Zelda, Breathing into the Wild and The Siren Song of Side Missions (2 Sam 11)

There are very few games that have the power to sweep across nearly all gamer generations with as much emotional and visceral response as a Legend of Zelda announcement.  As we become accustomed to annualized releases and expansive downloadable content that extends the “newness” of a title for several additional months of new experiences, the Zelda franchise eschews all of these trends and exists on its own playing field as a result.  Each new tidbit of information is celebrated by fans worldwide, press conferences are eagerly watched and immediately dissected for fresh insight, and all of this continues to build towards a boiling crescendo with each drop from the faucet that will soon release Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to the eager masses.

But this one, however, will be a little bit different.  While each title in this venerable franchise has slowly drifted from linear storytelling to adding on optional areas to explore and additional side missions to lose some time in, this release will mark the first time  Zelda has truly become an “open-world” game.  For those unfamiliar with this distinction, this means that the entire environment is open to full exploration and as the player you are free to pursue the main quest or spend the day climbing, fishing, or scavenging to your heart’s content.  But with this new-found freedom some interesting questions are raised.  Will gamers still feel compelled to save Hyrule when there is so much room for activities?  Will the presence of all of these options water down or detract from the reason we entered into Link’s oh-so-comfortable looking shoes in the first place?  I can honestly say that in many open-world games I have played I often forgot what the next item in my main quest log was because I had so many other competing priorities, or simply found the side quests more compelling (Oblivion, I’m looking at you).  So while this is a delightful conundrum for gamers to solve in the very near future, I believe there is a real world application that has some much larger ramifications to explore.

2 Samuel 11 may be one of the most bitter chapters in the entire Bible, at least it certainly is for me.   After so many chapters of following the heroic, virtuous, and honorable David through his path from shepherd boy to kingship we finally land on a fatal chink in his previously impenetrable armor.  We see the problem emerge promptly in the very first verse, as the text informs us that it was the spring and the time when “kings go off to war”.  Only this time we don’t see David follow this practice… instead the verse finishes with David SENDING his army instead of going with them, remaining behind in Jerusalem instead.  Seems harmless, right?  After all, the preceding chapters are replete with David’s victorious conquests over the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites… it was just rough times for the “-ites” in general.  He even threw in the Philistines and Arameans for good measure.  He must have had a coupon for “defeat two nations, get three free” or something. So what is the harm in going a little AWOL just this once?  Just a little side mission as a breather after all his hard work completing so much of his primary mission? Well, as we will see this unapproved respite would have a barrage of unintended and fatal outcomes for multiple innocent parties and planted the seeds for the future civil war that would rip Israel into two separate nations for hundreds of years.

While David restlessly patrolled his balcony, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, his eyes fell on a bathing woman and a chain of events were launched that would change his life forever… outcomes that were utterly avoidable if he had simply stayed on mission.  David saw, sin came, and satan conquered, and sadly David would fall from His previously untouchable pedestal to add adulterer, conspirator, liar, and murderer to his résumé.  When this forbidden tryst ran its course, Bathsheba’s innocent husband Uriah was a betrayed corpse on the battlefield, the newborn child produced by this act of infidelity occupied an undeserving grave of its own, and David’s conduct infected his own sons leading to incredibly dark acts of incest, rape, murder, and insurrection.  David lost four sons (the newborn, Ammon, Absalom, and Adonijah) in a fulfillment of his pronouncement in 2 Sam 12:6 that the guilty should have to repay four-fold for their crime.  And while David would ultimately repent of his actions and find restoration in God, his dalliance in this unapproved side mission came at an unacceptably high price.

It’s easy to come down hard on David… his actions are incredibly reprehensible and impossible to justify.  But looking in the mirror, I have been this same man many times in different ways and have drifted off mission more times than I can count in pursuit of self-serving side missions that hurt others, damaged relationships, and drew me into a spiral of sin that I will always regret.  Throughout the years I have been a failure as a father, a son, a husband, a friend, and any other role I have occupied, and each time I can trace the path back to one seemingly small decision to branch off of my primary life quest to serve God and love others as myself.  David didn’t wake up with murder and adultery on his mind…  but he did something just as dangerous.  He made a choice to linger where he didn’t belong and allowed a sin that had previously laid dormant the time and opportunity to fester and grow.  

