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.

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