Monday, August 29, 2016

Ghost Rider's Adversary & Advocate

I’ve recently taken an interest in Marvel’s Ghost Rider. I’m in the planning stages for a Ghost Rider costume, I picked up a stack of Ghost Rider comic books at a local comic show yesterday, and I got super excited when I heard that Ghost Rider will be a major character in Agents of SHIELD season 4. I even re-watched the 2008 Ghost Rider movie the other night… it was still terrible. Nonetheless, Ghost Rider’s character has really piqued my interest.

For those unfamiliar with Ghost Rider, John Blaze was born into a world of motorcycle grease and cheering crowds. The adopted son of a motorcycle stuntman, Craig “Crash” Simpson, Johnny always dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps… or tread marks. This dream came to a fiery end when Crash revealed he was dying of cancer. Distraught and lacking any sort of spiritual foundation, Johnny turned to the occult in search of answers. His studies ultimately led to a spell that could summon Satan himself and Johnny literally made a deal with the devil. Satan promised to cure Crash’s cancer in return for Johnny's promise of servitude. Soon afterward, Crash died in a tragic motorcycle accident during a stunt show, but Satan held Johnny to their deal transforming him into a leather-clad skeleton with a flaming skull and fiery chopper. Of course, Johnny refuses to do Satan’s bidding and instead uses his power as Ghost Rider to punish evildoers and wage war against Satan’s demons.

I think what first attracted me to the character was my discovery that Jesus loves Ghost Rider. In Ghost Rider #9, a story written by Tony Isabella in 1973, the “hell-bound hero” rides into his first fearful showdown with Satan. As the battle reaches its climactic conclusion, Ghost Rider finds himself completely outmatched and at the mercy of Satan. But just before Satan can deliver a devastating blow, a mysterious stranger (who bears a striking resemblance to Jesus) comes to Ghost Rider’s defense. “Let me help you up, Johnny,” the stranger says extending a kind hand. “No! No!” Satan cries. Turning to Satan, the stranger declares, “Johnny Blaze’s soul is beyond you, Satan! He has earned his second chance!” Without throwing a single punch or energy blast, the stranger saves that day as the devil tucks his pointed tail between his legs and runs away.

While the stranger is nameless, the imagery is certainly biblical—Jesus helping a sinner to his feet and standing up to Satan on his behalf. Something else this “Jesus” says seems deeply true: “No man lives his life without contending with you several times, Satan.”

While he may not have red skin, horns and a cape, Satan is a very real enemy. This means, like Johnny Blaze, you are engaged in a spiritual battle whether you want to be or not. It’s a battle between good and evil, and you are the prize! Satan’s target is your spirit. Scripture describes Satan as an angelic being who fell from heaven due to pride and sin and is now completely opposed to God, doing all in his power to thwart God's purposes and tempt God’s people. The devil will do everything he can to undermine your relationship with God. He’ll attack your reputation in order to corrupt your witness. He’ll target your marriage. He’ll steal your peace, your passion, and your sense of purpose. He will do whatever it takes to destroy your faith and your future. The Bible warns, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT).

Thankfully, as illustrated by Ghost Rider’s encounter with Christ, Satan may be our adversary but Jesus is our advocate. Any time Satan knocks us down, Jesus will be there to help us up. When we put our faith and future in the hands of Jesus, all Satan can do is tuck tail and run away (James 4:7).  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Guilt & Suicide

As I’m sure many of you did, my wife and I saw Suicide Squad in theaters last week. I haven’t been impressed with any of DC’s movies lately, so I went into this one with fairly low expectations. I’m also not a fan of villains. It seems to be a common trend these days to idolize the bad guys. People like villains—the misunderstood criminals, the anti-heroes, the rebels. In Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller’s team of hardened criminals—including Deadshot (a lethal assassin), Harley Quinn (the Joker’s psychotic girlfriend), and Killer Croc (a mutated murderer)—are portrayed as victims as much as they are villains. Even though I’m not a fan of villains, there's still some good to be found in many of these bad guys.

