Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
When she was six or seven, our second oldest daughter had a game on our computer called The Oregon Trail. It was an educational game, which simulated the hardships of 19th century pioneer life. She played as a wagon leader guiding a group of settlers from Missouri to the Willamette Valley in a covered wagon in 1848.
She loved playing the game, but it always made her cry.
See, she would always name her people in the game after all the members of our family. And, as the realities of pioneer life set in, some of ‘us’ would die from various causes. One would get the measles, or typhoid, or cholera and kick the bucket halfway through the trip.
She’d come in to our bedroom, upset because her little brother or sister had died of dysentery, snakebite or drowned in a flood, and we’d have to give her hugs and dry her tears. She was heartbroken that one of her virtual family members had passed away.
We would suggest that she give the members of her party other names, generic ones that she was not as attached to, to ease some of the trauma of their impending demise. Dealing with Ron or Sandy’s death on the trail would still sting, but not as much as losing a person with the same name as a loved one in the next room.
But after that mission was over, the two or three surviving family members would settle in the Pacific Northwest, and she was right back, starting a new game with all of our same names, trying to guide us through the hardships, thinking that this time would be different and we’d all survive.
And of course we didn’t.
It’s funny now to look at how a little kid, playing a video game kept repeating the same mistake in a world that doesn’t really exist. But how many times do we play our own version of The Oregon Trail over and over and over, doing the same things in life, but expecting different results?
‘The last few times i’ve slept with someone and then tried to build a relationship around it didn’t work, but this time i just know it’s gonna be different!’
‘I can stop at one drink if i really put my mind to it!’
‘Just looking at a little porn in my hotel room on a business trip is not that big of a deal.’
‘I’m so full, i really shouldn’t finish this whole bag of chips, but i’m going to anyway.’
The list goes on and on. The snake bites us, the venom starts seeping in and soon our loved ones are mourning our demise on the trail. Sometimes, here in the real world it really does kill us. Maybe not all at once, but we drown in sin, slowly over time.
So the lesson here is, don’t behave like a seven year old playing a video game and things will be okay, right?
Except, when Jesus was here on earth, He spoke of us having the faith of a child, and of that kind of faith being essential to entering the kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew 18, it says “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
So where’s the balance? How do we delineate between ‘childish and ‘child-like?’
What do little kids do? They try to do something—put a difficult puzzle together, for example, or some other task that’s ‘too big’ for them, and if they fail, cry out to mom or dad for help. They instinctively reach out to hold their father’s hand when they’re walking on rocks, knowing that dad is not going to let them get hurt. That’s the picture of faith Jesus is trying to paint for us here, that total reliance for the believer, because we know we can’t do this on our own.
If you’ve tried and failed, Stonepoint offers re:generation, our twelve-step Bible based recovery/discipleship ministry on Monday nights. People come to re:gen with all sorts of hurts, habits and hangups and find a place where they can share with a group of people with their own sin issues, without fear of gossip, repercussion or condemnation.
Look, we all mess up. We all have sin issues. We all fall short of the lives God wants for us. But we’re not one of those churches where you have to clean up before you walk in the doors. We get criticized for it, sometimes, but God has called us to embrace outsiders, the way Jesus did, call them to repentance and allow Him to clean them up from the inside. For some people it happens like a bolt of lightning. For others it’s a slow and painful process of refining, like gold in a fire.
So, are you gonna keep playing the game the same way you played it last week and last year and hoping for different results this time? Or will you realize it’s not really a game and finally hand the controls over to God, who loves you and created you to have a relationship with him and his people?
Your brothers and sisters are counting on you.