Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spiritual Stacking to Save Suffering Souls

One of these individuals has
 fine leather jackets for sale.

I very much enjoy playing games that are full of puzzles. I grew up as a point-and-click adventure gamer on the computer and used to spend hours playing King’s Quest V and the Monkey Island and Gabriel Knight games. I’ve moved almost exclusively from computer to console over the years, which means there are very few old school adventure options, although I have been getting back into some PC gaming for Telltale’s excellent take on Monkey Island and I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series. Yes, I realize I’m the wrong gender to play the latter, but I enjoy them nonetheless, plus I love the game designer’s old slogan: “For girls who aren’t afraid of a mouse.”

I guess this girl couldn't find her XBox controller.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. There are indeed puzzle games on consoles, although not usually of the point-and-click adventure style (which really works better with a keyboard-and-mouse setup anyway). This is true, but the bulk of my gaming these days takes place while I am exercising. I do step exercises and play the 360 while I step. It gives me time to play and—since I rarely get other time to game—helps motivate me to exercise. The problem is that I’m not smart or coordinated enough to play puzzle games while I work out. My stepping slows down and sometimes comes to a halt altogether while I’m trying to figure out how to complete a challenge or finish a level. I absolutely love both Portal games, but it’s difficult to play them while exercising so I had to squeeze them in at other times (like in the middle of the night, when my time is actually supposed to be set aside to write).

I have been *all* those characters. It just struck me
that this game might be a complex metaphor
for schizophrenia.
One very enjoyable console puzzle game that’s come out in recent years that I have found time to squeeze in is the Russian doll adventure puzzler Stacking. Although I could have done without the occasional bout of bathroom humor, I found the game to be pretty delightful. It has a completely unique gameplay dynamic. You play as a tiny little Russian stacking doll named Charlie. He’s so small that everyone underestimates him, but his tiny size gives him a unique ability: he can “stack” into other dolls, controlling them and solving puzzles through their different traits and attributes. There are five or six doll sizes, and Charlie can always stack into the next larger doll. So if he’s a size one, he can stack into any size two; as a size two, he can stack into any size three doll, and so on. Maybe he stacks into a doll who is goes around punching other dolls, or maybe he can clear a room by stacking into a doll with really bad gas. He can fly to certain places by stacking into a bird doll. No bird dolls around? Stack into a fish and flop about until you get one’s attention.

It’s charming, it’s funny and it’s full of interesting puzzles. One of the things I really like about the game is that each puzzle has multiple solutions. You’re encouraged to find them all. So maybe you clear that room by being Mr. Farty Pants on your first try, but then on the next try you can let such a draft into the room that everyone gets cold and leaves. Solving a puzzle one way is an achievement but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. You can only solve all the challenges by experimenting with different dolls and special activities, by deciding what each situation requires and fulfilling those requirements.

It might not be surprising that I thought several times while playing of Paul’s testimony that he became “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). It’s probably not an unfamiliar passage, but is it one that is represented in our lives?

Just look at those little beady eyes. You just
know he's planning on reaching out to
people you don't care for. The nerve!
I know it’s controversial in some circles (particularly in certain circles in which people have nothing better to do than sit around and criticize other believers), but I agree with Rick Warren’s contention in The Purpose-Driven Life that we must deliberately and intentionally live our lives according to God’s purposes if we do not want to waste our time on this earth. Most video games thrive on purpose (with the notable exception of certain open world games that can be played a variety of ways) and Stacking is no different. Controlling Charlie Blackmore, we are compelled to figure out how to figure out each puzzle at least once to complete the story and finish the game. How much more do we need to have purpose in our lives?

Because that’s the first thing I see in Paul’s game plan. He has decided that one of his primary life purposes is going to be to reach the lost with the gospel message. Although those less ambitious might focus on a much smaller sample, Paul firmly has absolutely everyone in his sights. And he’s going to do whatever it takes to reach them. He is going to live his life in such a way so as to be the precise person that those lost souls need in their life. He is going to become like them—whether under the law, whether outside of the law, whether weak or poor, whatever—to build a relationship and encourage them to follow Jesus Christ.

Pop quiz time. I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer it immediately, without thinking. Okay. Ready? Here it goes: right now, who are you trying to reach for Christ?

