Friday, August 28, 2020

A True Friend - Deke Shaw

By Guest Writer C.L.Shoemaker

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

In the final time travelling season of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (season 7 episode 7 “The Totally Excellent Adventures of Mac and the D”) director Alphonso Mackenzie (Mac), the moral compass of the team, is crushed when he discovers his parents have been murdered. Killed by chronicoms, a robotic threat SHIELD has been fighting, Mac’s parents were replaced by sentient duplicates that he is then forced to destroy. Overwhelmed at having lost his parents, and having to kill their false copies, Mac leaves the team to go for a ride and clear his head. Upon returning the team’s ship malfunctions, jumping forward in time, leaving Mac and Agent Deke Shaw stranded in 1982.

After panicking about being stuck in the 80s, Deke, a new member of the crew, sets his concerns aside to help Mac. Despite having made mistakes in the past and failing to be an ideal agent, Deke values loyalty and is concerned for his friend. When Mac berates Deke for past irresponsible actions, Deke still tries to help. 

Deke: I’m sorry you lost your parents. If there was anything else we could have done differently –
Mac: You could have followed orders. Who are you to take a life in your own hands even if you think it’s right.
Deke: I lost my parents early too, ok. And I still think about it every day. If you want to talk, I’m here.
Mac: I’m good. 
Deke: Wait, wait, wait … We need a game plan. What if the chronicoms are still out there? Maybe that’s why we’re still here?
Mac: You figure it out. (Riding off)
Deke: (Yelling) Mac! Mac! You don’t have to go through this alone.

Just like Paul in second Corinthians, Deke knows the pain of suffering and loss. He understands that pain can be a training ground for helping others face a similar heartbreak. Deke grew up in a post-apocalyptic future where humans were under alien slavery. He survived by being smart, sly and determined. As he tells Mac, he also lost his parents at an early age. Deke is desperate for family and belonging, and as a result of that need, he understands loss and loneliness. He wants to help Mac because he has been there, and he understands what Mac is going through. 
Deke is also an ideal friend who never gives up. While Mac shuts himself away from the world and turns to drink (something he later comments he wasn’t proud of) Deke tirelessly tries to reach out. Upon learning Mac’s location, Deke arrives ready to go to the park and “kick the ball around”. Despite literally having a door slammed in his face, Deke keeps trying. He is unwavering in his love for his friend, dropping off groceries on New Year’s Eve and inviting Mac to a show at Swayze’s bar later in the year. 

When Mac shows up at the bar, Deke’s excitement is palpable. He introduces Mac to the new team, The D Squad, and makes him the director, despite Mac rejecting the role. Back at headquarters, Mac has nothing to offer but criticism. However, Deke is too thrilled to have Mac back to register the bad attitude. He even gives Mac his own personal weapon, the shotgun axe, noting: “You think I’m going to let my director go out into the field with anything less.” But Mac doesn’t want to be a part of a team. His anger and frustration come out in an attack against Deke, calling him and the D Squad useless. 

In the resulting argument Deke self-sacrificially stands up for his incompetent team knowing they simply need training. We also see that Deke won’t give up on Mac, even if his friend is lashing out in anger.

Deke: The team needs you to get it together.
Mac: That’s not a team. It’s a bunch of losers playing dress up lead by a Peter Pan in constant need of attention
Deke: Look, you can say whatever you want about me, I can handle it, but don’t you ever talk about my team that way … They have my back and they won’t give up on me when the going gets tough. Just like I didn’t give up on you.
Mac: I didn’t ask for that.
Deke: You didn’t have to because that’s what friends do for each other.

When Roxy chews Mac out for his bad attitude he learns that Deke has been visiting 1980s 10-year-old Mac and his brother Ruben, gifting school supplies, toys and a drum kit. While Mac couldn’t help his younger self, as he himself was grieving, Deke could. Having perspective and experience with loss, Deke went in Mac’s stead and encouraged the young brothers. Mac is both shocked and touched by Deke’s selfless nature and it is this kindness that turns Mac’s heart around.
Mac’s change comes at the ideal time as he saves the D Squad from a killer robot and takes over leading the rookie group. Deke, ever forgiving, welcomes Mac back with open arms as their director learns a lesson in forgiveness and humility.

Deke: You came back.
Mac: Never should have left (holds out his hand to Deke and they shake).
Chang: Any ideas on what to do next?
Mac: A few. If your team will have me.

When the original SHIELD team finally jumps back to 1983, Yo-yo, Mac’s girlfriend, reflects that “no one should ever have to go through [loss] alone.” Thankfully Mac wasn’t alone as he informs her, “It wasn’t easy, but … I had friends.” He had the unwavering friendship of Deke Shaw, “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18: 24). 

Mac was blessed by Deke, a faithful friend who cared about Mac’s brokenness. Community and friendship were vital to Mac’s recovery. It was unhealthy for him to try to go it alone as Coulson observed, “isolating yourself just isn’t healthy. You need your friends, especially during the rough patches.”