And therein lies the inherent danger in unscripted side missions in life… when we forget who we are (in David’s case the king) and what we were given that position for (in his case to go to war and grow his nation) we end up in places we were never meant to be doing things we we never imagined we would do.  In a video game, often times curiosity and exploration are rewarded and some amazing easter eggs can be found.  But in our daily walk through life, we must always remember that the very steps of our feet are ordered by the Lord and He alone is in a position to authorize a detour from the very specific plan He has for your day.  So before you look, ask Him what He would have you do.  Before you go, seek His guidance.  And if He has already given you an answer, it would be wise to accept His path.   He knows what snares await you if you choose to call in sick today when you aren’t, or who you will run into if you go somewhere you know you aren’t meant to go.  We are not called to live life through trial and error, that is a thematic concept from evolution.  We are a new CREATION called to walk by FAITH.  I encourage you to walk in faith in the mission He has given you today… just as David alone was called to lead his army to war and Link seems to be the only one capable of saving Hyrule, you are the one perfectly designed to fulfill your quest log.  You never know… that boring mission that you would rather skip today might be protecting you from a world of bad choices later on.

Surviving the ARK: Dinosaurs and Why You Shouldn’t Punch Them (Eph. 4-5)

So my wife and I tried the very unique experience of ARK: Survival evolved, which is currently in a state called “game preview”, denoting that it is a game that is still in a state of development while being available for both purchase and play.  After learning a little bit about this title, it seemed like this would be an incredible opportunity to live out our Jurassic World fantasies in a fantastic open world environment.  Huge areas to explore, dinosaurs running rampant, the ability to source and build a habitat, clothes, and a functioning society with other real world gamers…I was certain that we would quickly be able to train and develop a pack of Raptors to do our bidding while we emerged as master Dino trainers.  After all, we have been preparing for this mentally ever since we watched the Dinosaur King cartoon series and realized that “a Dinosaur King is what you want to be yeah” (you may want to binge watch a few episodes to catch the reference… don’t worry, I will wait).

You’re back?  Great… now you understand what was going through our minds and we prepared to embark on an epic journey of discovery, survival, and poop throwing.  Yes, you read that right.  For all of the infinite possibilities that were seemingly laid out before us, here is the actual recap of our first hour with ARK:

* Spawned in front of dinosaurs.  Pressed buttons to interact with dinosaur.  Accidentally punched dinosaur, which was received less than enthusiastically by said dinosaur. Died a gruesome death.

* Spawned in front of dinosaurs.  Approached dinosaur to gaze at its beauty.  Received poison spit from dinosaur.  Swam away and drowned before reaching land.

* Spawned safely away from dinosaurs.  Finally attempted to learn controls.  Realized there was a button to make the character poop.  Also realized poop could be picked up and thrown and became preoccupied with this.  I think you know where this is going…

Suffice to say, at the end of our session there was surprisingly little progress on our plan to become expert dinosaur trainers.  And while the inventory system and control scheme weren’t necessarily the most streamlined experience one could hope for, they were not responsible for the outcome of our play session.  We were simply under-prepared for the challenges of the game we had chosen.  We did not do any of the requisite research to understand how to be successful, we did not attempt to learn the controls before diving straight into the gameplay, and we failed to utilize the myriad of resources that existed in order to ascend to dinosaur mastery.  The environment was already designed to be harsh and challenging… I only compounded the challenge by failing to accept the guidance that was readily available to me.

Throughout my youthful years of on-again, off-again Christianity one of my least favorite phrases was ” walking in the Spirit”.  The concept is found in the Bible multiple times, it was the subject of numerous sermons I attended, and frequently populated books and other resources I was given to read and study.  But despite all of the talk and explanation on this subject, I simply could not grasp it.  It sounded like one of those “spiritual” phrases that people love to say but no one could quite tell me how I was actually supposed to DO it.  And thus began my frustration with trying to understand and follow this seemingly “other-worldly” reference that after years of study was just as unfamiliar to me as the control scheme was in my ARK adventure.

Authors have written entire books on what I am going to humbly try to condense to mere paragraphs, and this subject is so absolutely deep and profound that I will only be able to scratch the surface here.    After all these years of trying to figure out how to apply this principle, the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapters 4 and 5 finally coalesced into a practical guide on walking in the Spirit.  Starting in Eph. 4:17, he defines the problem.  Life without Christ at its center is a life lived without understanding its true purpose, described by Paul as walking in the futility of only what our mind can comprehend and having our understanding darkened.  Just as I learned while playing ARK, I am simply not capable or qualified to walk in the Spirit with the mindset or capabilities I was born with.  It is not within me or any of us to do this without help.  For years I tried to will myself into living a more spiritual life and found that the best I was capable of was a hollow, pseudo-legalistic form of Christianity that was about as successful as my foray in dinosaur training.

