Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice League: Hope and Heroes


Fans of Superman and followers of Jesus will delight in DC’s Justice League. Although the movie suffers from a bland villain and sub-par CGI (not the least of which covers Henry Cavill’s mustache), Justice League delivers something that was conspicuously absent from Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice… hope. This hope resides in the film’s resurrected savior, Superman. Director Joss Whedon establishes this theme right from the start. In the opening sequence, set prior to Superman’s death in Dawn of Justice, Superman pauses after a daring rescue to chat with a couple kids. “Is it true that your symbol stands for hope?” one child asks. “Yes,” Superman replies. “But it looks like an S,” the youngster persists. “It’s meant to,” Superman says, “It winds like a river. It comes and goes.”

In the wake of Superman’s death all hope seems gone. The whole world appears darker and drearier without him. Early in the film, Martha Kent tells Lois Lane, “There’s so much bitterness. I think it’s because he’s gone.” Batman agrees, commenting to Wonder Woman, “Superman was a beacon to the world.” Lois Lane sums up the situation in a voice-over at the end of the film. “Our darkness was deep and seemed to swallow up all hope…”

I think the followers of Jesus could relate. In the wake of his death on the cross, Jesus’ followers were devastated, depressed, and disillusioned. All their hopes rested in a man they believed was God in human flesh. But then He died. I think the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, spoke for everyone when they said, “We had hoped that He was the one” (Luke 24:21 NIV). Had hoped? Anytime you start talking about hope in the past tense, you know you’re in trouble. Thankfully, Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave. So did Superman.

In the film, Superman dramatically returns from the dead and, as alluded to by his symbol, brings hope back to his fellow heroes and the world. Lois Lane speaks of Superman’s return in her closing comments, saying, “Hope is real and you can see it. All you have to do is look up in sky.” The idea of a resurrected savior who brings hope to the world ought to resonate with Bible believing Christians. Prophesying the coming of Christ, the Bible says, “his name will be the hope of all the world” (Matthew 12:21 NLT).

Jesus is our hope. The hope of all the world.

In an interview with USA Today, Batman actor Ben Affleck makes a compelling comment. “Part of the appeal of this genre is wish fulfillment: Wouldn’t it be nice if there was somebody who can save us from all this, save us from ourselves, save us from the consequences of our actions and save us from people who are evil?” Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to wish. We just have to hope.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Searching for Significance in Spider-man!


As I sat watching Spider-man: Homecoming with my kids, I truly appreciated being able to watch it on Vid-Angel. This newest iteration of everyone’s favorite web-slinger contains more foul language and suggestive themes than previous Spider-man movies, including a nonchalant reference to pornography and a (almost) F-bomb from Aunt May, of all people!

Despite these failings (which disappear thanks to Vid-Angel), Spider-man: Homecoming does tell a heartwarming story with some significant spiritual value.

The movie picks up where Captain America: Civil War ended. Peter feels special after receiving his spider-suit from Tony Stark and being chosen to help the Avengers with their internal conflict. In the wake of those prestigious events, however, Peter occupies himself with lower-profile acts of heroism. He thwarts a thief trying to steal a bicycle, bungles an attempt to stop an ATM burglary, and even gives directions to an elderly woman lost in Queens.  All the while, Peter anxiously awaits a call from Tony to join the big leagues. “I feel like I could be doing more,” Peter complains.  “I’m just curious when my next real mission is going to be.”

Surely, Peter Parker isn’t the only one to feel insignificant, as if the little things we do simply don’t matter. As a pastor for a small rural church, I can certainly relate. When I hear stories of rapidly-growing congregations or visit some mega-church, it’s easy to feel like my “small” ministry is insignificant and unsatisfying. Perhaps you feel the same way about your ministry, career or lot in life. The truth is, though—the little things really do matter. Jesus once said, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones” (Luke 6:10 NLT). He also compares the Kingdom of Heaven to “a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32 NLT).

At the end of the movie, Peter gets his wish. Tony Stark offers him a brand-new suit and a place on the Avengers’ roster. But by now Peter has discovered that the little things he does make a big difference. He tells Tony, “I’m good. I’d rather just stay on the ground for a little. Just a friendly neighborhood Spider-man. Somebody’s got to look after the little guy, right?”

Like Peter, I believe God wants each of us to “bloom where we’re planted.” Even if your life doesn’t seem grand or glamorous, what you do matters because it matters to God. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Holy Heroes Promotional Video!

If you haven't already, please check out my book, Holy Heroes: The Gospel According to DC & Marvel! Each chapter explores a different superhero from either the DC or Marvel Universe and draws spiritual lessons from their stories! It's a fun and faith-building read that I'm sure you'll enjoy.

 

You can find Holy Heroes at your local Lifeway Christian Bookstore or at these and other online retailers:


 If you've already ordered or read Holy Heroes, please consider rating and reviewing the book on AmazonGoodreads, or Google Books

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Who's Your Daddy?


