Prisons of the Past

“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Men and women, when they are born again, are given something special. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are no longer under the laws of the world’s system or those of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) They are made new in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are capable of far greater things than they were by themselves (Matthew 19:26).

However, though people accept that they are heaven-bound when they die, many people rob themselves of God’s other countless gifts and choose to replace them with man-made rules, rules that suspiciously resemble the laws from which Jesus had just previously delivered them.

“Why?” I’ve asked myself repeatedly. “Why would anybody want to do that? People don’t want to be prisoners, do they? People want to be free!” After a rigorous study on 1 Corinthians during a mid-week Bible study, I believe I have been given the answer to my burning question.

It has been said that though a state prison may set an inmate free, it cannot truly MAKE him free. A prison is a completely different world than that of free men. The people within have their own social norms, their own laws, and their own culture. After so many years, inmates become institutionalized. They can barely sit at a restaurant table for lunch unless someone gives them the command to eat. They stand at their apartment door for a minute until they realize that they don’t need the warden to open it. Suddenly, being alone scares them. They realize that once they’ve been set free, they cannot cope with the free world because it’s alien to them. Their only solution is to bring old baggage into the new world, and obviously, this is where trouble brews.

So, what does this have to do with accepting Jesus? Everything.

Though a man may spend his lifetime in a brick-and-mortar prison, mankind itself has been imprisoned for hundreds upon thousands of years longer. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) We have lived in a bubble. We have lived under our own set of rules, our own set of laws, and our own culture for so long, that it has become normal. As one television commercial suggests, we are an island of flightless birds who have never realized that we have been given the wings to simply fly away and explore. We have essentially become just as institutionalized as any state prison inmate, and we would never realize it, because we cannot remember a time when it hasn’t been considered “normal”.

But what IS normal?

Read chapter two of the Book of Genesis. Complete fellowship with God through Jesus. Blessings beyond measure. Life intended for ministry unto Him and for Him. No shame. No condemnation. No fear. No anxiety. This is the normal that Jesus gave His life to give us, but we’ve spent all our lives institutionalized in a spiritual prison that we don’t know a good thing when we see it any more. Even when God delivers us from our sins, our anxieties and our condemnations, we still hold onto them. Suddenly we’re set free, we find ourselves alone, and we don’t know how to cope with such an alien concept.

You can take the man out of prison, but you can’t always take the prison out of man.

This is why God tells us that we need our eyes opened (Ephesians 1:18). It’s not good enough to be set free. We have to be MADE free. Then, and only then, can we begin to claim our inheritance and our true calling.

After realizing this, things that people do that used to irritate me to no end don’t bother me as much any more. When I see miserable people that seem to want nothing but to make everyone else miserable, I see poor people in cold, drafty prisons. They’ve been there for so long that they don’t know what freedom is, anymore. They’ve become like animals because that’s the only way they know to cope. They’re sickly and starving, and they’re crying out for help the only way they can. Do I still want to kick them back as hard as I can for all the hurt they’ve caused?

I can’t. Can you?


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Mankind in Beta Testing

“There really ought to be a sign upon my heart, ‘Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part.’“ –Joel Hemphill (He’s Still Working On Me)

I was listening to a song once about the love of God and how, despite our iniquities, He still loves us. A line from the song was the writer lamenting that he didn’t know why He loves us, but was so glad He does, anyway. For a moment, this particular line struck me, and I thought about it. What does He see in us, anyway?

According to the Bible, He sees, “… no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) because “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, … the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) So, whenever God sees us, He sees Jesus, and we are made righteous in Him. However, this has led to a big question outside of the Christian community. Why would such a big, omnipotent God invest so much time and energy into such lowly, hopeless worms as us?

Then, it hit me..

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me and I will hearken unto you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12) Apparently, He sees us as something greater.

Allow me to provide an illustration. An odd illustration, but… stay with me for a moment.

Right now, I am typing this article on a rebuilt thirteen-year-old Compaq Presario. The processor is a single-core 1Ghz Intel Celeron, and it runs on only 172MB of RAM. “Don’t expect miracles from this old thing.” people said as I set out to build a working computer for my dad. “It’s old and it’s run its course. Not much more can be done with it, and you’d be better off spending a few hundred dollars for a brand-new state-of-the-art computer that actually works.”

However, I was tired of watching everyone struggle with it, so I took it upon myself to begin work. From the outset, I could see a vision of a perfect, dependable computer. Everyone else looked at the old box and saw a piece of junk, but I looked at it and saw nothing but raw potential.