For me, the revelation hits in Eph. 5:2 and a deeper understanding of the word “walk”.  The Greek word used here, peripateite, is made up of two root words, peri and pateo.  The prefix peri should be familiar… it’s how we explain that something goes all the way around or encloses something else, in words like perimeter or periscope. Pateo simply means to walk so when we see a phrase like “walking in the Spirit” this word is used to describe our daily conduct as one that is fully encircled and surrounded by God’s Spirit.  So what does that mean in real world terms?  Paul makes it blissfully simple in Eph. 5:1… be imitators of Christ as dear children.  We are going to dive into the original Greek one last time to understand this word “imitators”, which in our English language has a bit of a negative connotation that summons thoughts of generic brand cereal trying to pretend it is as good as actual Frosted Flakes (side note: it’s not).  The phrase “cheap imitation” comes to mind, and that is absolutely not what Paul is inferring here.  The word translated as imitators is actually the word “mimetai”, which is where we get our English word “mimic” and the even more familiar gamer term “emulate”.  But we are not mimicking Christ as mere actors or running a program like a knock-off NES emulator … he includes the phrase “as dear children” to flesh out this concept.

As a parent, I have observed my progeny show physical characteristics that are embedded into her DNA and reflect her parentage.  She has my hair and eye color, my wife’s nose and eye shape… she has literally been formed as a mimic of her physical parents. While many of these features were not immediately apparent at the moment of her birth, as she has grown and matured they have become more pronounced.  Similarly, when we are born again the building blocks of the Christ centered life are installed like a new operating attempt.  Paul calls this “receiving the mind of Christ”.  And in Eph. 5:2 He gives a simple yet profound definition of what Christ’s mind looked like: He gave Himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God.

It’s critical we catch what he is saying here in this dual focus for Christ, because it is identical to the two-pronged definition Jesus Himself gave when He summed up the entire law of God into two basic commandments.  An offering is something given to be used.  A sacrifice on the other hand is the act of putting something to death.  When someone brought an offering to the temple in the Old Testament, it was typically money or food or other usable items for the benefit of others. Most churches still collect offerings to this day to sustain the needs of the church and the congregation. But when someone brought a sacrifice, it was typically an animal that would be slain in a permanent act.  Jesus explained this in His summary of the law in Matthew 22:37, that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (sacrifice) and love our neighbor as ourselves (offering).  Or as Paul explains in Eph. 4:22 that we remove our old conduct completely and put on the “new man” which is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, and in verses 25-33 he describes how we give ourselves to others as an offering… by living in truth, serving, giving, edifying, and forgiving.

To walk in the Spirit, in the simplest terms I can describe, is to put your previous self-centered life to death (sacrifice) and replace it with a life of serving God and others (offering).  This is how Christ lived each day… loving His Father with his entire heart, praying to Him for guidance, serving His purpose, and bringing the good news of the Gospel to each life He interacted with while serving both spiritual and physical needs everywhere he went.  And the power to perform and do the mighty works He accomplished were provided daily in the moment He needed them.  Much like my failed experiment in dinosaur control, if I attempt to walk in the Spirit in the strength of my flesh I will be as unsuccessful as attempting to play a unique game experience like ARK using only my prior knowledge of alternate games to succeed.  It is through the living Spirit of God inside me and empowering me in conjunction with my daily, hourly, and minutely decisions to choose offering and sacrifice that accomplish this daily walk.  The dinosaurs don’t tame themselves, and becoming a believer in and of itself is only the first step of the journey to mimic Jesus Christ in a deeper and fuller way each and every day we are on this earth.

Squid Kids, Ink, and a Failure to Launch (Ephesians 2:1-10, Colossians 3:1-11)

Multiplayer shooters dominate the game store shelves these days and almost any theatre of war, real or imagined, can be brought to life on the home console of your choice to reenact over and over again.  But nestled in between World War 1 recreations and futuristic space simulators is a title that is completely it’s own… the colorful ink-fest that is Splatoon.  Brimming with character and a flair that is all it’s own, Splatoon is the anti-thesis to almost every competitive shooter on the market.  Bright and cheerful, featuring childlike avatars who transform into squids (yes, bear with me) who wield paintbrushes and rollers as their weapons of choice to literally cover the canvas of the level with the paint color of their faction.  Call of Duty eat your heart out…

It’s simple enough for my 4-year-old to pick up and play successfully but buried underneath the slick visuals and smooth gameplay is a surprisingly tactical and fiercely competitive online masterpiece.  At least, it usually is.  With the matchups locked into 4 on 4 battles, each participant’s contributions are critical to the success of the team, and when you find one player who is not pulling their weight this often spells defeat for even the most synchronized team effort.  After being vanquished by an opponent and sent back to my respawn point, I emerged from the ink ready to regain lost ground only to find a fellow teammate was standing stationary at our home location.  As time is of the essence in these battles I couldn’t observe them for long, but sure enough as the match wore on it was clear that this teammate, who had previously been fully engaged in the matchup, was not moving on from our home base.  Were they upset that they had been outgunned and simply walked away?  Did their battery die on their game pad?  Maybe they were summoned to take out the trash… regardless of the reason, they were given the gift of regeneration but did not move forward from that point and as a result our under-manned squad ended the match with a loss.

