It’s a tale as old as time (with all due apologies to Beauty and the Beast). You know… boy meets girl, girl has an infinity stone, boy takes the infinity stone in an attempt to eliminate half of the beings in the galaxy… I am sure you have heard it countless times before. You know, if I wasn’t mistaken, the plot of the new Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: Black Order seems to have some (just like one or two) similarities with the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s probably just a coincidence. But regardless of your familiarity with this new video game take on the Infinity Stone war made famous in the comics as well as in the Marvel cinematic universe, one thing is for sure. It is unlikely you have PLAYED through it until now. And if you never had the opportunity to play the first two Marvel Ultimate Alliance titles, it is time to make up for some lost time.
As a fan of multiple gaming genres, the only thing more satisfying than playing an expertly crafted game is when two or more of my favorite styles of gameplay merge into one Voltron-esque beauty of epic proportions. I love when developers get some peanut butter in my chocolate and we end up with a delightful mish-mash of styles that I would have never previously dared to hope for. Marvel Ultimate Alliance nailed this several iterations ago when they took a classic brawler style gameplay and married it to an upgrade/leveling system that you would typically find in a dungeon crawler. And they really nailed the formula on Ultimate Alliance 3, as you can choose from almost 40 characters with more on the way to give you the ability to assemble and grow your perfect team. (Did you see what I did there? With the word “assemble”? Because… you know… Avengers. They like to assemble. It’s kind of their thing. I thought it was clever.)
This concept of building the perfect team for battle is not just limited to traditional role-playing games anymore. Now, much to my delight, even sports titles have added RPG elements that grow the game beyond a simple competition of reflexes and strategy and into something much, much deeper. With Madden 2020 and NBA2K20 we have “Ultimate Teams” and “MyPlayer” points and a variety of additional modes that stretch far beyond mere “sports ball” (not that there is anything wrong with that) and into layers of role-playing and progression that would make your original copy of Tales of Symphonia jealous. As a matter of fact, the largest sales growth area for these games for the last few years have been through the micro-transactions that power this entire sub-genre in the sports gaming space.
But whether you are making a decision between which X-men character belongs in your Avengers team-up or choosing between legendary NFL Hall of Famers for your Ultimate Team, one thing remains consistent… WHO you choose to surround yourself as well as WHEN you do so are the CRITICAL difference-makers between success or failure. And this concept is the same in our daily lives as it is in these games.
For a plethora of reasons we often find ourselves travelling through life with companions who are not necessarily optimal for the current leg of the journey we are embarking on. They can take the shape of family, friends, buddies, or more… but make no mistake about it, their presence on your team at critical junctures have the potential for leading you in the wrong direction, regardless of how beneficial they were at various stops along the way. They may have been the perfect comrade for a period of time in our life where we needed their particular support or guidance, but in our current phase they may be distracting at best or damaging at worse.
This may sound harsh on the surface. Trust me, I knew going into this topic that this subject may seem divisive. We certainly cannot live life in a bubble, limiting our interactions to those who believe exactly like we do in every permutation of our faith. In the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), our daily communication with everyone we come into contact with is implied. But there is a critical difference between those we are in “personal communion” with and those we are attempting to influence positively with the message of Christ. In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the mutual need to defeat Thanos brings several characters such as the diabolical Loki onto your team… but I wouldn’t trust him or his intentions beyond the point your common interests diverge.
Allies are not the same as companions, and old buddies are typically not the right choice for the position of trusted confidant in your life. These are different people who occupy different positions during different periods in our lives. Much of the self-inflicted trauma and drama we experience in life comes from confusing those who are merely seasonal allies, traveling the same direction for a short period of time with us because of mutual benefit and common interest, with those who are true “companions”, fully aligned with your personal growth goals and the success of your life-long mission. An ally is important and wonderful, and you can’t survive without many of them popping up along the way. But they have predetermined points of entry and departure into our lives and when we fail to recognize that we limit them as well as ourselves in reaching our full potentials. But don’t take my word for it…
Rather than speak from my own experience I am going to share with you the journey of someone far greater than any of us and how they thoughtfully chose the team that was best suited for them at each stage of their walk in life so they could accomplish their mission. This person? None other than the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ. I would say He would be a pretty solid authority on such things, and believe it or not He was incredibly thorough with assembling His team for each step of His mission, from His humble footprints in Galilee to the nailing of His feet to the cross.
