Saturday, July 7, 2018

Nobody Stays Dead in Comics!

Nobody stays dead in comic-books. I had to remind myself of this little comic-book truism at the end of Avenger’s: Infinity War when Thanos snaps his fingers and instantly kills off half the population of the MCU including Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-man, and nearly all the Guardians of the Galaxy. Since most, if not all, of these characters have pending sequels, I think it’s safe to say “nobody stays dead in comic-book movies,” either.

The death of a major title character makes for great drama and increased sales, but so rarely remains permanent that frequent resurrections have become a cliché in comic-books. For instance, Captain America #25, which depicted the death of Captain America, made real-world headlines and skyrocketed sales, but Steve Rogers returned just two years later in Captain America: Reborn. The list of comic-book characters who’ve come back from the dead include Cap’s side-kick Bucky Barnes, Batman, Robin, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, The Flash, Spider-man, Thor, and Jean Grey—just to name a few. Heck, I’ve lost count of all the times Nick Fury has died and come back to life.

The most notable comic-book resurrection, at least in my mind, was the death and return of Superman—an epic story spanning more than 36 issues. Doomsday, a brutal behemoth bent on bloodlust, pummeled the Man of Steel to death in Superman #75, one of the best-selling single issues of all time. In the aftermath, the entire world mourned Superman’s death and a panoply of heroes paid their respects. The fallen hero is buried in a tomb in Metropolis’ Centennial Park.

Then, in a story titled Life After Death, Superman’s adoptive father, Johnathan Kent suffers a massive heart attack and has a near-death experience where he encounter’s the soul of his son, Superman. In the afterlife, a hoard of demons attempts to deceive Superman and drag into the depths of hell. But with the help of his father, Superman fights back, defeating both the demons and death itself. Together the two return to life. Suddenly, Jonathan regains consciousness on the hospital operating table. His wife and the attending physicians try to calm him down, but he manages to tell Martha, “I brought him back… I brought Clark back to us, Ma.” Lois doubts Pa Kent’s story, but she checks it out anyway. When she and police Inspector Henderson go to Centennial Park to inspect Superman's tomb, they find it open and empty. “He’s gone!” Lois cries. “Not really,” Inspector Henderson replies. “I’d say from the look of things, he’s back! Superman’s back!”[1]

These comic-book tales of death and resurrection ought to resonate with Christians. While superhero resurrections occur quite frequently, real-world resurrection remain quite unheard of… with one notable exception: Jesus Christ!

After his death on the cross, Jesus’ followers buried him in a tomb in a nearby garden. The following Sunday, Jesus rose from the grave. Luke tells the story this way:

But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:1-5 NLT)

Over the next forty days, Jesus appeared to his followers many times and proved to them beyond any doubt that he was alive before finally returning to his rightful place in heaven. While Jesus probably never punched out any demons, like Superman, Jesus defeated death. Not only that, but Christ’s resurrection paved the way for our own resurrection from the dead!

The Bible says, “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died… everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life… all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NLT). For those who put their faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection, death is not the end. The grave doesn’t have the final word. There is life after death! Jesus put it bluntly, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25 NLT). He followed up this claim with a profound question, “Do you believe this…?” How will you answer that question?

When a beloved comic-book character dies, a veteran fan can comfort new readers by reminding them, “Nobody stays dead in comic-books.” The same is true for believers. Nobody stays dead in Christ.

[1] DC Comics. Adventures of Superman (1987) #500.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The One Above All

 When his Asgardian companions, the Warriors Three, come to visit Thor on Midgard, the Mighty Avenger takes them on a tour of New York City. As the out-of-place foursome parade through the busy streets, a young boy announces excitedly, “Mama, look! It’s Thor! He claims to be a god, but Father O’toole says he isn’t!”

“Chad!” the mother chastises.

“Worry not, milady, for thy son’s words offend me not!” Thor replies. Thor kneels down, putting himself on the boys level, and asks, “Thou art called Chad?”

“Yep” The boy replies.

Smiling warmly, Thor explains, “Chad, far away from here there exists a home of gods, a realm of eternal wonder called Asgard. ‘Tis a place of great majesty and beauty whose residents strive to live just and beneficial lives. ‘Tis not, however, Heaven. Nor is it home to He whose radiance dwarfs e’en our own.” Rising to his feet once again, Thor towers over young Chad as he asks, “Does that put to rest thy questions?”

Smiling ear to ear, the boy responds, “You mean that big as you are, there’s something even bigger!?”

“Aye,” Thor answers.[1]

Some might find it surprising to hear a comicbook character, especial “the god of thunder,” speaking so humbly about the God of Heaven. Yet, Thor isn’t the only Marvel character to such allusions.

