Friday, July 16, 2021

You Gave Me A Family

By Guest Writer C.L.Shoemaker 

He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:5)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1John 3:1)

When was the last time someone believed in you? If it’s been a while you may need to find yourself a Director Coulson and ask to be adopted. In Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Phil Coulson is tasked with forming an elite team for his bus (a flying, response unit). Instead of commandeering the Avengers or SHIELD’s top agents, Phil reaches out to individuals who have been overlooked. He hires Agent May, a closed off agent with PTSD, gives two fresh faced scientists a lab on his plane and invites a known hacker into the group. Where other agents see problems and liabilities, Coulson sees potential and value. For Phil, his carefully crafted SHIELD team is not just another group it’s his opportunity to cultivate a family.

His first questionable choice is to recruit Skye (later called Daisy), a hacker with no last name and no family. Having bounced from foster home to foster home, Skye desperately wants to belong and to be valued. When Phil catches her hacking into SHIELD’s mainframe from a beat-up van in a sketchy alleyway, he offers her a job.

During Skye’s intake interview, Ward, a high-level specialist, struggles to see her purpose declaring her an annoyance and a liability, while Phil giddily sees her as an asset.

Phil Coulson : She's an asset.

Grant Ward : She is such an ass-- wait, "asset"?

Ward doesn’t understand the innate value of a life and a person’s vast potential if they are supported. Ward prizes utilitarian skills; what can you do and how well. For him, individual worth is directly correlated to one’s physical or intellectual output. In contrast, Phil sees value in everyone regardless of their skillset, or lack thereof.

Grant Ward :  You're gonna risk thousands of lives over some nobody.

Phil Coulson : [Cheerily]  Nobody's nobody Ward.

While Ward see Skye’s faults, Coulson recognizes her potential. Phil’s superpower is his ability to see worth in everyone. As Skye later tells him, “You value me. You’re the first person to do that in a long time.” Phil’s talent is to see value in the valueless.

Phil consistently comes to the rescue of those alone, abandoned and without hope. The agent, and former Director, is known for his compassion and for giving second chances. As Agent May observes, “Coulson has more heart than most”. He values people and wants to bring them into community via SHIELD. In fact, Coulson takes a page form Jesus Christ, following in the messiah’s footsteps. Christ excelled at seeking out those who were lost, abandoned or overlooked. He offered second chances and invited them into a family. Through Christ’s death all of humanity can be welcomed back into the family of God. We are accepted and adopted as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a diverse and unique family filled with misfits, failures and lost souls who have all been rescued, redeemed and restored through the precious blood of Christ.

With Coulson, Skye finds her forever family. She is adopted into SHIELD and welcomed regardless of her past. When Skye is seriously injured in season one and the doctors advise Coulson to contact her family, he responds with, “we are her family.” When, in season four, she runs away and goes rogue, the team searches for her with Coulson never giving up hope. Despite challenges, loss, and life-threatening experiences, the team is always there for Skye. In season seven when she finally meets her birth sister, her response is immediate: “I already have a sister. Her name is Jemma Simmons”. Skye’s answer confirms her love for her SHIELD family. The team she fought with, grew with, loved and lost with; they are her family. Skye refers to Phil as a father figure and a Christ-like figure, reminding him “You found me alone in an alley, and you gave me everything. A home, a belief, solid ground to stand on. That was all you! You are what I believe in.” (season 5 ep 12 “The Real Deal).

While you may not be invited to join Coulson’s team and become an agent of SHIELD, you are welcome to become a child of God. Christ offers a free invitation to join his family, to know your worth and value, and be part of the greatest mission on earth: the salvation of the world. The best part is you don’t need level 7 access, because membership in God’s family is open to everyone.

Friday, July 9, 2021

'Til the End of the Line!

In the first Captain America film, Bucky Barnes accompanies Steve Rogers home after his mother’s funeral, and even though Steve swears he can get by on his own, Bucky tells him, “The thing is, you don’t have to. I’m with you ‘til the end of the line, pal.”  These kind words reminded Steve that no matter what happens Bucky would be there for him. Fast forward seventy years. When Captain America learns that HYDRA brainwashed and genetically modified Bucky into a killing machine known as the Winter Soldier, Steve tries to get through to Bucky by reminding him of their friendship. “I’m not going to fight you,” Cap says while throwing down his shield. “You’re my friend… I’m with you to the end of the line.”  This one heartfelt line sums up the unwavering loyalty between Cap and Bucky.

If anyone understands that level of loyalty, it’s Ruth.

In the first chapter of Ruth’s self-titled book of the Bible, we learn that a severe famine swept across the land. So, a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons left their home town of Bethlehem and settled in the country of Moab. The two boys eventually grew up and married two Moabite women—Orpah and Ruth. Within a short span of time, however, all the men in the family died. With no husband or sons, Naomi was in danger of going hungry or homeless. So, she decides to move back home to Bethlehem where her countrymen could take care of her. At first, both Ruth and Orpah offer to accompany Naomi on her journey. But on the way, Naomi has second thoughts. She turns to the girls and tells them, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage” (Ruth 1:8-9 NLT). Then she kisses each of them goodbye, and they all start sobbing.