The Bible speaks about the importance of community and friendship when dealing with loss, pain, or hurt. God created the church as a community of believers to offer help and encouragement. Likewise, God praises friendship, highlighting the importance of close relationships for support and care: “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Prov 17:17). We can even use our painful experiences to help others who are struggling (2 Cor 1:3-4). What hurt have you gone through that you can use to help others? Are there any friends in your life, like Mac, that could use a support network? How can you be a Deke Shaw to someone you love? 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

"I have faith" - Peggy Carter

By Guest Writer: C.L. Shoemaker

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” - Hebrews 11:1
In Marvel’s film Captain America Steve Rogers, an army hopeful during WWII, is consistently rejected when enlisting due to his medical issues. Desperate to serve his country, he jumps at a chance to test a new super soldier serum. Yet, when the lead scientist on Project Rebirth is assassinated, and the only serum destroyed, Steve remains the project’s sole success. Relegated to selling war bonds and promoting the American troops, Rogers is dejected at his inability to make a difference. He has superhuman strength, intelligence and agility yet, he’s reduced to a performing puppet for the army instead of fighting on the front lines.

It isn’t until Steve befriends Agent Peggy Carter that he is challenged to think beyond the identity imposed on him. After watching Steve’s USO show for the surviving members of the 107th Peggy sees through his fa├žade and questions his role as “America’s new hope” asking, are “these are your only two options? A lab rat or a dancing monkey? You were meant for more than this you know.” Peggy has faith that Steve can be better because at heart he is a good man. She isn’t counting on his super soldier abilities (speed, agility, strength). She knows what makes Steve special is his character and his heart. He may have changed physically but internally, he’s still the same, good man, and he needs to see his value. Peggy sees his potential and his ability to have a higher purpose. She understands his desire to use his gifts to do good and help. While others have mocked Steve as a glorified chorus girl, Peggy knows that he was chosen for a greater purpose. He only needs to see it and step out in faith.

It isn’t until Steve learns that his best friend, Sgt. Bucky Barnes and his squadron were captured that Steve decides to take action. He will no longer hide behind his shield, but he will use it as a weapon to protect others. Despite assumptions that Barnes is dead, Steve has faith that his friend is alive. Steve believes he can make a difference even as Peggy, his previous cheerleader, protests, 

Peggy: “You heard the Colonel. Your friend is most likely dead.” 
Steve: “You don’t know that.”
Peggy: “Even so, [the Colonel’s] devising a strategy.”
Steve: “By the time he does that it could be too late.”
Spurred on by the knowledge of men captured behind enemy lines, Steve grabs his shield, a leather jacket and prepares to steal an army jeep. Before leaving he turns to Peggy, who has followed him with protests, and asks if she still believes in him: 
Steve: “You told me you thought I was meant for more than this. 
Did you mean that?”
Peggy: [without a pause] “Every word.”
Steve: “Then you gotta let me go.”

On the encouragement of one woman and a threat to his friend’s life, Steve changes from a man trapped by circumstance and without purpose to a man driven by faith towards a life changing goal. There is no proof that Bucky is still alive and no scientific data that claims Steve will be able to rescue anyone, but he believes he can achieve, and he is willing to act on that faith. He also listens to Peggy’s advice, that he was created for more and embraces the knowledge that perhaps he was made “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). If anyone has the abilities, strength and knowledge to save the 107th it’s Steve Rogers, a superpowered super soldier with an “I can do this all day” attitude. Steve is self-sacrificial and willing to put others first even risking his own life. It is this goodness and sacrifice that earned Steve the coveted spot in Project Rebirth (the super soldier program).

Working with Agent Carter and Howard Stark to pilot a plane, Steve is dead dropped into the middle of enemy territory and then there is silence … for days. When we next see Peggy Carter she is bringing the Colonel images from the last surveillance flight. There is nothing to report. Steve has disappeared. While she is berated for her actions and blamed for the death of Captain America and the lost 107th, Peggy’s response is simple. Faith. She had and still has faith in Steve Rogers. She believes he is meant to do great things and that he will come back. When everyone else has given up hope, Peggy’s faith still endures.

Peggy: “With respect sir, I don’t regret my actions and I don’t think Captain Rogers did either”
Col. Phillips: “I took a chance with you Agent Carter and now America’s golden boy and a lot of other good men are dead because you had a crush.”
Peggy: “It wasn’t that. I had faith” 
Col. Phillips: “Well I hope that’s a big comfort to you when they shut this division down.”

At that moment a commotion occurs as soldiers run from their tents to see Captain America and the rescued 107th march into the camp. Some are injured, others healthy enough to walk while some ride on an army tank. Col. Phillips looks over at Peggy and says two words, “Faith, huh?”

It only took one person to see the potential in Steve Rogers after Project Rebirth was shut down and he was delegated to war bond duty. Agent Carter knew Steve’s true value was in his strong character and heart, and she helped him to see his role, as the man he longed to be and the hero he wanted to become. The serum enhanced Steve’s abilities, but it was a woman of faith who helped Steve Rogers take his first step as Captain America. 

