Chutes and Ladders

                  Chutes and Ladders

“If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.”     –John 14:3

 When my boys were young, one of the board games they liked to play was Chutes and Ladders.  I would try to tempt them into an enticing game of Candy Land or a rousing game of Trouble, but try as I might, Chutes and Ladders would all too often prevail.  Now, you’d think a game as simple as this one would be a first choice on game night, but the issue I had was that too often it took too long to play.  I expect that with Monopoly; it takes about three good snow days to complete this epic game.  But, with Chutes and Ladders?  With a game that is geared for children ages 4-7?  Who would expect it to be a “let’s take a break and finish up later” kind of game?

The trouble lies in the chutes.  When you land on a square where a chute begins, you have to slide down to where it ends.  That could send you back 10 squares, 38 squares, or…on my most frequented chute…63 squares!   The object of the game is to make it to the 100th block.  While the ladders allow you to scale over rows of squares, it’s the presence of the chutes that catapults the game into a perpetual, monopoly-like, status.  Move ahead 4 squares; climb a ladder 22 squares; slide down 25 squares, and so on, and so on, and so on.  It’s a game, I’ve come to realize, that is replicated in life as well.  Little did I know that shrink-wrapped within the simple game of Chutes and Ladders was the far more complex game of Shoots and Ladders.  A game where my life’s choices land me on certain squares; a game where I’ve sometimes climbed upward, occasionally slipped downward, yet continually moved forward, all too often muttering, “Ah, shoot!  Where’s my ladder?”

I’ve read that the more one thinks about something, the more it becomes etched upon one’s brain.  Like a tethered animal wears a path around its post, so too do our thoughts etch patterns upon our mind until we see them as clearly as if they stood before us.  Apparently, I’ve played enough rounds of Chutes and Ladders to have a picture of the game board engraved upon my frontal lobe.  For years now, when something good happened…and especially when something not so good happened…my thoughts have jumped to the board game in my mind and I either envisioned myself climbing a ladder or sailing down a chute.  The value was not in how far I’d advanced but rather in the fact that, whether climbing or curtailing, I was still on the board; I was still in the game.  Sometimes, that simple fact was enough to steady me.  It reminded me to step back, take a look at the whole board, reassess my position upon it and reflect upon the overall object of the game:  to get to the final square.  As long as I was still on the board, I was still in the game; as long as I was still in the game, there were still advances to be made.  And so I’d take another step, move ahead at least one more square, and hope that my next move would not result in an, “Ah, shoot…I’m gonna need a longer ladder!”

Can you relate?  I’m guessing you can.  I think we all have markers upon this board.  I think we all begin the game of Shoots and Ladders when we are born and we’re removed from the board when we draw our last breath.  And, in between these start and finish lines, we move across the “board of life”.  Now, before your “new age” detectors go off, rest assured that I am not saying life is a random game where some unknown hand flicks a spinner and randomly sends us through life.  What I am saying is that there is a beginning and an ending to our life; that life is filled with a series of forward and backward, upward and downward moves; and, that there is a goal to the game…successfully reaching the final square!  Within that context, I do see life as a game; and, as long as I’m on the board, I want to be in the game.  I don’t want to be a quitter because I fell down a chute; I don’t want to be a bragger because I climbed 57 rungs; and I don’t want to miss my next turn because I wasn’t paying attention.  (For a while, I though Ahem was my middle name.  As in, “Kris…Ahem…it’s your move.”)  Until I reach the final square, I am supposed to move; until I draw my last breath…I am still in the game!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced a loss or setback of some type and the image of Chutes and Ladders flashed across my mind and I reminded myself, “It’s just a chute.  You’re still on the board…you’re still in the game.  Just wait and move ahead one more square on your next turn.”  It may sound weird (a concept I feel completely unqualified to determine), but it has anchored me more times than not.  And it does so because it’s a picture of Biblical truth, of Godly grace.  Only God knows our last move; only God can pick up our marker and determine when the game is finally over; only God can extend the ladder that leads us to our final destination…to the last square marked “Winner!”