I hope you didn’t think about it too much. That would have been cheating. There are countless different answers that might work there. Maybe it’s a small group like “my neighbors” or “my coworkers.” Maybe you’re passionate about reaching an ethnic or religious group (for instance, Muslims). Or maybe a name or two came immediately to mind, and you’re currently trying to reach Sydney or Lewis or Puddleglum. The only real wrong answer to the question, then—I mean, except for gibberish responses like “hexagon” or “the Oprah Winfrey Network”—is to stammer, to look away, to consider the question because you really don’t have an answer to it.

I may never be used to bring anyone into faith in Christ,
but I can sit in this pew like a boss, y'all.
If that describes you, then permit me to throw out this gentle little query: What in the world is the  matter with you? Huh, what is it? Christ’s blood not sufficient to save the people you know? Maybe you’re ashamed of the gospel of Christ? Or perhaps you’re a horrible old misanthrope simply puttering ever closer to the grave, hating everything and everyone. Regardless of the excuse, can you be so confident that the love of God is in you if you are so casually disobedient?

Those of you who answered my question promptly aren’t off the hook either. My next question goes back to Paul’s passion: how are you trying to reach the people you named? Are you, like Paul, doing everything possible to become all things to all people and save any that God permits you to save?

I could see the possible argument that Paul’s game plan here doesn’t sound very genuine. Authenticity is very important to me, and I think that the same goes for a lot of people. The idea of behaving a certain way only to achieve a goal—even a very noble goal like reaching someone with the gospel—seems phony. But loving people isn’t phony. Loving people who you don’t naturally love is difficult. It’s challenging. Ultimately, however, we love because of the very real love of Jesus Christ living inside of us, and there is nothing fake or phony in Him.

You called?
And maybe the Stacking analogy doesn’t fit all the way here because I don’t think we ought to change who we are for the explicit purpose of appealing to a certain group or person like some flip-flopping politician. I wouldn’t, for example, pretend to be a hunter just to share the gospel with hunters. For one thing, they would see right through me. But just because we don’t have that particular, bloody pastime in common doesn’t mean we have nothing in common. Maybe they, like me, enjoy musical theatre! I would like to go see Les Mis again while it’s still at the cinema. . . My point, of course, is that it’s worth the effort to find the common ground for the purpose of investing in one’s spiritual wellbeing.

But I think, for Paul, that it even went beyond that. I see in him the picture of a man who was so surrendered to God and His purposes that his greatest passion was for reaching the lost. If I were to define him with a phrase, it wouldn’t be as a tentmaker or even a preacher. It would be as a follower of Jesus Christ. What were Paul’s interests? Winning souls for Christ, no matter what it took. If that meant respectfully adhering to aspects of a Jewish law that Christ had freed him from, Paul was more than happy to do so because it gave him the chance to share the love of Jesus with someone who needed Him. That’s not who Paul was born, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s who he became.

Someone's getting transformed!
Is it something we even desire? Would you pray to be so transformed? It sounds exhausting, honestly, to genuinely value making disciples over my hobbies and the things I do for relaxation (or even while I exercise). I know, intellectually, that the reason I am here is to point toward Christ, follow Him and make disciples. I know that I will get reward in heaven and should be about that mission with a singular focus. But the distractions are so darn distracting. We cannot afford to believe the lie that our task is anything other than urgent.

I see now that I have really misunderstood this passage. Paul’s not talking about changing who he is or how he acts to find more common ground with those who need Christ. He’s talking about the incredible work of transformation that the Holy Spirit has done in his heart so that reaching the lost is genuinely the most important task and the greatest joy of Paul’s life.

Paul strove to be everything to everyone because that’s who he had become. It wasn’t the least bit fake or phony because his greatest goals in life aligned with a lifestyle that was more than willing to adapt to put him closer to the lost. I said earlier that I can’t imagine what excuse a Christian could ever give if there is no one in their life that they are not actively trying to reach right now, and I stand by that. There’s no good excuse to not do what you were made for. But it’s not enough, is it? We need to be completely transformed. I need to be completely transformed. He has begun this work in me, I can tell, because I’ve come along way at trying to put the spiritual needs of others above whatever I think is important in the moment, but there’s still a long way to go. But I can’t fight it. We can’t fight it.

After all, this is what we’re here for.

1 comment:

  1. I never really thought it that way before. I am too content with sitting in my home and going to work, waiting for the opportunity to witness. But I need to reaching out to them, training myself while I am waiting for opportunities to witness, etc. It is hard, but it needs to be done.