While traveling cross-country to California, Reed and Sue Richard’s train comes to sudden halt. On the tracks ahead of them stands Uatu—a member a vastly powerful, ancient race known as The Watchers. “What could have happened important enough to bring The Watcher here??” Reed urgently asks.

The Watcher replies, “My explanation shall be brief… The Silver Surfer – unmindful of the dread consequences – now runs amok amongst mankind!” When Reed offers to help, Uatu immediately teleports him to the scene.

Anxiously, Sue asks, “But what can he do against the all-powerful Silver Surfer!?”

“All powerful? There is only One who deserves that name!” Uatu reassures. “And His only weapon… is love!”[2]

Thor’s father, Odin, likewise humbly acknowledges this all-powerful God of love and radiance. When Jake Olsen—Thor’s one-time human host—dies, his spirit encounters the King of Asgard. “Are you… God?” Olsen asks.
“Nay, mortal. There is a power far greater than mine,” Odin admits, “and it is to Him I commend your spirit now!”[3]

The supreme God of the Marvel universe is called by many titles, but the one by which he is most commonly call is “The One Above All.”[4]

So, what’s the point? Although Thor, Odin, the Watcher and all these other fantastic characters are fictional, if these immortal beings of immense power can humbly acknowledge the existence of a transcendent God of infinite power and love who created their universe… couldn’t we mere mortals do the same?

When the apostle Paul visited the great Grecian city of Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. Rather than chastise the people of Athens for their idolatry, however, Paul took advantage of the opportunity to tell them about the One True God, the One above all others:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need… His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:22-28 NLT)

Paul spoke of a creative, commanding, caring and compassionate God—all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving. The God of the Bible is an unrivaled, uncontested God of infinite might and power and glory and awe! In short: The One Above All. But this God not only created us, he longs for us to know him. When we humbly acknowledge his existence and seek after him, we’ll discover that the One Above All is not far from any of us.

When Paul proclaimed the reality and radiance of this ‘Unknown God,’ the people of Athens responded in one of three ways: some laughed in contempt, some wanted to hear more, and a few joined Paul and became believers. How will you respond?

[1] Marvel Comics. Thor (1998) #28.
[2] Marvel Comics. Fantastic Four (1961) #72
[3] Marvel Comics. Thor (1998) Annual 2000.
[4] Marvel Comics. Infinity War (1992) #2.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sidekicks and Superheroes!

Robin. Speedy. Kid Flash. Aqua Lad. Bucky. Jan, Jayce and their pet money, Blip. What do all these comic and cartoon characters have in common? They’re all sidekicks! For some reason sidekicks don’t get the same level of recognition and respect as other heroes.

In an episode of Young Justice, four superheroes—Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and the Flash—invite their sidekicks on a tour of the famed Hall of Justice as the first step in becoming full-fledged members of the Justice League. When Roy Harper, better known as Speedy, complains that their initiation seems more like a glorified back-stage pass, Green Arrow responds, “Roy, you just need to be patient.”

“What I need,” Speedy snaps back, “is respect.” Turning to his youthful colleagues, Speedy complains, “They’re treating us like kids. Worse, like sidekicks!”[1]

Despite Speedy’s strong sentiments to the contrary, being a sidekick isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, the concept is quite biblical. Jesus himself mentored not one, but twelve sidekicks! He called them disciples. These twelve sidekicks lived with Jesus for three years. They traveled with him from town to town, watched him perform breath-taking miracles and absorbed his life-changing teachings. They often performed menial tasks as part of their training, like distributing food to thousands of people when Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish… not to mention cleaning up the leftovers. But the disciples’ most important job was simply to learn from the Master—to follow in his footsteps. The more they listened to Jesus and learned from him, the more like him they became. When Jesus ascended into heaven, their training ended and these twelve sidekicks became full-fledged heroes. They continued Christ’s mission and ministry, and trained others to do the same. From one generation to the next, this process continues.

Superhero sidekicks often experience a similar cycle. Kid Flash eventually assumed the mantle of the Flash and trained his own sidekick named Impulse. Thanks to Batman’s tutelage, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, became the leader of the Teen Titans, adopted the superhero persona Nightwing, and even filled in as Batman for prolonged periods, during which time he mentored two other Robins—Tim Drake and Damian Wayne. Even Speedy eventually graduates from sidekick to superhero.

In an issue of Justice League, Green Lantern and Black Canary show up Roy Harper’s home with an invitation to join the Justice League. At first, Roy can’t believe it. “This is a joke, isn’t it?”

“It’s not a joke,” Black Canary replies. “We don’t joke about this. Now would you like to join the League?”