The road was difficult. I hand-picked parts from various machines that best suited its needs and ran test after test to make sure everything was performing well. I gave it more memory and extra storage capacity. As for the programming, I wiped the hard drive clean of its original operating system and installed a brand-new one. It ran okay for a couple of months, but soon returned to its original sluggishness. I was discouraged, but I went back to work anyway.

“What happened?” everyone said. “I thought you said this new Linux system was supposed to be the best! Why do you have to go changing things around all the time? You’re such a computer nerd! Why can’t you just settle for good enough? Why can’t you just accept that it’s junk and there’s nothing more you can do with it?” Regardless, I kept at it. I could see a great computer underneath the old exterior, and I wanted others to see it, too.

After a few nights of fruitless searching, I finally found a solution. I started with a pure, stripped-down Debian/GNU Linux image for server admins and completely built the operating system from the ground up. All the automatic “push-button” mechanics that modern users take for granted, I had to learn how to manually create on my own, but the proverbial fingerprints were mine instead of the manufacturer’s. When it was finished, no one could believe that this was the same old clunker I had started with.

But it was far from over.

I continued to research, build and test. I watched others as they used it and tweaked the interface accordingly. I didn’t want it to merely suit my tastes, but others’ tastes as well. worked out the kinks, and the more I learned, the better it became. Currently, every other computer in the house has quit on us, but the old machine that everyone counted out is now singlehandedly bearing the weight of the family’s computing needs and can perform everything expected of a modern computer.

So, where am I going with this, exactly?

I was personally invested in this project, not just as an amateur computer tech, but as a man searching desperately for spiritual truth. When things started pulling together, I drew parallels between my work and the Potter’s hands. (Jeremiah 18:1-10)

When we first accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we’re nothing much to look at. In fact, the world has counted us out as worthless. However, God doesn’t see our worthless flesh when He looks at us. What He sees, instead, is the finished product. He sees who we will become when we allow Him to work on us from the inside out.

First, He gives us brand new parts, a RAM and Hard Drive expansion called the Holy Spirit. As we crave His word and instruction, He then proceeds to remove all of our old, bogged-down, operating system that condemns and replaces it with a new system that glorifies. At first, we’re difficult for people to accept. We constantly hear from our friends, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve changed too much. Why can’t you be the same old person and be miserable with me?”, but God’s not finished with you, yet. He builds your programming from the ground up to run leaner and more efficient than ever. He tweaks the interface of your new nature until you are an acceptable servant to minister unto Him, spreading the good news that Jesus is Lord and God is good.

This, in my humble opinion, is a key to understanding how to walk in love. Author and Bible teacher Joe McGee once said that if a woman had a husband who loves her like Jesus loves her, divorce would be out of the question. This is a tremendous statement, but how do we see in others the things Jesus sees? Simple. We must be willing to be reshaped and reprogrammed.

We must be willing to read the Bible, seek the truth, and find out what Jesus first saw in us.

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Professional Christians

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” –Matthew 6:32-34

Nothing says you are getting closer to God like episodes without precedent and your first taste of spiritual ambiguity.

When we first seek the meat of the Word of God, it dawns on us. There is no difference between “our time” and “God’s time,” because it’s ALL God’s time. Everything we do should be an act of Worship and ministry unto Him no matter what. Once we get to that point, we nod our collective heads in agreement. Okay. That’s true. We’ll concede to that. However, there is one more portion of our life that, for one reason or another, remains elusive from our box of “things to give to God”.

Our professional life.

I could kick myself over the years I’ve wasted believing that I had to slave away to appease the world’s system and its leaders so I could live the quiet life described in Timothy 2:2, but God tells us not to do that, either (don’t you just love that?). I don’t work for employers. I work for God. Now, don’t get me wrong. Those that don’t work and provide for their families might as well be unbelievers, (1 Timothy 5:8) but we as Christians should have a different sort of mindset driving us.

You see, God has a plan for us. Not just to accomplish His will, but to give us our heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4). No, not everyone is cut from the pastoring fabric, and landing a nuclear physicist job on the first try is nigh impossible, but every job, no matter how small, is not a rung on the ladder of success. It’s a stepping stone on the stream of life toward the place where God wants you to be.

But over the years, we have believed so many lies (I know I have) that may sound noble, but keep us spiritually grounded. Maybe these sound familiar.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Money is the root of all evil.”

