Xbox and Bethesda Showcase 2022: An Uncompromising Starfield (Part 3: Pergamos/Rev. 2)

Both Microsoft and Bethesda had a lot riding on their showcase this summer… between Microsoft’s spending frenzy to acquire some of the hottest developers on the planet (such as Bethesda) as well as the incredibly UNWELCOME news that Bethesda’s most anticipated release has been delayed to 2023 (Starfield), this show needed to be the gaming equivalent of a grand slam, a game-winning touchdown, and a half-court buzzer beater all in one. Fortunately for Microsoft, this event seemed to live up to the hype by producing exceptional moments such as genius gaming creator Hideo Kojima shocking the world with the revelation that he is developing an exclusive title for the Xbox, incredible announcements about the future of Forza and other core Xbox titles, and even Halo integration into games like Microsoft Flight Simulator and Fall Guys. But it was the actual gameplay reveal for Starfield, Bethesda’s next major franchise release, that carried the most pressure leading up to the show. Did they deliver?

From our perspective, it was a resounding YES. The wait to explore the galaxy and beyond may have gotten a bit longer, but with the announcement that the game will feature one HUNDRED solar systems with a total of one THOUSAND planets… well, that’s going to take a minute to complete. Will these planets be procedurally generated worlds like rival space exploration title No Man’s Sky? Or will they be large, hand-crafted, but ultimately lifeless empty spaces like most of Fallout’s wasteland? We don’t have those answers yet… and we may not for a little while. But at least we have a little better idea why this incredibly ambitious title won’t be hitting store shelves this year… it is going to be FAR bigger than any of us had anticipated. The developers of Starfield made the difficult and incredibly unpopular decision to delay their game rather than compromise their vision for it… and while this didn’t exactly endear them to their new bosses at Microsoft or the gaming world at large, it was clearly the right call. From the massively complex amount of ship options to a storyline that will have to incorporate the massive amounts of player choice and dialog options that Bethesda’s titles are known for, there is simply no room for allowing the opinions or even the demands of others to influence them to do this on a different timeline, with different priorities, or in a different manner than what makes a Bethesda game a “Bethesda game”.

One of the largest challenges in making any video game is the pressure to meet the expectations of MANY different people… the press, the publisher, the public, and so many more. And as developers attempt to meet the desires and requirements of each of these distinct audiences while STILL remaining true to the original vision of their game, the pressure to compromise slowly begins to seep in. Features are cut to meet budget demands; shortcuts are accepted to make specific timelines realistic… next thing we know, the incredible promise of a game with massive potential is reduced to a collection of bugs and glitches that meant well but were fatally flawed due to the compromises that were made. And sadly, as we will find in our third church in our series on the seven churches in Revelation, the church in Pergamos was a church full of good intentions and even some very solid output… but the compromises that they had permitted to infiltrate them had placed them into a fatal position of disconnect. If you missed our first two articles you can catch up on them here before we head into the third part of our series on the “Dangers of Becoming Disconnected”…

The church at Pergamos had some pretty serious street cred… they had faced persecution in the heart of the enemy’s territory and didn’t flinch. This was neither a soft church nor was it a church that was afraid of conflict, but even with these amazing accolades they still had a couple of problems… BIG problems that threatened to disconnect them from their purpose.

Revelation 2:12-17 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

The church at Pergamos might have gotten a lot right, but they had allowed compromise to enter their doors through two distinctly named doctrines… the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The Balaam one is pretty easy to interpret, since the Lord doesn’t waste any time reminding us of his story from Numbers 22-24… he was the unwilling prophet who valued the opportunity for riches, fame, and favor over obeying the directions of the Lord. His final solution involved introducing sinful compromises into the people of Israel that derailed their journey into the Promised Land… and that doctrine was present in this seemingly vibrant church. But what about this “doctrine of Nicolaitans”? That one is a little trickier… the Bible remains intentionally vague on what the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” actually was, and while it clearly seems to be tied into the compromises mentioned from the sins of Balaam that resulted in multiple sins, it is never fully defined in the Scriptures. A variety of different views have surfaced over the years ranging from the teachings of a heretical deacon named Nicolas all the way to a term (antinomianism) that indicated a compromised lifestyle between Christianity and the pagan religious beliefs of that era. We may never know the EXACT details behind this doctrine, but we know one thing for certain… God HATED it. And as we will see in another exceptionally fatal act of compromise, He won’t accept any of the offerings and sacrifices we are making for Him if we have compromised the means by which we are giving them. Enter Saul…

1 Samuel 13:5-10 Then the Philistines gathered together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. And they came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger (for the people were distressed), then the people hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.