Let’s start near the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry, when Jesus came back to His hometown. Mind you, this is after He has already done several of his most famous miracles, delivered some huge sermons, and chosen His twelve disciples. He is pretty well established at this point. He was kind of a big deal. But when He came back home to his family, friends, and life-long acquaintances His reception was less than stellar…
Mark 6:1-5 Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.
WHOA. Wait a minute. Did you catch that? JESUS, the Son of God, the Messiah, was LIMITED by the crowd that he was surrounded by. His ability to perform the miracles He was performing in other places was stymied by the unbelief of the people He was surrounded by. And since we are certainly not better than Christ, it stands to reason that the company we surround ourselves with can limit our ability to be all that God called us to be. In this circumstance, it was His own friends and acquaintances in His hometown who simply could not see past what they perceived Him to be and view Him as He truly was. Their familiarity with Him as a person blinded them to who He was born to be.
And it gets WORSE. It’s one thing for your hometown to say they aren’t feeling the love… when it is your own BLOOD that’s a whole new level of rejection. Take a look…
John 7:2-5 Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him.
If you struggle with the knowledge that your own family does not support you, think about how JESUS felt. His brothers were not supportive of His ministry… they were challenging Him because they could not see past their own history with Him to see what His actual purpose was. And unfortunately we don’t hear a whole lot about them after this… while they may have been essential for Jesus during His formative years their continuing presence in His life would have only stunted His growth. Jesus had to make some tough decisions on who he surrounded Himself with and to what level as seen in John chapter two below…
John 2:23-24 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.
The truth is there are levels of access to Himself that Christ applied limits to. He allowed ANYONE who desired an opportunity to follow Him. But He only chose TWELVE to be His permanent travel companions everywhere He went, and that was only after praying about it ALL NIGHT LONG the night before (Luke 6:12-13). And of those twelve, He selected THREE to be his personal friends and confidants, taking them with Him to the mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2) and into the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37) to pray with Him prior to his arrest and crucifixion. And from those three, only ONE was documented to be at the foot of the cross when He uttered His dying words (John 19:25-27).
I have a feeling many of you reading this have experienced something similar… unable to be viewed past what you used to be or the mistakes you have previously made when there is now something deeper inside you that is surfacing. And because Christ could not be seen as anything other than what He had previously demonstrated, in each of these instances He had no choice but to move on. Not because he didn’t love or care for these people but because His destiny lied on a different path than theirs. Sometimes it is timing, and other times it is simply a poor match, but many times in the Bible certain companions are not the right fit for where we are and what is needed for the next step in our voyage. A great example of this is John Mark. Yes, the Mark who wrote one of the four Gospels. But before he did that, he was rejected out of hand by the Apostle Paul because the timing and the fit wasn’t right.
In Acts 15:36-40 Paul and Barnabas are about to engage on their next mission trip together when Barnabas suggests they bring John Mark along. But John Mark had deserted them previously and Paul knew this was not the time for him. Their disagreement was so fierce that Paul and Barnabas separated company, with Paul going on to complete his mission trips with Silas and Barnabas disappearing from the remainder of the book of Acts. But in one of Paul’s final recorded letters we see that it was finally time for Paul and John Mark to team up as we see below…
2 Timothy 4:11 Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.
I hope that this has encouraged you today to truly review your circle of trust and identify what level and permanence you have ascribed to those you are in alliance with. Every soul on this planet has been carefully hand-crafted by our Father and all are loved by Him equally, but not every soul is destined to walk arm-in-arm with YOU to wherever you are going next. They are not equipped to fight the battles you are going to be faced with on the road ahead. These relationships come and go, and we must release some people into their divergent path while preparing ourselves for new companions frequently throughout our story. These should not be bitter departures… they should be beautiful, grateful farewells at the crossroads until our paths meet up again elsewhere, whether that is on this plane of existence or the life to come.
It is not easy, but our destiny compels each of us forward and the separation becomes even more painful if we attempt to hold onto those relationships which are no longer right for us longer than they were designed for. Even my favorite foods have an expiration date, moving from stale and slightly unpleasant to positively disgusting and eventually lethal if ingested. It does not mean it wasn’t good for a certain period of time… just not for the entirety of my life span. So prayerfully consider your comrades carefully and select your confidants cautiously… some were meant to change your life for five minutes and others were intended to be there at your final breath. Choose wisely…
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