In the whole scheme of things, this was a pretty minor setback and the next session went on with this disappointment firmly placed in the rear view mirror.  But I couldn’t shake the idea of being given the opportunity to be re-birthed but stubbornly refusing to embrace the opportunities within that new life.  As a believer, I have observed many people “give their life to Christ”, “get saved”, or become “born again”, but then give no evidence that a change has occurred in their day-to-day life.  Surely a new lease on life, combined with the power of God’s Spirit taking up residence within us would be reflected in our approach to life going forward, right?   Not through imposed legalism or receiving a church handbook of appropriate musical selections and approved hair styles… no, I’m talking about an internal change that would impact decision-making and priorities at a spiritual DNA level.  This failure to launch intrigues me, and to determine if this is a by-product of our current culture and environment or if the roots run deeper I turned to the New Testament for help.

In Ephesians 2:1-10 we find one of Paul’s most succinct responses to the challenge of balancing the gospel of grace with the abandoning of dead works.  He draws a vivid example of the contrast between our previous condition as an enslaved corpse and our new life as a born again believer.  Sometimes we read these verses so often and hear key phrases in sermons and songs so frequently that we can lose the picture Paul is painting here.  So let’s really develop this in detail.

Paul equates our bondage to sin to the finality of death… an irreversible state of never-ending decay which would require a supernatural occurrence to alter.  We walked through our lives without Christ like the walking dead, hungering at a primal level without any hope of being satisfied, slaves to our fleshly desires lacking the strength or capacity to re-animate into something better.  This was the spiritual existence for each of us… until Jesus called us out of our tomb the same way he summoned Lazarus back to life.  But here is the interesting question… once Lazarus was resurrected and his life-force restored, what if he chose to continue living in the tomb?  What if he used his newly gained lease on life to simply occupy the tomb that had once imprisoned him?  What if he respawned but chose not to relaunch?

And therein lies the battle… there is a purpose to our lives that only BEGINS at the point of our salvation.  It is not the destination, but merely our respawn point.  Colossians 3:1-11 draws this out very dynamically, as Paul explains that if we have truly been reborn, then everything from our thoughts and actions to our words and deeds should reflect our new trajectory.  It is almost as if Paul peers ahead into the world of gaming as he uses language that should be very familiar to us in explaining in verse 3 that the act of salvation means that we DIED, and have now respwaned belonging to Christ.  But it does not say we are automatically changed in our way of thinking, as appreciated as that would be.  Paul cautions us to “Set your mind on things above, not earthly things”, which means we will have to participate in this process.  Have you ever “set your mind” to something?  If you have, it may have looked something like this:

If I set my mind on having tacos for dinner tonight, that will impact me in multiple ways.  I will assess my current capacity for producing tacos, review my budget for purchasing the ingredients I lack, make a plan for where I will procure these items, and make adjustments to my travel itinerary to accomplish this.  In addition, I will be thinking about these tacos throughout my day in anticipation and will most likely alter my lunch plans to avoid tacos since I will be having them for dinner.  I would communicate my “Taco Tuesday” plans to my family to gauge their interest and give them time to properly prepare their palettes for the feast as well.  And when I get home I will understand that these ingredients will not simply arrange themselves into tacos for me… no, I will need to perform some chopping and shredding and cooking to achieve the desired result.

There is a very similar process on “setting our minds on things above” that will remove the failure to launch dangers from our new birth.  Christ Himself guided us to “count the cost” of following Him, understanding that while His yoke is easy and His burden is light compared to the yoke of bondage to sin, there still is a load to be carried.  Salvation is a free gift, but our daily walk with Christ is not a free ride.  It requires our participation.  It is an intentional walk that impacts us on every decision we make and is intimately intertwined in every relationship in our lives.  I highly encourage a full reading of verses 1-11 as Paul is very detailed in the differences between a life that has not embraced this way of thinking versus one that has chosen to emerge from their respawn and begin painting their entire world with the ink of Christ, one glob of paint at a time.

Whatever the reason might be, if you have found yourself stranded at home base I encourage you to bring out the paint roller and start covering the area around you with the ink from above.  Saturate your thoughts with prayer, fill your words with the Word of God, and bathe your actions with the fruit of the Spirit.  We all spawn at the same point regardless of what happened in the life we used to live, just like in Splatoon.  There may be more ink and in different  colors on our maps because we each got here differently, but we are all equal in Christ Jesus.  So let’s get to painting….