As I sat on the floor at Prek Eng 2 playing multiple rounds of Phase 10, I realized that the metaphor for how our lives are like "the cards we are dealt" is so very true---except for one major game changer.
Phase 10, is mostly a game of luck. Your hand at the start of the game pretty much guarantees whether you will win or loose that round. There are some decisions along the way that might help you win but for the most part, if you are dealt a winning hand, you will win that phase.
Growing up in America, I was dealt a really nice hand. Before the dealer handed me my cards, I hadn't done anything special to secure my position. I didn't prove myself brighter or stronger, or more patriotic than the next guy. I was just given my hand--for which I am truly grateful. I grew up in a lower-middle class family with parents who loved me and who worked hard to make ends meet to support their three kids. We lived in suburbia with our nice lawns and friendly neighbors, were able to take vacations to Disneyland and experience the many freedoms that we as Americans have...I wouldn't change a thing. I have been blessed beyond measure; I thank God for the cards I have been dealt. By the world's standards, I was dealt a winning hand.
I know many friends back home who were not as fortunate. They watched selfish parents dissolve their relationships and split the family apart. They experienced the death of a father or mother at a young age and they never got to experience that part of their upbringing. They had a father who was never around. A mother who was addicted to drugs...these were the cards they were dealt. I have seen many of these folks do amazing things with their hand. They beat the odds and did better than their parents did. They chose to forgive, seek help from their church, and find their peace and direction from the card dealer, God, who wants more than anything to replace that neglect and pain with His love and healing.
So as I sat on the floor, I kept thinking about the cards that each of these children have been dealt. I know all of their stories. Most of them are very similar. They worked the streets, dug through trash for water bottles to recycle, or were out in the city or country side all alone. They watched their parents die before their eyes from malaria, HIV, or starvation. They had no hope for an education, no plan for the future, just survival for that day. The world is a cruel place when you are a street kid with no parents.
It would be really sad for anyone playing the game if this was the end of the story. But it's not.
About 2,000 years ago, God chose to send us a game changer. He sent a man named Jesus. If you are skeptical about Him, read on. I think you will find Him more approachable than perhaps you would expect.
There are two times that come to mind when Jesus made statements that changed the game.
At one point Jesus is approached by a wealthy young man:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21 NIV)
It's that last part that always blows my mind. It also blew the mind of this wealthy man who came to Jesus with a question. He was a man with a winning hand as far as he could see. The next verse says, "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth." He was unable to trust the very God who gave him his winning hand in the first place to do amazing things with it. Jesus wasn't asking him to live a destitute life. He was offering him real life. And the man walked away sad because he chose to keep his hand to himself.
Jesus goes on to explain that it is impossible for the rich (that includes all of us who have been dealt a winning hand) to enter the kingdom of God. This perplexes the disciples. Impossible? That doesn't seem fair. Then Jesus clarifies his statement with this: "but with God, all things are possible." No, he wasn't reading it off the official seal of the state of Ohio; He was writing it.
If the ruler had been willing to hand his cards back to Jesus, willing to trust the very one who gave him those cards to do even greater things, he would have lived a life of joy rather than sadness. His would have blessed those with a losing hand rather than keeping it all for himself. And there is no reason to believe that God would have made him live the rest of his life in destitution either. He may have chosen for him to become more wealthy than he was before and allowed him to be a resource to further the kingdom of God through charitable giving, or building orphanages, or creating micro enterprise opportunities to change the game for countless others who were dealt a poor hand.
You see, God wants us to join with Him as game changers. To give our winning hands back to him so we can be part of the solution. He promises us that if we do this we will walk away more joyful than we ever could imagine rather than walking away sad because we didn't want to get in the game.
Each of these kids I'm playing with were dealt the worst of hands until some game changers decided to trust their winning hands to a God who can really do amazing things. I guarantee that all of them have a far better return on investment than they would have if they had placed that money in the stock market. Just experiencing their laughter, sharing their joy, and watching them grow together is worth far more than money can ever pay.
This leads me to Jesus' second teaching.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21 TLV)
Why do I feel such a connection with these kids on the other side of the world? It's because this is where my treasure is. When we give our blessings to others, God turns our hearts in their direction. This is true in many things in life. People who love animals give their resources to support their local humane society. People who give their money to clean water initiatives, grow more involved in the cause. How we spend our time and money changes the way we prioritize our lives.
The game changer is a blessing to everyone in the game, no matter what cards you were dealt. God promises that if we chose to trust Him, He will return the favor with joy in our lives. He doesn't promise that our lives will be easier as a result but He does promise to change our hearts.
They dance to the music
Of the deepest emotion
And all of the world
Is singing in time
As the heavens are caving in
Why God gave His life
To put motion inside my soul
It's bigger than cold religion
It's bigger than life
Love is a revolution
This is redemption
We don't have to slow back down