“Finances are too tight to pay tithes this month. God understands.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Knowing Jesus in the professional world doesn’t simply mean that we take a beating at work, then come home and get patched up to get beat up again. It means that we are given a mission from God, and that mission is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His second coming. There are many ways to do this, and each man and woman on earth has his and her own gifts to accomplish the mission.

Every step we take in the professional world, just like the spiritual and personal world, must ALWAYS line up with the Word of God. One job may offer us a more appealing package, but our spirits are being pulled toward another job. We have to believe that God will provide for us if we chase after Him with our spirits instead of reasoning things out with our flesh. When our steps align with God’s and His nature becomes ours, THAT’S when miracles happen in our lives, the windows of heaven are opened and blessings are poured out.

Do we covet our earthly jobs more than we do our spiritual mission? I believe it’s VERY possible. Just as with all other material things, a job is little more than a seed. A means to accomplish an end. It is not a treasure to be coveted, but a tool to accomplish His will. When we do well with small tools, we are given bigger tools to accomplish bigger things, but ONLY if we can be trusted with them. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

The world believes that finances slip so easily through our fingers that we must hold on to every penny we can. The world believes we’re crazy for wanting to make money and have material goods just so we can give it all away. The world believes that financial stability depends on whether a democrat or republican is holding presidential office. The world believes that the workforce is nothing more than a drudgery. And for the world, perhaps it is.

But God tells us to “[b]ehold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26) and “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19) Christians should work just as hard as the world, not to attain happiness and joy, but because of happiness and joy.

Personally, I have dreams and aspirations, and I want them ALL to line up perfectly with the word of God, but a wise person once told me, “God can’t guide you if you’re not moving.” With that, I resolve every day to focus on His footsteps instead of worrying about my wants and needs. The economy is in a stalled tailspin, jobs are scarce and inflation threatens to make all of our efforts useless. Does any of it bother me at all? Sometimes, but why should it? No, beggars can’t be choosers, but thank the LORD I’m a child of God through Jesus Christ, and I am no beggar.

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“E pur si muove. [And yet, it moves.]” –Galileo Galilei [disputed]

Is the concept of Christianity really only a series of rules and customs that we follow only to give some sort of meaning to our otherwise dull and dreary lives? The outside world seems to think so, and after so many years of being beaten down, many Christians adopt this mindset as well.

However, I prefer to look at it this way.

Being a Christian and delving into the Word of God is like stargazing. At first, You happen to glance up every now and then. All you see are small, white dots in blackness, and what is a few dots compared to the gleam of street lights, big-screen televisions and movie screens? Stars are so ordinary. You see them every day.

But one day, you find yourself alone, someplace where the flicker of modern technology can’t reach your eyes. Someplace where there are no more distractions, and reality hits you like a bolt of lightning. East, South, West and North, you can see nothing beyond the scope of your arm’s reach, and all you can do is look up. Your eyes have become accustomed to the darkness, and what was only a handful of white dots has now become hundreds, maybe even thousands. The black sky reveals the blueish streak of clouds and the heavens have exploded in light. Off in the distance, the full-moon has revealed its glow and you can see each and every crater marking its surface.

Then, everything is put into perspective.

Each and every one of those small, white dots is a sun just like ours. Each sun possibly has its own set of planets and moons. You can only see a fraction of the stars in the sky, and there are likely billions more stars out there. Out of all the planets and all the suns, God cares about us, a tiny speck in the universe. Even though mankind constantly spits in His face and openly mocks Him, He wants His creation saved and returned to Him. He wanted us saved so badly, that He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sakes.

But why would He do this for us? We have nothing to offer Him. We’re nothing. Lower than dirt. Who would want to save us when we can barely see anything good in ourselves?

Apparently, He does.

As you take it all in, slowing down your hectic life for the first time in decades, you realize that this magnificent display was created for you, but you were too blinded and stressed out to see it. Upon going back home, you realize that televisions, movie screens street lights, computers and cell phones seem so dull now because you’ve witnessed true brilliance.

Every Christmas Eve, when I can get away from the holiday hustle and bustle, I look to the starry winter sky and remember the gift we were given over two thousand years ago. Whenever the world seems to be closing in on me, I read the Word of God and stargaze. Suddenly, everything seems so towering and myself so small, but I know that I am counted among His beloved, and at the same time, I am mightier in Him.

Whenever you feel alone in the world, take time to look and truly observe the world around you. The Creator’s fingerprints are everywhere if only we take the time to see them.