There is, however, one distinguishing rule that differs between the actual board game and the figurative life game, and that is who moves your marker.  In the actual game of Chutes and Ladders, you do.  You spin, you count, you move, you slide.  Everything lies within the power of your fingertips.  But, in the figurative game of Shoots and Ladders, you have a choice as to who moves your marker.  In this scenario, there are three choices:

  1. You move your marker
  2. Others move your marker
  3. God moves your marker

The importance of choosing the right mover not only increases your involvement in the game, but it also determines your inheritance at the end of the game.  If you decide to maintain control, then you have to work your way through the game on your own and, should you reach the “Winner’s” box, your reward will simply be that you finished the game.  If you decide to let others spin for you and push or pull you along the board, then you’ll lose the added pressure of having to think for yourself but you’ll also lose the added privilege of having accomplished something.  And, should you arrive at the “Winner’s” box, you’ll not be congratulated for your own efforts, but condemned for never truly engaging in the game.  After all, how can you claim what you did not choose?  But, if you allow God to be your Mover, if you choose Him to hold your marker, then it’s a game changer.  For now, though the board is still filled with chutes and ladders, it’s God’s hand that softens every fall and establishes every ascent.  And, while He sets up the board and positions us on our squares, He allows us to make our own moves, knowing that for games to be enjoyable, they must also be exciting.  But within the realm of choices and variables, there lies one immovable, one unchangeable truth:  when God is our Mover, He is also our Rewarder.  Now the “Winner’s” box has meaning; now it’s more than a position, it’s a place; it’s more than an accomplishment, it’s an accommodation, it’s more than an ending, it’s a beginning. For now, I won’t merely have a reward that I constructed, or that others consumed, but one which God created…just for me!  Now I have an inheritance, and that makes all the shoots…and all the ladders…worthwhile!

Life is like the game of Chutes and Ladders.  We advance, we retreat, we celebrate, we mourn, but we always move forward, we always move toward the final square.  The question lies not in the number of chutes and ladders we encounter, but in the meaning, and reality, contained within the “Winner’s” box.  Where will your last move find you?  Ascending the final ladder to Heaven, or descending the final chute to hell?  While you’re still in the game, you might want to give your marker to God…while it’s still your turn!

“If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.”  John 14:3

 ladder to heaven

And the Award Goes to…Hope, for Best Virtue in a Lead!

And the Award Goes to…Hope, for Best Virtue in a Lead!

“Sustain me as You promised, and I will live; do not let me be ashamed of my hope.”   Psalm 119:116

 Hope, it’s a word we love to use and long to hear.  Phrases like, “I hope you get better soon,” or “I hope to see you next week,” roll off our tongue with little effort and, far too often, with little thought.  But true hope, real hope, is a God-given virtue that has every right to take center stage.  And so, that’s what I want to do!  I want to call on Hope to take its rightful place, as lead performer in a life…because nobody puts Hope in a corner!  (Oh, I know it’s bad, but I just had to!  Feel free to groan; I deserve it and, hey, I can’t hear you anyway!)

We have seen Hope cast in many roles, but usually as a supporting virtue.  For example, there’s its placement in the distinctive trilogy of Faith, Hope, and Love, for which Love received the “Best Leading Virtue” award as recorded in I Corinthians 13:13 (“and the greatest of these is love”).  Then, there’s its appearance in Hebrews 11:1 where it again stepped into the sidelines so that Faith could receive its accolades (“Now faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen”).  And so it goes that, time after time, Hope is beautifully cast alongside its counterparts of Faith and Love, where it selflessly lends its support, but today, it’s time to nominate Hope for “Best Leading Virtue” in the docudrama:  My Christian Life.

There are three reasons for which Hope deserves this nomination.  First of all, Hope should be recognized for its stellar portrayal of a place.  Secondly, Hope should be acknowledged for its incredible representation of a Person.  And thirdly, Hope should be heralded for its exemplification of perpetual peace…of permanent peace.

Let’s first take a look at Hope’s performance in There’s No Place Like Home.  Truly, Hope’s portrayal of the life that is yet to come has caused souls to long for eternity since its debut!  Reviews recorded in the book of Titus give us insight to Hope’s rousing presentation:  “So that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” (Titus 3:7).  With this review, we learn that one of Hope’s roles is to cause us to long for Heaven, to long for our eternal home.  Hoping for trips to the beach or tours of the Bastille fade away in light of what we should rightly hope for…treks along pearled shores and visits to the pearly gate.

