Imagine this video game pitch…”Let’s gather together some innocent, wide-eyed, unaccompanied children with no prior history of self-defense and have them explore a dangerous wilderness full of untamed monsters. For what reason? Well, of course, with the intentions of having them capture and imprison said monsters in tiny round ball-shaped cages until they can make them fight for supremacy in an arena full of shouting fans. That part was obvious.” That sounds more like the beginning of a wonderful merging of Hunger Games and Jurassic Park is you ask me. But here we are, in a world where the combination of these concepts has yielded one of the most recognizable franchises in the worlds of gaming, cinema, television, and merchandising. And now the addiction begins again with the launch of Pokemon Sword and Shield on the Nintendo Switch… you know what’s coming next…
You don’t have to be a Pokemon fanatic to know one of the most famous taglines in the history of video gaming, “Gotta catch ’em all, POKEMON!!!” Be honest, you couldn’t even read those words without hearing that song in your head, could you? And unfortunately, while every Pokemon character from the previous games did not make the journey into the newest Pokemon title in the franchise, there are still hundreds and hundreds of Pokemon to catch, train, and evolve into their various transformations. The new characters here are as lovable as any previous starter Pokemon, most of your favorites are still here, and some huge gameplay enhancements over previous Pokemon titles (such as FINALLY being able to avoid random pointless encounters in the overworld) have gifted us with a Pokemon game that is truly worthy of being on a console.
The idea of carrying these “pocket monsters” around for the purposes of combat made me think about something a great deal more serious, but every bit as prevalent in our lives as a bunch of annoying Zubats hindering our progress in the world of Pokemon. Each of us, whether consciously or sub-consciously, carry our own “virtual” pocket monsters into our real world each and every day… we just didn’t know that is what is happening. I should probably explain…
Every experience we have in life creates a fresh perspective and a new approach to how we deal with similar situations when they come up again. Think back to your early childhood… we didn’t learn that the stove is hot by listening to Mom or Dad’s expert advice. NOPE… we figured it out by touching it, feeling the painful realization that heat is quite undesirable on our finger tips, and then staying FAR away from it going forward. The first time we fell off of a bike without pads or a helmet we quickly recognized the need for protection. Learning in life is often accompanied by pain, demonstrating the danger of failing to be more cautious the next time we are in a similar circumstance.
Unfortunately, most of the time these take the shape of negative responses to future incidents that remind us of our prior painful losses. When we are the recipient of a hurtful insult, an unprovoked attack, a betrayal by a loved one, or any act of sexism, racism, ageism, or all the other -isms we tend to have a similar response. We lose the battle, but intend to win the war by insuring this WON’T happen to us again. We capture this “hurt pocket” in a little ball, feed this little “pocket monster”, train it to defend us, and then release it into battle the next time we are confronted with a situation that even remotely feels like the pain we experienced long ago. This time we are prepared…
We even carry specific little “pocket monsters” with us, carefully trained for each possible circumstance. We have “rock-type” Pokemon we can unleash with bitter and harsh words when we feel slighted, we have “electric-type” Pokemon prepared to go to battle as soon as we hear someone use the wrong tone… over the years we carefully hone our responses like a master Pokemon trainer, always ready to engage in battle to prevent ourselves from being hurt again. How many times do we blurt out a hateful verbal comeback without thinking, wishing we could take the words back as soon as they left our mouth? Or immediately raised our defenses up at a perceived insult and launched an assault with full ferocity and then finding out that the provocation was simply a misunderstanding? This is the result of years of building up what the Bible calls a “root of bitterness” in Hebrews 12…
Hebrews 12:14-15 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble.
So here is the big question… how do you know if you have allowed a root of bitterness to become planted in your life? Obviously, even followers of Christ can allow these bitter seeds to find a place in our hearts, and if these are not identified and pulled up they can not only steal our joy but actually obscure our view of Christ. The answer to this question is found at the beginning of the verse… the opposite of a root of bitterness is PEACE with all people. You might ask “Which people do you mean by ALL people?”. I am fond of looking into the original Greek anytime I need clarification on the meaning of a word, and this one does not disappoint. The word “All” found in this verse is the Greek word “Panton”, meaning… wait for it… this is going to be a deep one… it means…. All. Yep. All means ALL.
So what do we do? We have spent years protecting ourselves from further harm by nursing these grudges, building these walls, and training these dang Pokemon to defend us. And now we are going to just release them back into the wild? Peter, one of my favorite people in the entire Bible, was struggling with this idea of letting go as well. And when he asked Jesus how to forgive and relinquish his right of self-defense, Jesus had a simple lesson to share about the importance of letting these pocket monsters go…
Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.“ But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
If we truly understand that the Lord is the one that will fight our battles, we will no longer feel the need to build and bring our personal, insignificant weapons of warfare to the battle. He is the one that will hold a fair reckoning for each of us. But we will only be forgiven in the measure that we forgive OTHERS… not for their sake, but for OURS. We struggle under the burden of carrying hundreds of pocket monsters around with us each and every day, prepared to do battle on our behalf under the correct stimulus. But Jesus has offered us a better way… the way to have true peace regardless of how we have been hurt in the past. Not by building up a war chest to face future battles more successfully, but by understanding that the exact same grace that has freed us from our debts to others is what we are commanded to give to all who have hurt us.
We may have not committed the same offences to others as people have done to us, but this is not designed as an equitable process. I have a harsh reality for each of us that I have had to accept for myself as well. Without the grace of Christ, I am the villain in other people’s stories. Either by misunderstanding or intention, my sins have hurt others just as others have hurt me. I have been the stove that has burned others on more occasions than I can count, but because of the grace of God I have been freed from those failures. And because I am grateful that His grace has covered my sins, the only way I can keep His peace alive in my life is by offering it to others as freely as I have received it.
We may not receive the closure we would like from those who have hurt us in this life, but we CAN insure we offer it freely to all we come into contact with and kill that root of bitterness before it grows into a giant tree that shades all we do in our lives. Join me in releasing all of the “pocket monsters” that we have spent years collecting, training, and developing to protect us and let’s learn the true meaning of “turning the other cheek”. Freedom from bitterness is not a power that resides in those who have hurt us, abused us, and betrayed our trust. It is a power that lives in US once we choose to allow Christ’s love to do what we never could have done on our own… let all of these hurts GO. Forgiveness is the gift that only YOU can give… and it’s a gift that is actually for YOU!
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