When Roy hesitates, Green Lantern hands him a package, saying, “Maybe this will convince you.” Inside, Roy find a red replica of Green Arrow’s costume, complete with a “R” insignia on the belt. As Roy dons his new costume, Green Lantern smiles, “Ollie will never say it, kid, but this is what he was training you for… Welcome to the League, Red Arrow!”[2]

The mentor/sidekick relationship is essential not only for superheroes, but also for Christians. If you’re relatively new to the Christian faith, seek out a spiritual mentor who can help you grow in you walk with Christ. If you’re a veteran Christian, be on the look out for new and young believers who could benefit from your wisdom and experience. In either case, our work isn’t done until our sidekicks have sidekicks of their own.

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”
(2 Timothy 2:2 NLT)

[1] Young Justice. Season 1. Episode 1: “Independence Day”
[2] DC Comics. Justice League of America (2006) #7.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Hand of God

In a riveting episode of Justice League Unlimited, a green, glowing orb containing two determined heroes tumbles through a temporal vortex of swirling chronal energy in pursuit of the time-traveling villain—Chronos. Batman questions, “Where’s he going? There’s nothing left!” Green Lantern replies, “Yes, there is. The beginning of time!” Contemplating the consequences, Batman asserts, “He can reset everything, make himself into a god.”

“Only if he gets there first,” Green Lantern affirms. Pressing forward with grim determination, Green Lantern announces, “The Green Lanterns have a legend. No one can see the beginning of time. It’s a universal law.”

“Write him a ticket,” Batman quips. As the heroes draw closer, Green Lantern uses his power ring to snare Chronos, drawing him into their glowing, green sphere and hitting the brakes. Unable to stop in time, Batman and Green Lantern witness the beginning of time. And what do they see? A colossal, cosmic hand holding the swirling fundamental quantum elements of our universe—the hand of God.[1]

This “Hand of Creation” appears again and again whenever DC Comic’s characters journey to the beginning of creation and reminds readers that there is a powerful, creative hand behind not just the DC Universe, but the universe you and I live in as well.

While actual time-travel may be relegated to science fiction and fantasy, astronomers today can literally observe the past. Because light takes time to travel from distant objects to the astronomer’s telescope, the farther away they look, the farther back in time they see. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has said, “The universe is now sufficiently ancient that astronomers can directly view and analyze 99.9972 percent of cosmic history and directly behold the cosmic creation event.”[2] What do astronomers see when they behold the beginning of the universe? Well, they don’t see the hand of God, but they do see his finger prints—evidence of God’s presence.

Remarkably, the universe itself offers tremendous insight into the Creator of the cosmos. First of all, we know that whatever caused the universe must be a transcendent Creator beyond the universe itself. Since cosmology tells us that literally all of space, matter and even time itself came into being at the Big Bang, then whatever caused the universe must be space-less, timeless, and immaterial—that is, a nonphysical entity that exists outside of time. It must also be unimaginably powerful, since it caused all matter and energy to spring into existence. So, the creation of our universe points to a space-less, timeless, immaterial entity of immense power.

Astronomers have also been stunned by the discovery of how complex and delicate a balance of initial conditions must have been present in the Big Bang itself if the universe is to permit the existence of intelligent life anywhere at all in the cosmos. This delicate balance of initial conditions has come to be known as the “fine-tuning” of the universe for life. Famed British theoretical physicist, Steven Hawking, described this observation in his book, A Brief History of Time, saying, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”[3]

Thus, what we can observe about the creation of the universe we live in tells us that whatever caused it, is a transcendent, space-less, timeless, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, highly intelligent, personal creator who crafted the cosmos with us in mind. I don’t know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like the hand of God to me!

While you may not have the ability to travel through time or own a powerful telescope capable of seeing billions of lights years away, I challenge you to stand beneath the stars on a clear night, gaze into the heavens, and see if you don’t sense the hand of God yourself.

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.”
(Psalm 19:1-4 NLT)

[1] Justice League Unlimited, "The Once and Future Thing Part Two: Time, Warped"
[2] Ross, Hugh. “Beginning and End of Cosmology.” Reasons to Believe ( July 2007
[3] Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes. Bantam Books, 1988.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jesus Christ: World's Greatest Hero!

I'm excited to announce that the comic-book project I've been working on for the past year is finally finished! Jesus Christ: The World's Greatest Hero! is a fast-paced, twenty-four page synopsis of the life of Jesus, highlighting his heroic nature. The first edition features well-known heroes like Superman, Batman and Spider-man on the cover as well as a few interior pages. This edition is only available through our ministry, Costumers for Christ. The variant edition features less familiar superheroes, but is available through Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. I want to thank Zac Pensol and Ryan Crissey for their help with this project. Please pick up a copy and share it with a superhero fan who needs to know that Jesus is the greatest superhero of all!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Save One!