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Free Short Story: "The Forfeit"

This is a small sample of my work. It’s a story I wrote a few months ago in a single day after an inspiring church service. Now, I give it to my readers as a Christmas gift. I hope it blesses you to read it as much as it blessed me to write it.
Clyde Benson played like a professional at his first high school chess tournament. There was a four-year paid scholarship to the college of his choice at stake and he trained for an entire year just to have a shot at it. For the last few months, he ate, slept and breathed chess statistics and tactics, forsaking all other responsibilities for the scholarship. After winning the first three rounds, reporters were quick to name him the favorite to win the tournament, and with good reason, too. He played flawlessly, penetrating every defense and blocking every attack with precision never seen before at the high school level. There was no mistake. His performance had to be perfect to get this far, and for a while, it was, but the months of sleepless practicing were beginning to take their toll on the poor, overworked Clyde.

Clyde worked his way up the tournament ladder, and eventually rose to the final round, ready to face the last challenger standing between him and the scholarship. But he was as exhausted as he was excited. He had pushed aside all rest, friends and pleasure to train for this moment. He did it all by himself, and even in this moment of triumph, he was all alone. This time, he said to himself, he would take no chances. He would expose his opponent’s flaws one by one and finish him off with a humiliating final blow with his queen. It should take no more than about fifteen to twenty moves, he thought, and would really wow the audience when he took home the first prize in style. Secretly, though, Clyde was quickly losing steam and all he wanted was the whole affair over and done with.

The gymnasium, cleared and decorated for the final event, was a confusion of noise, though no one voice could be easily isolated. Still, it remained quiet enough to insure a small window of time to think and reflect. “I can do this.”, Clyde said to himself repeatedly as if he didn’t really believe it but thought that reciting these words might force something to happen regardless. He approached the table containing the chessboard, pieces and timer. The familiar sight put him momentarily at ease. Soon, he felt a surge of adrenaline flow through him, and he was ready to take on the world single-handedly. But as soon as he saw his opponent, all confidence completely drained from his disposition.

His opponent’s voice sounded out of place as he spoke to an adult, possibly his trainer, who walked him to the table. He assumed him to be a foreign exchange student from a country that exported as many chess players as China exported tea. Though he was as tall as Clyde, he was slimmer and paler. His complexion contrasted well with his menacingly black hair. His jeans were just as black as well as his fitting polo shirt. His eyes were difficult to read for his long, shaggy hair that covered his bespectacled eyes. Not that this mattered, because he wore a wide- brimmed fedora that cast an obscuring shadow over half his face. Immediately, this mysterious, foreign chess master struck fear into Clyde, and he did his best to hide it, but the boy in black easily sensed his apprehension. He lifted the brim of his fedora and flashed a cruel grin to Clyde that seemed to predict an imminent defeat.

The crowd hushed to a dull murmur, and then silence. The final match was ready to commence. Clyde and the boy in black met on opposite ends of the table. The proctor prompted them to shake hands. Clyde felt the eerily cold hand of the boy in black and this only added to the sheer terror. They took their seats and the boy in black lifted a knight from the first rank and slammed it onto the third with a loud “clack” that permeated every nook and cranny of the gymnasium. Then, he hit the timer and folded his arms. The first move was made and the game had begun.

The first few moves spelled disaster for Clyde’s battle plan. each move the boy in black made was bold and fearless. With each move, Clyde questioned his own and decided, rather than going straight for the kill, he would play it safe. Very simply, he would clear spaces for his rook and bishop to slowly cripple the enemy defenses. This plan was soon dashed, however, as he made an amateurish mistake. His white knight and bishop were caught in a black rook’s fork. Stealthily, he moved the knight out of danger only to find his bishop still in check without retribution. The plan hinged so greatly on this one piece, and now it was going to be shattered to pieces.

He hoped that the boy in black wouldn’t notice, but the more he dwelt on it, the more he shifted and fidgeted in his seat. Then, the boy in black placed a finger on his rook and he knew he had Clyde’s full, undivided attention. The boy searched the board and after finding the opening for attack, captured Clyde’s beloved bishop. The crowd gasped. “Stupid!” his eyes screamed, and all the boy in black could do was chuckle and grin.

Clyde spent the next several moves making up for the carelessness of his opening gambit. He would not make that mistake again, he thought, repeatedly, but the more he thought about it, the more he saw himself as inferior to the boy in black. Obviously, he was dealing with a world- class player and he knew that to beat him, he must play harder and smarter. However, even then, the echo of “I’m inferior,” “I’m weak,” “I’m no match for him,” and “I’m stupid.” permeated every thought that crossed his mind, and each move he made cost him yet another valuable piece. Sweat poured from his face, as he spent the majority of the endgame with his head cradled in his hands, back hunched over and, eyes glazed and bloodshot. The boy in black remained cool and serene. It drove him crazy.