Saul was chosen and anointed as the very first man selected by God as the king over Israel… a fairly big deal, considering God didn’t want a king in the first place (1 Samuel 10). But all of that promise would be squandered in Saul’s first major test… a battle with the Philistines. Saul knew that the expectation was that prior to the battle that they would seek the Lord’s blessing on the engagement via a sacrifice made by the high priest… but there was a problem. The Lord’s messenger was running a little bit late, the people were getting nervous, and Saul got restless. A fatal combination of fear, impatience, faithlessness, and hubris inspired Saul to overstep his role and present a compromised sacrifice… while his offering technically met the criteria for seeking the Lord’s blessing, it was not offered according to the specific way the Lord had instructed His people to perform it. In this case, only Samuel was permitted to take this action, and by usurping Samuel’s role Saul had placed the mission above the Master. Saul allowed what he saw, what he heard, and what he felt to override his better judgment… and this compromising shortcut would be the beginning of Saul’s painful downfall and ultimately disconnect him from the mission he was originally called to.

1 Samuel 13:11-14 And Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

As Saul found out the hard way, the Lord has zero tolerance for compromise, regardless of our intentions. Saul may have won the battle with the Philistines, but he lost his kingdom in exchange… his act of compromise completely disconnected him from the God who had chosen him in the first place. The reality for all of us is that as followers of Christ we are going to be pushed and pulled in many directions… and underneath all of the pressure that we feel both internally and externally, we will eventually find ourselves in a position of being tempted to make small compromises for “the greater good”. The pressure to fit in while still standing out, to “let our light shine” without shining it directly into someone’s eyes, to be “in the world but not of it”… to accomplish the challenge that Pergamos did of building a church directly where the enemy dwells. Expectations exist inside our faith, outside of our faith, and even within ourselves that can allow us to drift into a state of compromise in order to achieve our goals. But the end NEVER justifies the means in the Lord’s eyes… there is only His way, His time, and His message. And if we are going to present something to Him that requires compromise to achieve, He would rather not have it at all.

The missions we have been chosen for in this life are specific and important… but the Lord designed our path in a manner that will REQUIRE us to lean on Him and His provision throughout the journey. Perhaps we don’t plan to make any burnt offerings in a manner that will offend Him… I mean, I am pretty sure that would be in violation of most of our rental agreements or HOA guidelines. But compromise comes to us in many forms, luring us in with the promise of success without all the discomfort associated with obedience. Less waiting, less pain, less awkwardness… all for the low, low price of completely undermining the purpose of our faith in the first place. As a matter of fact, when Christ was tempted by satan in the wilderness He wasn’t asked to stop His mission… He was offered a path of compromising His path with a shortcut past the pain.

Luke 4:5-8 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

Compromise can come to us in a variety of ways, but they all serve the same purpose… they disconnect us from our Master in the disguise of completing our mission. Perhaps these shortcuts involve compromises for the sake of faster growth, a larger degree of popularity, to increase our feelings of self-sufficiency, or simply to increase our comfort. Saul faced all of these pressures, accepted the easier path, and lost his crown as a result. Jesus was presented with these same options, denied His fleshly desires, and gained an eternal crown by enduring His cross. Our enemy isn’t always going to try to get us into a state of abandoning our faith in God… he will often try the more subtle approach of introducing enough pressure to tempt us to a path of compromise in order to achieve our well-meaning goals, disconnecting us from the very source of our power and ultimately rendering our actions meaningless.

Let’s get back to our “Starfield” predicament for a second. Bethesda was purchased by Microsoft for a reason… they make iconic games that many of us are still playing decades after their release. Some of them we have even purchased on multiple platforms to play them over and over and OVER again (pretty sure Skyrim has been released on everything from the Xbox 360 to graphing calculators at this point). And in order to connect with their audiences in the manner that they have done so successfully over the years, they have chosen to remain focused on their north star… delivering the Starfield experience that we are all expecting. And they are going to do exactly that… even if it comes many months later than we planned on, releases on a different console than we may own, and is developed using different design methods than we would have preferred.

The pressure to be everything to everyone is overwhelming in any arena… but compromising the mission by using an unapproved method will only result in offering the Lord “strange fire” that He cannot accept (Leviticus 10:1-2). Fortunately for us, Bethesda is showing the restraint that we all need to demonstrate in our service to the Lord… a message of boundless grace delivered without compromising the process of receiving it. It may take longer to do it the Lord’s way… that is okay. The path He has placed us on may not be littered with praise and popularity… neither was His. Achieving the mission His way may mean we miss the deadlines we planned to hit, lead us to places we wouldn’t have chosen, and feel more difficult and painful than it needed to be. But it is only through refusing the shortcuts and denying ourselves the path of least resistance that we will reach the fulness of the vision He has for us and deliver an uncompromised “Starfield” worth waiting for.

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