Now that Justice League is available to stream online, I enjoyed watching it again from the comfort of my living room. While it suffered from a garden-variety villain and a somewhat disjointed story due to multiple directors with very different visions, I believe Justice League was still a step in the right direction for the DC cinematic universe.

As I mentioned in a prior post, this film is much brighter and more hopeful than DC’s previous films, like Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice. One scene in particular ought to resonate and inspire Christians who fear sharing their faith.

Socially awkward and short on friends, the Flash, played by Ezra Miller, eagerly joins the Justice League when Batman extends the invitation. But when it comes time to battle the bad guys and save the civilians… he freezes. Turning to Batman, he explains, “Here’s the thing. See, I’m afraid of bugs, and guns, and obnoxiously tall people. I can’t be here! It’s really cool you guys seem ready to do battle and stuff, but I’ve never done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and run away!”

Batman responds with two simple words: “Save one."

The Flash: What?
Batman: Save one person.
The Flash: Which one?
Batman: Don’t talk. Don’t fight. Get in. Get one out.
The Flash: And then?
Batman: You’ll know.

In one of the most inspiring moments of the movie, Batman offers advice that both novice superheroes and new Christians should take to heart.

Jesus said of himself, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). He then passed that mission onto us, instructing believers, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT).

Saving souls—sharing Jesus with another person—can be a daunting task. Maybe you’re just not an extroverted person. Neither am I. Maybe you don’t know what you’re supposed to say or how to broach the subject. And, of course, there is always the fear of rejection: What if they’re offended? What if it turns into an argument? What if I ruin an otherwise perfectly good friendship? The very idea of carrying on Jesus’ mission to “save the world” is pretty intimidating.

Batman’s advice to the Flash, is my advice to you: “Save one!” That means sharing your faith with one lost, broken, hurting soul at a time. And after you reach just one person with the Gospel of Jesus, just like the Flash, “You’ll know.” You aren’t called to save the world, just the life of one person at a time. Who’s that person for you right now? Get in! Get one out! Save one!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Contending for the Crown

Like most Marvel fans, I was eager to see Black Panther in theaters last weekend. Also, like most Marvel fans, I loved it. The dazzling special effect, beautiful African scenery, well-timed humor, and action-packed fight scenes made Black Panther an absolute joy to watch. The movie touches on relevant themes like race, identity, and social responsibility—all of which revolve around an epic battle for the kingship of Wakanda.

After his father’s death (in Captain America: Civil War), the five tribes of Wakanda crown T’Challa their new and rightful king. But T’Challa must defend his crown from a challenger, M’Baku (the White Gorilla), in gladiator-style combat on the edge of a waterfall cliff, while African-drum music fills the air and Wakandan natives chant to the beat. T’Challa defeats the challenger and takes his rightful place on the throne, but it’s not long before his reign is challenged once again. When T’Challa’s long-lost cousin, Eric Killmonger, makes a claim to the thrown lines are drawn, sides are chosen, and Wakanda’s entire civilization is threatened.

I’m convinced that this theme will resonate with thoughtful Christians.

Everyone wants to be the king.

Some of us want to be the king of our workplace, or the king of our house. Some of us want to be the king of our fantasy football league. Some of us treat the highway as our own little kingdom, demanding that our minions ask our permission before they change lanes or slow down.

Kings stand above everyone else, receiving praise and reverence from everyone around them. Nothing is withheld from kings. They never come in second place, and they never have to acquiesce to another’s needs.

In the infamous words of Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be king.”

But the truth is, whether we choose to accept it or not, there is only One True King. It’s not me. It’s not you. Jesus alone is King of Israel, king of all nations, king of nature and the universe. At one point in the movie, T’Challa acknowledges, “I am king of Wakanda, not king of the world.” Jesus, on the other hand, really is the king of the world. Revelation says, “he is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14 NIV).

Like T’Challa, though, Christ’s kingship is often challenged. If Jesus is the king, then we’re not. We don’t like that very much. We want to be the ones in charge. In charge of our own lives, in charge of our relationships, in charge of our destinies. Like M’Baku and Killmonger, we’d rather rebel than relinquish control.

What we need to realize is that we’re much better off with Christ on the throne. Before his death, T’Challa’s father told him, “You are a good man, with a good heart.” That’s what made T’Challa a good king. Likewise, Jesus is the perfect King. He’s just, loving, merciful, and full of grace. He doesn’t barter with lesser kings, he can’t be bribed, and he’s not corruptible. He doesn’t just do good—he is good. And the best part is—he invites all of us into his Kingdom.

Have you accepted the kingship of Jesus?