The following is a four-part series that Jacob wrote when he started his ministry in gaming back in 2013. It summarizes our ministry philosophy using the acronym EPIC, which stands for:
This philosophy sits at the core of how we approach gamers and gamer culture, and is a good foundation for Christians looking to engage in any number of subcultures in our world. Just be aware that this is a rather LONG read.
E- Engage Reality
You are a human, that means you have interests, likes and dislikes. You have hobbies like reading, internet browsing, and perhaps enjoying the outdoors. But how do you bring faith and the big story of the Creator into daily life? Often this is a difficult question, and answers often come in the form of terms like “Christian Business” or “Christian School” or “Christian Ethics”. Those are fine terms and they describe many things that I am 100% in support of. But for us this week we are examining how our faith can be implemented across work, play, and family. As you come into this discussion on a big picture paradigm, you first made the decision to click on a link, or browse a particular page. That first decision you had to make was whether or not you would engage or ignore this particular webpage. We go through thousands of decisions like this every moment of every day. The basic question of engage or ignore reminds me of the silly image of those who have chosen to ignore something or someone by sticking their head in the sand. The person who decides to ignore a lion staring them down for an evening snack doesn't actually change the reality, they simply don’t see it until they are already in the mouth of the carnivore.
The first step to living out the faith God has given you is actually making a decision to engage or ignore the reality that is present before you. This decision to engage or ignore is incredibly important and has numerous biblical examples; Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman (John 4), David confronted by Nathan (2 Sam 12), Jonah fleeing from God on a boat in the midst of a storm (Jonah 1), and I’m sure you can think of many more. The options are simple, engage the reality, or ignore it. The positive examples (such as Jesus with the Samaritan woman) show individuals who have seen reality and chosen to engage it. When Jesus first sat down at the well, he engaged the woman in conversation, he didn't ignore her or ignore the depth of person who she was. When David was confronted by Nathan, Nathan had to make the hard decision to lay before the King the wickedness of his murderous plot and adulterous lust. When Jonah was asleep in the boat he had clearly chosen to ignore the reality of the situation and go on living with his proverbial head in the sand.
“Man staggers through life yapped at by his reason, pulled and shoved by his appetites, whispered to by fears, beckoned by hopes. Small wonder that what he craves most is self-forgetting.” ― Eric Hoffer
Escapism is a serious temptation. It seems to surround us in contemporary culture on every side. The denial of real problems solves nothing, and caving in to the belief that “ignorance is bliss” is an absolute denial of God’s ability to cause great change in this world. Building walls between yourself and a certain aspect of culture won’t make that aspect of culture go away, and it won’t inspire anyone else to bring the gospel into a certain area of culture. There is a caveat here that not everyone is called to do everything, THANK GOD for that! We each have differing gifts and abilities, and so please don’t mistake this as an argument for everyone reading to become the next revolutionary leader in social change. What this is an argument for is for everyone reading this to become engaged in the reality of God’s work in and through culture.
Perhaps at this point some may be thinking “this sounds great, but I’m not Nathan, Jesus, or Jonah, so what does this mean for me?” That’s a fantastic question! You are right now involved in some area of culture. Maybe through a hobby, through your work, or even through your involvement and interaction with others on the internet! We all have aspects of culture we are a part of. Our membership in culture provides an opportunity to engage rather than ignore. Our engagement of reality as Christians is done in the name of Christ Jesus. It’s a tough task acknowledging the brokenness of this world, and trying to see Christ’s glory shine in some areas of culture that others may find repulsive or offensive. As we live in culture and in relationship with others it is good to remember that Christ’s kingdom is prevailing against the gates of hell (Matt 16:18) and through our engagement of this reality we get to participate in Christ’s awesome work in the world. What a privilege that the King of the universe delights in our engagement in his work!
Prayers for Engaging Reality
"Sovereign Lord, What can we affirm as good about this aspect of culture?"
"Sovereign Lord, What concerns surround this aspect of culture?"
They were both high officials in the king’s court. One was taken as a boy and trained to be one of the elite ruling class, The other was the cupbearer to the king himself. One lived through commands to cease praying, change diet, and was cast into a lions den. The other sought the glory of the Lord by the reunification of his nation and native land. Both Daniel and Nehemiah have much to say and teach us concerning how believers ought to live out their faith in the midst of a hostile culture. While there are lots of differing details between both of these men and their acts of faith and approach to impacting culture, one mutual aspect they shared was prayer.
After deciding to engage the reality of Israel’s exile, Nehemiah prayed to the Lord. In Nehemiah 1:5-11 this man of God is praying a “big picture” prayer asking for the Lord to grant success to his upcoming opportunity to impact culture for God’s glory. This is paradigmatic behavior of the faithful children of God, seeking God’s wisdom and aid before taking action. Engaging reality is the first step, but the next step isn't jumping with two feet into the great ocean of culture, family, work, and play in an effort to be the Lone Ranger who will change the world. Rather the next step is humbly submitting to the greatest authority, the creator God himself.