Finally, the boy in black held a force of four pawns, one of which was about to be promoted, one rook, no knights and two bishops. Clyde had nothing but a rook, a knight, and two pawns. Any other player could take these insurmountable odds and pull victory out of nowhere, he thought, but not him. One mistake after another chipped away at his ego until he saw himself as nothing more than a worm who crawled here by sheer luck alone. The boy in black had him cornered, and there was nothing he could do about it. But wait! There was a small opening he could possibly use. He could move his king and push his pawn forward and take a chance of promotion. There were other riskier options, but considering who he was playing, this seemed to be the safest. Clyde pushed his king to the left and appeared to be rather proud of himself at this moment until the boy in black pushed his pawn to the eight rank and swapped it for a queen.

“Checkmate!” he sneered with a smile. Clyde fell prey to the boy’s wiles once again.

Hands were shaken, pictures were taken, and the boy in black walked away with the scholarship that was originally promised to Clyde for all of his hard work. As the building cleared and everyone scattered to the parking lot to go back to their normal lives, Clyde still had one piece of unfinished business to attend to. He ran to the side parking lot where the school’s charter buses were parked. There, he saw the boy in black strolling casually to one of them.

“Hey!” Clyde called. “Hey, you! You in black! Excuse me!” The boy turned around and the two met each other halfway. “That was amazing!” said Clyde. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“It was nothing,” muttered the boy, “really.”

“Nothing?” said Clyde. “Don’t be so modest! What’s your secret? How long have you been practicing? Five years? Ten?”

“Two weeks.” said the boy, with a heavy accent.

“Wha–?” Clyde was dumbfounded.

“I’m not really that good.” said the boy in black. “In fact, I’m the worst chess player at my school. I intimidate my opponents into telegraphing their weaknesses and I capitalize on them. They’re all so weak-minded. They tell me everything I need to know. Then, I’m able to tear them down until they’re a shaking, sniveling mess. But,” he added. “they’re a mess from their own doing.”

“B-b-but when you played m-me.” Clyde stammered. “I thought–“

“You?” the boy interrupted. “You were great! You could’ve beat me easily if you had just exposed my flaws and went for the kill with your queen.” Clyde slapped an open palm against his face. “Too bad none of you know a good thing when you have it.”

Clyde Benson stared into space, completely speechless. There went the boy in black, walking away with his prized paid scholarship to the school of his choice, and here was Clyde with nothing left to show for his suffering but the thoughts of what could have been.

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Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year

“I never really did Christmas before. Christmas Day? I mean – what’s that? What’s it all about? I was always flying on Christmas Day.” –Monica Seles

Perhaps I am only naive, but I’ve never quite understood why people who celebrate Christmas bear arms whenever people say “Happy Holidays”, or why people who don’t celebrate it for religious or personal reasons cry foul when they are told to have a “Merry Christmas” anyway. From my experience, people don’t act this way over holidays like Thanksgiving or Independence Day. When an American tells a European to have a “Happy Thanksgiving”, the response is simply “Oh… well, Thanksgiving isn’t really a holiday over here, but hey, thanks for the sentiment.” But when a Wal-Mart cashier tells a customer to have “Happy Holidays”, the customer is ready to bash his head in with an umbrella.

Why!? It’s nothing more than an argument over semantics! We might as well wage civil war over the usage of prepositions at the ends of sentences. Actually, I’d like to see the propaganda posters for THAT.

When I was in school, the word “Holidays” for me didn’t merely mean Christmas or December. It referred to everything from October 1st to January 2nd. That included the County Fair, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, New Year’s Eve, and even obscure holidays like Chocolate Day, National Poetry Day and Beethoven’s (and Jane Austen’s) birthday. When people said “Happy Holidays” to me, it simply meant “Have a happy three months full of fun, excitement and vacation days.”, to which I would reply, “You bet!”

But, of course, I’m in the habit of saying “Merry Christmas’ as well, typically before Christmas vacation, or better yet, before the day itself. Certainly I don’t say this to impose my views upon anyone else. All I mean to say is, “Whatever you happen to be doing this week of the twenty-fifth, I hope it’s merry nonetheless.” and that’s all the phrase really means if one thinks about it long enough. I could just as easily say “Merry Tuesday”, and certainly no one would take offense for that. For instance, I am morally opposed to Halloween, but whenever someone innocently slips and tells me to have a happy one, I take it to mean “Whatever you’re doing October 31st, make it happy.”, to which I shrug and reply, “Sure.”.