The girls protest, but Naomi argues that they’d have no future with her. They’d just be three old spinsters living in a shack together. They’d never make ends meet. She tells them that they’d be better off returning home, meeting another man, getting married again and moving on with their lives. Then, the Bible says they all starting crying again!

Finally, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and headed home. But not Ruth. The Bible says Ruth “clung tightly to Naomi.” This brave young woman saw Naomi’s heartache and the hardship ahead of her, and made one of the most beautiful pledges in the Bible: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:16-17 NLT).

These are among the most touching, heartfelt words ever recorded. Ruth and Naomi came from different cultures, backgrounds, and generations. As mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, they probably had as many opportunities for tension as they did for tenderness. But no matter what, Ruth refused to turn her back on Naomi. Ruth promised to be with Naomi ‘til the end of the line.

Ruth not only pledged her loyalty to Naomi, but also to Naomi’s God. In fact, their mutual faith in the Lord bound them together more than anything else. Ruth’s unwavering loyalty speaks volumes about her character.

Loyalty is an often overlooked and underrated virtue. A loyal person keeps their vows, honors their commitments, and is consistent and reliable in season and out of season—that is, when it’s convenient and when it’s not. A loyal person will be there for you ‘til the end of the line. That’s the kind of person Ruth was. Ruth pledged her loyalty both to Naomi and to the Lord, and she followed through on that pledge. We could all stand to be a little more like Cap, Bucky, and Ruth.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Sibling Rivalry

You'd be hard pressed to find any two Marvel comicbook characters more divergent than the X-Men's Charles Xavier and the unstoppable Juggernaut, Cain Marco. Though physically disabled and wheelchair-bound, Charles Xavier—known to his students as Professor X—uses powerful psychic abilities to fight for peace and equality between humans and mutants. Cain Marco, on the other hand, unearthed a legendary stone called the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak and, upon touching it, was transformed by its mystical energies into a hulking human juggernaut. Where Charles relies on his brains, Cain depends on his brawn. Who would have guessed these extreme opposites are actually brothers?

Cain's mother died at an early age, condemning Cain to suffering at the hands of his abusive father, Kurt. Eventually, Kurt married Charles's mother, Sharon.  But when Kurt seemingly preferred Charles to his own son, Cain became consumed with jealousy and took to bullying his stepbrother. Despite growing up in the same house, Charles and Cain's paths diverged more and more.  Eventually, Charles became a hero and Cain became a villain. Cain has repeatedly attempted to kill his stepbrother Charles as the superpowered Juggernaut. Thankfully, Professor X always manages to overcome his stepbrother's rage-fueled rampages. 

The Bible tells a remarkably similar story about Abel and his brother, whose name also happens to be Cain. Stan Lee undoubtedly drew inspiration from this biblical tale when crafting the characters of Xavier and Juggernaut.

Soon after Adam and Eve's eviction from the Garden of Eden, the Bible tells us that Eve became pregnant and gave birth to a boy she named Cain. Later, she had another son whom she named Abel. Considering God’s command to "be fruitful and multiply," Adam and Eve likely had many other children, but these two steal the spotlight as one becomes a hero and the other a villain.

"When they grew up," the Bible says, "Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift" (Genesis 4:2-4 NLT).

You probably already know what happened next. Anyone who hears the story can never forget. In a fit of jealousy and rage, Cain attacked and killed his brother Abel, becoming the first "bad guy" of the Bible. So what made Cain a villain? In a word, jealousy.

Just as Cain Marco envied young Charles Xavier for being his father's favorite, Cain envied the fact that Abel was accepted by God while he wasn’t. His jealousy turned to rage and his rage led to murder. By allowing his jealousy toward his brother to fester and grow, Cain cast himself as the villain in Abel's story.

Envy or jealousy can be found on nearly every list of sins in Scripture. The Bible frequently warns believers about the dangers of jealousy. For instance, Proverbs cautions, "Anger is cruel, and wrath is like a flood, but jealousy is even more dangerous" (Proverbs 27:4 NLT) and " jealousy is like cancer in the bones" (Proverbs 14:30).

As punishment for Cain's horrendous crime, God cursed the ground of Cain so that it would not provide him with food and condemned Cain to walk as a fugitive on the earth. However, God showed mercy by placing a mark on Cain so that no one could kill him in vengeance (Genesis 4:11–16). We too can experience God's mercy to a much greater degree. The Bible says, "Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:3-4).

If you struggle with feelings of envy or jealousy, don't let those feelings fester. Instead, turn them over to God. Confess your feelings and allow the Lord to wash away the anger and envy in your heart, replacing with new life through His Spirit!