With Father’s Day right around the corner, I think now is a good time to share some thoughts about the return of Marvel’s loveable losers in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

After banding together to save the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser’s wrath, the Guardians of the Galaxy earned their moniker. Now regarded as heroes, the Guardians must help their team leader, Star Lord (a.k.a Peter Quill), unravel the mystery of Peter’s true parentage.

SPOILER WARNING!

A Missouri native, Peter lost his mother to cancer and never knew his father. He was raised by a space pirate named Yondu who claims to have kept Peter around because, as Yondu puts it, "He was skinny, could fit into places that we couldn't. Good for thieving."

In time, however, Peter meets his true father, an ancient celestial being who calls himself Ego. A powerful living planet, Ego created a human body for himself so that he could explore the universe and interact with biological life. At first, Ego seems to be a caring and compassionate father, eager to build a relationship with Peter. The two even enjoy a game of catch. However, Peter soon discovers that his father is a ruthless entity with a god complex who wishes to conquer the universe through an extinction-level plan known as the Expansion. He tells Peter, “I need to fulfill life's one true purpose, to grow and spread, covering all that exists until everything is... me!” Talk about an ego.

After a pitched battle with Ego that rages all the way to the core of the planet, Ego—the entire planet—explodes. Yondu shows up just in time wearing a flight suit and rescues Peter from the destruction. He flies Peter to safety then puts his space suit on Peter, sacrificing himself so that Peter can live. Before freezing to death in the cold airless vacuum, Yondu assures Peter, “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn't your daddy.” Only then does Peter realize, “Sometimes, the thing you've been looking for your whole life is right there beside you all along.”

Sadly, many of us can relate to Peter’s experience. In America, more than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father.  Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent.  If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency. If you grew up without a father or much of one, then Father’s Day may just be another fatherless day to you. But the Bible has some good news for people like Peter.

God wants to be your Father!

Of all the images God uses to describe his relationship with human beings, I think the most meaningful is Father. The New Testament refers to God as Father more than two hundred times. Jesus taught his followers to pray, saying, “Our Father who art in heaven…” (Luke 11:2). The Bible says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV).

God not only longs to be your Father, but he wants to be your Daddy too. Scripture says, “you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15-16 NLT). The word Abba is the Hebrew equivalent of our word Dad or Daddy.

Regardless of whether you had the world’s best dad or the world’s worst dad, I want to encourage you to find a Father in God. The entire Bible is the story of God the Father creating a family that will last for all eternity. He created you to be a part of it!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Lego Batman and Belonging!


I’ve been absent from the blog-o-sphere for quite a while and can’t wait to share what I’ve been working on in my absence. But for now, I just had to write a quick reaction and reflection on the Lego Batman Movie, which I saw last night with my wife and SIX kids (three of ours and three of their friends).

As anticipated, Lego Batman, is clever, creative and crackles with childlike energy. The creators packed in tons of bad guys, battles, explosions, bombs, weapons, destruction, and general mayhem. I especially loved the endless stream of winks and nods to previous incarnations of DC’s superheroes and literally pumped my first when Robin whipped out a can of Bat-Shark Repellant! Surprisingly, however, the movie also worked in some heart-tugging emotional moments amidst the frenzied, fast-paced fun.

The story centers on Batman’s struggle to belong. Early in the movie he declares, “Batman doesn't do ships. As in, relationships. There is no us... I don't need you. I don't need anyone. You mean nothing to me. No one does.” He repeatedly reminds his fellow crime-fighters, “Batman works alone.” But, inwardly, Batman wrestles with his loneliness. He eats dinner alone in his enormous mansion. He spends time staring forlorn at pictures of his parents, who he lost as a young boy. At one point, he even shows up unannounced at a Justice League Anniversary party to which he wasn’t invited and feels the sting of rejection. Alfred, Batman’s faithful butler, diagnoses Bruce’s problem, saying, “Your greatest fear is being part of a family again.” The tragic loss of his parents prevents Bruce from opening up and allowing others into his life.

I’ve long seen Batman as a bit of a parable; a reminder that you and I aren’t meant to live lonely lives. Rather, God formed us for family. As I write in my book, Holy Heroes: The Gospel According to DC & Marvel:

All of us need a place to belong. All of us need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. All of us need to experience family and fellowship. Going to church is not primarily about worship. You can worship God at home from the comfort of your recliner, or behind the wheel of your car, or while kneeling at your bedside. Church is primarily about family. The Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe the church, but the most persistent is family. In the New Testament, believers call one another “brother” and “sister.” Scripture describes our “adoption” as children of God (Romans 8:14-15). The church is called the “household” of God. The Bible says, “Now you … are not foreigners or strangers any longer, but are citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19, NCV).
               