And, while we await our arrival to our Heavenly home, Hope fuels our longing by stretching our minds as we try to imagine light clearer than any we have ever seen, colors richer than any we have ever encountered, and music that not only surrounds us but emanates from within us.  It takes our imaginary breath away, so much so that we long to have our actual breath taken away!  Our ultimate trip is not to any location this world has to offer, but to Heaven’s courts where we’ll finally be who we were created to be and worship the One whom we were created to worship.  Hope keeps our eyes looking to the future and our hearts beating for forever.  Paul said it best when he stated, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (I Cor. 15:19).  Because our hearts are stirred by Hope’s performance, our souls are stretched to long for eternity.

The second reason I’d like to nominate Hope for “Best Leading Virtue” lies in its performance in Israel’s Hope:  The Life of a Nazarene.  In this role, Hope so closely identified with its character that it literally “put on His flesh”.  When Jesus left His seat of honor at the right hand of God the Father to come to earth, He reignited Hope on earth.  Though He returned to His Father’s right hand when His work was complete, Hope remained.  The reason this performance deserves recognition is because, as seen in this role, Hope is a Person.

We’ve typecast Hope to serve in smaller roles by assigning it to those whom we admire.  We hope our parents are proud of us, we hope the doctor says the tests are fine, we hope the judge rules in our favor, we hope our team wins the championship.  All are examples of hope placed upon people, but the ultimate role of Hope is not placed on a person, but in a Person, and His name is Jesus Christ.  In Psalm 130:7, we read, “O Israel, hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.”  And, in Titus 2:13, Hope is again depicted as a Person when Paul writes, “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Is there any Hope apart from Jesus Christ?  Can we worship the Son and not have Hope in His supreme redemption and in His second return?  Surely, for this role Hope deserves an honor!

The third reason I believe Hope should receive the coveted “Best Leading Virtue” award is for its exemplification in The State of Permanence: A Never Ending Story.  This role required much from the substance of Hope as it pushed it into a theatrical orbit, causing even its audience to experience a gravitational spin in its collective mindset as it moved from positional thinking to perpetual thinking.  How often have we allowed hope to be stereotyped as something short-term or transitional?  We have treated Hope as if it were a wishing well…we throw in a coin, make a wish, and hope it comes true.  We have attached it to Christmas morning, hoping we’d get what we’d wished for, and to days at the lake, hoping the rain would hold off.  We’ve sometimes stretched it out as we try to cover our relationships and careers with it; we hope we marry the perfect mate, we hope we have the perfect children, we hope we land the perfect job.  We hope, we hope, we hope…but we fail to have true Hope.  We forget that true Hope is lasting hope, that perfect Hope is perpetual hope.  And so we settle for the short-term, we sell-out for the here-and-now; we toss a coin, make a wish, and call it hope.  But Hope came along and changed the scene, rewrote the lines.  Hope entered stage right…and stayed there; for the entire performance, for the second and third encore, and for all the performances that continue to play out night after night, year after year, century after century. 

Hope’s role in The State of Permanence has shown us, and continues to show us, that Hope is here to stay.  Hope isn’t temporary but is timeless.  It is what tethers believers in the present to their destination in the future, and it never wears out, runs down, or expires.  Hope is eternity that touches the present and pulls us to its anchoring point day by day, month by month, year by year, until we cease to stand in the present without also standing in the future.  Paul attests to Hope’s antiquity in Titus 2:1 when he writes, “In hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began,” and Solomon declares Hope’s longevity when he states “hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14).  So from before time until beyond time, Hope was, and is, and will be.  And so, I raise my hat to Hope; I bow to Hope; I stand for…and in…Hope!

Will you cast your vote for Hope as “Best Leading Virtue”?  Truly, it could not be successful without its two leading counterparts, Love and Faith; but because every attribute deserves its time in the spotlight, today I nominate Hope for its depiction of a Place, its representation of a Person, and its exemplification of a Permanence.

And the award goes to…Hope! 

Where do I put my hope