One character in particular piqued my interest—El Diablo. He's the most broken of the bunch. El Diablo is no less a killer than the rest of the squad, but he's filled with regrets over his past mistakes. He first used his ability to create and control fire to establish himself as a gang leader. But then, in a moment of anger, he lost control of his powers, tragically burning down his own home with his wife and children inside. From then on, he viewed his powers as a curse from Satan and refused to light up. In fact, when Amanda Waller first drafts the guy, he says, "I ain't no weapon. I’ll die in peace before I raise my hand." Even so, El Diablo seems to think that he is beyond redemption. Later in the film, he reminisces about his wife praying on his behalf. But then adds, “God didn’t give me these powers. Why should He take them away.” El Diablo feels swallowed up by guilt and regret.

I think El Diablo is the most relatable member of the team. We all make mistakes. The frustrating thing about life is that it always moves forward. There is no "R" on the stick-shift, no reverse in the gears. Time never moves backward, not an inch, not a step, never. Therefore a deed once done, can never be undone. A word once spoken, can never be unsaid. As a result, all of us live with certain regrets. We may even begin to think God could never forgive us. But the truth is—no one is beyond God’s grace.

David probably felt much like El Diablo. In a moment of weakness David commits adultery with Bathsheba. Afraid that his sin will be discovered, he then sends her husband on his own suicide mission and orders his fellow soldiers to abandon him on the battlefield. All this scheming takes its toll, however. David later describes this season of secret sin in graphic terms: “When I refused to admit my wrongs, I was miserable, moaning and complaining all day long so that even my bones felt brittle. Day and night, Your hand kept pressing on me. My strength dried up like water in the summer heat; You wore me down” (Psalm 32:3-4 TV).

Sleepless nights. Haunting guilt. David was a walking wreak, living in a swirl of misery. That’s what living with guilt does to you. Thankfully, David’s story doesn’t end there and neither should yours. David finally confessed his sins to God and sought forgiveness. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance. He writes, “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2 NLT). That’s just what God did. He washed away David’s sins and restored a sense of joy and purpose to David’s life. He can do the same for you!

No matter what you’ve done, no matter how dark or horrible the sins of your past may be, God can take away your guilt and give you a new purpose in life. Bad guys can become good guys after all. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Missing the Mark

My daughter’s favorite superhero is Hawkeye. Although, admittedly, she thought his name was Hawkguy until she was seven. She likes his quick wit and skills with a bow. Unlike being bit by a radioactive spider or exposed to gamma radiation, becoming a skilled archer is something she can actually do. I think that’s why she likes him.

Hawkeye is Marvel’s version of Robin Hood or Green Arrow. He’s billed as “the world’s greatest archer” and he prides himself on his accuracy. In Avenging Spider-man #4, Hawkeye and Spidey team up to take down some bad guys. In a candid moment, Hawkeye confesses, “I mean, I can't miss... I'm on a team with super-humans and one god, in case you've forgotten… And if I miss, it means I'm just another dude with a bow. It means I've been fooling myself this whole time. And that's why I never miss.” Ironically, Hawkeye does miss. Later in the issue, in the midst of battle, Hawkeye fires a taser-like electrified arrow at a distant enemy and misses his target. When the battle dies down, Spidey spots the arrow lying on the ground and, out of compassion for Hawkeye, picks it up and tacks it into the already defeated villain. When Hawkeye rounds the corner he celebrates, “I got ‘em! Ha! Nailed it!”

This may come as a surprise, but the Bible talks about archery quite a bit. How, you ask?  Well, there are actual archers in some of the war stories (King Saul met his demise to an arrow in 1 Samuel 31). Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar, was an archer (Genesis 21.20). Esau hunted with a bow and arrow (Genesis 27). And one story involves arrows that are purposely off target (1 Samuel 20). In all, there are over 50 references to archery, bows or arrows in the bible. But even more than that, one interpretation of both the Hebrew and Greek words for “sin” is to miss the mark or to be off target—an archery term.

Imagine a king preparing to go to war. He calls all the archers in front of him, wanting only the best of the best to defend of the kingdom. Thus he demands perfect accuracy. If they miss, they are dismissed—there are no second chances. Unfortunately, even expert archers like Hawkeye miss occasionally.

The same is true for us. All too often, we miss the mark, and thus fall short of God’s standard of perfection. No matter how “good” we try to be, our lives always end up off target. Thankfully, there is one person who never missed the mark—Jesus. He lived the perfect, sinless life that we never could. Just as Spidey gave Hawkeye credit for his victory, when we put our faith and trust in Jesus, God gives us credit for his perfect performance. Let’s be thankful and amazed that God through Jesus can forgive our sins, not just once, but every time that we miss the mark!