Over the course of the movie, Batman gives himself a pretty hard look, eventually realizing that he can't do everything by himself and that working with a team and having a family is more fun and fulfilling than going it alone. The same is true for you. Maybe there’s a pew in your home church worn in the shape of your bottom. Maybe you’re as comfortable in your church family as you are in your favorite pajamas. On the other hand, maybe it’s been a while since you darkened a church doorstep. Maybe you’ve never felt the blessing of belonging to something as big as the family of God. Batman may be a Master-Builder with seriously ripped abs, but even he doesn’t do it alone. Likewise, God doesn’t just call us to believe; He calls us to belong. The entire Bible is the story of God building a family that will support, strengthen, and stir one another up to love and good works for all eternity. And He created you to be a part of it!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dr. Strange: It's Not About You!

This week I returned to Marvel Theater to re-watch Marvel’s latest blockbuster, Doctor Strange, this time with my son. I’m still mentally sorting through all the spiritual life-lessons packed into this film. Last week I wrote about Steven Strange’s lack of faith. But another aspect of this movie stood out to me as well.

Before he started wearing a donning a supernatural cape, Dr. Strange wears surgical scrubs. Blessed with a photographic memory and gifted with a set of amazingly steady hands, Strange fixes all manner of brain and spine ailments better than anyone else in the world. After an emergency procedure where Strange removes a bullet from a man’s brain and simultaneously humiliates a rival surgeon, Strange invites his one-time love interest Christine Palmer to attend one of his upcoming speaking engagements. Christine dismisses the notion, but Strange persists, "You used to love coming to those things. We had fun together." Christine replies, "No, you had fun. They weren't about us, they were about you." Strange answers, "Not only about me." Christine caps the conversation, saying, “Steven, everything is about you.”

Toward the end of the movie, Steven still struggles with this self-seeking mentality. His spiritual tutor, the Ancient One, tells Strange, “Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.” Steven asks, “Which is?” And the Ancient One replies, “It's not about you.”

Pastor Rick Warren agrees. In the opening line of his best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, Warren writes, “It’s not about you.” He continues, “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

Many of us fall into the same trap as Steven Strange. We’re me-focused. Self-centered. Self-absorbed. Self-serving. Self-involved. Me. Me. Me. Too many of us feel as though “the world revolves around me.” Scripture warns us, however, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs 16:16 NLT). Or, in the case of Strange, pride goes before a horrific car crash in your Lamborghini.

The truth is—it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus! God wants us to stop living self-centered, self-focused lives. He wants us to stop making a big deal about ourselves and start making a big deal about Jesus! Tapping the collective shoulder of humanity, God points to Christ and proclaims, “Behold the center of it all.” Life makes so much more sense when Jesus is at the center.

In our search for satisfaction and significance in life, let’s heed the words of the Ancient One and learn the simplest most significant lesson of all: It’s not about you!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Dr. Strange: Seeing is Believing

My wife and I went on an honest-to-goodness date this weekend to see Marvel’s newest movie, Doctor Strange, and it did not disappoint. In addition to being visually stunning, the movie tells a compelling story about a scientist turned sorcerer.

Just as in the comics, Dr. Steven Strange is a renowned neurosurgeon, a man of science and medicine, until a terrible car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he desperately searches for healing and hope from a mysterious group of monks in Kathmandu, Nepal. After learning that their methods are more mystical than medicinal, Strange asserts his unbelief. “I don’t believe in fairy tales,” Strange bemoans. “There is no such thing as a spirit! We are made of matter and nothing more! You're just another tiny, momentary speck in an indifferent universe. ”

Strange changes his tone, however, when a powerful sorcerer called the Ancient One forces him into the astral dimension —a spiritual realm where the soul exists apart from the body. After seeing the evidence for himself, Strange humbly drops to his knees and pleads, “Teach me.”

If anyone can relate to Doctor Strange’s “conversion” it’s Thomas. History remembers him as “doubting Thomas.” When the rest of Jesus’s followers claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion, Thomas refused to believe. “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands—and put my fingers into them—and place my hand into his side” (John 20:25 TLB).

Thomas changes his tone, however, when Jesus appeared again eight days laterl. Turning to Thomas, Jesus invites, “Put your finger into my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20:27 TLB). After seeing the evidence for himself, Thomas humbly drops to his knees and confesses, “My Lord and my God!”

Many of us can relate to Thomas and Steven’s skepticism. Materialists like Strange, believe there is nothing more to the universe than matter—nothing supernatural, nothing spiritual, and certainly no God. They are either unable or unwilling to believe in anything they cannot see. In his infinite grace, Jesus continues to provide the evidence we need.

Christian apologists like Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. John Lennox and others have aptly demonstrated how cosmology, physics, morality, and the resurrection of Christ, provide powerful evidence for the existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. Countless skeptics have become believers after seeing the evidence for themselves.

After offering Thomas the evidence he so desperately needed, though, Jesus offers a bit of wisdom: “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT). In other words, while there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical or seeking evidence, we don’t always have to see to believe. People often say, “seeing is believing.” But in God’s economy there is a peace and blessedness that comes from having an open mind and a heart of faith. Jesus’s words to Thomas may as well be his words to you and me: “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”