Believers could learn a lot from Agent Carter's faith. Scripture says, "The righteous will live by faith" (Romans 1:17). Just as Peggy had faith in Steve's ability to become a hero and rescue his fellow soldiers, let us have faith in our heavenly Hero, Jesus Christ, who rescues the captives, heals the broken hearted and saves the day!

Friday, June 5, 2020

I Was Made For This!

During a pivotal scene in Avengers: Endgame, Hulk delivers one of the most profound and powerful lines of the movie. After successfully gathering all of the Infinity Stones and returning to their own time, a brief argument breaks out over who will wear the Infinity Gauntlet and undo the death and destruction wrought by Thanos. Thor insists on being the one, saying, “I’m the strongest Avenger, okay. So, this responsibility falls upon me.” When Tony objects, Thor persists, “What do you think is coursing through my veins right now? Lightning!” That’s when Hulk steps in, saying, “Lightning won’t help you, pal. It’s got to be me. You saw what those stones did to Thanos. They almost killed him. None of you could survive… The radiation is mostly gamma. It’s like… I was made for this.” In that moment, Hulk recognized a preordained, perhaps even divine, purpose to his life. He didn’t always recognize his purpose, though.

Way back in the first Avengers movie, Tony and Bruce have a conversation about Bruce’s hatred of the Hulk. Tony says, “Hey, I’ve read all about your accident. That much gamma exposure should have killed you.” Bruce replies, “So you're saying that the Hulk... the other guy... saved my life? That's nice. It's a nice sentiment. Saved it for what?” Tony smirks and says, “I guess we'll find out.” Seven years and several movies later, Bruce finally found out what he was saved to do. He discovered his purpose.

Have you discovered yours? Like Bruce Banner, you and I were created for a purpose and saved for a purpose. Pastor and author, Rick Warren, writes, “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.”

Scripture continually confirms this claim. God told the displaced people of Israel, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). Likewise, the New Testament assures Christian, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). And, similarly, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

 God has a purpose and plan for each one of us. Like Bruce Banner, you may not be aware of your purpose at first. But, if you will seek God and search the Scriptures, then you’ll discover God’s purpose and plan for your life and you’ll be able to join Hulk in saying, “I was made for this.”

This post is an excerpt from my latest book, Endgame: Finding God Among Earth's Mightest Heroes, available on Amazon! 

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Mighty Hero!

Excerpted from my upcoming book, Holy Heroes of the Bible:

Marvel's Avengers are knowns as "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" and, among them, Thor holds the title of "the mightiest Avenger." Yet, even the mightiest of Earth's mightiest heroes recognizes a Hero far mightier than himself. In The Mighty Thor Annual #14, the son of Odin confesses, "Even I, son of one of the mightiest gods, find it impossible to conceive of such levels of power! And 'tis a humbling thought to consider how much greater the Creator of all universes must be than that of all His creations combined!"[1]

As Thor points out, nothing reveals God's inconceivable might more clearly than the creation of the universe. Genesis 1 sums up the creation of the cosmos in the very first sentence: "God created the heavens and the earth." The phrase "the heavens and the earth" encompasses all of creation—the entire universe: quarks, neutrons, hydrogen, stars, planets, galaxies, gravity, even time and space. The sheer vastness of the universe boggles the mind. Just think about the stars for a moment. Those gleaming lights twinkling against a black velvet sky are overwhelming not just in splendor, but in number. Have you ever tried counting the stars? Three hundred years ago astronomers believed there were just over a thousand stars in the universe, today we know that there are as many as 300,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy alone, which is just one of billions more galaxies stretched across the cosmos. Reflecting on the cosmic creation event, the psalmist wrote, "The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born" (Psalm 33:6 NLT). As Thor admitted, it seems "impossible to conceive of such levels of power." Yet, verse one is just the beginning. The rest of the chapter zeroes in on the creation of the earth and everything in it—the oceans, rivers, land, mountains, trees, plants, animals, and even human beings. God is big enough to breathe out stars, yet delicate enough to fashion together the trillions of cells that make up every facet of who you are. And with each act of creation, the Bible tells us, "God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25).

Let's conduct an experiment. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now, create and ocean. Can't do it? Try something smaller, like a gazelle or giraffe. Still nothing? How about something super simple like an ameba or an atom? Didn't work, did it? That's because human beings don't possess the power to create something out of nothing. Only God does!

Speaking of all the wonders God wrought on earth and throughout the heavens, Job says, “These are just the beginning of all that he does, merely a whisper of his power. Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of his power?” (Job 26:14 NLT). Even today with our ever-expanding knowledge of the universe and the atom, we’re still just seeing a whisper of his power, "the outer fringe of his works" (NIV).

Scripture frequently speaks of God's "mighty power" (Exodus 14:31) and "the power of his mighty hand" (Exodus 13:14). The Bible says, "He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God" (Deuteronomy 10:17) and "The Lord, the Mighty One, is God!" (Joshua 22:22). As evidenced by his incredible creation, God is a mighty hero. In fact, God isn't just a mighty hero, he's the Almighty Hero!

[1] Marvel Comics. The Mighty Thor Annual (Vol 1) #14 (1989)