Planning isn't something to be taken lightly, neither is prayer. The Wright brothers didn't build the first airplane by aimlessly hammering different pieces together, the great skyscrapers of the Metros of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, and London were not assembled by mindless fools throwing bricks and spit into a pile. Careful planning is important to accomplishing fantastic feats, and prayerful planning is essential to discerning and listening to the Lord’s will. Jesus himself on the night in which he was betrayed went and prayed alone in the garden of Gethsemane, he didn't ignore the reality of his purpose, he engaged it and then prayerfully submitted himself to the Father’s plan.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
In Nehemiah 2:4 there is a short note about what Nehemiah did prior to responding to the King’s question. Nehemiah, immediately preceding the decisive moment, paused to pray. It wasn't a long prayer, and it isn't recorded, but the author of Nehemiah 2 wants us to know as readers that Nehemiah took time to pray even as he was engaging in the planning of God’s work.
The most discouraging part of planning in my own personal experience, is the lack of tangible progress. When I engage in fulfilling a plan (regardless of scale), from doing the dishes at a certain time, to preaching the gospel in a homeless shelter here in St. Louis, it’s easy to measure tangible progress when taking ACTIONS, it’s not easy for me to stay motivated, aggressive, and passionate while PRAYING and PLANNING. I must admit I am a bit skeptical of others that hold prayer as an easy thing to do, precisely because for me it is incredibly emotional and difficult work. It’s no wonder we churchgoers enjoy coming together for Sunday morning worship more than coming together for prayer meeting, myself included! Offering up prayer is a difficult thing that requires patience, and perseverance. If there are two things I am annoyed by when trying to accomplish something, it’s having to wait, and having to keep running through similar obstacles over and over again. It may be the two most difficult things for a person to learn, but patience and perseverance in prayer is key to engaging God’s redeeming work in culture, society, and the broken world we live in. I’m not saying that prayerful planning is easy, but I am saying it’s necessary for the believer who desires to live out their faith in culture.
Prayers for Prayerful Planning
Dear God, what am I supposed to do to serve you in this part of life?
Dear God, how do I fit into this part of your big plan and kingdom?
What does it look like to actually impact and change culture? It sounds all very nice and grand, to live life in a manner that changes the world, but how is that even possible for one person? Divinely inspired plumbing is actually part of the answer, but we will come back to divine plumbing in a bit.
After deciding to not ignore an area of life but rather engage it, comes prayerful planning, after this comes the actual action of intentionally participating in God's work of impacting culture. While you may be feeling an itch to grab your boots, belt, and banner, and proceed to go on strike, form a march, or become a missionary, hang on just a moment. Before you go and do those things there is actually some really intense thought that needs to go into your plans of participating in culture. Just as Nehemiah prayerfully planned out how he would go about God's work in the midst of the king's court, so too you need to put some serious thought into the place God has placed you to be of greatest impact for his Kingdom.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
You are a unique person, believer it or not, God has made you the ONLY person in the history of the world who is you. Billions of others have lived, died, and perhaps billions more will come after you, but you are the ONLY you. You have unique gifts and talents and a unique story that meshes with those gifts and talents that have prepared you for exactly the good purposes God has called you to. Intentional Participation in God's big plan requires you to take note of your personal story, and take stock of your talents of gifts. Combining these two aspects of who you are, your gifts and your role as protagonist of a particular story, gives a picture of how God made you incredibly unique and has equipped for you many good works.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
When I was at a conference this summer speaking to a group of fellow Christians on the importance of participating in God's big story, one particular young man, who was 12, raised his hand and asked the following question "But how am I, just one person, supposed to change the world?" The individual had a very terrifying look on his face, because he had the look of hope. He was hoping I would finally answer the question that has been plaguing mankind of generations. Hope can be both a beautiful thing, and a terrible thing. Unfulfilled hope, the kind of grand romantic hope that fills never comes to fruition is a soul crushing igniter of apathy. Thankfully because God loves his people, the hope we have in him is not a whimsical hope that will never be answered. We Christians are not wishful people, but we are hopeful people. In the answer to this question is the very heart of the gospel and the good news for every person, from every decade of history. One person has already changed the world, and that person, Jesus Christ, is the one who now continually equips and prepares his people to continue his work in this world until the time he returns. That one person who already has changed the world, is the same person who strengthens and enables his people to intentionally participate in the global change of God's Kingdom everyday.