Now, keep in mind that I am a Christian and I love the idea of Christmas. I just feel that it has been sorely misrepresented in today’s culture and by its own community. God tells us to “[g]o ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15), but it’s difficult to do that when we’re ready to rip each other apart over insistent terminology. When a sinner comes to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior, He takes him as he is, but we treat Christmas as some sort of exclusive club with our own code, our own secret handshakes and our own inexplicable, unshakable customs. No, we don’t want to compromise our faith, but the Christmas holiday was never built on faith to begin with. It was built on converting pagans to Christianity through compromise. What’s the point of “keeping CHRIST in CHRISTmas” if we don’t invite Him in from the outset?

When we spit venom over the usage of “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings”, or even the “X-Mas” shorthand, are we showing Christ through us, or are we simply showing our own pet peeves and determination? There is nothing wrong with good intentions, but it will all be “…wood, hay and stubble,” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) if it doesn’t glorify the Lord.

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Obsessed With the Puzzle

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life.” –Erno Rubik

Games and puzzles have fascinated me to no end for as long as I can remember. Plenty of people can appreciate puzzles to a point, solving them gleefully until a puzzle comes along that stymies them until they get frustrated and quit. I, on the other hand, can never get enough. I love getting lost in a puzzle, even when there seems to be no solution in sight. If every puzzle has an answer, I’m going to find it, and I’m going to love every infuriating minute of it.

When I was a kid, when other boys built racetracks and monster truck rallies for their toy cars, I was building parking lots and creating puzzles to solve in them. While everyone else was making towers out of wooden blocks, I was using the blocks to form makeshift jigsaw puzzles. Even board games weren’t safe from me, as I would eventually become bored with them (no pun intended) and insist on making them more difficult and adding more strategy to them. But eventually, my closest friends would outgrow games and puzzles while I still retained my childlike urge to play, fueling my interest in computer games as well.

In a way I guess I’m truly obsessed with the concept of the puzzle, but the question is, why? Perhaps it can all be boiled down to what puzzles represent and teach us about life as opposed to the messages we hear from mass media and the people we interact with every day.

Let’s face it. We live in a world controlled by people that see us all as grown children. The entire world, as they see it, should be sanitized, pre-packaged, processed and perforated for our protection and convenience, and the message given is very clear.

1) Follow our rules to the letter. They are here for your protection.
2) Don’t try anything new unless you’re officially certified to do it.
3) High comfort and standards of living should be chiefly strove for.
4) Stay on the path we’ve cut for you because you’re too inexperienced and weak to blaze your own trail.

Puzzles, however, teach us something entirely different.

1) The rules exist to challenge you and to help you grow. Focus on what they don’t tell you that you can’t do rather than what they tell you that you can and can’t.
2) Do you really want to do something? Jump right in and start doing it. What did people do before certified schools and experts? Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to do something. Start reading and go hands-on with it yourself.
3) Finding your answer is going to be difficult. Your learning experience will be messy, uncomfortable and inconvenient, but in the end, it will be your answer and not someone else’s that you’ve found.
4) There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution. You’ll be surprised by what has been staring you in the face the entire time if you open your mind to all solutions rather than a select set of pre-defined ones.

In middle school, the puzzle resonated with me after being thrown into a world that seemed, at the time, bent on keeping me beat down. This is where I gained my love for puzzle and strategy games, music, and algebra. Later, in high school, I would learn to love literature and writing for the same reasons.
And I know that I can’t be the only one.

The people that have given us the things in life that have made it easier are the people who saw life as a grand puzzle instead of a foolproof list of instructions. What if our founding fathers decided that giving in to the British crown was worth it because it was the path of least resistance? What if Thomas Edison had decided that candles and oil lamps were perfectly fine because that’s what everyone else was using? What if the Wright brothers had decided that everyone else was correct and mankind could never fly? What if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had decided that there was no need for personal computing to be introduced to the masses?

The prevailing thought in society is that it is the select few “gifted” folk that changes the world and makes a difference, but the puzzle teaches us that everyone can. If we saw life not as a gaping maw ready to devour us when we slip, but instead a puzzle in which to become ingrigued, lost, and eventually solved, then perhaps we could all make a difference.

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