, 10, 12 NKJV)

 

The power of God is revealed through a supernatural love … this love that is not born of duty or legalism but of the Spirit of God. When it came to the healing power witnessed in Jesus’ incarnation, it was His love that activated it; when it came to calling the children of Israel to come to Him, our Lord’s love would shine through; when it came time to give up His life for mankind, His love was the greatest motivating factor involved. He did not have to lift a finger in our defence but He went to Calvary simply because He was love incarnate. It is this kind of love that will cause us to forgive when we would otherwise not. The Christian realist is one who loves without reserve and without return because that is how God loves.

 

Finally we must consider the aspect of thankfulness. In the final three verses of our Col 3:5-17 passage – verses 15-17 – Paul mentions thankfulness three times for emphasis, so it must be important. And when we look through the Bible for references to thankfulness we find that it is a vital characteristic to God. Psalm 100:4 calls “all lands” to enter God’s gates with “thanksgiving”; Psalm 50:14 tells us that thanksgiving is a sacrificial offering of greater value than that of bulls and goats; Romans 1:21 says that the ungodly and the wicked have “senseless minds” and “futile” thought patterns because they do not honour or give thanks to God; and 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says that giving thanks “in all circumstances” is the will of God for Christians. The Christian realist is thankful because he knows that he is God’s own possession and that God is constantly working for his/her benefit.

 

In summation, the Christian realist is that person who has ceased playing games with God; who has gotten down to business in this life … God’s business! The Christian realist refuses to let the peripheral, the incidental and the inconsequential take precedence over the eternal. Cutting through to the spiritual essence of every issue that we have addressed in this book is his/her main goal … and he/she will continue to work toward that end with the Holy Spirit as Guide, in the search of the only thing that matters: “the Way, the Truth and the Life”.

 

Are you real and genuine or are you just another player?

That is something that only you and God know but it must be dealt with for this is no game.


 

[1] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 513


 

 

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