What exactly does intentional participation for the purpose of impacting culture for God's glory look like? It looks like divinely equipped living. My favorite example of this is the divinely equipped plumber. Regardless of your personal story, and your individual gifts, God has placed you in a position to impact a people group around you for the glory of God. That could mean you are a mother, father, son, daughter, husband, wife, lawyer, marketer, fundraiser, scientist, plumber, soccer player, basketball coach, video game designer, computer engineer, software designer, missionary, preacher, child, student, the list goes on and on. The aspects of our lives that we live in, work in, play in, and have family in, those are the immediate circles in which God has placed us to intentionally participate.
Mario, perhaps the most famous plumber of all time, had a purpose and a plan, and he intentionally participated in each edition of the Mario bros games to play his part in saving Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Just like Mario, and our other favorite fictional heroes, we have a particular context we have been placed in, that God has specifically equipped us to impact for his glory through intentional participation. Nehemiah was Cup-bearer to the King, Daniel was an adviser, Jesus was a carpenter, David was a shepherd, Mary was a teenage girl, Saul was a murderous fanatic turned passionate missionary. God has given you a unique story and has equipped you for that context to participate in for his glory. Divinely inspired living comes from an ongoing purpose that is found in our divinely created context. Our lives are not accidents or coincidences, but instead are uniquely shaped stories created by God for intentional participation in his grand narrative.
Prayers for Intentional Participation
Heavenly Father, How can I get involved in an area of interest?
Heavenly Father, How have I been gifted and where do those gifts meet a cultural need?
There are three different distinct groups that you must cultivate relationship with when seeking to impact culture for Christ: Horizontal relationships, self relationship, and vertical relationship.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
Cultivating Relationship Horizontally
I don't like people. How's that for transparency? I don't like being around large groups of people, I feel awkward when in a small group of people, and I don't like meeting with people that require me to talk, and be honest. I don't like people. This is one of my greatest failures. Yet even in the midst of my great dislike for the process of meeting people, making friends, and building relationships I love the community that God has put around me. In the business world they call it a "network", in the church we call it a "family" and in gaming culture we call it a "clan" or a "guild" . Regardless of what we call it, the reality that there are other people around us who are talented, have stories, and are also included in God's plan is a massive part of working within God's big story. King David had friends who were loyal to him and helped him fight off the Philistines, Daniel had friends who helped pray for him and support him, and Jesus had his disciples who were incredibly important to his earthly ministry. In whatever area of culture you are called to live, work, and play, God has also called you into a social circle to establish, grow, and maintain relationship. The reality is that none of us are superheroes, and we need large coalitions and networks to actually effectively work and participate in God's work of change in the work. That can't happen if we isolate ourselves or dis-unify ourselves from relationships with those around us. Serving the King in the workplace, play space, and family means cultivating relationship with those around us.
"You're never as good as people think you are when you're winning and never as bad as people think you are when you're losing."
Cultivating Self Relationship
You have a relationship with yourself. Believe it or not that relationship is very similar to your own relationship with other people. What does self relationship look like? Well, there are times when you are disappointed with yourself, periods when you might enjoy alone time, moments of your life where you hate yourself, or make yourself laugh. The way how you think about who you are is what I call self relationship. This is actually incredibly important to impacting culture for God's glory and living out our faith daily. If a person sees themselves as less important than God sees them, they are actually denying their identity and special uniqueness given by God. If on the other hand, a person sees themselves as more important than God sees them, they are actually projecting themselves in the place of God. Self perception is incredibly important. Please don't hear what I'm not saying, there is such a thing as self obsession, it's called narcissism and we naturally do it very well here in the United States. That being said, one does not correct narcissism by denying self worth or relationship at all. Christ came for his people, and as a child of God that includes you, so yes you are incredibly important to the King and his plans while at the same time, you are not the King. Keeping both of those things in the forefront of our minds and hearts is incredibly important. Serving the King in the workplace, play space, and family means cultivating relationship with self.
Cultivating Vertical Relationship
The most important relationship to maintain and cultivate as a servant of the Most High, is the personal and intimate relationship between God and yourself. You can have the best networking skills, a good understanding of who God made you to be, and yet lack the fundamental relationship which you were created to have. At the beginning of human history, we were made as relational beings, with perfect relationship with our creator. As we seek to live our faith out in our families, workplaces, and play spaces, it is essential to keep relationship with the Lord at the center of it. I recently was in a discussion where I was asked "how does someone take head knowledge of their faith, and begin the process of owning that faith in daily life?" It's a fantastic question, and the answer can be found no where else but in relationship with God himself. Relationships are hard, they require mercy, forgiveness, and apologies, mistakes are made and old habits don't quickly go away. We are no longer in the state of perfect relationship with our Creator Lord, but for those in Christ, we are in deep, intimate, saving relationship, in which we need to daily run to him with our troubles, hopes, dreams, desires, and fears. Serving the King in the workplace, play space, and family means cultivating relationship with self.
Prayers for Cultivating Relationship
Almighty King, Who can I collaborate with for God’s glory?
Almighty King, How will you grow my passion for your glory through relationship with others, myself, and you?